Decline of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire experienced several cycles of growth and decay over the course of nearly a thousand years, including major losses during the Arab conquests of the 7th century. However, modern historians generally agree that the start of the empire's final decline began in the 11th century.

In the 11th century the empire experienced a major catastrophe in which most of its heartland territory in Anatolia was lost to the Seljuk Turks following the Battle of Manzikert and ensuing civil war. At the same time, the empire lost its last territory in Italy to the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and faced repeated attacks on its territory in the Balkans. These events created the context for emperor Alexios I Komnenos to call to the west for help, which led to the First Crusade. However, economic concessions to the Italian Republics of Venice and Genoa weakened the empire's control over its own finances, especially from the 13th century onward, while tensions with the West led to the Sack of Constantinople by the forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the dismemberment of the empire.

Although a number of small Byzantine successor states survived and eventually reclaimed Constantinople in 1261, the empire had been severely weakened. In the longer term, the rise of Turkish power in Anatolia eventually gave rise to the Ottoman Empire which rapidly conquered the former Byzantine heartland over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople to the army of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453.

Byzantine Empire animated
Map of the changes in borders of the Byzantine Empire. The dates represented are 476 (Fall of the Western Roman Empire; Basiliscus deposed and Zeno restored), 550 (Justinian I's western reclamations; Ostrogothic Kingdom), 717 (Leo III reign; 2nd Arab siege), 867 (Basil I reign begins), 1025 (Basil II dies; Constantine VIII reign begins), 1095 (Alexius I Comnenus requests western aid against the Seljuk Turks), 1170 (Amalric I and Manuel I alliance), 1270 (Michael VIII reign), and 1400 (Closing of the Byzantine–Ottoman Wars).

Timeline of decline

The most significant events generally agreed by historians to have played a role in the decline of the Byzantine empire are summarised below:

  • The Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which saw emperor Romanos IV Diogenes captured by the army of Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan. The defeat led to a Byzantine civil war lasting ten years, in which eight different revolts took place. The damage was increased by the use of Turkish mercenaries by the various factions, which in some cases led to Turkish occupation of entire cities and regions. A notable example is the revolt of Nikephoros Melissenos in 1080, in which the towns he had occupied and garrisoned with Turkish soldiers in Ionia, Phrygia, Galatia, and Bithynia remained in their hands even after the revolt ended, including Nicaea, which for a time became the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum.
  • The Battle of Myriokephalon in 1176, in which an army led by emperor Manuel I Komnenos attempted to capture the Turkish capital at Konya, but was ambushed in a narrow mountain pass and defeated by the army of Turkish Sultan Kilij Arslan II. The battle is generally considered significant both because it put an end to Byzantine plans to recover central Anatolia, and because of the psychological effect it had both on the emperor himself, and the empire's international reputation. In the years after Manuel's death in 1180, the Seljuks built on their victory by expanding their control at the expense of the Byzantines, while Manuel's teenage successor Alexios II was overthrown in a coup.
  • The Byzantine civil wars of the 14th century, including the Byzantine civil war of 1321–1328 and the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347, which completely destroyed what little strength the empire had left. The Fall of Gallipoli in 1354 saw the Ottoman Turks cross into Europe, while the empire was powerless to stop them. This event has been seen by modern historians such as Donald M. Nicol to be the point of no return for the Byzantine Empire, after which its fall was virtually inevitable.

Causes of the decline

Civil wars

Probably the most important single cause of Byzantium's collapse was its recurrent debilitating civil wars. Three of the worst periods of civil war and internal infighting took place during Byzantium's decline. Each time, these civil wars coincided with a catastrophic reduction in Byzantine power and influence, which was never fully reversed before the next collapse.

The period from 1071 to 1081 saw eight revolts:

This was followed by a period of secure dynastic rule by the Komnenos dynasty, under Alexios I (1081-1118), John II Komnenos (1118-43) and Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180). Cumulatively, these three emperors were able to partially restore the empire's fortunes, but they never were able to fully undo the damage caused by the instability at the end of the 11th century, nor return the empire's frontiers to those of 1071.

