Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire

Posted by Fredsvenn on March 10, 2015

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Byzantine Armenia, sometimes Western Armenia, is the name given to the Armenian part of the Byzantine Empire. The size of the territory varied over time, depending on the degree of control the Byzantines had over Armenia.

The Byzantine and Sassanid Empires divided Armenia in 387 and in 428. Western Armenia fell under Byzantine rule, and Eastern Armenia fell under Sassanid control. Even after the establishment of the Bagratid Armenian Kingdom, parts of historic Armenia and Armenian-inhabited areas were still under Byzantine rule.

The Armenians had no representation in the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, because they were struggling against the Sassanids in an armed rebellion. For that reason, there appeared a theological drift between Armenian and Byzantine Christianity.

Regardless, many Armenians became successful in the Byzantine Empire. Numerous Byzantine emperors were either ethnically Armenian, half-Armenian, part-Armenian or possibly Armenian; although culturally Greek.

The best example of this is Emperor Heraclius, whose father was Armenian and mother Cappadocian. Emperor Heraclius began the Heraclean Dynasty (610-717). Basil I is another example of an Armenian beginning a dynasty; the Macedonian dynasty. Other great emperors were Romanos I, John I Tzimiskes, and Nikephoros II.

Leo V the Armenian (775-820) was Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 813 to 820. A senior general, he forced his predecessor, Michael I Rangabe, to abdicate and assumed the throne.

He ended the decade-long war with the Bulgars, and initiated the second period of Byzantine Iconoclasm. He was assassinated by supporters of Michael the Amorian (Michael II, reigned 820-829), one of his most trusted generals, who succeeded him on the throne and became the first ruler of the Phrygian or Amorian dynasty.

Michael II was born in 770 in Amorium, in Phrygia, into a family of professional peasant-soldiers who received land from the government for their military service. His family belonged to the Judeo-Christian sect of the Athinganoi, whose members were Cappadocians who adopted Jewish rituals. The Athinganoi were numerous in Anatolia and together with the Greeks and Armenians formed the backbone of the Byzantine army of that era.

Born in Amorium, Michael was a soldier, rising to high rank along with his colleague Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820). He helped Leo overthrow and take the place of Emperor Michael I Rangabe. However, they later had a falling out, and Leo sentenced Michael to death.

Michael first rose to prominence as a close aide (spatharios) to the general Bardanes Tourkos, a Byzantine general of Armenian origin who launched an unsuccessful rebellion against Emperor Nikephoros I (r. 802–811) in 803, alongside his future antagonists Leo the Armenian and Thomas the Slav. He married Bardanes’ daughter Thekla, while Leo married another daughter.

Nothing is known of the early life of Bardanes. He is usually regarded by modern scholars as an Armenian on account of his first name (a Hellenized form of Vardan), whilst his sobriquet “Tourkos”, which was bestowed upon him, probably disparagingly, only after his revolt, could suggest a Khazar origin.

The 11th-century Theophanes Continuatus states that Thomas was descended from South Slavs resettled in Asia Minor by successive Byzantine emperors, while the 10th-century chronicler Genesios calls him “Thomas from Lake Gouzourou, of Armenian race”. Most modern scholars support his Slavic descent and believe his birthplace to have been near Gaziura in the Pontus.

Michael and Leo abandoned Bardanes shortly after he rebelled against Emperor Nikephoros I in 803, and they were rewarded with higher military commands: Michael was named the Emperor’s Count of the Tent.

Michael was instrumental in Leo’s overthrow of Michael I Rangabe in 813, after Rangabe’s continuing military defeats against the Bulgarians. Under Leo V, Michael was appointed to command the elite tagma of the Excubitors.

He became disgruntled with Leo V, however, when the Emperor divorced Michael’s sister-in-law. On Christmas Eve 820, Leo V accused him of conspiracy, jailed him, and sentenced him to death but postponed the execution until after Christmas.

Michael sent messages to his co-conspirators threatening to reveal their identity, whereupon his partisans freed him and murdered Leo V during the Christmas mass in the palace chapel of St. Stephen.

Immediately he faced the long revolt of Thomas the Slav, which almost cost him his throne and was not completely suppressed until spring 824.

Theophilos (813-842) was the Byzantine Emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Amorian dynasty and the last emperor to support iconoclasm. Theophilos personally led the armies in his lifelong war against the Arabs, beginning in 831.

Theophilos was the son of the Byzantine Emperor Michael II and his wife Thekla, and the godson of Emperor Leo V the Armenian. Michael II crowned Theophilos co-emperor in 822, shortly after his own accession. Unlike his father, Theophilos received an extensive education and showed interest in the arts. On 2 October 829, Theophilos succeeded his father as sole emperor.

Following Theophilos’ death, a regency consisting of the empress-dowager Theodora, Theoktistos, the magistros Manuel the Armenian. Theodora’s brothers Bardas and Petronas and her relative Sergios Niketiates also played an important role in the early days of the regency.

Michael III (840-867) was Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian Dynasty.

He was given the disparaging epithet the Drunkard by the hostile historians of the succeeding Macedonian dynasty, but modern historical research has rehabilitated his reputation to some extent, demonstrating the vital role his reign played in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century.

