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

Through the 5th century Hellenistic political systems and philosophies along Theocratic Christian-Eastern concepts, had gained power in the Eastern Mediterranean of which important religious figures such as Eusebius of Caesarea had been key for the proper acceptance and formulation of Ancient Greek and Eastern philosophies for the constant Christianized world of late antiquity.[1] By the 6th century they had already influenced the future structuring of the early Byzantine empire by giving definitive power to the monarch for being the representative of God on earth and his kingdom an imitation of God's holy realm.[2] The Byzantine empire was a monarchy theocracy, adopting, following and applying the Hellenistic political systems and philosophies, the king was the incarnation of the law "nomos empsychos", his power was immeasurable and divine in origin,[3] he was the ultimate benefactor, carer and saviour of his people, "Evergétis", "Philanthrōpía" and "Sōtēr" which in turn were all his "paroikoi" subjects, he was also the sole administrator and lawgiver of the holy Basileia and Oikoumene (Commonwealth), having the complete power to scheme and control the state, the land and his subjects of which he had gained control through God's appointment to him as king, opening a new stage of deification in which Hellenistic and Eastern court ceremonies such as prokynesis among others that aimed to highlight the divinity of the ruler became standardized and very often mandatory.[4] In practice, this power was exercised through the constant simplification and centralization of the administration that aimed to provide the same powers that the emperor had and make them exercise through single entities, viceroys such as the Exarchos, Douk, Katepánō, Khephalai and the Strategoi who enjoyed the same omnipotence in their respective governorships.[5] Such concentrations of power in entities proved to be at the same time, 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. It was in this way that emperors like Nikephoros II Phokas or Heraclius had achieved royal power on their own.

There were no codified laws regarding imperial succession and the Roman Republic was never formally abolished, hence the Emperor was still to be elected, formally, by both Senate (Synkletos) and the Army. In reality, the Senate had lost all of its powers and was reduced to a ceremonial role mostly filled with relatives or close aristrocrats to the Emperor while the Army practically had a monopoly regarding election. Emperors usually managed to secure succession for their children by indirect means, such as appointing them as co-Emperors thus creating 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 defeat at Manzikert.

Applying the Hellenistic political schemes, the monarch's house and personal property was the kingdom "Oikonomia", and he was its owner and good manager Oikonomos, which meant that no individual or institution through the history of the empire trully owned any land.[6] Beneath the emperor, a multitude of officials and court functionaries operated the empire's administrative machinery who were all directly chosen by the emperor or one of his representatives. State officials acted not as magistrates and elected public governors, but as representatives, deputies and viceroys of the monarch in his different domains through the kingdom. In addition to those officials, a large number of honorific titles existed, which the emperor awarded to his subjects or to friendly foreign rulers. Over the more than a thousand years of the empire's existence, different titles were adopted and discarded, and many lost or gained prestige. At first the various titles of the empire were the same as those in the late Roman Empire. However, by the time that Heraclius was emperor (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 system of government followed the model established in late Roman times under Diocletian and Constantine the Great, with a strict separation between civil and military offices and a scale of titles corresponding to office, where membership or not in the Senate was the major distinguishing characteristic.[7] Following the transformation of the Byzantine state during the 7th century on account of massive territorial loss to the Muslim conquests, this system had vanished to be replaced by the thematic military system whose functions had been simplified and specialized in the rapid creation of provincial armies. As established by the Hellenistic political systems and philosophies, power had been concentrated in military leaders, the various Strategoi, Katepan, Douk, Khephalai or Exarch who acted as viceroys in their respective "thémata" or governorships, all being appointed by the emperor himself. These governors being the direct representatives of the monarch himself, also enjoyed their omnipotence and divine powers in their respective districts whose primary tasks around the different "théma" focussed on the collection of taxes from the different communities "Chora", "Komai" and from the different land owners estates "proasteion" and monasteries as well as the creation of fast and flexible provincial armies. The Strategos or any other military governor was assisted by several deputies, among the most important the Krites or Praitor who was responsible for the legal matters inside a Theme, although their tasks seem's to have been much more wider and less dogmatic since they are also shown assisting in various military campaigns or on occasions replacing the Strategos and his military duties.

Due to the lack of action or large-scale battles in the thematas of mainland Greece, most of these provinces came to be governed directly by the Megas doux, under him the Krites or Archons of the various coastal cities. The province was accommodated and reproposed solely for the maintenance and support of the Byzantine navy, fulfilling a supporting role largely in contrast from the more active and military themas of Strategos and Katepans focussed in Asia Minor. The duties of said governors were largely limited to the collection of the various maritime taxes of their governorships, the basic management of the various large urban centers such as Athens, Corinth or Thebes as well as the basic level of protection for its provinces against pirates and any other raiders. During the "classic" or middle period of the Byzantine state (8th-late 11th centuries), a new, court-centered system emerged. In this, the new titles derived from older, now obsolete, public offices, and dignities of a certain level were awarded with each office. A senatorial class remained in place, which incorporated a large part of the upper officialdom as 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.[7] 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, relied on the Hellenistic joint tax liability system of the different towns and villages, chora and komai inside a théma, duties which were carried out by provincial officials such as the epoptes, exisotes and praktores. A Theme itself 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, the later making most of a village or town chora, komai which were the main source of constant and rapid revenue which ultimately derived from the Hellenistic fiscal and administrative principle of "epibole", that had served as an accessible tool for the Hellenistic kingdoms for the simple income and rapid collection of taxes in the war-time Hellenistic period, being adopted and adapted in the late Roman and early Byzantine province of Egypt which never stopped applying said system, indirectly, a consequence of the multiple wars and invasions that Byzantium had to deal throughout its history.[8][9]