The second period of civil war and collapse took place after Manuel's death in 1180. Manuel's son Alexios II Komnenos was overthrown in 1183 by Andronikos I Komnenos, whose reign of terror destabilised the empire internally and led to his overthrow and death in Constantinople in 1185. The Angelos dynasty which ruled Byzantium from 1185 to 1204 has been considered one of the most unsuccessful and ineffectual administrations in the empire's history. During this period, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary broke away from the empire, further land was lost to the Seljuk Turks. In 1203, the imprisoned former emperor Alexios IV Angelos escaped jail and fled to the west, where he promised the leaders of the Fourth Crusade generous payment if they would help him regain the throne. These promises later proved to be impossible to keep; in the event, the dynastic squabbling between the weak and ineffectual members of the Angelid dynasty brought about the Sack of Constantinople; Constantinople was burned, pillaged and destroyed, thousands of its citizens were killed, many of the surviving inhabitants fled, and much of the city became a depopulated ruin. The damage to Byzantium was incalculable; many historians point to this moment as a fatal blow in the empire's history. Although the empire was reformed in 1261 by the recapture of the city by forces from the Empire of Nicaea, the damage was never reversed and the empire never returned to anywhere near its former territorial extent, wealth and military power.

The third period of civil war took place in the 14th century. Two separate periods of civil war, again making extensive use of Turkish, Serbian and even Catalan troops, often operating independently under their own commanders, and often raiding and destroying Byzantine lands in the process, ruined the domestic economy and left the state virtually powerless and overrun by its enemies. Conflicts between Andronikos II and Andronikos III, and then later between John VI Kantakouzenos and John V Palaiologos, marked the final ruin of Byzantium. The Byzantine civil war of 1321–1328 allowed the Turks to make notable gains in Anatolia and set up their capital in Bursa 100 kilometers from Constantinople the Byzantine's capital. The civil war of 1341–1347 saw exploitation of the Byzantine Empire by the Serbs, whose ruler took advantage of the chaos to proclaim himself emperor of the Serbs and Greeks. The Serbian king Stefan Uroš IV Dušan made significant territorial gains in Byzantine Macedonia in 1345 and conquered large swathes of Thessaly and Epirus in 1348.[1] In order to secure his authority during the civil war, Kantakouzenos hired Turkish mercenaries. Although these mercenaries were of some use, in 1352 they seized Gallipoli from the Byzantines.[2] By 1354, the empire's territory consisted of Constantinople and Thrace, the city of Thessaloniki, and some territory in the Morea.

Fall of the theme system

The disintegration of the Byzantine Empire's traditional military system, the 'theme' system, played a role in its decline. Under this arrangement, which was in its heyday from circa 650 to 1025, the empire was divided into several regions which contributed locally raised troops to the imperial armies. The system provided an effective means of cheaply mobilizing large numbers of men, and the result was a comparatively large and powerful force – the army of the theme of Thrakesion alone had provided about 9,600 men in the period 902–936, for example. But from the 11th century onwards, the theme system was allowed to decay. This played a major role in the loss of Anatolia to the Turks at the end of that century.

In the 12th century, the Komnenian dynasty re-established an effective military force. Manuel I Komnenos, for example, was able to muster an army of over 40,000 men. However, the theme system was never replaced by a viable long-term alternative, and the result was an empire that depended more than ever before on the strengths of each individual emperor or dynasty. The collapse of imperial power and authority after 1185 revealed the inadequacy of this approach. After the deposition of Andronikos I Komnenos in 1185, the dynasty of the Angeloi oversaw a period of military decline. From 1185 onwards, Byzantine emperors found it increasingly difficult to muster and pay for sufficient military forces, while the failure of their efforts to sustain their empire exposed the limitations of the entire Byzantine military system, dependent as it was on competent personal direction from the emperor.

Despite the restoration under the Palaiologoi, Byzantium was never again a great power on the scale of the past. By the 13th century, the imperial army numbered a mere 6,000 men. As one of the main institutional strengths of the Byzantine state, the demise of the theme system left the empire lacking in underlying structural strengths.

