Painting of Emperor Basil II in triumphal garb, exemplifying the imperial crown and royal power handed down by Christ and the angels.

Throughout the fifth century, Hellenistic political systems, philosophies, and theocratic Christian-Eastern concepts had gained power in the eastern Greek-speaking Mediterranean due to the intervention of important religious figures there such as Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260 – c. 339) and Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 – c. 253) who had been key to developing the constant Christianized worldview of late antiquity.[1][need quotation to verify][2]

By the 6th century, such ideas had already influenced the definitive power of the monarch as the representative of God on earth and of his kingdom as an imitation of God's holy realm.[3] The Byzantine Empire was a multi-ethnic monarchic theocracy adopting, following, and applying the Orthodox-Hellenistic political systems and philosophies.[4][5] The monarch was the incarnation of the law—nomos empsychos—and his power was immeasurable and divine in origin insofar as he channeled God's divine grace, maintaining what is good. He was the ultimate benefactor, caretaker, and saviour of the people: Evergétis, Philanthrōpía, and Sōtēr, anointed with all power, uphoalding the divine laws since he ought to emulate Christ first (christomimetes) in all of his divine, pious, loving orthodox attributes to all by being his earthly presence.[6][7]

The people in turn were the monarch's paroikoi (subjects). He was the sole administrator and lawgiver of the holy Basileia and Oikoumene (commonwealth), with sole power over the state, the land, and his subjects, which he had achieved through God's appointment of him as king. This opened a new stage of deification in which Hellenistic and Eastern court ceremonies such as proskynesis highlighted the divinity of the ruler and became standardized and very often mandatory.[8] In practice, imperial power was exercised as administration—simplified and centralized through viceroys such as the Exarchos, Douk, Katepánō, Kephalai and the Strategoi who enjoyed the same omnipotence and the emperor's God given divinity in their respective governorships.[9]

Such concentrations of power proved to be both a great internal weakness and the cause of various coups and rebellions in which viceroys with provincial armies and, sometimes, entire themes, would often challenge imperial power with claims of their own. In this way emperors such as Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963–969) and Heraclius (r. 610–641) achieved royal power for themselves.

There were no codified laws on the imperial succession, and the Roman Republic was never formally abolished. Theoretically, each emperor was formally elected, by both the senate (Synkletos) and the army. In practice, however, the Senate had lost all of its former powers and was mostly reduced to a ceremonial role, filled with relatives or close aristocrats to the Emperor; while the Army practically had a monopoly regarding elections. Emperors usually managed to secure succession for their children through indirect means, such as appointing them as co-emperors, and thus introduced various dynasties. The absence of codified succession laws and procedures, as well as the militarized state of the Empire, led to numerous coups and revolts, leading to several disastrous results, such as the 1071 defeat at Manzikert.

Applying Orthodox-Hellenistic political schemes, the monarch's household was the sacred kingdom Oikonomia, and he was its Christ-loving owner and manager Oikonomos, which meant that no individual or institution through the history of the empire truly owned any land in the face of state supreme ownership.[10] Beneath the emperor, a multitude of officials and court functionaries—all directly chosen by the emperor or by one of his representatives—operated the empire's administrative bureaucracy. State officials acted not as magistrates or elected public legates, but as representatives, deputies, and viceroys of the monarch in his different domains throughout the empire. In addition to those officials, a large number of honorific titles existed, which the emperor awarded to prominent subjects or to friendly foreign rulers.

Over the more than a thousand years of the empire's existence, the Imperial administrative system evolved in its adoption of historic titles. At first, the various titles of the empire were the same as those of the late Roman Empire. However, by the era of Heraclius (r. 610–641), many of the titles had become obsolete. By the time of Alexios I (r. 1082–1118), many of the positions were either new or drastically changed. However, from that time on, they remained essentially the same until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

Background history

In the early Byzantine period (4th to late 6th century), the administrative structure of the empire was a conglomeration of the late Roman Empire's diocese system, set up by Diocletian and Constantine, and of Justinian's innovations; in the years 535 and 536 Justinian's administrative reforms were formalized. This eliminated the administrative diocese system hierarchy established in previous centuries and with it the strict military and civic divisions within the empire, replacing it with various provincial circumscriptions directly governed by deputies of the emperor, variously called Stratalates, Strategoi and Harmost.[11] These deputies held extraordinary military and administrative powers accompanied by prestigious new titleholders in an attempt to lessen corruption and simplify the emperor's direct handling over its domains, foreshadowing similar future administrative reforms initiated and endorsed by contemporary divine Orthodox monarchical philosophy in the Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean.[10]

