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Michael Angold

B yzantine politics have had a bad press since at least the eighteenth century.
They have become and remain a byword for corruption, duplicity, secrecy and
stealth. Byzantinists still feel that they have to defend Byzantium against a modern
stereotype, which presents Byzantium as a tyrannical government by effeminate,
cowardly men and corrupt eunuchs, obsessed with hollow rituals and endless, com-
plex and incomprehensible bureaucracy.1 In fact, Byzantium was fairly typical of
what social scientists label Historical Bureaucratic Polities, which were a domin-
ant force on the world stage from antiquity to the eighteenth century.2 They are
characterized by a concentration of power in the hands of the ruler. This receives
validation, in the first place, from a religious authority, which in general terms estab-
lishes the rulers obligations to society at large: the protection of religion, the giving
of justice and the maintenance of order. To carry these out effectively the ruler needed
trained administrators, who staffed a bureaucratic system of government. The polit-
ical process was very largely a matter of maintaining the equilibrium of the system in
the face of all kinds of challenges, both external and internal, of which social and
economic change may have been the most corrosive.
How this was achieved varied, but in normal circumstances it is difficult to follow
because it was a largely subterranean process conducted behind closed doors,
whence the charges of corruption levelled at this type of polity. There was nothing
exceptional about the levels of corruption at Byzantium. Corruption was an intrinsic
part of the system: it helped to oil the wheels of government. What was exceptional
was the continuity and stability of Byzantine government, which allowed the system
to function relatively smoothly despite revolts and palace coups. This was because
the consensus around the imperial office, if not individual emperors, remained in
place. Contributing to this was the one truly exceptional feature of Byzantine polit-
ical life: the preponderating role of the city of Constantinople. In a famous article
Paul Alexander established the proposition that in Byzantium capital and empire
were one and the same. The frontiers of the empire might vary, but, as long
as Constantinople stood, so did the empire. The political process was effectively

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concentrated in Constantinople;3 so much so that until the final period of Byzantine

history after 1204 no attempt was made to create rival imperial centres, unless you
count the Bulgarian empire in the tenth century. Nor in the provinces were there
demands for separatism until the late twelfth century at the earliest.4 This might
suggest that Constantinople exercised iron control over the provinces, but this seems
to have been far from the case. As Leonora Neville has observed, the imperial
administration appears both apathetic in regard to regulating provincial society and
determined in regard to maintaining a monopoly on sovereignty in Constantinople.5
This meant preserving the territorial integrity of the empire in the face of external or
internal threats, on the one hand, and gathering in taxation, on the other. From the
seventh century there evolved a loose system of provincial administration, which
normally goes by the name of the theme system. The themes were originally a series
of military commands, designed to defend Anatolia against Islam, but these soon
became a system of provincial government.6 The military commander or strategos
enjoyed vice-regal powers over his territories, but he owed his appointment along
with a substantial salary to the emperor. Among his responsibilities was ensuring
that his theme sent back its taxes to Constantinople. Taxation was always a cause of
friction and lay behind several provincial revolts.7 But the leaders of provincial soci-
ety were well aware that status and the rewards that went with it were carefully
controlled from Constantinople. Their rebellions were as often as not so many cries
for attention from a distant ruler. On the very few occasions when rebellion aimed
at regime change, the outcome depended very largely on Constantinople, which
monopolized the legitimization of power.
Constantinople was the New Rome. It was the Queen of Cities. It was through
its representatives that imperial status, which derived from the Christian God, was
mediated. Since, in practice, succession to the Byzantine throne was dynastic, more
often than not it was a matter of following a conventional ceremonial, which
included acclamation and coronation.8 However, when the succession was in doubt,
the imperial office was effectively in the gift of elements representing the city of
Constantinople. This allowed those groups which had a ceremonial role in the mak-
ing of an emperor to act as a conduit for the tensions and rivalries within Byzantine
society. These were the senate and people of Constantinople and, to a lesser extent,
the army, which in their different ways had a role to play in the acclamation of an
emperor, but more important than any of these in the inauguration of an emperor
was the patriarch of Constantinople, who acquired responsibility for crowning the
emperor, which from the mid-seventh century almost always took place in the church
of St Sophia. As part of this ceremony the new emperor might have to provide the
patriarch with an Orthodox profession of faith. The implication was that the patri-
arch had a duty of spiritual and moral supervision of the emperors conduct of office.
But the emperor, for his part, had a responsibility before God to protect the Church.
This, in practice, meant that imperial and priestly spheres of authority were hope-
lessly entangled. Justinians famous preamble to Novel VI tried to provide a solution.
It recognized that under a Christian dispensation there are two different kinds of
authority, both of which have divine sanction: imperial and priestly. Ideally they
functioned in harmony and offered mutual support; in practice, it was a matter
of trial and error, but a spirit of compromise normally reigned. When, for what-
ever reason, this broke down, it was often the start of a political crisis, in which the