Increasing reliance on mercenaries

As far back as the invasion of Africa by Belisarius, foreign soldiers were used in war.[3] While foreign military invention was not an all together new occurrence,[4] the reliance on it, and its ability to damage political, social, and economic institutions were dramatically increased in the 11th, 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. The 11th century saw increasing tensions between Courtly, and Military factions.[5][6] Until the mid 11th century the empire had long been under the control of the Military Factions with leaders such as Basil II, and John I Tzimiskes,[7] however the crisis of Basil II's succession led to increasing uncertainty in the future of politics.[5] The army demanded Basil's daughters remain in power, leading to a number of marriages, and increasing power for the Courtly faction.[5] This culminated after the failed Battle of Manzikert. As civil wars broke out, and tensions between courtly, and military factions reached a zenith, declining demand for soldiers led to the hiring of Turkish Mercenaries to fight the external civil war.[8] These mercenaries aided in the Byzantine loss of Anatolia by drawing more Turkish soldiers out of the interior of the empire, and by giving the Turks an increasing presence in Byzantine politics. These interventions also led to further destabilization of the political system.[8][9]

Reliance on foreign military intervention, and sponsorship for political motives, continued even during the Komnenoi Restoration, Alexius I utilized Turkish mercenaries in the civil wars he participated in with Nikephoros III Botaneiates.[9] In 1204, Alexios IV Angelos relied on Latin soldiers to claim the throne of Byzantium, leading to the sack of Constantinople, and the creation of the successor states.[10]

Loss of control over revenue

Economic concessions to the Italian Republics of Venice and Genoa weakened the empire's control over its own finances, especially from the ascension of Michael VIII Palaiologos in the 13th century onward. At this time it was common for emperors to seek sponsorship from Venice, Genoa, and the Turks. This led to a series of disastrous trade deals with the Italian states; drying up one of the empire's final sources of revenue.[11] This further led to competition between Venice, and Genoa to get emperors on the throne who supported their respective trade agenda to the detriment of the other, adding another level of instability to the Byzantine political process.[11]

By the time of the Byzantine–Genoese War (1348–49), only thirteen percent of custom dues passing through the Bosporus strait were going to the Empire. The remaining 87 percent was collected by the Genoese from their colony of Galata.[12] Genoa collected 200,000 hyperpyra from annual custom revenues from Galata, while Constantinople collected a mere 30,000.[13] The loss of control over its own revenue sources drastically weakened the Byzantine empire, hastening its decline. At the same time, the system of Pronoia (land grants in exchange for military service), became increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional by the later empire, and by the 14th century many of the empire's nobles were not paying any tax, nor were they serving in the empire's armies. This further undermined the financial basis of the state, and placed further reliance on unreliable mercenaries, which only hasted the empire's demise.

The failed Union of the Churches

John VI Kantakouzenos
John VI Kantakouzenos presiding over a synod of Orthodox clergy in 1351. Despite the return to Orthodoxy after 1282, Byzantium was unable to restore harmony. John VI abdicated in 1354; the civil war with John V Palaiologos weakened the empire

Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos signed a union with the Catholic church in the 13th century in the hope of staving off western attack, but the policy was unsuccessful. The empire's western enemies soon resumed attacking the empire, while the social divisions the deeply unpopular union created inside the empire were damaging to Byzantine society. The controversy over church union failed to provide the empire with any lasting benefit, while the prisons were soon full of dissenters and Orthodox clergy. This undermined the legitimacy of the Palaiologos dynasty and further facilitated social divisions, which were ultimately to play a role in the loss of Anatolia to the Ottoman Turks.