Following the transformation of the Byzantine state during the 7th century due to massive territorial loss to the Muslim conquests, this early structuring came to be replaced by the thematic military system whose functions had been simplified and specialized in the rapid creation of provincial armies. Influenced by Orthodox kingship and Hellenistic theocratic philosophies, power was relegated to military leaders, with the various Strategoi, Katepan, Douk, Kephalai or Exarch each acting as viceroys in their respective "thémata" or governorships, all being appointed by the sovereign directly.[12] These governors, being the direct representatives of the monarch himself all through the provinces, enjoyed an omnipotence of their own, accompanied by the divine attributes for being deputies of the emperor himself in their respective districts. Their primary tasks were jointly working with the various provincial subordinates of the capital bureaus for the effective collection of taxes from the different communities ("Chora", "Komai"), from the different land owners estates ("proasteion"), and from monasteries ("episkepsis"). Additionally, and more commonly, as the right hand of the emperor in the management of internal and external affairs, they had to provide an efficient management of fast and flexible provincial armies, dispatching them to appease different threats within the borders, or for the management of new successful territorial acquisitions after long-term campaigns, thereby taking key roles as protagonists of any armed offensive headed by the emperor.[13]

A Strategos, or any military governor, was assisted by several deputies, chief among them the tourmarchēs or merarchēs (to a lesser degree also referred as topotērētēs). The main provincial governors and their deputies held equal military and administrative duties within the main sub-division inside a thema, a tourma. These deputies, or any deputy or representative of the Strategos, or of any other military governor, were generally called Ek prosopou, second to them the Krites or Praitor were responsible for the judicial matters inside a Theme. Although the range of tasks of the Krites or Praitor were neither fixed nor dogmatic, as they are shown assisting in various military campaigns or, on occasions, replacing the Strategos in his military duties.[14]

Due to the lack of action or large-scale battles in the thematas of mainland Greece, by the 12th century most of these came to be governed directly by the Megas doux, under him the Krites or Archons of the various coastal cities. The themes, now made up of several Archontates, was accommodated and repurposed solely for the income and maintenance of the Byzantine navy, fulfilling a tax supporting role largely in contrast from the more active and military themas of Strategos and Katepanos focussed in Asia Minor. The duties of said governors were largely limited to the collection of the various maritime taxes of their governorships; the management of the various large urban centers such as Athens, Corinth or Thebes; and a basic level of protection for its provinces against pirates and any other parties.[14]

During the "classic" or middle period of the Byzantine state (8th-late 11th centuries), a new, court-centered system emerged. In this, dignities of a certain level were awarded with new titles derived from older, now obsolete, public offices. A senatorial class remained in place, which incorporated a large part of the upper officialdom; every official from the rank of protospatharios (literally "first sword-bearer"; originally the head of the Emperor's bodyguards) was considered a member of it.[15] During this period, many families remained important for several centuries, and several Emperors rose from the aristocracy. Two groups can be distinguished: a metropolitan civil nobility and a provincial military one, the latter remaining regionally based and having large land-holdings, but apparently no military forces of their own, in contrast to contemporary Western Europe.

The backbone of Byzantine administration and economy (until the fall of Constantinople) was the joint tax liability system of the different communities inside a théma, duties which were carried out by provincial officials such as the epoptes, exisotes, and praktores of the different bureaus. A Theme was made up of several individuals and institutions, such as the various lands that the many monasteries owned (episkepsis), the soldiers' farming lands (stratiotai), the estates (proasteion) of the land owners (dynatoi) and the peasants (geōrgikē), with most of a village or town (chora or komai) being made up of the later. These were the main source of a constant and rapid revenue that ultimately derived from the earlier Hellenistic fiscal and administrative principle of "epibole".[16] Epibole had served as an accessible tool for the Hellenistic kingdoms for the simple income and rapid collection of taxes by deputies towards various rural communities in the war-time Hellenistic period, after having been adopted and adapted from the late Roman and early Byzantine province of Egypt, which had kept its own former fixed fiscal system, proving this measure to be an indirect consequence of the multiple wars and invasions that Byzantium had to deal throughout its history.[17]

