Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ruins of the Forgotten Byzantine Port of Bathonea

A sea wall dating to the fourth century extends
two and a half miles around ancient Bathonea, on
a peninsula in Lake Kucukcekmece.

After a drought revealed the seawall of a Byzantine Empire harbor town near Istanbul, archeologists excavated what was a thriving ancient center. But how does it fit into the city's 1,600-year history?

(Scientific American)  -  Hidden for a millennium, it took a 21st-century drought to reveal the ruins of a long-lost port city. Five years after archaeologists discovered its four-kilometer-long seawall on a polluted lake 20 kilometers from Istanbul, they continue to unearth Bathonea, which is yielding a wealth of rare artifacts and architecture spanning a thousand years of the Byzantine era.

Excavations this year have essentially doubled Bathonea's known size, bolstering the idea that it was a well-connected, wealthy, fully outfitted harbor city that thrived from the fourth to 11th century, when a massive earthquake leveled much of it.

Bathonea is a rare and important find because little remains in Byzantium proper (now the modern city of Istanbul) of the first few centuries of the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire. The ancient urban center has been built over too many times in its 1,600-year history to leave much behind.

Located on a long-farmed peninsula on Lake Kucukcekmece, once an inlet on the Marmara Sea, Bathonea reappeared in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake's water table, exposing portions of the seawall. It turned out to be almost half the length of the wall that once surrounded Constantinople (as Byzantium had been renamed for Constantine the Great).

The wall's substantial size suggested Bathonea was a significant safe harbor for ships on their way to Constantinople beginning in the fourth century, just as the city became the seat of power for the Eastern Roman Empire.

In previous years archaeologists, led by Kocaeli University's Sengül Aydingün, have unearthed some of the seawall, a multistory villa or palace, an enormous cistern, the round foundations of a Greek temple, and the toppled remains of a Byzantine church and cemetery. Nearby, stone roads crisscross each other and 1,500 years of history.

This year they discovered a large multistory building and a series of smaller rooms adjacent to the villa that artifacts indicate was a monastery with workshops for making metal, jewelry and glass that began production in the fourth century. The jewelry molds they discovered may be the first archaeological evidence for jewelry production in Constantinople, a tradition known from historical sources.

Another key find is the exceptionally preserved, two-part network of underground water channels hundreds of meters long that kept Bathonea's cistern and buildings supplied with freshwater. They also found a Hellenistic building hiding in plain sight among 19th-century structures and a road connecting it to a second-century B.C. harbor, providing more evidence of Bathonea's earliest days.

A massive earthquake in the 11th century seems to have largely destroyed Bathonea.
Archaeologists continue to find toppled walls (including one that killed the three men found beneath the rubble) from all the buildings. Yet judging from the pottery found, some residents eked out a life at Bathonea as late as the 12th century.

Many questions remain: What was Bathonea's connection to Constantinople? Who lived there? If it was a major harbor inhabited by the wealthy and powerful—the region was a well-known country retreat for Constantinople's elite for centuries—why doesn't it appear in known historical sources? (Its name is a placeholder, inspired by two references eight centuries apart.) And what was its relationship to Rhegion, an imperial compound located just across the lake on the Marmara Sea?

To try to answer these questions, Aydingün and her team will focus next year's dig on the seaward tip of the peninsula, where ground-penetrating radar has detected underground anomalies that may be structures. They also hope to restart underwater exploration. In 2008 they discovered an edifice that may have been a lighthouse. Local lore holds that it is a magical minaret that rises in warning whenever nearby villagers sin too much.

(Scientific American)

Stamped Konstans
Hundreds of bricks stamped Konstans, made in Constantinople starting in the fifth century, were found at Bathonea. 

(New York Times)  -  For 1,600 years, this city — Turkey’s largest — has been built and destroyed, erected and erased, as layer upon layer of life has thrived on its seven hills.

Today, Istanbul is a city of 13 million, spread far beyond those hills. And on a long-farmed peninsula jutting into Lake Kucukcekmece, 13 miles west of the city center, archaeologists have made an extraordinary find.
The find is Bathonea, a substantial harbor town dating from the second century B.C. Discovered in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake’s water table, it has been yielding a trove of relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries A.D., a period that parallels Istanbul’s founding and its rise as Constantinople, a seat of power in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
While there are some historical records of this early period, precious few physical artifacts exist. The slim offerings in the Istanbul section of the Archaeological Museums here reflect that, paling in comparison with the riches on display from Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Lebanon.
So Bathonea (pronounced bath-oh-NAY-uh) has the potential to become a “library of Constantinople,” says Sengul Aydingun, the archaeologist who made the initial discovery.

After the drought exposed parts of a well-preserved sea wall nearly two and a half miles long, Dr. Aydingun and her team soon saw that the harbor had been equipped with docks, buildings and a jetty, probably dating to the fourth century. Other discoveries rapidly followed. In the last dig season alone, the archaeologists uncovered port walls, elaborate buildings, an enormous cistern, a Byzantine church and stone roads spanning more than 1,000 years of occupation.
“The fieldwork Sengul has conducted over the last few years is spectacular,” said Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who surveyed Bathonea for two field seasons. “The discoveries made are now shedding a completely new light to the wider urbanized area of Constantinopolis. A fantastic story begins to unveil.”
In 2008, for example, Hakan Oniz, an archaeologist from Eastern Mediterranean University who specializes in underwater research, investigated a structure in the lake that local lore held was some kind of mystical minaret that appeared and disappeared in relation to the rate of sinful behavior by nearby villagers. The ruins, about 800 feet from shore, may have been a lighthouse.
Since then, Dr. Aydingun’s team and researchers from eight foreign universities have found a second, older port on the peninsula’s eastern side, its Greek influences suggesting that it dated to about the second century B.C.

Water Channels
Spelunkers explored hundreds of feet of a two-part water channel system that archaeologists discovered. The channels directed freshwater to the cistern and buildings throughout Bathonea. "They showed us that such an infrastructure can only be constructed for a very big and important settlement," Aydingün says.
Nearby, atop the round foundations of a Greek temple, they found the remains of a fifth- or sixth-century Byzantine church and cemetery with 20 burials, and a large stone relief of a Byzantine cross.

Coins, pottery and other artifacts indicate that the church suffered damage in the devastating earthquake of 557 but was in use until 1037, when a tremor leveled it — crushing three men whose bodies were found beneath a collapsed wall, along with a coin bearing the image of a minor emperor who ruled during the year of the quake.
After bushwhacking through nettle-choked underbrush a mile and a half north of the harbor, the researchers excavated a 360-by-90-foot open-air cistern or pool, as well as walls and foundations from several multistory buildings that may have been part of a villa or palace altered over many centuries.
Because the archaeologists are at the beginning of a multiyear dig at a site not known from historical sources, they are hesitant to draw many conclusions. Even the name Bathonea is a placeholder, inspired by two ancient references: the first-century historian Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History,” which refers to the river feeding the lake as Bathynias; and a work by a ninth-century Byzantine monk, Theophanes, who called the region Bathyasos.
“There is a big question mark over the name,” Dr. Aydingun said. “It’s too early to say. But the name is not important. The important thing to note is that there are buildings, roads” where “people thought there was nothing.”
“But there’s something there,” she went on. “We need a lifetime to discover what it is. But even by next year, we’ll be able to say more.”