Byzantine envoys presented themselves at the Second Council of Lyons 24 June 1274. On the fourth session of the Council the formal act of union was performed[14], however with Pope Gregory's death (January, 1276), the hoped for gains did not materialise.[15]

While the union was opposed at all levels of society, it was especially opposed by the greater populace, led by the monks and the adherents of the deposed Patriarch Arsenios, known as the Arsenites. One of the chief anti-unionist leaders was Michael's own sister Eulogia (aka Irene), who fled to the court of her daughter Maria Palaiologina Kantakouzene, Tsarina of the Bulgars, from where she intrigued unsuccessfully against Michael. More serious was the opposition of the sons of Michael of Epirus, Nikephoros I Komnenos Doukas and his half-brother John the Bastard: they posed as the defenders of Orthodoxy and gave support to the anti-unionists fleeing Constantinople. Michael at first responded with comparative leniency, hoping to win the anti-unionists through persuasion, but eventually the virulence of the protests led him to resort to force. Many anti-unionists were blinded or exiled. Two prominent monks, Meletios and Ignatios, were punished: the first had his tongue cut out, the second was blinded. Even imperial officials were harshly treated, and the death penalty was decreed even for simply reading or possessing pamphlets directed against the Emperor.[16] "From the intensity of these disorders, tantamount almost to civil wars," concludes Geanakoplos, "it might appear that too great a price had been paid for the sake of union."[17]

The religious situation only worsened for Michael. The Arsenite party found widespread support amongst the discontented in the Anatolian provinces, and Michael responded there with similar viciousness: according to Vryonis, "These elements were either removed from the armies or else, alienated, they deserted to the Turks".[18] Another attempt to clear the encroaching Turkmen from the Meaender valley in 1278 found limited success, but Antioch on the Maeander was irretrievably lost as were Tralles and Nyssa four years later.[19]

On 1 May 1277, John the Bastard convoked a synod at Neopatras that anathematized the Emperor, Patriarch, and Pope as heretics.[20] In response, a synod was convoked at the Hagia Sophia on 16 July where both Nikephoros and John were anathematized in return. John called a final synod at Neopatras in December 1277, where an anti-unionist council of eight bishops, a few abbots, and one hundred monks, again anathematized the Emperor, Patriarch, and Pope.[21]

Conflict with Crusaders and Turks


Though the Crusades assisted Byzantium in driving back some of the Turks, they went far beyond the military assistance envisaged by Alexios I. Instead of following the strategic necessities of the war against the Turks, the Crusaders were focussed on the quest of re-conquering Jerusalem, and instead of returning territory to Byzantium, the Crusaders established their own principalities, becoming a territorial rival to Byzantine interests in their own right.

This was true already during the Third Crusade, which induced emperor Isaac II Angelos to make a secret alliance with Saladin to impede the progress of Frederick Barbarossa, but open conflict between Crusaders and Byzantium erupted in the Fourth Crusade, resulting in the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. Constantinople was now itself a Crusader state, known as the Latin Empire in historiography, but from the Greek perspective as Frankokratia or "rule of the Franks". Vestiges of imperial power were preserved in minor principalities, the Nicaean Empire, Trebizond and Epirus. Much of the Nicaean Emperors' efforts now went into combating the Latins, and even after Constantinople was returned to Greek rule under the Palaiologoi in 1261, the Empire exerted much of its efforts into defeating its Latin neighbours, contributing to the eventual failure of the Crusades by 1291.

Rise of the Seljuks and Ottomans

No emperor after the Komnenian period was in a position to expel the Turks from Asia Minor, while the preoccupation of the Nicaean emperors with the attempt to recover Constantinople meant that resources were diverted away from Asia Minor and towards the west. The result was a weakening of the Byzantine defenses in the region, which, when combined with insufficient resources and incompetent leadership, led to the complete loss of all the empire's Asian territory to the Turks by 1338.

The disintegration of the Seljuk Turks led to the rise of the Ottoman Turks. Their first important leader was Osman I Bey, who attracted Ghazi warriors and carved out a domain in north-western Asia Minor.[22] Attempts by the Byzantine Emperors to drive back the Ottomans were unsuccessful, and ceased in 1329 with the Battle of Pelekanon. Following a number of civil disputes in the Byzantine Empire, the Ottomans subjugated the Byzantines as vassals in the late 14th century and attempts to relieve this vassal status culminated in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