After the reforms of Alexios I, the system underwent various changes in which, due to the desperate state of the empire and the urgent need for income to finance its military campaigns and strengthen its borders, several simplifications and concessions were made. The theme system established under the Komnenoi would remain the administrative basis of the Byzantine state until its final fall in 1453, differing in few key aspects from its administrative predecessors; it highlighted a greater centralization of power. The various Themes had been divided into smaller districts called "Katepanakia" which in turn were made up of the various towns and villages (chora), the monastic estates (episkpesis), the estates of the dynatoi (proasteion), and the various pronoia grants. The Themes were ruled by a "Doux", who was positioned by the emperor directly, commonly a relative of his or a close aristocrat to the Basileus. The Katepanakia inside the Theme were ruled by a deputy of the Doux called a "Praktor" or "Energon", they were appointed either by the monarch or the Doux himself, with the primary task of the collection of taxes and a second role in the maintenance of basic order, administration and justice in his district.[18]

Alexios fiscal reforms allowed an institution or individual to catalog and group their land domains and, through it, their fiscal obligations, in a document referred as praktikon. The new reform essentially broke from the integrity of the "chora" or village tax, as its new purpose was the collection of the various taxes regardless of whether collection was by an institution, individual or the village itself, essentially offering it to the highest bidder. Although a simplification, it was not an improvement, as it pushed a great variety of villages and towns to eventually be added to the different episkpesis of either the adjoining monasteries or of the various well-resourced dynatoi landowners, who would become responsible for both their fiscal obligations as monastic institutions, or as individuals, and for the fiscal obligations of the various towns and villages in their domain. This trend culminated in the eventual disappearance of the fiscal individuality that each commune or town had enjoyed, something which emperors like Basil II had fought and delayed with special taxes such as the allelengyon. Becoming one of several towns within the estates of the different institutions and individuals of the time was an unbearable phenomenon for many communes due to the various fiscal tolerances that the basileus offered the different monastic institutions and their estates, further accelerating the disappearance of the fiscal individuality of the villages and towns.[19]

The 10th and 11th centuries saw a rise in importance of the aristocracy, and an increased number of new families entering it. The catastrophic losses in the latter 11th century again prompted a reorganization of the imperial administrative system, at the hands of the new Komnenos dynasty: the older offices and titles fell gradually into disuse, while an array of new honorifics emerged, which signified primarily the closeness of their recipient's familial relationship to the Emperor.[15] The Komnenian-led Empire, and later their Palaiologan successors, were based primarily on the landed aristocracy, keeping the governance of the state tightly controlled by a limited number of intermarrying aristocratic families; for instance in the 11th and 12th century, only 80 civil and 64 military noble families have been identified, a very small number for so large a state.[20] Finally, in the Palaiologan system as reported by pseudo-Kodinos, one can discern the accumulated nomenclature of centuries, with formerly high ranks having been devalued and others taking their place, and the old distinction between office and dignity having vanished.[15]

Imperial titles

See also: Byzantine emperors

These were the highest titles, usually limited to members of the imperial family or to a few very select foreign rulers whose friendship the Emperor desired.

Titles used by the emperors

The back of this coin by Manuel I Comnenus bears his title, porphyrogennetos.

Titles used by the imperial family

Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos with his family: empress Helena Dragaš (right), and three of their sons, John, Andronikos and Theodore. John, as his father's heir and co-emperor, wears an exact replica of his imperial costume.

Court titles from the 8th to 11th centuries

Emperor Nikephoros III with an aura flanked by personifications of Truth and Justice, and by his senior court dignitaries, from an illuminated manuscript dating to the 1070s. From left: the proedros and epi tou kanikleiou, the prōtoproedros and prōtovestiarios (a eunuch, since he is beardless), the emperor, the proedros and dekanos, and the proedros and megas primikērios.[21]

In the 8th–11th centuries, according to information provided by the Taktikon Uspensky, the Klētorologion of Philotheos (899) and the writings of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, below the imperial titles, the Byzantines distinguished two distinct categories of dignities (ἀξίαι): the "dignities by award" (διὰ βραβείων ἀξίαι), which were purely honorific court titles and were conferred by the award of a symbol of rank, and the "dignities by proclamation" (διὰ λόγου ἀξίαι), which were offices of the state and were conferred by imperial pronouncement. The former were further divided into three subcategories, depending on who was eligible for them: different sets of titles existed for the "Bearded Ones" (βαρβάτοι from Latin barbati, i.e. not eunuchs), the eunuchs (ἐκτομίαι) and women. State officials usually combined titles from both main categories, so that a high official would be both magistros (an "awarded" title) and logothetēs tou dromou (a "proclaimed" office).