The archaeologists know this much: The site was large. It sprawled across at least three square miles, and its sea wall is nearly half the length of the one that surrounded Constantinople itself. It was moderately wealthy; the region was a country retreat for the urban elite, drawn by its fertile hunting grounds and Lake Kucukcekmece itself, the freshwater body closest to the city. They built villas and palaces all around the region.

As seen in this stitched-together image, the pipes poking through the cistern wall look almost modern and just as ready to pour fresh springwater as they were 1,650 years ago.  At least 80 meters long, the cistern was entirely constructed from bricks stamped with the name of Constantine or his sons Constantine II and Konstans, which have mostly been discovered at imperial sites like Hagia Sophia.

Roman glass and high-end pottery dating as late as the 14th century were found throughout the site. Marble, including a gorgeous milky-blue variety, lined the walls and floors of the church and at least one of the buildings.
Also discovered were hundreds of bricks stamped “Konstans,” which were produced in Constantinople beginning in the fifth century and had mostly been discovered at imperial sites like Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century architectural marvel and primary cathedral of the Byzantine Empire for almost 900 years, and nearby Rhegion, a fifth-century compound on a hill across the lake from Bathonea, overlooking the Marmara Sea.
Bathonea was also well connected. Some pottery was made as far away as Palestine and Syria, typical of places with access to foreign goods. It had wide stone roads, the earliest dating to the Roman era.
But its relationship to Constantinople is still unclear. “I like the idea of Bathonea as a satellite port of a major city,” said Bradley A. Ault, a classical archaeologist with the University at Buffalo who has studied ancient port cities in Greece and Cyprus. “It falls in line with Athens and Piraeus, Rome and Ostia.”
If that is the case, the port may have served as a safe harbor on protected waters outside the city walls for both commercial ships and the imperial naval fleet. “In the fifth century, they had a major fleet around Constantinople,” said Robert Ousterhout, a Byzantine scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. “They had ports around the Golden Horn and the Marmara.”
Now 13 to 65 feet deep, Lake Kucukcekmece would have been a deep bay navigable by ships of all sizes, Dr. Aydingun said. Sonar has revealed what may be six Byzantine iron anchors buried in the sand just offshore, and nails commonly used in shipbuilding were unearthed at the site.
In recent years, Istanbul has been the scene of several stunning discoveries during salvage archaeology digs, most notably at the Yenikapi transit project, which unearthed a remarkable array of shipwrecks. No shipwrecks have been found at Bathonea; nor are they likely to be anytime soon, said Mr. Oniz, the underwater archaeologist. The lake is so polluted by industrial runoff that diving in it is dangerous, he said. A new water-treatment facility may make exploration possible within a few years.
The Bathonea archaeologists also hope to uncover more artifacts dating to the earliest days of civilization. In 2007, Dr. Aydingun and Emre Guldogan of Istanbul University found 9,000-year-old flint tools at the site that could be evidence of the earliest pre-pottery farming settlement in Europe. Bathonea’s role — and its real name — can be determined only through further study, Dr. Aydingun said.
Ground-penetrating radar has indicated that extensive structures remain beneath the soil. And as all of their efforts have been focused on the waterfront, the archaeologists have yet to investigate the patches of trees and brush farther inland that farmers have long avoided because their plows cannot cut through them.
Dr. Aydingun suspects there is a good reason for that. “I think all of these buildings continue,” she said. “Can you imagine?”

(New York Times)   

Hellenistic Building
It doesn't look like much, but archaeologists were excited to find this plaster-coated building hiding in plain sight because it provides more evidence of Bathonea's beginnings. Adjoined to crumbling late-Ottoman buildings, obscured by trees and brush, its walls had been slathered in a deceptive layer of plaster.
This summer the plaster was chipped away to reveal wide, rectangular blocks that are typical of Hellenistic buildings from the second century B.C. It's located on a newly unearthed road that leads to the harbor of the same era. They also found Hellenistic pottery shards in the rubble near the wall. The team speculates it may have been a warehouse.

Monastery and Workshops
Adjacent to the palace archaeologists unearthed one large building and a series of smaller ones that appear to be parts of a complex dating back to the fourth century, which included the palace, a monastery and a series of workshops for making metal, glass and jewelry.
The finds include smelting waste and rare jewelry molds. "From written sources it's known that Constantinopolis had jewelry workshops since the Roman and Byzantine times," Aydingün says. "Our findings may be the first-ever proof. But it is too early to claim it with some confidence. We are still checking with metalwork historians."

The remains of a well-appointed villa continue to yield evidence of its residents' wealth. The nine-meter walls held statue nooks and ornate wall mosaics; thousands of dirt-encrusted tesserae were found this year. Milky blue marble lined the floors and an extensive water system channeled freshwater throughout. The small graves likely once held children.

Aerial of the Little Harbor
This aerial shows about a third of the excavated site—a section archaeologists call the "little harbor" after the second-century B.C. pier shown at left. At right are newly uncovered crisscrossing roads spanning 1,500 years, the round foundations of a Greek temple, a fifth-century Byzantine church and cemetery as well as an Ottoman-era building. Hidden by trees is a newly spotted Hellenistic edifice, positioned just up the road from the harbor.

Friday, June 20, 2014

First Contact - Battle of Ongal, The Birth of the Bulgarian Empire

Re-enactor from First Bulgarian State

First Contact
The Coming of the Bulgars

The Roman campaign against the invading Bulgar tribes ranks as one of the most important in history because the Roman defeat resulted in the creation of a new Bulgarian Empire.  Over the next 675 years the Bulgarians would become either allies or more often deadly enemies of Constantinople.

The Bulgars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people who flourished in the Pontic Steppe and the Volga basin in the 7th century AD.

The early Bulgars may have been present in the Pontic Steppe from the 2nd century, identified with the Bulensii in certain Latin versions of Ptolemy's Geography, shown as occupying the territory along the northwest coast of Black Sea east of Axiacus River (Southern Bug).

In the early 4th century, the Bulgars would have been caught up in the Hunnic migrations, moving to the fertile lands along the lower valleys of the rivers Donets and Don and the Azov seashore.  Bulgars took part in the Hunnic raids on Central and Western Europe between 377 and 453.

At the end of the 5th century (probably in the years 480, 486, and 488) they fought against the Ostrogoths as allies of the Byzantine Emperor Zeno. From 493 they carried out frequent attacks on the western territories of the Byzantine Empire. Later raids were carried out at the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century.

Slowly the Bulgar peoples moved from what is modern Ukraine down into the Balkans and increasing came into contact with Roman troops at the Danube River frontier.

Roman Emperor Constantine IV
Emperor Constantine IV and his court.  He organized the military and city of Constantinople for a siege of five years while fighting wars on multiple fronts over three continents (Africa, Europe and Asia).  After the defeat of the Arabs the Emperor personally led an army against the invading Bulgars.
(Mosaic in basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe Ravenna, Italy.)

Of Arabs and Bulgars

The Heraclian dynasty Emperors of Rome faced the near extinction of the Empire from multiple enemies on multiple fronts.  Constantine IV (668 – 685) was simultaneously fighting wars in Italy, Africa, the Balkans and Anatolia.

His greatest challenge was withstanding the massive Arab Siege of Constantinople that lasted from  674-678.

