The Byzantine force field

If the political culture and behavioural patterns which Byzantium prompted in so-called 'acquiring' societies are almost as notable for their diversity as for common traits, this reflects upon the ambivalence and flexibility of Byzantium's own imperial-ecclesiastical complex. The emperor's aspirations to carry on the divine mandate of Constantine the Great and lead the New Israel in the manner of Old Testament priest-kings remained robust, even after imperial intervention in doctrine and church governance came to grief with icono-clasm. The insistence of court ceremonial and rhetorical declarations on the harmony between emperor and senior churchmen represents the gloss on incessant minor points of friction in everyday affairs and more fundamental differences as to boundaries and values.106 The emperor's hold over the established church, already uncertain in the twelfth century, was shaken irreparably by the Latin conquest of Constantinople. The subsequent failure of Michael VIII's attempt to dragoon churchmen into union with Rome only served to accentuate the limitations of imperial power in matters of church policy. Throughout the fourteenth century the high calibre and morale of the patriarchate's officials were in marked contrast to the gloom surrounding the imperial apparatus. Moreover, the patriarch's treasury seems to have been in a better state of repair than the emperor's, owing in part to the generous payments which external rulers and churchmen were ready to make in return for decisions to their liking. None the less, the emperor and his associates remained an influential presence in the higher echelons ofthe patriarchate. Patriarchs tried to impress upon foreign potentates the God-given nature of imperial power and that they were acting in concert with the emperor in caring for Orthodox Christians wherever they were, regardless of the complexion of the local regime. It is probably no accident that patriarchal declarations to this effect became clearest-cut in the second half of the fourteenth century, precisely the time when the material resources and military position of the empire took a turn for the worse. The nearest approach to a formulation of the Byzantine Commonwealth comes from the time when the empire's earthly power was on the ebb and the emperor was least capable of applying duress, enforcing judgements or providing Orthodox communities with physical protection.

It is tempting enough to conclude that the characteristics shared in common by supposedly constituent polities and communities are too faint or banal and

106 G. Dagron, Emperor and priest: the imperial office in Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 2-4, 48-50, 97-114.

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