Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Armenians: Unsung supporters of Hellenism

Posted by Fredsvenn on February 8, 2015

Throughout the years of research and readings of the former Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America and current Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Armenian contribution to Hellenism hasn’t been fully explored.

“The Armenians are our brothers,” said Constantine Parthenis my Modern Greek instructor at St. Demetrios Greek American School in the 1950’s Astoria, New York. Dr. Emory, a medieval historian at Queens College, explained in a 1969 undergraduate class that “the Armenians are not recognized significantly in the Byzantine Empire.”

The Armenians in Byzantium who furnished it with its leadership were thoroughly integrated into its political and military life, identified themselves with its interest and adopted the principal features of its culture. In brief, like many other elements of different racial origins, as, for instance, Saracens, Slavs and Turks, who had a similar experience, they became Byzantines.” The meaning of the phrase “the Armenians are our brothers,” is more alive today through sources on the internet.

The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest expanse since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began.

The dynasty was named after its founder, Basil I the Macedonian, who came from the theme of Macedonia. The dynasty’s founder and many subsequent emperors were of Armenian descent, hence the dynasty is also referred to by some authors as the Armenian Dynasty.

Basil I, called the Macedonian (830/835 – August 29, 886) was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned from 867 to 886. Born a simple peasant in the Byzantine theme of Macedonia, he rose in the Imperial court, and usurped the Imperial throne from Emperor Michael III (r. 842–867).

Despite his humble origins, he showed great ability in running the affairs of state, leading to a revival of Imperial power and a renaissance of Byzantine art. He was perceived by the Byzantines as one of their greatest emperors, and the dynasty he founded, the Macedonian, ruled over what is regarded as the most glorious and prosperous era of the Byzantine Empire.

Basil was born to peasant parents in late 811 (or sometime in the 830s in the estimation of some scholars) at Charioupolis in the Byzantine theme of Macedonia (an administrative division corresponding to the area of Adrianople in Thrace).

Contemporary Byzantine Thrace was inhabited by people of Slavic, Greek and Armenian origins. Claims have been made for an Armenian, Slavic, or indeed “Armeno-Slavonic” origin for Basil I.

The Irish Byzantinist John Bagnell Bury dismissed claims of his being of Slavic origin on the basis that the Arabs viewed all Macedonians as Slavs (Saqaliba), a view supported by Peter Charanis, a prominent historian who specialized in ethnic studies of the Byzantine Empire.

It must also be understood that the contemporary term “Macedonian” referred to a theme (province) of that name located in western Thrace, rather than the ancient and modern region of Macedonia.

The author of the only dedicated biography of Basil I in English has concluded that it is impossible to be certain what the ethnic origins of the emperor were, though Basil was definitely reliant on the support of Armenians in prominent positions within the Byzantine Empire.

During his reign, an elaborate genealogy tree was produced that purported that his ancestors were not mere peasants, as everyone believed, but descendants of the Arsacid (Arshakuni) kings of Armenia and also of Constantine the Great.

Members of the Macedonian dynasty would come to use this tree to claim their descent from King Tiridates III of Armenia. According to the John Julius Norwich, the native language of Basil I was Armenian, whereas in Greek, he spoke with a strong accent. However, scholarship remains divided on this issue, as claims have also been made that members of the Macedonian dynasty spoke a Slavic dialect alongside Greek.

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