The city survived, and finally in 678 the Arabs were forced to raise the siege. The Arabs withdrew and were almost simultaneously defeated on land and sea in Lycia in Anatolia. This unexpected reverse forced the Arabs to seek a truce with Constantine. The terms of the concluded truce required them to evacuate the islands they had seized in the Aegean, and to pay an annual tribute to the Emperor consisting of fifty slaves, fifty horses, and 3,000 pounds of gold.

At the same time a Roman army in the  Exarchate of Carthage North Africa was battling against invading Muslim Arabs.

With the Arab forces totally defeated at Constantinople and Lycia the Emperor could turn his attentions to the invading Bulgars.

The Bulgar Khan Asparuh
Founder of the Bulgarian Empire

For centuries Roman Balkans had been either under attack or overrun by and endless stream of Asian tribes.  Now it was the turn of the Bulgars.

The Khan Asparuh parted ways with the tribes to the north in order to seek a secure home on Roman Balkan territory. He was followed by 30,000 to 50,000 Bulgars.

He reached the Danube while the Byzantine capital Constantinople was besieged by Muawiyah I, Caliph of the Arabs.  He and his people settled in the Danube delta, probably on the now disappeared Peuce Island.

After the Arab siege of Constantinople ended,  Constantine IV gathered available troops and marched against the Bulgars and their Slav allies in 680.  His attack forced his opponents to seek shelter in a fortified encampment.

Again the Romans faced another pagan invasion that threatened their security.

Roman Empire military districts and force deployment in 668AD.  The Empire had to defend North Africa, Italy the Balkans and Asia Minor.
Click graphic to enlarge.

Opposing Forces

The early Bulgars were a warlike people and war was part of their everyday life, with every adult Bulgar obliged to fight. The early Bulgars were exclusively horsemen: in their culture, the horse was considered a sacred animal and received special care.

The permanent army consisted of the khan's guard of select warriors, while the campaign army consisted practically of the entire nation, assembled by clans. In the field, the army was divided into right and left wings.

During the first decades after the foundation of the country, the army consisted of a Bulgar cavalry and a Slavic infantry. The core of the Bulgarian army was the heavy cavalry, which consisted of 12,000–30,000 heavily armed riders.

The Bulgars were well versed in the use of stratagems. They often held a strong cavalry unit in reserve, which would attack the enemy at an opportune moment. They also sometimes concentrated their free horses behind their battle formation to avoid surprise attacks from the rear.

Eastern Roman Cavalry
They used ambushes and feigned retreats, during which they rode with their backs to the horse, firing clouds of arrows on the enemy. If the enemy pursued disorganized, they would turn back and fiercely attack them. According to contemporary historians, the Bulgars "could see in the dark like bats" and often fought at night.

The army had iron discipline, with the officers vigorously checking if everything was ready before a battle. For a horse that was undernourished or not properly taken care of, the punishment was death. The soldiers were under threat of a death penalty when having a loose bow-string or an unmaintained sword; or even if riding a war horse in peacetime

The infantry of the newly formed state was composed mainly of Slavs, who were generally lightly armed soldiers, although their chieftains usually had small cavalry retinues.

The Slavic footmen were equipped with swords, spears, bows and wooden or leather shields. However, they were less disciplined and less effective than the Bulgar cavalry.

The Romans   A direct descendant of the Roman army, the Byzantine army maintained a similar level of discipline, strategic prowess and organization.  Over time the cavalry arm became more prominent as the legion system disappeared in the early 7th century.

The official language of the army for centuries continued to be Latin but this would eventually give way to Greek as in the rest of the Empire, though Latin military terminology would still be used throughout its history.

Tactics, organization and equipment had been largely modified to deal with the Persians. The Romans adopted elaborate defensive armor from Persia, coats of mail, cuirasses, casques and greaves of steel for tagma of elite heavy cavalrymen called cataphracts, who were armed with bow and arrows as well as sword and lance.

Large numbers of light infantry were equipped with the bow, to support the heavy infantry known as scutarii (shield men) or skutatoi. These wore a steel helmet and a coat of mail, and carried a spear, axe and dagger. They generally held the center of a Roman line of battle. Infantry armed with javelins were used for operations in mountain regions.

The Battle of Ongal was east of Preslavets in the Danube River Delta.
Red arrows show the Bulgar attacks to the south and the blue
arrows the Byzantine land and sea movement to the Danube.

The Battle of Ongal

The Kahn Asparukh had marched westward and settled with his folk in the Ongal area to the north of the Danube.  From there he launched attacks against the Byzantine fortresses to the south. During that time Byzantium was at war with the Arabs who were besieging the capital Constantinople.

In 680, after the defeat of the Arabs, Constantine IV led a combined land and sea operation against the invaders and besieged their fortified camp in the Danube River Delta.

As usual little information is available on this all important campaign that resulted in the creation of the Bulgarian Empire.

Numbers of the troops involved are basically made up.  One historian claims that Constantine marched north with 85,000 troops to face 40,000 Bulgars. 

The number of Romans is absurd.  The Byzantine historian Treadgold says the entire strength of the Roman Army at this point was 109,000 men under arms.  The Byzantines never fielded forces this large in one place.
Bulgar Warrior

If you look at the force deployment chart above the Romans had some 40,000 troops stationed in the general Constantinople area and another 20,000 in the Theme of Thrace. 

With the Emperor at the head of the army we can assume a larger than normal force was gathered.  An army of perhaps 30,000 or more might be reasonable.

If 30,000 set out on campaign several thousand would never have made it to the battlefield.  They would have been detached from the main army to protect supply lines back to Constantinople, occupy fortified points in the rear or to protect communications to the Byzantine navy off the coast.

The Bulgarians moved into Roman territory with 30,000 to 50,000 people including women and children.  The male fighting force would be much smaller at perhaps 15,000

The Bulgarian leader made an alliance with the Seven Slavic tribes for mutual protection against Byzantine attacks and formed a federation.  So Slavic allies could have added to that total, but no information is available.

A Roman fleet sailed up the coast along side of the Emperor's army.  The Bulgars did not have a navy to fight so we can assume that the ships transported supplies and perhaps reinforcements.  There is no record of the navy participating in the battle in a meaningful way.

The Bulgars knew the Romans were coming for them.  They built wooden ramparts in a swampy area near the Peuce Island in the Danube River Delta.

Emperor Constantine was over confident after his defeat of the Arabs.  He sent his forces to attack the Bulgars on ground of their choosing, not his choosing.

The marshes and river delta would have prevented larger numbers of Romans from gathering in one location in defense or attack. The Byzantines were forced to attack from different places and in smaller groups which reduced the strength of their attack. With sudden strikes from the ramparts, the well-organized defense eventually forced the Byzantines to retreat, and the retreat developed into a stampede.

The Bulgar cavalry came out and charged the enemy who retreated chaotically. Most of the Byzantine soldiers were killed.

According to popular belief, the emperor had leg pain and went to Nessebar down the coast to seek treatment. The troops thought that he fled the battlefield and in turn began fleeing. When the Bulgars realized what was happening, they attacked and defeated their discouraged enemy.  Accounts say that virtually the entire Roman army was destroyed.

The Danube River Delta
The Roman Emperor Constantine made a mistake of fighting on ground of the Bulgars choosing.  Wet, slushy conditions, lots of river channels and trees to block your view of enemy forces is not ideal for any attacker.  These conditions prevented different Roman units from easily supporting each other in battle. 

Historical Speculation

Again, there is maddeningly little hard information for historians.  But the "official" account of the battle, such as it is, does not ring true.