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patriarch might find it necessary to take the initiative. It emphasized that at

Byzantium there were two poles of authority.
Increasingly the people of Constantinople looked to the patriarch for a lead. The
growing influence of the patriarch was apparent from the way the focus of popular
agitation shifted in the course of the seventh century from the hippodrome to the
forecourt of the church of St Sophia. This anticipated the eclipse of the circus factions
as a political factor in the course of the eighth century. Popular participation in the
political process was thereafter marginal. It still remained dangerous to antagonize
the populace of Constantinople, but it responded more readily to moral issues than it
did to pure self-interest, whence its readiness to turn to the patriarch.
The patriarch could usually count on support from within the Constantinopolitan
elite, which until the twelfth century was a dominant political force at Byzantium.
That elite was inseparable from a bureaucratic system of government, which pro-
vided justice, raised taxes, and supervised the organization of the army and navy.9
Administration was based on written records, often of a relatively sophisticated
nature. We are not talking in modern terms, but Byzantine government was on a
par with seventeenth-century European or Ottoman administrative practice. It
meant that there was a need for expert administrators. This in turn required a solid
education, which can be roughly equated with the course known as grammatike,
which was a secondary education based on a mastery of classical Greek literature.
Education of this kind was not only expensive, but it was difficult to find outside
Constantinople. The schoolmaster was an influential figure. His success lay in
placing his pupils in the administration, which he was able to do through the con-
tacts he had built up.
Entry into the administration was the easier for having relatives already in place.
The core of the Constantinopolitan elite was made up of long-established families.
This was just as much the case in the seventh and eighth centuries, when the system
of naming makes it difficult to establish family connections, as it was from the tenth
century when surnames started to become common.10 These same families also sup-
plied the patriarchal church with its officers.11 But recruitment into the civil service
and the patriarchal church was not limited to a handful of families. Because the
rewards both in monetary terms and in status were so great there was constant
pressure from outsiders. Families that succeeded, for example, in trade liked to
secure their position in society by putting their children into government one way or
another. Education was one path. Another was through the purchase of a dignity.
Though a feature of early modern political structures, the purchase of honours was
scarcely to be found in a medieval context, outside Byzantium. This just shows how
money permeated the Byzantine political system. The purchase of an honour at the
Byzantine court was largely a matter of social prestige, but it was also an investment,
since an honour brought a financial return in the shape of an annual honorarium or
roga. How monetized things had become is evident from the way in which it was
possible to buy an honour at an augmented rate, which brought a proportionally
higher annuity.12 The holding of honours defined the political elite in its largest sense
at Byzantium. Because of the sale of honours it was rather larger than those who
took a direct part in government.
Did they have any sense of collective identity? The strongest impression is that the
elite consisted of a series of competing cliques. It might be thought that any sense of a

