Author Topic: The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome  (Read 191 times)

Offline Vetus Ordo

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The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome
« on: September 24, 2018, 06:34:29 PM »
The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome

by Anthony Kaldellis

Harvard University Press, 2015

Quote
But Greek writers such as Plutarch, Appianos, and Kassios Dion (all Romans, albeit Greek-speaking Romans of the empire and therefore proto-Byzantines), make a more subtle observation, that the «politeia» had changed its form of governance from whatever the Republic was (a democracy?) to a monarchy.

Anthony Kaldellis, The Byzantine Republic, People and Power in New Rome, p.28


The three kinds of government that I spoke of above [monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy] all shared in the control of the Roman state. And such fairness and propriety in all respects was shown in the use of these three elements for drawing up the constitution and in its subsequent administration that it was impossible even for a native to pronounce with certainty whether the whole system was aristocratic, democratic, or monarchical...

Such being the power that each part has of hampering the others or cooperating with them, their union is adequate to all emergencies, so that it is impossible to find a better political system than this.


Polybius of Megalopolis, The Histories [Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, translated by W.R. Paton, 1923, Frank W. Walbank, and Christian Habricht, 2011, Volume III, Book VI, 11.11 & 18.1-2, pp.329 & 345]


The United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican Form of Government...

The United States Constitution, Article IV, Section 4.

The Byzantine Republic by Anthony Kaldellis continues his revolution in Byzantine studies that I have previously examined in Hellenism in Byzantium [2011]. This time, the question is the nature of Byzantine government. Contrary to the traditional view of the Byzantine monarchy as an unqualified absolutism, ordained by God in a way that all citizens believed and obeyed, Kaldellis identifies the actual operating ideology as continuous with earlier Roman imperial law and government. Indeed, the traditional view was never consistent with a feature of Byzantine history that could never be forgotten but that was carefully ignored, or decried, in certain contexts, namely that Emperors were regularly overthrown, either by rebels or by the aroused populace of Constantinople. Kaldellis reports that there averaged a revolt about every ten years over the course of Byzantine history, with just under one out of five "fully fledged military rebellions" succeeding in the removal of an Emperor. This means that Byzantine Emperors were more likely to be deposed than modern American Congressmen, of whom 90% are regularly reelected.

The success of the popular depositions of Emperors seems often to be treated as an embarrassment by Byzantinists, who come across as more indignant that the "mob" should insult the "Equal of the Apostles" than that these regular events should actually tell us something about the political beliefs of the participants. The Byzantinists are more persuaded of the Divine Right of Byzantine monarchs than were most Byzantines. Thus, in 1734 Montesquieu said, "the Greek Empire is nothing more than a tissue of revolts, seditions, and perfidies... Revolutions created more revolutions, so that the effect became the cause." One might think that evidence of a robust political life, in which rulers had little reason to be complacent about the security of their office, would have been admirable to thinkers in an age when the nature and legitimacy of political institutions was being questioned, and after an English King had already been deposed and executed (in 1649) because of a conflict with the Parliament. But we find Montesquieu, like so many others, looking for reasons to dismiss the "Greeks" rather than to carefully investigate the principles behind their political culture.

Indeed, the "Imperial Idea" of the divine sanction of the Throne, and perhaps what we could call the "Divine Right" of the Byzantine monarchs, originated with those monarchs themselves. So it is not made up out of whole cloth by later historians. However, it should not be overlooked, as it often or usually is, that the strategy of reinforcing the status of the Throne with such ideology, which Kaldellis traces back even to the pagans Aurelian and Diocletian [p.175], was obviously not entirely effective and seems to have had little hold on the rioters who end up in the act of blinding or murdering a sitting Emperor. If the people of Constantinople, or the frequent military rebels from the provinces, did not take the "Imperial Idea" entirely seriously, this calls for an explanation of the sort that standard Byzantine historiography really just does not provide. At the same time, early in the book [pp.9-14] Kaldellis examines the law cases, the Novels (Novellae Constitutiones), of the Emperor Leo VI (886-912), in which Leo must compromise the authority of the Emperor with concessions to "custom and usage" [p.13], the "will of the people" [p.10], and the principle of "the advantage and security of those who compromise the politeia (politeuomenoi)," i.e. the res publica and the people (the politeuomenoi, "those who constitute the state," the polis). Kaldellis says "there is almost no scholarship devoted to them [the Novels] in English" [p.9], and it is not hard to see how the peculiar and biased treatment of Byzantine politics would want to ignore them.

A signficant feature of Kaldellis's book is that, as we go along, we discover things, including kinds of language, that we would not know from reading standard Byzantine histories. These oversights are frequently tendentious.  Foremost among them, of course, is the name of the Empire itself, not so much as the "Roman Empire," which is usually at least mentioned by Byzantinists (if not subsequently used), but as the proper name Romania. One can read most of the standard Byzantine histories, as I have discussed elsewhere, without being informed that "Romania" was the proper name of the state and the nation under study. Kaldellis himself, on fifteen different pages of this book, uses or mentions "Romanía" (sic, with the Greek accent curiously added to the Latin spelling) but does not discuss or explain the name, as in fact he has previously done in Hellenism in Byzantium. Given the surprising neglect and even concealment of the word among Byzantinists, I would recommend more attention to the matter; but readers of The Byzantine Republic will not be unaware of its existence.


Read the rest here: http://www.friesian.com/republic.htm
ΠΙΣΤΟΣ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΑΣΗΣ ΑΠΟΔΟΧΗΣ ΑΞΙΟΣ, ΟΤΙ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΗΛΘΕΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΚΟΣΜΟΝ ΑΜΑΡΤΩΛΟΥΣ ΣΩΣΑΙ: ΩΝ ΠΡΩΤΟΣ ΕΙΜΙ ΕΓΩ
 
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Offline Prayerful

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Re: The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2018, 06:39:25 PM »
Have that, and it makes a point that the demotic strain in the Byzantine era wasn't just in relict features like Senate or Consular office, but an abiding survival of the notion that the popular voice counted in a way, drawing upon centuries of Roman political thought. Long time since I read it, so that might misrepresent it.
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Offline Vetus Ordo

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Re: The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2018, 06:56:26 PM »
Have that, and it makes a point that the demotic strain in the Byzantine era wasn't just in relict features like Senate or Consular office, but an abiding survival of the notion that the popular voice counted in a way, drawing upon centuries of Roman political thought. Long time since I read it, so that might misrepresent it.

Indeed, it looks like an interesting read.

Have you read Obolensky's The Byzantine Commonwealth? I'm thinking of buying that one.
ΠΙΣΤΟΣ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΑΣΗΣ ΑΠΟΔΟΧΗΣ ΑΞΙΟΣ, ΟΤΙ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΗΛΘΕΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΚΟΣΜΟΝ ΑΜΑΡΤΩΛΟΥΣ ΣΩΣΑΙ: ΩΝ ΠΡΩΤΟΣ ΕΙΜΙ ΕΓΩ