Titles for the "bearded ones"

The "by award" titles for the "Bearded Ones" (non-eunuchs[22]) were, in descending order of precedence:

Titles for eunuchs

By descending order of precedence, the "by award" titles for the eunuchs were:

Titles for women

Titles for foreigners

14th–15th century

Book of Offices ranks the order of command below the emperor:[35]

  1. Despot
  2. Sebastokrator
  3. Caesar
  4. Megas domestikos
  5. Megas doux
  6. Protostrator, deputy of megas domestikos
  7. Megas stratopedarches
  8. Megas primmikerios
  9. Megas konostablos
  10. Megas droungarios
  11. Megas hetairearches
  12. Epi tou stratou
  13. Domestic of the Scholae
  14. Megas droungarios, deputy of megas doux
  15. Protospatharios
  16. Megas arkhon, deputy of megas primmikerios
  17. Megas tzaousios
  18. Skouterios
  19. Amyriales, deputy of megas droungarios
  20. Megas akolouthos
  21. Arkhon tou Allagion, deputy of megas arkhon
  22. Protallagator
  23. Domestic of the Walls
  24. Vestiarios, deputy of amyriales
  25. Hetaireiarches, deputy of megas hetairearches
  26. Stratopedarches of the Mourtatoi
  27. Stratopedarches of the Tzakones
  28. Stratopedarches of one-horse cavalry men
  29. Stratopedarches of the crossbowmen
  30. Protokomes

Palace offices

Military offices



Further information: Byzantine navy § Organization

Other military titles

Administrative offices

Emperor Theophilos flanked by courtiers. From the Skylitzes Chronicle.

Byzantine administrative nature was characterized by its versatility and unfixed duties in constant role change depending on a specific situation. The vast Byzantine bureaucracy had many titles, more varied than aristocratic and military titles. In Constantinople there were normally hundreds, if not thousands, of bureaucrats at any time. Like members of the Church and the military, they wore elaborately differentiated dress, often including huge hats. These are some of the more common ones, including non-nobles who also directly served the emperor.

Logothetes originally had some influence on the emperor, but the posts eventually became honorary. In the later empire the Grand Logothete was replaced by the mesazōn ("mediator").

Other administrators included:

The protasekretis, logothetes, prefect, praetor, quaestor, magister, and sakellarios, among others, were members of the senate.

Court life

At the peaceful height of Middle Byzantium, court life "passed in a sort of ballet",[38] with precise ceremonies prescribed for every occasion, to show that "Imperial power could be exercised in harmony and order", and "the Empire could thus reflect the motion of the Universe as it was made by the Creator", according to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote a Book of Ceremonies describing in enormous detail the annual round of the Court. Special forms of dress for many classes of people on particular occasions are set down; at the name-day dinner for the Emperor or Empress various groups of high officials performed ceremonial "dances", one group wearing "a blue and white garment, with short sleeves, and gold bands, and rings on their ankles. In their hands they hold what are called phengia". The second group do just the same, but wearing "a garment of green and red, split, with gold bands". These colours were the marks of the old chariot-racing factions, the four now merged to just the Blues and the Greens, and incorporated into the official hierarchy. As in the Versailles of Louis XIV, elaborate dress and court ritual probably were at least partly an attempt to smother and distract from political tensions.[citation needed]

Eunuchs also participated in court life, typically serving as attendants to noble women or assisting the emperor when he took part in religious ceremonies or removed his crown. Eunuchs in the early Byzantine Empire were usually foreigners, and they were often seen as having a low status. This changed in the 10th century, when the social status of eunuchs increased and members of the educated Byzantine upper class began to become eunuchs.[39]