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collective identity derived from imperial service and was celebrated in the ceremonial
of the imperial court. But that is not quite the end of the matter, because of the
continued existence of the senate (synkletos or gerousia), which on occasion had an
independent political role. Modern historians have had little success in establishing
either its membership or its day-to-day functions.13 For Byzantines it seems to have
been less of a problem. They knew the appropriate occasions, which called for its
intervention, and who had a right to senatorial status. In his brief autobiography the
historian Michael Attaleiates a relatively important official in the later eleventh
century took pride in his membership of the senate. He held the high rank of
proedros.14 There can be little doubt that senatorial status went with high rank at the
imperial court. This has suggested that only in exceptional circumstances did the
senate have an existence independent of the imperial court. But can this really have
been the case, for why otherwise would there have been not one but two imposing
senate houses in Constantinople and of such importance that they were rebuilt on a
number of occasions?15 It may simply be that the ceremonial connected with these
buildings was never codified, because in normal circumstances the role of the senate
was honorific. They are most unlikely to have been the scene of debate, because at
least on the surface the Byzantine political process was dominated by slogans and
acclamations. The senate and its traditions were precious, because they were a relic
of the Roman past, which was difficult to jettison because of Constantinoples claim
to be the New Rome. It may seem like sheer nostalgia, but it imparted shared values
to an elite of office-holders. They saw themselves as the upholders of the best
traditions; as the guardians both of a Roman past and increasingly of Orthodoxy.
Collectively they acted as a political conscience. They shaped the imperial ideal, but
their abiding loyalty was to Constantinople.16 They were the arbiters of the political
process, by virtue of the fact that their collective memory preserved the necessary
precedents and dictated protocol. As far as they were concerned, the emperor
presided over a system, which they ran.
The emperor, for his part, was well aware that without their cooperation the
wheels of government would grind to a halt. But the last thing that most emperors
wanted was to be a prisoner of the system. They had to be able to assert their
authority. This they did through the imperial household, which was largely staffed
until the twelfth century by eunuchs. The latter acted in the first instance as inter-
mediaries between the emperor and the administration. The power and influence
enjoyed by eunuchs derived from the trust of the emperor. From their ranks were
drawn more often than not the emperors chief ministers. These often appear in the
pages of chronicles as sinister figures. Their origins were diverse. Though there were
laws against castrating Byzantines, many were of Byzantine origin, but others came
from beyond the frontiers of the empire.17 What bound them together was entry
usually in their teens into palace service, which provided them with an effective
training. It also inculcated devotion to the emperor, which does not mean that they
had no sense of family commitments. John the Orphanotrophos is a case in point. He
came from a family of Paphlagonian moneychangers. He used the power he gained as
a confidant first of Basil II and then of Romanos III Argyros as a way of promoting
his family fortunes.18
The political process at Byzantium depended on a triangular relationship, in
which the most important elements were the emperor and his household, the Con-

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stantinopolitan elite and the patriarchal church. The populace of Constantinople and
the army also had roles to play, but rarely did they act independently, and in the case
of the populace of the capital its direct participation declined markedly from the
eighth century. Since this relationship was always fluid, it is surprising that govern-
ment at Byzantium was as stable as it was, but perhaps not so much of a surprise,
because all parties had a vested interest in maintaining the system of government,
which provided their members with status and salaries. Their common purpose
received affirmation in the elaborate ceremonial, which celebrated their adhesion to
the ideal of a Christian empire. This was given verbal form in the speeches, which
were a feature of Byzantine court life.19 These might occasionally be critical of
imperial policies, but never was the institution of the monarchy called in question. It
was the lynchpin without which the system would simply collapse.
Gilbert Dagron has recently explored aspects of one side of this triangular rela-
tionship in his brilliant study of what used to be called caesaropapism. It contains
much that is of general value for the political process at Byzantium, but it is con-
cerned with a specific problem: the sacrality of the imperial office and its implications
for the acquisition and exercise of imperial authority. This leads Dagron to concen-
trate on the succession, the coronation and, most important of all, the ceremonial
procession, which periodically brought the emperor into the heart of the patriarchal
church and helped to regulate imperial relations with the patriarch.20 Therein lies
another of Dagrons major themes: the emergence of the patriarchate as a counter-
power.21 The result is a study that is far more interested in mental rather than polit-
ical processes. My purpose will be the exact opposite. It will also assume that
important as the question of the sacrality of the imperial office is to the Byzantine
political process it has to be examined in the context of society as a whole. In order to
reduce so massive an undertaking to manageable proportions, I intend to examine
the political process at Byzantium at a particular juncture, which Dagron has singled
out as of particular importance. This occurred in the early eighth century, which he
sees as a watershed between the Christian Roman empire created by Constantine and
Byzantium proper.22 This was the work of the iconoclast emperors Leo III and his
son Constantine V, who did much to sacralize the imperial office through their use of
Old Testament analogies, but this had far-reaching implications for the political
process, because, as Dagron concludes: In Byzantium, the Old Testament had
a constitutional value; it had the same normative role in the political sphere as the
New Testament in the moral sphere.23 I have deliberately chosen an episode which
illustrates both the collapse and the recovery of the political process, because, when it
was functioning properly, it left relatively little trace in the historical record. Only in
times of crisis are its workings more clearly revealed. We see the efforts being made to
restore consensus around the imperial office.