There should not have been all that many Buglar troops inside a slapped together wooden swap fort.  Sure the Bulgars may have made a few ferocious attacks from the fort at the Byzantines.  But the idea that the limited forces inside the fort would destroy a larger attacking Roman army is not believable.

What is more likely is substantial units of Bulgar cavalry, infantry and Slavic allies were operating outside the fort.  The fort acted as bait to draw the Romans into battle.  The wet delta river system would have made a Roman attack much harder and also split up their forces on to different islands and riverbanks so they were unable to support each other.
Emperor Constantine IV

The Bulgars may have been attacking Roman regiments isolated from each other by the delta.  They may also have been working their way around to attack the flanks and/or the rear of the main Roman army working on the fort.

The Emperor leaves.  The story is the Emperor suddenly decided in the middle of a campaign that he had "leg pain" and needed treatment far away from the battlefield.

This is pure press release political bull if you ask me.

More likely is that Constantine's generals came to him with reports that a number of his units out in the delta were being overrun by Bulgarian forces and that his army was in danger of being flanked or surrounded. 

Political, not military considerations, would have caused the relocation of the head-of-state to prevent his capture or death by an invading enemy.

The Emperor would not have left by himself.  He would have taken with him his staff and a large bodyguard of troops for protection.  Troops that would have been vital to strengthen Roman defenses.

It is reasonable to assume that with the battle already going badly the flight of the Emperor added to the panic of the troops causing a total collapse and the Bulgarian victory.

Battle of Ongal
Screen shots of the battle in a Bulgarian language YouTube video.  The movie clip
is pretty good showing the wooden defensive walls and the Byzantine
attackers.  The wet, delta conditions were not really addresses.
Link Battle of Ongal


After the victory, the Bulgars advanced south and seized the lands to the north of Stara Planina. In 681 they invaded Thrace defeating the Byzantines again. Constantine IV found himself in a dead-lock and asked for peace. With the treaty of 681 the Byzantines recognized the creation of the new Bulgarian state and were obliged to pay annual tribute to the Bulgarian rulers.

The Romans were greatly humiliated.  The empire had recently defeated the Sassanid Persians and the Ummayad Arabs.  Now they in turn had been decisively beaten by an invading tribe from Asia.

This battle was a significant moment in European history, as it led to the creation of a powerful state, which was to become a European superpower in the 9th and 10th century along with the Byzantine and Frankish Empires. It became a cultural and spiritual centre of Slavic Europe through most of the Middle Ages.

The foundation of the First Bulgarian Empire. The army
of Asparukh is in red. The army of Constantine IV is in blue.

The new Bulgarian Empire after the Battle of Ongal.

(Medieval Bulgarian Army)      (militaryhistoryonline)      (theapricity.com)

(Bulgars)      (Asparuh)     (Ongal)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Byzantine Sardinia - Imperial Province

Cabras, the church of San Giovanni di Sinis 
Early Christian church (6th century AD) of San Giovanni The building is the result of the transformation longitudinal trinavata of a Byzantine church with cross plan inscribed, dated to the sixth-seventh century, of which only the body and domed wishbones, with mullioned windows open in early Romanesque

Imperial Roman Sardinia
For over 1,000 years the island of Sardinia was an imperial province of both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

Circa 1000 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency, presumably initially needing safe over-night and/or all-weather anchorages along their trade routes from the coast of modern-day Lebanon as far afield as the African and European Atlantic coasts and beyond. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia. .

While the Phoenicians stuck to the coastline, their relationship with the Sardinians was peaceful. However, after a few hundred years of habitation, they began expanding inward. They took over valuable natural resources such as silver and lead mines, and established a military presence in the form of a fortress on Monte Sira in 650 BC.

The Sardinians resented these intrusions, and in 509 BC they mounted a series of attacks against Phoenician settlements. The Phoenician settlers called upon Carthage for help, and when it arrived they successfully took control of part of the southern part of the island.

Conquest by the Roman Republic

In 238 BC the Carthaginians, as a result of their defeat by the Romans in the First Punic War, surrendered Corsica and Sardinia to Rome, and together they became a Roman province.

The existing coastal cities were enlarged and embellished, while Coloniae such as Turris Lybissonis and Feronia were founded. These were populated by Roman immigrants.

The Roman military occupation brought the Nuragic civilization to an end. Roman domination of Sardinia lasted 694 years, during which it was an important source of grain for the capital.

Latin came to be the dominant spoken language of Sardinia during this period, though Roman culture was slower to take hold, and Roman rule was often contested by the inhabitants of Sardinia's mountainous central regions.

A variety of revolts and uprisings occurred: however, since the interior areas were densely forested, the Romans avoided them and set them aside as the “land of the barbarians”.

Overall, Corsica and Sardinia became trivial gains compared to the Roman Empire’s Eastern gains. From Corsica, the Romans did not receive much spoil nor were the prisoners willing to bow to foreign rule, and to learn anything Roman. It was said that “whoever has bought one [Corsican] regrets the waste of his money”. The Romans regarded the islands and their people as backward and unhealthy.
Even though the Romans considered them trivial, Corsica and Sardinia ended up playing an important role in the happenings of the Empire. Sardinia provided much of the grain supply during the time of the Roman Republic. Corsica provided wax to the empire, as that was all that could be found on the island.

Vandal Warrior
The islands also indirectly contributed to the demise of the Roman Republic. Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix settled their veterans on Corsica and used the islands' grain supply to support their war efforts.

Julius Caesar had Sardinia occupied by his delegates and gained control of the grain supply. This supply of grain fed his army and ensured their victory in the civil war of 49 BC. Within the second triumvirate, Octavian received the islands as part of his share and used its grain supply to feed his armies against Brutus and Cassius.

Corsica and Sardinia also came to be recognized as a place of exile. C. Cassius Longinus, the lawyer accused of conspiracy by Nero was sent to the province as was Anicentus, murderer of the first Agrippina. Many Jews and Christians were also sent to the islands under Tiberius.

Vandal Conquest

The east Germanic tribe of the Vandals conquered Sardinia in 456. Their rule lasted for 78 years up to 534, when eastern Roman troops under Cyrillus retook the island. It is known that the Vandal government continued the forms of the existing Roman Imperial structure.

The governor of Sardinia continued to be called the praeses and apparently continued to manage military, judicial, and civil governmental functions via imperial procedures. (This continuity was not novel to Sardinia; like the Visigoths, the Vandals generally maintained the pretense of the empire, nominally acknowledging Constantinople and declaring themselves its deputies.)

The only Vandal governor of Sardinia about whom there is substantial record is the last, Godas, a Visigoth noble. In AD 530 a coup d'état in Carthage removed King Hilderic, a convert to Nicene Christianity, in favor of his cousin Gelimer, an Arian Christian like most of his kingdom. Godas was sent to take charge and ensure the loyalty of Sardinia. He did the exact opposite, declaring the island's independence from Carthage and opening negotiations with Emperor Justinian I, who had declared war on Hilderic's behalf.

In AD 533 Gelimer sent the bulk of his army to Sardinia to subdue Godas, with the catastrophic result that the Vandal Kingdom was overwhelmed when Justinian's own army under Belisarius arrived in their absence. The Vandal Kingdom ended and Sardinia was returned to Byzantine rule.