See also


  1. ^ Robert Browning, The Byzantine Empire (Washington D. C. :The Catholic U of America P, 1992), 240.
  2. ^ Robert Browning, The Byzantine Empire (Washington D. C. :The Catholic U of America P, 1992), 241.
  3. ^ Procopius History of the Wars Book III
  4. ^ Justinian II Constance Head
  5. ^ a b c Chronographia Michael Psellos
  6. ^ The Histories Michael Attaleiites
  7. ^ A Synopsis of Byzantine History John Skylitzes
  8. ^ a b The Grand Byzantine Strategy Edward Luttwak
  9. ^ a b The Alexiad Anna Komnene
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference ReferenceZ was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ a b City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas Roger Crowley
  12. ^ Ostrogorsky, p.528.
  13. ^ Ostrogorsky, p.526.
  14. ^ Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, pp. 258–264
  15. ^ Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, pp. 286–290
  16. ^ Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, pp. 264–275
  17. ^ Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, p. 276
  18. ^ Vryonis, Decline of medieval Hellenism, p. 136
  19. ^ Vryonis, Decline of medieval Hellenism, p. 137
  20. ^ Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, p. 275
  21. ^ Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, p. 309
  22. ^ Stanford Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Cambridge: University Press, 1976), vol. 1 pp. 13f


  • Angold, Michael (1997). The Byzantine Empire, 1025–1204. Longman. ISBN 0-582-29468-1.
  • Haldon, John (2002). Byzantium – A History. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-2343-6.
  • Harris, Jonathan (2003). Byzantium and the Crusades. Hambledon and London. ISBN 1-85285-298-4.
  • Alan Harvey, "Economic expansion in the Byzantine empire, 900–1200"
  • John Haldon, "The Byzantine Wars"
  • J.W. Birkenmeier, The Development of the Komnenian Army 1081–1180
  • Magdalino, Paul, The empire of Manuel I Komnenos 1143–1180
  • Norwich, John Julius (1998). A Short History of Byzantium. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-025960-0.
  • Runciman, Steven. The Fall of Constantinople 1453. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.
  • Vryonis, Speros. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
Andronikos II Palaiologos

Andronikos II Palaiologos (Medieval Greek: Ἀνδρόνικος Β′ Παλαιολόγος; 25 March 1259 – 13 February 1332), usually Latinized as Andronicus II Palaeologus, reigned as Byzantine Emperor from 1282 to 1328. Andronikos' reign was marked by the beginning of the decline of the Byzantine Empire. During his reign, the Turks conquered most of the Western Anatolian territories of the Empire and, during the last years of his reign, he also had to fight his grandson Andronikos in the First Palaiologan Civil War. The civil war ended in Andronikos II's forced abdication in 1328 after which he retired to a monastery.

Bandon (Byzantine Empire)

The bandon (Greek: βάνδον) was the basic military unit and administrative territorial entity of the middle Byzantine Empire. Its name, like the Latin bandus and bandum ("ensign, banner"), had a Germanic origin. It derived from the Gothic bandwō, which is the witness of foreign influence in the army at the time this type of unit evolved.

Byzantine Empire under the Doukas dynasty

The Byzantine Empire was ruled by emperors of the Doukas dynasty between 1059 and 1081. There are six emperors and co-emperors of this period: the dynasty's founder, Emperor Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059–1067), his brother John Doukas, katepano and later Caesar, Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068–1071), Constantine's son Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071–1078), Michael's son and co-emperor Constantine Doukas, and finally Nikephoros III Botaneiates (r. 7 January 1078 – 1 April 1081), who claimed descent from the Phokas family.

Under the rule of the Doukids, Byzantium was fighting a losing battle against the Seljuk Turks, losing most of its remaining possessions in Asia Minor following the catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.

Byzantium also incurred substantial loss of territory in the Balkans, to the Serbs, as well as losing its final foothold in Italy, to the Normans.

Although the Crusades gave the empire a temporary respite during the 12th century, it never recovered fully and eventually entered its period of fragmentation and terminal decline under the pressure of the Ottomans in the late medieval period.

In 1077, Alexios Komnenos, then a general, married Irene Doukaina, the great-niece of Constantine X.

His marriage to a Doukaina made him senior to his elder brother Isaac, and it was Doukai financial and political support that largely facilitated the successful and bloodless coup that brought him to the throne.