The major achievement of Leo III (71741) was to rescue the imperial office from a
profound crisis. When he ascended the Byzantine throne in 717, he was the fifth
emperor in little more than ten years. It would seem that the rapid turnover of
emperors reflected terminal decline, because at the same time the Arabs were closing
in on Constantinople and the empire appeared to be on the point of collapse. Leo IIIs

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successful defence of Constantinople against the Arabs broke into this downward
spiral and he and his son Constantine V were able to rebuild the Byzantine empire on
a more stable basis.
Underlying the crisis was the struggle with Islam, which put immense pressures on
the fabric of government. Byzantium adapted as best it could. The standing armies
were quartered in the provinces of Anatolia, as a means of providing local defence.
This would evolve into a system of military administration, which goes by the name
of the theme system.24 By the end of the seventh century these armies periodically
undermined the political stability of the Byzantine empire as they sought to place
their candidates on the throne of Constantinople. This coincided with a financial
crisis, which came to a head in the first reign of Justinian II (68595). The fiscal
system inherited from the late Roman empire was no longer viable.25 It had estab-
lished the budget centrally with each fiscal unit providing its proportionate share,
which could vary considerably from year to year. It was a system that required
relatively stable conditions, which was hardly the case in the seventh century.
Around the turn of the seventh century there are signs that a new fiscal system was
evolving, where each unit of taxation, normally a peasant household, was expected
to provide a fixed sum. At first, this must have meant declining revenues and an
inability on the part of central government to meet expenditure.26 Byzantine fiscal
administration therefore became increasingly erratic and its demands seem to have
fallen disproportionately on the citizens of Constantinople. While the empires tax
base was diminishing, its expenditure can scarcely have decreased. Its strategy in
the face of Islam was to become a naval power. It was the only practical way of
holding together territories that still stretched from the western Mediterranean to the
Black Sea. Maintaining a navy is notoriously expensive. In the crucial period at the
turn of the seventh century there were two large expeditions to Carthage and at least
two to Kherson in the Crimea, which gives some idea of the scale of naval activity.27
Justinian II paid for the punitive expedition he sent against Kherson in 710 by
an extraordinary levy divided among the different elements of Constantinoples
Although the roots of the crisis, which overtook the Byzantine empire in the early
eighth century, can be traced back to earlier in the previous century, it only began to
reveal itself during the first reign of Justinian II. This comes as something of a sur-
prise because he seemed to be in such a strong position. His dynastic credentials were
impeccable. He was the fifth generation of the house of Herakleios. He was the heir
to the achievements of his father Constantine IV (66885), who had thrown back the
Arabs from the walls of Constantinople in 678 and had used the respite obtained to
settle long-standing divisions within the Church, by calling an ecumenical council,
which met in the imperial palace at Constantinople in 6801. It returned the Church
to a strict interpretation of the creed of Chalcedon on the basis of a formula drafted
by Pope Agatho, which represented a rapprochement between Constantinople
and Rome. But an incident in the aftermath of the council revealed the fragility
of imperial authority. The theme of the Anatolics marched to Chrysopolis on the
Asiatic shore opposite Constantinople. They demanded that Constantine IV should
reinstate his two brothers, who had recently been excluded from a share in the
imperial dignity. The patrician Theodore of Koloneia went out to negotiate. He had
been one of those instrumental in ensuring that Constantine IV and his brothers