After the reforms of Alexios I however, the system underwent various changes in which, due to the desperate state of the empire and the urgent need for more income to finance its military campaigns and strengthen its borders several simplifications and concessions were made. The theme system stablished under the Komnenoi would remain the administrative basis of the Byzantine state until its final fall in 1453 differing in a few key aspects from its administrative predecessors, it highlighted a greater centralization of power. The various Themes had been divided in 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 "Douk", who were positioned by the emperor directly, specially a relative of his or a close aristocrat to the Basileus, and the Katepanakia inside the Theme were ruled by a deputie of the Douk called "Praktor" appointed either by the monarch or the Douk himself, it's primary task was the collection of taxes and as second role, the maintenance of basic order, administration and justice in his district.[10]

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 with the integrity of the "chora" or village tax, its new main objective was the collection of the various taxes regardless of whether it 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 be eventually added to the different episkpesis of the adjoining monasteries which would become responsible, both, for the fiscal obligations of the various towns and villages in their domain and for their fiscal obligations as monastic institutions, or of the various well-resourced dynatoi landowners who would also pay and be held responsible for both, the tax of the various villages in their domain and their own individual fiscal obligations. This trend culminated in the eventual disappearance of the fiscal individuality that each commune or town had enjoyed and which emperors like Basil II had fought and delayed with special taxes such as the allelengyon in the face of their growing power, becoming one of several towns within the estates of the different institutions and individuals of the time, which in part was also a phenomenon that many communes could not bear due to the various fiscal tolerances that the basileus offered to the different monastic institutions and their estates, further accelerating the disappearance of the fiscal individuality of the villages and towns.[11]

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.[7] The Komnenian-led Empire, and later their Palaiologan successors, were based primarily on the landed aristocracy, keeping the governance of state tightly controlled by a limited number of intermarrying aristocratic families. In the 11th and 12th century for instance, some 80 civil and 64 military noble families have been identified, a very small number for so large a state.[12] 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 taken their place, and the old distinction between office and dignity had vanished.[7]

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.
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.
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.[13]
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.[13]

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[14]) were, in descending order of precedence:

Titles for the eunuchs

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

There is also a single special title reserved for women, that of zōstē patrikia (ζωστὴ πατρικία, "Girded patrikia"). This title was given to the empress' ladies of honour, and, according to Philotheos, ranked very high in hierarchy, above even the magistros and proedros and just below the kouropalates. The title is known from the early 9th century, and disappeared in the 11th century.[26] Otherwise women bore the female forms of their husbands' titles.

Titles for the foreigners

From 14th to 15th century

Book of Offices ranks the order of command below the emperor:[27]

  1. Despot
  2. Sebastokrator
  3. Caesar
  4. Megas domestikos
  5. Megas doux
  6. Protostrator, deputy of meges 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.
Emperor Theophilos flanked by courtiers. From the Skylitzes Chronicle.

The vast Byzantine bureaucracy had many titles, and varied more than aristocratic and military titles. In Constantinople there were normally hundreds, if not thousands, of bureaucrats at any time. Like 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 they eventually became honorary posts. 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",[30] 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.[31]

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.

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, retrieved 2022-03-02
  2. ^ Walter, Christopher (1968). "Dvornik (Francis), Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy". Revue des études byzantines. 26 (1): 373–376.
  3. ^ Mango 2007, pp. 259–260.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Heather, Peter; Moncur, David (January 2001). Politics, Philosophy, and Empire in the Fourth Century. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-0-85323-106-6.
  7. ^ a b c d Kazhdan (1991), p. 623
  8. ^ "Historians and the Economy: Zosimos and Prokopios on Fifth- and Sixth- Century Economie Development", Byzantine Narrative, BRILL, pp. 462–474, 2017-01-01, retrieved 2022-03-13
  9. ^ Harvey, Alan (1993). The land and taxation in the reign of Alexios I Komnenos: the evidence of Theophylakt of Ochrid. PERSEE. OCLC 754219713.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Kazhdan, Alexander (1993). "State, Feudal, and Private Economy in Byzantium". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 47: 83. doi:10.2307/1291672. ISSN 0070-7546.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Spatharakis, Iohannis (1976). The portrait in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. Brill Archive. p. 110. ISBN 978-90-04-04783-9.
  14. ^ The Eunuch in Byzantine History and Society; Shaun Tougher; page 22
  15. ^ a b Kazhdan (1991), p. 1727
  16. ^ Bury (1911), p. 21
  17. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1267
  18. ^ a b c d Kazhdan (1991), p. 2162
  19. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1600
  20. ^ a b Bury (1911), p. 27
  21. ^ Bury (1911), p. 26
  22. ^ Bury (1911), p. 25
  23. ^ Bury (1911), pp. 21, 23–24
  24. ^ Ringrose 2003, p. 234 (Note #86)
  25. ^ Bury 1911, p. 121.
  26. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 2231
  27. ^ Heath, Ian (13 November 1995). Byzantine Armies, 1118-1461. Osprey. pp. 18–9. ISBN 978-1-85532-347-6.
  28. ^ Mark C. Bartusis, "The Kavallarioi of Byzantium" in Speculum, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Apr., 1988), pp. 343–350
  29. ^ Bury (1911), p. 32
  30. ^ Steven Runciman, Byzantine Style and Civilization (London: Penguin, 1975)
  31. ^ Rosenwein, Barbara (2009). A Short History of the Middle Ages (3rd ed.). University of Toronto Press.