Byzantine Empire under the Leonid dynasty

The Eastern Roman Empire was ruled by the House of Leo from 457, the accession of Leo I, to 518 AD, the death of Anastasius I. The rule of the Leonid dynasty coincided with the rapid decline, collapse and eventual fall of the Western Roman Empire. Following the end of the Western Empire, Emperor Zeno abolished the position of Western Roman Emperor and declared himself the sole Roman Emperor. The Eastern Roman Empire would come to last for several more centuries, and subsequent dynasties would invest large amounts of resources in attempts to retake the western provinces.

The Leonid dynasty also ruled the Western Roman Empire from 474 to its abolishment in 480 AD.

Byzantine Empire under the Macedonian dynasty

The medieval Byzantine Empire underwent a revival during the reign of the Macedonian emperors 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 the Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria.

The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the newfound 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 (the "Macedonian Renaissance"). Ancient texts were preserved and patiently recopied. 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 both less geographically dispersed and more politically and culturally integrated.

Byzantine Empire under the Theodosian dynasty

The Eastern Roman Empire was ruled by the Theodosian dynasty from 379, the accession of Theodosius I, to 457, the death of Marcian. The rule of the Theodosian dynasty saw the final East-West division of the Roman Empire, between Arcadius and Honorius in 395. Whilst divisions of the Roman Empire had occurred before, the Empire would never again be fully reunited. The reign of the sons of Theodosius I contributed heavily to the crisis that under the fifth century eventually resulted in the complete collapse of Roman control in the West.

The Eastern Empire was largely spared the difficulties faced by the West in the third and fourth centuries, due in part to a more firmly established urban culture and greater financial resources, which allowed it to placate invaders with tribute and pay foreign mercenaries. Throughout the fifth century, various invading armies overran the Western Empire but spared the east.

The Theodosian dynasty also ruled the Western Roman Empire from 392 to 455 AD.

Byzantine commonwealth

The term Byzantine commonwealth was coined by 20th-century historians to refer to the area where Byzantine general influence (Byzantine liturgical and cultural tradition) was spread during the Middle Ages by Byzantine statehood and missionaries. This area covers approximately the modern-day countries of Greece, Cyprus, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, southwestern Russia, and Georgia (known as the region of Eastern Orthodoxy in Europe).

Byzantine cuisine

Byzantine cuisine was marked by a merger of Greek and Roman gastronomy. The development of the Byzantine Empire and trade brought in spices, sugar and new vegetables to Greece.

Cooks experimented with new combinations of food, creating two styles in the process. These were the Eastern (Asia Minor and the Eastern Aegean), consisting of Byzantine cuisine supplemented by trade items, and a leaner style primarily based on local Greek culture.

Byzantine novel

Byzantine romance represents a revival of the ancient Greek romance of Roman times. Works in this category were written by Byzantine Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire during the 12th century.

Despotate of the Morea

The Despotate of the Morea (Greek: Δεσποτᾶτον τοῦ Μορέως) or Despotate of Mystras (Greek: Δεσποτᾶτον τοῦ Μυστρᾶ) was a province of the Byzantine Empire which existed between the mid-14th and mid-15th centuries. Its territory varied in size during its existence but eventually grew to include almost all the southern Greek peninsula known as the Peloponnese, which was known as the Morea during the medieval and early modern periods. The territory was usually ruled by one or more sons of the current Byzantine emperor, who were given the title of despotes (in this context it should not be confused with despotism). Its capital was the fortified city of Mystras, near ancient Sparta, which became an important centre of the Palaiologan Renaissance.


Droungos (Greek: δροῦγγος, sometimes δρόγγος, drongos) or drungus is a late Roman and Byzantine term for a battalion-sized military unit, and later for a local command guarding mountain districts. Its commander was a "droungarios" or "drungarius" (δρουγγάριος), anglicized as "Drungary".


The katepánō (Greek: κατεπάνω, lit. "[the one] placed at the top", or " the topmost") was a senior Byzantine military rank and office. The word was Latinized as capetanus/catepan, and its meaning seems to have merged with that of the Italian "capitaneus" (which derives from the Latin word "caput", meaning head). This hybridized term gave rise to the English language term captain and its equivalents in other languages (Capitan, Kapitan, Kapitän, El Capitán, Il Capitano, Kapudan Pasha etc.)