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remained in Constantinople when their father moved his centre of operations to

Syracuse. On the present occasion he persuaded the leaders of the Anatolics to enter
Constantinople on the understanding that the senate would carry out their wishes.
He was, in other words, bypassing the emperor. Constantine IV quite understand-
ably treated this as a challenge to his authority, which called for decisive action. It
came in the form of having the theme officers hanged and his brothers noses slit, to
emphasize their loss of imperial status.29
Constantine IV acted as he did to safeguard the succession of his young son
Justinian II, who was only sixteen when his father died in 685. At first, his reign went
well. By 691 he was in a position to convene another ecumenical council, the seventh,
which usually goes by the name In Troullo, after the hall within the palace com-
plex in which it was held. Its purpose was to complement the dogmatic pronounce-
ments of the fifth and sixth councils with a series of disciplinary canons affecting
both clergy and laity. The initiative can only have come from the emperor. His
intention was to restore moral direction to Church and society at a time when many
thought that Byzantium was losing its way. It was a clear demonstration of imperial
authority. Its condemnation of western practices, such as the celibacy of priests, and
its emphasis on the status of the church of Constantinople suggest that Justinian II
aimed at imposing conformity of practice on the Christian Church, but in accord-
ance with the conventions of the church of Constantinople. This irritated the papacy.
Pope Sergius I (687701) protested and refused to approve the canons of the council
In Troullo. Justinian II despatched an agent to arrest the pope and bring him to
Constantinople to be reprimanded or worse. The Italian armies mutinied rather than
hand over the pope to the imperial agent, who was left isolated, begging for papal
This was a humiliation for the emperor, which coincided with his growing
unpopularity in Constantinople caused by harsh fiscal policies. Justinian tried to
placate Constantinopolitan opinion in traditional fashion by acting as a patron of
the circus factions. He even in the face of patriarchal disapproval pulled down a
church near the palace so that he could erect a fountain house to serve as a reception
hall for the Blue faction. This failed to allay growing discontent. We are told that the
emperor then ordered the massacre of the populace of Constantinople, beginning
with the patriarch Kallinikos (694706), whom the emperor had singled out as an
enemy. We have no reasons for supposing that the patriarch was involved in the
opening stages of the coup being organized against Justinian II around Leontios, a
former governor of the Anatolic theme, but it is absolutely clear that without his
endorsement it would not have succeeded as easily as it did. The coup was launched
with the cry, All you Christians, go to St Sophia. The conspirators, reinforced by
prisoners released from the Praitorion and by the circus factions, assembled in the
atrium of St Sophia, where they received the blessing of the patriarch. He intoned the
words: This is the day that the Lord has made, to which the assembled populace
responded with shouts of Dig up the bones of the emperor, the traditional formula
for defying a reigning emperor.31 They then made their way to the hippodrome,
where the Blues acclaimed Leontios emperor. Justinian II and his ministers were
brought before the people in the hippodrome. The ministers were seized and dragged
along the Mese to the Forum of the Ox, where they were burnt to death. Leontios
spared Justinian IIs life, but cut off his nose and exiled him to Kherson, from which