However, even by the time of Anna Comnena, with the Emperor away on military campaigns for much of the time, this way of life had changed considerably, and after the Crusader occupation it virtually vanished. A French visitor[who?] was shocked to see the Empress going to church far less well attended than the Queen of France would have been.[citation needed] The Imperial family largely abandoned the Great Palace for the relatively compact Palace of Blachernae.[when?][citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Barnes, T. D. (1989-11-24), "Panegyric, history and hagiography in Eusebius' Life of Constantine", The Making of Orthodoxy, Cambridge University Press, pp. 94–123, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511555350.007, ISBN 9780521351881
  2. ^ Lewis, V. Bradley (2017-04-04). "Eusebius of Caesarea's Un-Platonic Platonic Political Theology". Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought. 34 (1): 94–114. doi:10.1163/20512996-12340119. ISSN 0142-257X. For Eusebius the Laws mainly shows the agreement of Christian and pagan morality, while his political theory centers on the establishment and maintenance of a Christian empire under a Christian emperor who is a philosopher-king. His view represents one of the fundamental political options in ancient Christianity, one that influenced later Byzantine political theology, but was largely rejected in the west.
  3. ^ Mango (2007), pp. 259–260.
  4. ^ Walter, Christopher (1968). "Dvornik (Francis), Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy". Revue des études byzantines. 26 (1): 373–376. Archived from the original on 2019-05-25. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  5. ^ Constantelos, Demetrios (April 1970). "Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare". The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 21 (2): 173–174. doi:10.1017/S0022046900048703. S2CID 162224826.
  6. ^ Patrick Henry III (1967-12-30). "A Mirror for Justinian: the Ekthesis of Agapetus Diaconus". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 8 (4): 281–308. ISSN 2159-3159. Archived from the original on 2023-01-24. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  7. ^ Roy, Christian (January 2003). "The basileus as Christomimetes".
  8. ^ Alexander, Suzanne Spain (April 1977). "Heraclius, Byzantine Imperial Ideology, and the David Plates". Speculum. 52 (2): 217–237. doi:10.2307/2850511. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2850511. S2CID 161886591.
  9. ^ Charanis, Peter (July 1969). "Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy: Origins and Background. Francis Dvornik". Speculum. 44 (3): 459–460. doi:10.2307/2855514. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2855514.
  10. ^ a b Heather, Peter; Moncur, David (2001). Politics, Philosophy, and Empire in the Fourth Century. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-0-85323-106-6. Archived from the original on 2022-08-31. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  11. ^ Bury (2018), p. [page needed].
  12. ^ Barnes, T. D. (1989-11-24), "Panegyric, history and hagiography in Eusebius' Life of Constantine", The Making of Orthodoxy, Cambridge University Press, pp. 94–123, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511555350.007, ISBN 9780521351881
  13. ^ Bury (2016), p. [page needed].
  14. ^ a b Haldon (2004), p. [page needed].
  15. ^ a b c Kazhdan (1991), p. 623.
  16. ^ Harvey, Alan (1993). The land and taxation in the reign of Alexios I Komnenos: the evidence of Theophylakt of Ochrid. PERSEE. OCLC 754219713.
  17. ^ Ziche, Hartmut (2017-01-01), "Historians and the Economy: Zosimos and Prokopios on Fifth- and Sixth- Century Economie Development", Byzantine Narrative, BRILL, pp. 462–474, doi:10.1163/9789004344877_036, ISBN 9789004344877
  18. ^ Frankopan, P. (2007-02-01). "Kinship and the Distribution of Power in Komnenian Byzantium". The English Historical Review. CXXII (495): 1–34. doi:10.1093/ehr/cel378. ISSN 0013-8266.
  19. ^ Kazhdan, Alexander (1993). "State, Feudal, and Private Economy in Byzantium". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 47: 83–100. doi:10.2307/1291672. ISSN 0070-7546. JSTOR 1291672.
  20. ^ Robin Cormack, "Writing in Gold, Byzantine Society and its Icons", 1985, George Philip, London, p180, using Kazhdan A.P. , 1974 (in Russian) ISBN 0-540-01085-5
  21. ^ Spatharakis, Iohannis (1976). The portrait in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. Brill Archive. p. 110. ISBN 978-90-04-04783-9.
  22. ^ The Eunuch in Byzantine History and Society; Shaun Tougher; page 22
  23. ^ a b Kazhdan (1991), p. 1727.
  24. ^ Bury (1911), p. 21.
  25. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1267.
  26. ^ a b c d Kazhdan (1991), p. 2162.
  27. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1600.
  28. ^ a b Bury (1911), p. 27.
  29. ^ Bury (1911), p. 26.
  30. ^ Bury (1911), p. 25.
  31. ^ Bury (1911), pp. 21, 23–24.
  32. ^ Ringrose (2003), p. 234 (Note #86).
  33. ^ Bury (1911), p. 121.
  34. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 2231.
  35. ^ Heath, Ian (13 November 1995). Byzantine Armies, 1118–1461. Osprey. pp. 18–9. ISBN 978-1-85532-347-6.
  36. ^ Bartusis, Mark C. (Apr 1988). "The Kavallarioi of Byzantium". Speculum. 63 (2): 343–350.
  37. ^ Bury (1911), p. 32.
  38. ^ Runciman, Steven (1975). Byzantine Style and Civilization. London: Penguin.[page needed]
  39. ^ Rosenwein, Barbara (2009). A Short History of the Middle Ages (3rd ed.). University of Toronto Press.[page needed]