Kephale (Byzantine Empire)

In the late Byzantine Empire, the term kephale (Greek: κεφαλή, kephalē, "head") was used to denote local and provincial governors.

It entered use in the second half of the 13th century, and was derived from the colloquial language. Consequently, it never became an established title or rank of the Byzantine imperial hierarchy, but remained a descriptive term. In essence, the kephalē replaced the Komnenian-era doux as the civil and military governor of a territorial administrative unit, known as a katepanikion (κατεπανίκιον, katepaníkion), but also termed a kephalatikion (κεφαλατίκιον, kephalatíkion). In size, these provinces were small compared to the earlier themata, and could range from a few villages surrounding the kephale's seat (a kastron, "fortress"), to an entire island. This arrangement was also adopted by the Second Bulgarian Empire (as Bulgarian: кефалия, kefaliya) and Serbian Empire (as Serbian: кефалиja, kefalija).

In the 14th century, superior kephalai were appointed (katholikai kephalai, "universal heads") overseeing a group of provinces under their respective [merikai] kephalai ("[partial] heads"). The former were usually kin of the emperor or members of the senior aristocratic clans. By the late 14th century, with the increasing decentralization of the Empire and the creation of appanages in the form of semi-independent despotates, these senior posts vanished.

Kleisoura (Byzantine district)

In the Byzantine Empire, a kleisoura (Greek: κλεισούρα, "enclosure, defile") was a term traditionally applied to a fortified mountain pass and the military district protecting it. By the late 7th century, it came to be applied to more extensive frontier districts, distinct from the larger themata, chiefly along the Empire's eastern border with the Caliphate along the line of the Taurus-Anti-Taurus mountains (in the West, only Strymon was in its early days termed a kleisoura). A kleisoura or kleisourarchia was an autonomous command, under a kleisourarches (Greek: κλεισουράρχης). Eventually, most kleisourai were raised to full themata, and the term fell out of use after the 10th century (in late Byzantine times, droungos had a similar meaning). Its Islamic counterpart in Cilicia and Mesopotamia was the al-thughūr.

Modern Greek literature

Modern Greek literature refers to literature written in common Modern Greek, emerging from the late Byzantine era in the 11th century AD. During this period, spoken Greek became more prevalent in the written tradition, as demotic Greek came to be used more and more over the Attic idiom and the katharevousa reforms.

The migration of Byzantine scholars and other émigrés from southern Italy and Byzantium during the decline of the Byzantine Empire (1203–1453) and mainly after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the 16th century, is considered by some scholars as key to the revival of Greek and Roman studies and subsequently in the development of the Renaissance humanism and science. These emigres were grammarians, humanists, poets, writers, printers, lecturers, musicians, astronomers, architects, academics, artists, scribes, philosophers, scientists, politicians and theologians. They brought to Western Europe the far greater preserved and accumulated knowledge of their own civilization.

The Cretan Renaissance poem Erotokritos is undoubtedly the masterpiece of this early period of modern Greek literature, and represents one of its supreme achievements. It is a verse romance written around 1600 by Vitsentzos Kornaros (1553–1613). The other major representative of the Cretan literature was Georgios Chortatzis and his most notable work was Erofili. Other plays include The Sacrifice of Abraham by Kornaros, Panoria and Katsourbos by Chortatzis, Fortounatos by Markos Antonios Foskolos, King Rodolinos by Andreas Troilos, Stathis (comedy) and Voskopoula by unknown artists.

Much later, Diafotismos was an ideological, philological, linguistic and philosophical movement among 18th century Greeks that translate the ideas and values of European Enlightenment into the Greek world. Adamantios Korais and Rigas Feraios are two of the most notable figures. In 1819, Korakistika, written by Iakovakis Rizos Neroulos, was a lampoon against the Greek intellectual Adamantios Korais and his linguistic views, who favoured the use of a more conservative form of the Greek language, closer to the ancient.