Church of Santa Sabina, Silanus, Sardinia
The church of Santa Sabina located in the plane of Silanus. The church has circular plan, with room central apse flanked by two cells. The church was built between X and XI century, in Byzantine period.
(Silanus, Sardinia)

The Byzantine Re-Conquest

In AD 533 Sardinia returned under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire when the Vandals were defeated by the armies of Justinian I under the General Belisarius in the Battle of Tricamarum, in their African kingdom; Belisarius sent his general Cyrillus to Sardinia to retake the island.

Sardinia remained in Byzantine hands for the next 300 years, aside from a short period in which it was invaded by the Ostrogoths in 551.

Under Byzantine rule, the island was divided into districts called merèie, which were governed by a judge residing in Caralis (Cagliari) and garrisoned by an army stationed in Forum Traiani (today Fordongianus) under the command of a dux.

The praeses stood at the head of the civil bureaucracy and the judicial system as a supreme judge, the iudex provinciae, and was seated at Cagliari. The dux was the supreme commander of the military and was responsible for the defense of the island. His base was at Forum Traianus (Fordongianus). As the jurisdiction and mandate of both functions overlapped in many areas the function of praeses soon disappeared and both civil and military power concentrated in the hands of the dux which subsequently moved to Cagliari. The dux was at that time also referred to as ipatos and in letters of the pope as iudex (judge).

Walls of the Byzantine castrum at Tharros

The Byzantine Castra

Under Byzantine rule the towns changed as Christianity played a more central role in town life and in town planning. Because of continuous military threats there was a need to build new fortifications, the Byzantine castra (sing. castrum), to defend the troops stationed on the island.

The Byzantine castra can be found near the old towns on the coast and in strategical locations inland to protect urban centres and the fertile lowlands. The reason the dux was initially stationed at Forum Traianus would have been to contain the barbaric tribes of the interior. This may have concerned a tribe of Maurs, deported by the Vandals from north-Africa to Sardinia.

A Byzantine castrum has been found near the Roman bridge that connected Sant'Antioco to the mainland and the fortifications on the hill of the tower of San Giovanni at Tharros are ascribed to a Byzantine castrum where older, punic, sandstone blocks have been reused. It is known that at Santa Vittoria di Serri soldiers of the exercitus Sardiniae were stationed there, and in other places like the Castello di Medusa near Samugheo, the Castello di Barumele near Ales and the castrum at Oschiri, all sites where the military presence has been found as a result of archaeological excavations.

During this time, Christianity took deeper root on the island, supplanting the Paganism which had survived into the early Medieval era in the culturally conservative hinterlands. Along with lay Christianity, the followers of monastic figures such as St. Basil became established in Sardinia. While Christianity penetrated the majority of the population, the inland region of Barbagia remained largely pagan.

Arab Warrior
The Arab conquest of Sicily cut
Sardinia off from Byzantium.

In Barbagia towards the end of the 6th century, a short-lived independent principality established itself, returning to the local traditional religions. One of its princes, Ospitone, conducted raids upon the neighbouring Christian communities controlled by the Byzantine dux Zabarda. He was later reprimanded by Pope Gregory I within a letter for "Living, all like irrational animals, ignorant of the true God and worshiping wood and stone" In 594.

Ospitone was then convinced by Gregory the Great, to convert to Christianity after receiving the papal letter. His followers, however, were not immediately convinced and ostracised their prince for a short time before they themselves converted.

The dates and circumstances of the end of Byzantine rule in Sardinia are not known. Direct central control was maintained at least through c. 650, after which local legates were empowered in the face of the rebellion of Gregory the Patrician, Exarch of Africa and the first invasion of the Umayyads in North Africa.

The Incursions of the Arabs

There is some evidence that senior Byzantine administration in the Exarchate of Africa retreated to Cagliari following the final fall of Carthage to the Arabs in 697.

The loss of imperial control in Africa led to escalating Muslim Moorish and Berber raids on the island, the first of which is document in 705, forcing increased military self-reliance in the province. 

Raiding on Sardinia, Sicily and Southern Italy continued in the eighth century and increased in intensity in the ninth century. The incursions lead to devastation in coastal towns like Sant'Antioco, Nora and Tharros and many Sards would have been enslaved or killed. But apart from some short periods in time and on small parts of Sardinia there has never been an Arab domination of the island in this whole period of time.

Communication with the central government became daunting if not impossible during and after the Muslim conquest of Sicily between 827 and 902.

The Sardinians had to ask often for help from outside. There was even a Sardinian delegation at the court of the Frankish king Louis the Pious asking for his support against the Arabs. Eventually in the tenth century when the Arabs conquered Sicily and cut off the Byzantine empire from its possessions in the west Sardinia became really isolated.

At the beginning of the eleventh century the island turned to the upcoming naval powers Genua and Pisa for support and protection at sea. In Arab and Pisan chronicles an Arab prince is mentioned, called Mugiahid (Museto), who attacked the island in 1015 and managed to conquer parts of the south of Sardinia. The next year he could be defeated with the help of Genua and Pisa ending this brief experience of occupation. It marked one of the ugliest moments for Sardinia in this period.

Ending Byzantine Rule

A letter by Pope Nicholas I as early as 864 mentions the "Sardinian judges", without reference to the empire and a letter by Pope John VIII (reigned 872-882) refers to them as principes ("princes").

By the time of De Administrando Imperio, completed in 952, the Byzantine authorities no longer listed Sardinia as an imperial province, suggesting they considered it lost.

The final transformation from imperial province to independent sovereign resulted from imperial abandonment or local assertion, by the 10th century, the giudici had emerged as the autonomous rulers of Sardinia.

The Giudicati of Sardinia.
The Giudicati (Sardinian: Judicados, literally: judgeships or judicatures) were the indigenous kingdoms of Sardinia from about 900 until 1420, when the last was sold to the Crown of Aragon. The rulers of the Giudicati were the giudici.
The title of iudex was that of a Byzantine governor (praeses or judex provinciae) dating from the creation of the Exarchate of Africa in 582. The Byzantines were totally cut off from the Tyrrhenian Sea by the Muslim conquest of Sicily in 827. A letter of Pope Nicholas I in 864 mentions for the first time the "Sardinian judges," and their autonomy was clear in a later letter of Pope John VIII in which he referred to them as principes ("princes"). The local authority was exercised initially by curatores - who each ruled over a curatoria - who were subject to the judges, whose responsibilities included the administration of justice and command of the army.
Originally the giudicati' were Byzantine districts that became independent due to the Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, that obstructed connections between Sardinia and Byzantium.

The Eastern Roman Empire
The Empire at the accession of Leo III, c. 717.  Striped area indicates land raided by the Arabs.  The imperial islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica were subjected to endless raids and invasion by armies of Jihadi Arabs bent on conquest.
Flag of Sardinia
The flag shows the heads of Muslim Moors from North Africa blindfolded and facing to the left.  The Moors represent the era of the Muslim invasions of Italy starting about 827 AD.
Before the Kingdom of Sardinia was founded, the rulers of the island were known as archons (ἄρχοντες in Greek) or judges (iudices in Latin and Sardinian, giudici in Italian). The island was organized into one "judicatus" from the 9th century on. After the Muslim conquest of Sicily, in the 9th century, the Byzantines, who ruled Sardinia before, couldn't manage to defend their far west province.
Probably, a local noble family acceded to the power, still identifying themselves as vassal of the Byzantines, but independent "de facto" as communications with Constantinople were very difficult. This family adopted as its own coat of arms, the Byzantine one, that can be seen in several Sardinian sculpture of the period. It was a silver cross patonce on a blue field similar to the contemporaneous flag of the Duchy of Amalfi.
At the beginnings of the 11th century an attempt to conquer the island was made by Spanish Muslims. We have very little information on that war, but the Christians won and retained control of the island.