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he would later escape.32 After a series of adventures he managed with Bulgarian help
to recover the throne of Constantinople in 705 and exact his vengeance.
The overthrow of Justinian II in 695 was a Constantinopolitan affair, but in the
background were the armies of the themes. Why else would the conspirators have
looked to a former strategos of the Anatolics to lead their coup? These commanders
had become natural political leaders. It was at this juncture that the themes became a
significant but not decisive political factor. They were involved in some but not all of
the frequent changes of emperor of the time. Leontios may have been overthrown in
698 by a revolt engineered within the naval command of the Kibyrraiotai, but Justin-
ian IIs return to power in 705 had nothing to do with support from the themes, nor
did his overthrow in 711 by Philippikos Bardanes. The latter was toppled two years
later by detachments of the Opsikion theme, but on this occasion they were operat-
ing in conjunction with elements of the Constantinopolitan elite, who ensured
the succession of one of their number, who took the name of Anastasios. In 715 the
Opsikion theme was back and this time was able to impose its own candidate on
the throne of Constantinople. The latter was in his turn ousted by Leo the Isaurian,
then strategos of the Anatolics, who had remained loyal to Anastasios, the previous
The armies of the themes were among the most powerful forces involved in the
Byzantine political process at the turn of the seventh century, but they needed sup-
port within Constantinople; above all they needed the approval of the patriarch.
Ever since 626, when in the absence of the emperor Herakleios the patriarch
Sergios I (61038) organized the defence of Constantinople against the Avars and
the Persians, the patriarch had come to be identified with the welfare and security of
the capital. His position was enhanced by the central role he played in the cult of the
Mother of God,34 which increasingly unified all elements of Constantinopolitan
There was one exception to this rule. The circus factions still retained their
independence and constituted a powerful element within the society of the capital.
They came to the fore at times of political uncertainty because of the constitutional
role they had assumed in the making and unmaking of emperors. It is clear enough
that they gave direction to the anger of the populace. But very little is known in detail
about their involvement in the politics of the time. For example, Philippikos Bardanes
was overthrown after celebrating the foundation of the city with races in the hippo-
drome won by the Greens and was subsequently blinded in the ornatorion a kind
of club-house of the Greens.35 This suggests, though never stated directly, the
involvement of the circus factions in the emperors overthrow.36 We do not know for
sure whether the circus factions continued to supply Constantinople with a militia,
as they had done in the early seventh century, but it seems probable. All we do know
is that the hippodrome retained its importance as a political arena, where the
emperor could present himself directly to the people of the capital. It was here that
Justinian II celebrated his triumph over his enemies after his return to power in 705.37
Among his victims was the patriarch Kallinikos, who was blinded and exiled to
Rome. Before becoming patriarch he had served as treasurer (skeuophylax) of the
church of the Blachernai, which preserved some of the most important relics of the
Mother of God and had developed into a centre of her cult.38 He belonged, in other
words, to the clerical elite, which was attached to the patriarchal church and other

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major shrines of Constantinople, but nothing further is known of his background,

which brings us to the enigma of the Constantinopolitan elite at this juncture.39 We
have plenty of names but a nomenclature reduced in the majority of cases to a single
Christian name means that a detailed analysis of the Constantinopolitan elite is out
of the question. It was quite normal in the texts of the time to describe the members
of this elite as senators. Equally, there are references to the senate of Constantinople,
which assembled for formal occasions. As with the circus factions there is a
reluctance to provide much in the way of concrete detail, which probably means that
their importance was largely unofficial, but their survival also reflects a sense
of social ascendancy, kept alive by a handful of ancient families who preserved a
distinct identity.40 The best example is the future patriarch Germanos. He was the
son of the patrician Justinian, who was executed at the beginning of Constantine IVs
reign, almost certainly, as Ernst Stein pointed out many years ago, because descent
from the family of Justinian I made him a dynastic threat. At the same time, Germanos
was castrated, again to counter any ambitions he might have had on the imperial
throne.41 He went into the clergy of St Sophia. Gravitating around such families were
new men, such as the future emperor Philippikos Bardanes, the son of a successful
Armenian general, who had attained patrician rank. The title of patrician was still a
signal honour. It marked out those with real power. From the mid-seventh century
an increasing proportion of those holding this rank were outsiders, who owed their
elevation to imperial favour rather than social prominence.42
It is worth looking more closely at the overthrow of Philippikos Bardanes, if only
because, quite unusually, it was recorded in a contemporary account.43 Bardanes
most notable action was to convene a council of the church of Constantinople the
so-called Monothelete council which reversed the decision of the 6801 council
and returned to a Monothelete interpretation of the creed of Chalcedon. He
appears to have had the support of the patriarch John VI (71215) and of the future
patriarch Germanos. He also had the support of members of the patriarchal church
and a number of senators. In a scenario reminiscent of the events that followed the
council In Troullo, Pope Constantine I (70815) refused to recognize either the
council or the emperor and rebuffed an imperial agent sent to impose the emperors
will.44 This setback seems to have had repercussions in Constantinople. Elements
around the patrician Theodore Myakios conspired with officers from the Opsikion
theme in the overthrow of Philippikos Bardanes, but the choice of a new emperor
was an entirely Constantinopolitan affair. The new emperor was the protoasekretis
Anthemios. His post put him at the head of the imperial chancery. His place among
the old Constantinopolitan elite receives confirmation from his praenomen of Flavius,
which under Justinian I was widely adopted by the great figures of the time. The
populace assembled at the church of St Sophia and raised Anthemios to the imperial
dignity. After making a suitably humiliating apology to Pope Constantine I, Patriarch
John VI proceeded to crown the new emperor, who took the name Anastasios.45 This
was not the end of the matter. The emperor Anastasios elevation then received
formal approval through the vote and scrutiny of the senate, the whole of the clergy,
the soldiers stationed in the capital and the political people, by which the circus
factions are most likely meant.46 This episode illustrates how conscious all sections
of Constantinopolitan society were of their constitutional role in the making and
unmaking of emperors, and not just of emperors. In 715 Germanos, then bishop of