Michael was the youngest child of Emperor Theophilos and Theodora, originally from Paphlagonia and of Armenian aristocratic descent. Already crowned co-ruler by his father in 840, Michael III had just turned two years old when he succeeded as sole emperor on January 20, 842.

Increasingly fond of his uncle Bardas, Michael invested him with the title kaisar (Caesar – at the time a title second only to emperor) and allowed him to murder Theoktistos, an influential senior Byzantine official during the reigns of Michael II and his son Theophilos, and the de facto head of the regency for the underage Michael III from 842 until his dismissal and murder in 855.

With the support Bardas and another uncle, the successful general Petronas, Michael III overthrew the regency on March 15, 856 and relegated his mother and sisters to a monastery in 857.

Michael III’s marriage with Eudokia Dekapolitissa was childless, but the emperor did not want to risk a scandal by attempting to marry his mistress Eudokia Ingerina, daughter of the Varangian (Norse) imperial guard Inger.

The solution he chose was to have Ingerina marry his favorite courtier and chamberlain Basil the Macedonian (830/835-886), later known as Basil I. While Michael carried on his relationship with Ingerina, Basil was kept satisfied with the emperor’s sister Thekla, whom her brother retrieved from a monastery.

Basil gained increasing influence over Michael, and in April 866 he convinced the emperor that the Caesar Bardas was conspiring against him and was duly allowed to murder Bardas. Now without serious rivals, Basil was crowned co-emperor on 26 May 866 and was adopted by the much younger Michael III.

This curious development may have been intended to legitimize the eventual succession to the throne of Eudokia Ingerina’s son Leo, who was widely believed to be Michael’s son. Michael celebrated the birth of Leo with public chariot races, a sport he enthusiastically patronized and participated in.

If ensuring Leo’s legitimacy had been Michael’s plan, it backfired. Ostensibly troubled by the favour Michael was beginning to show to another courtier, named Basiliskianos, whom he threatened to raise as another co-emperor, Basil had Michael assassinated as he lay insensible in his bedchamber following a drinking bout in September 867.

Basil with a number of his male relatives, plus other accomplices, entered Michael’s apartment; the locks had been tampered with and no guard had been placed.

Michael’s end was grisly; a man named John of Chaldia killed him, cutting off both the emperor’s hands with a sword before finishing him off with a thrust to the heart. Basil, as the sole remaining emperor (Basiliskianos had been killed at the same time as Michael), automatically succeeded as the ruling basileus.

Michael’s remains were buried in the Philippikos Monastery at Chrysopolis on the Asian shore of the Bosphoros. When Leo VI became ruling emperor in 886, one of his first acts was to have Michael’s body exhumed and reburied, with great ceremony, in the imperial mausoleum in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

Basil I the Macedonian reigned from 867 to 886. He begun what people call the Armenian Dynasty because of Basil’s Armenian ancestors (Sometimes people call it the Macedonian Dynasty because Basil was born in Macedon).

Basil was 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.

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 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 historian 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.

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.

Leo VI, surnamed the Wise or the Philosopher (866-912), was Byzantine Emperor from 886 to 912. The second ruler of the Macedonian dynasty (although his parentage is unclear), he was very well-read, leading to his surname.

Born to the empress Eudokia Ingerina, Leo was either the illegitimate son of Emperor Michael III or the second son of his successor, Basil I the Macedonian. Eudokia was both Michael III’s mistress and Basil’s wife.

As the second eldest son of the Emperor, Leo was associated on the throne in 870 and became the direct heir on the death of his older half-brother Constantine in 879.

However, Leo and Basil did not like each other; a relationship that only deteriorated after Eudokia’s death, when Leo, unhappy with his marriage to Theophano Martiniake, took up a mistress in the person of Zoe Zaoutzaina. Basil married Zoe off to an insignificant official, and later almost had Leo blinded when he was accused of conspiring against him.

On August 29, 886, Basil died in a hunting accident, though he claimed on his deathbed that there was an assassination attempt in which Leo was possibly involved.

The Byzantine Empire reached its height under the Macedonian emperors (of Armenian and Greek descent) of the late 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, when it gained control over the Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, and all of the territory of tsar Samuel of Bulgaria.

The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the new-found security. The population rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand while also helping to encourage trade.

Culturally, there was considerable growth in education and learning. Ancient texts were preserved and patiently re-copied. Byzantine art flourished, and brilliant mosaics graced the interiors of the many new churches.

Though the empire was significantly smaller than during the reign of Justinian, it was also stronger, as the remaining territories were less geographically dispersed and more politically and culturally integrated.

Although traditionally attributed to Basil I (867–886 AD), initiator of the Macedonian dynasty, the Macedonian Renaissance has been more recently ascribed to the reforms of his predecessor, Michael III (842–867 AD) and his wife’s counsellor, the erudite Theoktistos. The latter in particular favoured culture at the court, and, with a careful financial policy, steadily increased the gold reserves of the Empire.

Armenia, Byzantium, and the Byzantine Armenians

The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire

The Armenian Emperors of Byzantine

Did the Armenians control Byzantium?

Armenians of Byzantium

Byzantine Armenia

List of Byzantine Emperors

History of the Byzantine Empire

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