(TomySardinia.com)      (Giudicati)      (Flag of Sardinia)      (History of Sardinia)

(murighingius)      (Exarchate of Africa)      (Exarchate of Ravenna)

(historyfiles.co.uk-Sardinia)      (Tharros.info)      (Sardinia Byzantine Era)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Zealots - A "Marxist" Revolution in Byzantium

Civil War - The Rise of the Zealots
Byzantium's Marxist Revolution

Rule number one - the "correct" history of any given moment in time is mostly written by those who win the wars.  The point of view of the defeated is usually swiftly discarded into the trash can of history.  That fact limits what we know about the Zealot Revolution.

The great failing of Imperial Rome and Byzantium was the collapse of any meaningful type of representative Senate or Plebeian Council.  With no political voice representing the people the only outlet was revolution or the armed backing one family of dictators over another family of dictators for the Imperial crown.

We have seen a number of major people's revolutions against dictatorship over the centuries from Spartacus to Oliver Cromwell to George Washington to Hồ Chí Minh.

But true popular revolts were not common in Rome or Byzantium for the obvious reason of fear of the Emperor's military.

Our view of the Zealot Revolution in Byzantine Thessalonica is tainted by our modern knowledge of Socialism and Communism.  It was not a "Marxist" revolution in the true sense because Marxism had not been invented yet.

Still all the elements of savage class warfare, killings and taking of private property were there just like there was in the French Revolution.

The Rise of the Zealots

"... They roused up the people against the aristocracy, and for two or three days, Thessalonica was like a city under enemy occupation and suffered all the corresponding disasters. The victors went shouting and looting through the streets by day and by night, while the vanquished hid in churches and counted themselves lucky to be still alive. When order returned, the Zealots, suddenly raised from penury and dishonour to wealth and influence, took control of everything and won over the middle class of citizens, forcing them to acquiesce and characterizing every form of moderation and prudence as "Kantakouzenism"."
John Kantakouzenos, History
Thessalonica at the time was the second most important city of the Empire after Constantinople itself. Wealthy and at least as populous as the capital, its people had already resented control from the far-off capital, and had already once rebelled against the Constantinople-appointed governor: in the first Palaiologan civil war, in 1322, they had ousted the despotēs Constantine Palaiologos in favour of Andronikos III and his lieutenant, John Kantakouzenos.

When the second civil war broke out, control of the city was of great importance to both camps, and Kantakouzenos' aristocratic supporters, led by its governor Theodore Synadenos, tried to deliver it to him.

The common people of the city however, led by the dockworkers and sailors, reacted, ousted them and took control of the city. Apokaukos himself arrived shortly after at the head of a fleet, and installed his son, the megas primikērios John, as its nominal governor. Real power in the city however rested with the Zealots' leader, a Michael Palaiologos, who jointly with John held the title of archōn. A council (boulē) was also established, but its composition and role is unclear.

Although the Zealots, throughout their existence, continued to recognize the legitimate Emperor John V Palaiologos, the city was effectively run as a commune and a people's republic. Under the new regime, the possessions of the aristocracy were confiscated. The Zealots, who were regarded in conservative ecclesiastical circles as disciples of Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory Acindynus, were also violently opposed to the Hesychasts, who supported Kantakouzenos. The political Zealots were therefore enemies of the church Zealots.

Michael and Andreas Palaiologos were the leaders of the revolt. Despite efforts to identify them however, they do not fit in any way into the known Palaiologan family tree, and we do not even know their relationship to each other: they may, indeed, simply have come from some sort of client family or families who took the dynastic name by extension. But one point does remain unavoidable: the so-called “revolutionaries” did consistently identify themselves with Palaiologan legitimacy.

Apokaukos' coup, reaction and terror
"...one after another the prisoners were hurled from the walls of the citadel and hacked to pieces by the mob of the Zealots assembled below. Then followed a hunt for all the members of the upper classes: they were driven through the streets like slaves, with ropes round their necks-here a servant dragged his master, there a slave his purchaser, while the peasant struck the strategos and the labourer beat the soldier [the land-holding pronoiars]."
Demetrius Cydones describing the anti-aristocratic killings of 1345
During the next years, the city successfully resisted attempts of Kantakouzenos to capture the city with the aid of his allies, the Seljuk Emir Umur and Stefan Dusan of Serbia. As the tide of the civil war gradually turned toward Kantakouzenos however, John Apokaukos began plotting against the Zealots. He contacted the remnants of the pro-Kantakouzenian aristocracy, and after having Michael Palaiologos killed, assumed power himself.

After learning of his father's murder in Constantinople in June 1345, Apokaukos decided to hand the city over to Kantakouzenos, but the city mob, led by Andreas Palaiologos, another leader of the Longshoremen (parathalassioi), rose up against him. Apokaukos and about a hundred of the leading aristocrats were lynched, and everyone even suspected of "Kantakouzenism" was liable to be killed and his house and property plundered.


In 1347 Kantakouzenos and the emperor John V reconciled, but the Zealots ignored the orders from the capital, such as the appointment of Gregory Palamas as its archbishop. The city remained isolated from the outside world, suffered from the Black Death, and was further subject to the continued threat of Stefan Dushan.

The situation became increasingly desperate, and there was even talk of surrendering the city to the protection of foreign, namely Serbian, rule. This however was unacceptable to many Thessalonicans, including the other archon, Alexios Laskaris Metochites.  At the end of 1349, the Zealots were defeated, and Andreas Palaiologos fled to Mount Athos. Negotiations followed, and in 1350, Kantakouzenos, accompanied by Emperor John Palaiologos and Palamas, made a triumphal entry into the city.

Byzantine Thessaloniki
The second most important city in the 10th century Eastern Roman Empire
with a population of about 200,000 people.
Hesychasts and Zealots:
Spiritual flourshing and social crisis in 14th century Byzantium

by Protopresbyter fr. George Metallinos
(f. Dean of the Athens University School of Theology)
“Hellenism combatting”, Tinos Publications, Athens 1995.

The 14th century has been acknowledged as one of the most critical periods of “Byzantine” History. It was marked by a peculiar paradox. Its socio-political crisis (evidence of its disorganization and decomposition) was interwoven with spiritual disputes (evidence of spiritual vigor and robustness). The territorial shrinkage of the Empire may have been progressing (territories shared between Serbs, Bulgarians and Ottomans), however, a parallel rebirth of education and a theological-spiritual flourishing was also being noted.

Civil upheaval peaked during the movement of the Zealots of Thessaloniki.

The second civil war - far more violent and broader than the first - had taken on a purely social character, so that it could boldly be referred to as a «social war». A leading role in this war was played by the lay strata, which the conflicting powers had, from the very beginning, hastened to "utilize". The Viceroy John Apokafkos - a supporter of Palaeologos - had roused the public of Constantinople in 1341 against Kantakouzinos. The looting of the latter's home functioned like something programmed, because very soon, an even broader civil uprising took place - one that went entirely out of control. However, the social turn of this social conflict was sealed with the appearance and the involvement in the lay masses of a group in Thessaloniki, who bore the name "Zealots". Their intervention (1342) and its consequences were the coarsest expression of political ideology in "Byzantium" (Romania). 