The years before the Greek Independence, the Ionian islands became the center of the Heptanese School (literature). Its main characteristics was the Italian influence, romanticism, nationalism and use of Demotic Greek. Notable representatives were Andreas Laskaratos, Antonios Matesis, Andreas Kalvos, Aristotelis Valaoritis and Dionysios Solomos.

After the independence the intellectual center was transferred in Athens. A major figure of this new era was Kostis Palamas, considered "national poet" of Greece. He was the central figure of the Greek literary generation of the 1880s and one of the cofounders of the so-called New Athenian School (or Palamian School). Its main characteristic was the use of Demotic Greek. He was also the writer of the Olympic Hymn.

Modern Greek literature is usually (but not exclusively) written in polytonic orthography, though the monotonic orthography was made official in 1981 by Andreas Papandreou government. Modern Greek literature is represented by many writers, poets and novelists. Major representatives are Angelos Sikelianos, Emmanuel Rhoides, Athanasios Christopoulos, Kostis Palamas, Penelope Delta, Yannis Ritsos, Alexandros Papadiamantis, Nikos Kazantzakis, Andreas Embeirikos, Kostas Karyotakis, Gregorios Xenopoulos, Constantine P. Cavafy, Demetrius Vikelas, Georgios Vizyinos, while George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Other writers include Manolis Anagnostakis, Nicolas Calas, Georgios Drosinis, Kiki Dimoula, Maro Douka, Nikos Engonopoulos, Nikos Gatsos, Iakovos Kambanelis, Nikos Kavvadias, Andreas Karkavitsas, Kostas Krystallis, Dimitris Lyacos, Petros Markaris, Lorentzos Mavilis, Jean Moréas, Stratis Myrivilis, Zacharias Papantoniou, Dimitris Psathas, Ioannis Psycharis, Aristomenis Provelengios, Alexandros Rizos Rangavis, Vasilis Rotas, Miltos Sahtouris, Antonis Samarakis, Giannis Skarimpas, Dido Sotiriou, Georgios Souris, Alexandros Soutsos, Panagiotis Soutsos, Georgios Stratigis, Angelos Terzakis, Kostas Varnalis, Vassilis Vassilikos, Elias Venezis, Demetrios Bernardakis and Nikephoros Vrettakos.


Oktōēchos (here transcribed "Octoechos"; Greek: ὁ Ὀκτώηχος Greek pronunciation: [okˈtóixos]; from ὀκτώ "eight" and ἦχος "sound, mode" called echos; Slavonic: Осмогласие, Osmoglasie from о́смь "eight" and гласъ, Glagolitic: ⰳⰾⰰⱄⱏ, "voice, sound") is the eight-mode system used for the composition of religious chant in Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Latin and Slavic churches since the Middle Ages. In a modified form the octoechos is still regarded as the foundation of the tradition of monodic chant in the Byzantine Rite today.


The Paramonai (Greek: Παραμοναί) were an obscure Byzantine guard regiment of the Palaiologan period.

The name derives from the Greek verb παραμένω, meaning "to stand near something". Unlike other major guard units in the Palaiologan army like the Varangian Guard, the regiment of the Paramonai was a native Byzantine formation, although little else is known about it. Its existence is safely attested in the literary sources only for the period from 1272 until 1315.They are still mentioned by the mid-14th century writer Pseudo-Kodinos, however, who records that the regiment had two divisions, one on foot and the other on horse, each commanded by an allagator, and that all the soldiers were armed with swords. The veracity of Kodinos's account is impossible to ascertain.


A sakellarios (Greek: σακελλάριος) is an official entrusted with administrative and financial duties (cf. sakellē or sakellion, "purse, treasury"). The title was used in the Byzantine Empire with varying functions, and remains in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Twenty Years' Anarchy

The Twenty Years' Anarchy is a historiographic term used by some modern scholars for the period of acute internal instability in the Byzantine Empire marked by the rapid succession of several emperors to the throne between the first deposition of Justinian II in 695 and the ascent of Leo III the Isaurian to the throne in 717, marking the beginning of the Isaurian dynasty.

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