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reconstructed in detail thanks to their almost instant encomia of one another's doings; so much so that it is tempting to dismiss the commonwealth as merely frenetic networking on the part of a handful of individuals, a culturo-political elite whose members' variegated agenda converged partially - and only loosely - around an imperial centre in Constantinople. The hesychasts were mainly concerned with entering the world of the spirit, oblivious to the here-and-now. The materially enfeebled emperor might be regarded as merely a figure of convenience, dignifying this scheme of things. The symbols and imagery adapted by external rulers could be dismissed as efforts to deck out new power-centres in grandest style before an uncomprehending populace to whom the ways of the distant 'Greeks' and their dwindling empire meant little or nothing.

Such salutary caution cannot, however, fully account for the persistence with which would-be masters of their own extensive realms looked to the basileus's panoply of symbols and sought to appropriate them to their own purposes, sometimes unilaterally but often through negotiations and marriage-ties. It is a puzzle, which benefits from a closer look at Rus, in whose far-flung lands indigenous princely authority was itself tenuous for most of the inhabitants.

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