Only the raw military power of the ruling class kept the lower and middle classes from rising up in revolution against assorted forms of  "imperial" dictatorships.  One such revolt was by Spartacus (c. 109–71 BC) who was a Thracian gladiator.  Spartacus, along with the Gauls Crixus, Oenomaus, Castus and Gannicus, was one of the slave leaders in the Third Servile War, a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic.

The hierarchically second and essentially first city of the Empire during this period - Thessaloniki - became the epicenter of social uprising. The city had already (as of the 7th century, with the expansion of the Arabs) proved itself to be the second centre of the Empire, and in the 10th century its citizens numbered 200.000. In the 14th century, it continued to be a densely populated city and a flourishing urban centre (international marketplace), with powerful guilds (naval, mercantile), but also with glaring social antitheses (many poor - wealthy aristocrats). The Zealots succeeded in rallying the indignant lay forces and utilizing them for the achievement of their goals.

b. But what was the identity of the Zealots? Bibliographical research is convinced, that a definite answer has not yet been given to this question. Sources make mention of «rabble-rousers and the stand of exarchs» (Bios of Saint Isidore) and of «new people», who previously had no involvement in governing (D. Kydonis). Gregoras characterizes them as a «riffraff lot». The Patriarch Filotheos (a hesychast) calls them «outsiders» and «barbarians», adding that: «who have come together [...] from our outermost reaches». The view that is prevalent today is that they were a «stratum» of society, which «they could tell apart from the remaining population (A. Laios). It has also been recorded that they were named «Zealots», because they placed the interests if the populace above their own (Thom. Magistros).

American colonists rising up against their
royal master King George III.  Around
60,000 died on both sides of the civil war.
The term «zealots», already familiar from the Old Testament (Exodus 20:5, 1Esdras 8:72, 2 Maccabees 4:2) and the New Testament (Acts 21:20, 1 Corinthians 14:12, Galatians 1:14, Titus 2:14), also passed into «byzantine» social reality with its religious connotation - as evident even in the New Testament (Romans 10:2): «...they have zeal, but it is a mindless one») from where it also took on its negative hue, which remains strong, even to this day. From the beginning of the 12th century, two ecclesiastic factions were active in byzantine society, which did not coincide between them and were both competing against each other in their attempts to influence the organization and the administration of the Church. Their appearance in the life of the Empire can be seen as early as the 9th century: they were the "Zealots" and the "Politicals". The former were supporters of the Church's independence from the State; they undervalued education and displayed a fanatic loyalty towards ecclesiastic tradition. With the majority of monks at their side, they influenced the People very noticeably. The "Politicals" had a diametrically opposed ideology: they were tolerant towards the separation of State and Church, they were in favour of school education, they were loosely tied to tradition, they had influence among the secular clergy and the educated ranks of society. With regard to the West, the Zealots were against unification, while the Politicals were in favour. One of the first clashes of these two factions can be seen in the Fotios-Ignatios dispute (9th century), but their opposition took on even larger proportions during the time of Michael Palaeologos (the "arseniates" schism) and the pseudo-union of Lyons (1274-1282). The battle at the time leaned in favour of the Zealots. It was maintained (Vasiliev) that this religious faction had regrouped in the 14th century and had involved itself in political life, by projecting reformatory trends and by having popular support on account of social disorder. But is that really how things were?
It is indeed clear that - in spite of the confusion in the sources - the Zealots of Thessaloniki constituted a «social group», as discerned by the People. It had ties to seamen (the "maritimers") - a well-known guild with Palaeologos family members at its head. The collaboration between Zealots and maritimers was obviously a coinciding of mutual interests. In other cities, merchants also participated in this collaboration. The presence of aristocracy (Palaeologos family) in its leadership should not disorient us. This was a common phenomenon in Western Europe also, in analogous situations. The Zealots identified with the people and they expressed the demands of the lower social strata, which partially coincided with those of the army as well.

It is our estimation that the Zealots of Thessaloniki were a particular kind of social group, one that was basically comprised of monks - which was the reason that it had acquired its name from the already familiar religious faction in Byzantium; ie, on account of the trends and analogous psychology (=fanaticism) that they had in common. However, this was a clearly politically-oriented faction, with clear-cut social motives and demands: against rich landowners and in favour of the hungry and oppressed. That non-political "Zealots" may have quite possibly collaborated cannot be excluded, given that the majority of the Zealots' ranks was comprised not only of monks but also of beggars and poor. The presence of a large number of monks also explains the absence of anti-religious trends, as well as the existence of a social ideology, which is permanently preserved in an Orthodox monastic coenobium.

When the hesychast Patriarch Filotheos refers to them as «apostates from the Church», this probably refers to their vehement stance which according to a general perception had overturned the "God-sent" established order, or, because of their negative reaction towards Palamas, the canonical metropolitan of Thessaloniki, whom Filotheos supported, as one who was like-minded. At any rate, it has been testified that the Zealots did not hesitate to use a Crucifix (which they had snatched from a holy altar) as a flag and that they had attacked the governor Synadinos and the aristocracy. Their lay "backup" also reinforces the view that the monks were the majority among them. The crimes that were committed do not exclude something like that, inasmuch as fanaticism can blind a person. Monks and non-monks (but definitely politically-minded individuals with rabble-rousing capabilities) consequently appear to have been in the leadership of the Zealots' movement.

c. The causes of this stand were sought out and were located by many researchers. Almost all of them converge on the position that there were social reasons: the wretched state of the populace and a request for a more democratic organization of society. The influence of analogous movements in Italy (revolution of Genova, 1339) is not regarded as decisive (per Charanis), given the democratic spirit, together with the broader participation of the people in the choice of emperor. Politically speaking, Kantakouzinos' coup was a provocation to the lay conscience and mentality (a respect for God-given monarchy and legality). Besides, the Zealots were sentimentally linked to the Palaeologos family, because some of its members governed Thessaloniki. And then, even though Kantakouzinos was clearly in favour of centralized administration, the Zealots strove for autonomy. Furthermore, Kantakouzinos' descent and the support he had by the aristocracy had intensified the reactions against him. The People found an opportunity to demonstrate its anti-aristocratic or even its anti-plutocratic conscience on account of the oppression they were under, and their financial wretchedness. Visions for a radical change, economic upgrading and social restructuring had become linked to the Zealots' stand. This - as things have shown - was an eruption of proto-Christian (cf. Acts 2, 4 and 6) common ownership or at least communality
, opposite the increasing social inequality and injustice, because of the accumulation of lands and wealth in the hands of the few "pronoiarioi" etc..

German Peasants' War
The burning of Little Jack (Jacklein) Rohrbach, a leader of the peasants during the war 1524–1525.  Being burned alive or tortured to death tended to discourage revolution against the nobility.  The aristocracy slaughtered up to 100,000 of the 300,000 poorly armed peasants and farmers. 

Naturally the attempt to give a Marxist interpretation of the events in Thessaloniki was not omitted (for example G.Kordatos), within the limits of researching the historical backings of the Marxist ideology's prehistory. However, although the existing sources may allow for a verification of common points, still, they exclude every certainty of a complete coincidence of ideological presuppositions. The absence in "our East" of Frankish-German "racial" presuppositions precludes the relating - even the event itself - that the stand of the Zealots in Thessaloniki did not begin as a social revolution with an independent organization and a pre-designed goal, but that it was merely a circumstantial movement and an aspect (or phase) of the civil war (per P. Christou). Underlying social antitheses and demands had also manifested themselves during the course of the civil war.

The People had participated in the revolution, only for the resolving of their own problems, with no connection whatsoever to the familiar "agrarian uprisings" of history. The character of this stand remained purely urban and social. Furthermore, there are no testimonies which indicate that the Zealots had basically turned against the churches and the monastic holdings; on the contrary, they remained faithful to the legal emperor and the Patriarch's supporter, I.Kalekas. According to professor Nicol, what is strange is that the rich landowners (aristocrats) and the military aristocracy were the ones who were opposed to the church and her holdings. But there is also the view - which has been witnessed in contemporary sources - that refugees from lands which had been conquered by the Serbs had been added to the poor of Thessaloniki and that it was they who had pressured the Zealots into turning against the rich, with lootings as the end result. Because it is a fact that heinous crimes were not absent from the overall procedure. In 1347-49, when the Zealots had taken full command of Thessaloniki, they had hurled rich people from atop the city walls, while they had murdered others who were in hiding inside the city. This was the most violent aspect of their revolution, but also of the overall war.
The Reign of Terror
In the French Revolution the lower classes killed
16,594 by guillotine and another 25,000
in summary executions.

d. After Thessaloniki, the stand extended into other cities of the Empire, and as far as Trebizund. This signifies that the social clime of Thessaloniki was more of an overall phenomenon, and this is confirmed by many testimonies. The reaction was focused on the person of I. Kantakouzinos and the aristocracy. But in 1345, a crisis regarding the Zealots and their authority was noted, because the situation had begun to lean in favour of Kantakouzinos. The head of the Zealots - Michael Palaeologos - was assassinated, Zealots were arrested, imprisoned and/or exiled. Andronicus Palaeologos was proclaimed the new leader of the Zealots; an aristocrat, unassertive, and head of the maritimers' guild. The People once again regained power. New slaughters of aristocrats are noted, one being of I. Apokafkos. And the uprising against the rich takes on a more general character; now out of control, the People resort to an orgy of blood and looting, thus securing power for the Zealot leaders.

As surmised from the sources, the Zealots were in favour of decentralization. Even though their ideology is difficult to determine amd in spite of the limited information, the same did not apply to their political plans. Already in the summer of 1342 an unprecedented government was established in Thessaloniki: the independent Republic of Thessaloniki, with self-government and the exercising of external politics. Thsi was probably a kind of "commune"; one that endured up to 1350. However, the precise character of their polity is difficult to determine. It is a fact, that when threatened with a fall, the Zealots turned to Serbia's "kraly" (regent) Stefan Dusan for help, but this displeased the People to such an extent, that they had approached Kantakouzinos and had looked upon the aristocrats with sympathy. Apart from the existence of a powerful patriotic sentiment, what else could this signify, other than the absence of a class conscience? The People had never ceased to look upon the overall matter as an opportunity to improve their living conditions and nothing more.

e. The coincidence of the stand by the Zealots of Thessaloniki with the climax in the theological dispute eventually led to their implication, but not because the Zealots had actually become involved in the theological (hesychast) dispute. As previously mentioned, even though the Zealots had been named «apostates of the church», they had not included anti-ecclesiastic or anti-religious activities in their political agenda, nor does it appear that Theology had developed any particular dynamic with their activities. Their contrary views, which were valid in the past, were attributed to an erroneous linking of a text by N. Kavasilas to the Zealots, when in fact it was referring to a different case altogether. The engagement of theology and politics was the fruit of interdependence and inter-concessions between these two areas of byzantine life. However, the search itself for some kind of association between them is proof of the absence of every notion of a concentrated anti-hesychast ideology on the part of politicians (or politics) with an anti-hesychast ideology within the ranks of the Hesychasts.

The Russian Civil War (1917 - 1922)
Between war and famine perhaps 10 million or more people died.

Besides, it was not a rare phenomenon to have the adversaries of one area having a common stance with the other area; the protagonists of the civil war, I.Kantakouzinos and I.Apokafkos, had coincided in their friendly stance towards hesychasm. N. Gregoras and D. Kydonis - both against Palamas in their convictions - were nevertheless friends and followers of Kantakouzinos on account of their common interests. The Patriarch I. Kalekas and the empress Anna of Savoy had collaborated in the political area, but the Patriarch had remained fanatically anti-Palamas, while the empress had for a time supported Palamas. As usual, the People were dragged in every direction during this entire tragedy. Initially (in 1341), a large part of the People had shown an anti-hesychast disposition, which may have made the Hesychasts turn in favour of Kantakouzinos. But no-one can assert that all the Hesychasts followed Kantakouzinos, or that all of his followers were declared anti-hesychasts. D. Kydonis and Ni.Kavasilas for example were amicably disposed towards Kantakouzinos, but theologically belonged to opposing sides. Besides, there were many humanists who supported Palamas.

The Zealots - at least all those with an ecclesiastic origin (monks) - had preserved from the time of the Iconomachy a fondness towards Old Rome and that brought them closer to the pro-union Palaeologos family, even though Rome had now become Frankish and heretic. As is known, the emperor John Palaeologos had attempted to realize a union with Rome and had eventually become a papist. This element alone was enough to make the Zealots turn against the Hesychasts. Furthermore, their associating Palamas with Kantakouzinos (on account of the hesychast phronema of both men), had made them - as was expected - hinder the enthronement of Palamas when he was elected metropolitan of Thessaloniki (in 1347).

For the entire duration of that social turmoil, Gregory Palamas had remained a genuine hesychast and Patristic in his choices. It would be a huge injustice to Palamas, if one were to ascribe aristocratic ideas to him. By placing the tradition of theosis (deification) above political fluidity, he remained friendly towards John Palaeologos and the empress, himself behaving like a genuine "byzantine", within the clime of lawfulness. His correspondence with monks of the Holy Mountain is proof of his pacifist endeavours. He never moved between opposing sides and he avoided every involvement in favour of the one or the other side. His perseverance to the hesychast tradition and his opposition to Barlaam and the byzantine anti-hesychasts (e.g. Gregoras) had the exclusive objective of the continuation of patristic tradition and the preservation of the Empire's spiritual identity. He exiled himself to Heracleia, where he was often annoyed by (but not involved in) political disputes. His sympathy towards Kantakouzinos was attributed to Kantakouzinos' dedication to the tradition of Orthodoxy; there were no political motives. It must be regarded as certain, that the presence and the activities of Barlaam in the East had convinced Palamas of the inherent danger of subjugation to Rome, whose spiritual alienation had been exposed by his Calabrian opponent. This explains why he appeared friendly towards Kantakouzinos, even when he was still a friend and supporter of Barlaam and the protector of the humanistic renaissance. It is also known that Palamas had contributed towards the reconciliation between I. Kantakouzinos and John Palaeologos.

The People, with their infallible sensor had correctly interpreted Palamas' stance and had diagnosed the sincerity in his intentions. After the fall of the Zealots - whom Palamas had treated in a pacifist manner - the People welcomed him into Thessaloniki (December 1350) with jubilations. Palamas condemned the crimes that had been committed by the Zealots, but entered as a peacemaker into Thessaloniki, which had regained its normal rhythms.

For the full article go to (www.oodegr.com/english)

The Walls of Byzantine Thessaloniki

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