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Kyzikos, succeeded to the patriarchal throne. Since the Orthodox Church is reluctant
to countenance the translation of an incumbent from one see to another, this was an
extraordinary appointment, best explained by popular sentiment. The chronicler
Theophanes has preserved the text of the decree approving this transfer: By the
ballot and scrutiny of the most God-fearing priests and deacons, of all the pious
clergy, of the sacred senate, and of the Christ-loving people of this God-guarded and
Imperial City, Gods grace . . . hereby transfers Germanos, the most holy bishop of
the metropolis of Kyzikos to become bishop of this God-guarded and Imperial
City.47 It is interesting to find associated with the clergy of the capital both the
senate and the people of Constantinople, but not a word about the emperor, because
translations were normally effected by an act of the patriarchal synod with imperial
approval or by an imperial decree. The role of the senate, people and clergy of
Constantinople in the making of both an emperor and a patriarch at this time cannot
just be accidental. It represented a conviction that imperial and patriarchal status
inhered in the city of Constantinople and its representatives had a right to confer
these as they saw fit. It looks very much like a version of the Augustan settlement, but
tailored to the New Rome.
It represented a determination that imperial authority was not only founded in,
but also responsible to Constantinople. Forming a background to this were memor-
ies of imperial attempts to abandon Constantinople, unsuccessful in the case of
Herakleios; successful in the case of his grandson Constans, who in 662 left Constan-
tinople with the intention of making Rome his capital. This raised the spectre of
Constantinople consigned to political limbo. So awful a prospect was this that the
citizens of Constantinople refused to allow Constans consort and their three sons to
depart from Constantinople to join him in the West.48 Given the circumstances of his
reign, which were dominated by the long Arab siege of Constantinople, it is not
surprising that Constantine IV (66885) preserved an accord with his capital. But it
was different for Justinian II. His fathers successes offered him far greater freedom
of action, which he used to assert imperial supremacy. This was increasingly seen in
Constantinople as tyranny. His style of rule was evident not so much from the
buildings he added to the imperial palace, but from his decision to fortify it. He relied
very heavily on the eunuch Stephen the Persian, notorious for the way he had the
emperors mother beaten.49 With his help he imposed oppressive new taxes on the
population of Constantinople. Underlying Justinian IIs high-handed style of gov-
ernment was an attempt to restate the nature of imperial authority, which he did in
the first instance through the creation of a new iconography for his gold coinage. The
emperors portrait was now on the reverse, while on the obverse was an image of
Christ with the legend Rex regnantium. It made clear that the emperor was the ser-
vant of Christ.50 It was a way of emancipating the imperial office from any depend-
ence on Constantinople. His use of a general council of the Church as a vehicle of
imperial authority pointed in the same direction. If the enactments of the council In
Troullo were most obviously directed against Rome, this would not necessarily
have been welcomed in Constantinople, because there was considerable sympathy
for the papacy. The influence of Rome on Constantinople was evident at the time of
the 6801 council. Attesting the confirmation of its acts sent by Justinian II to Pope
Sergius in 687 were officers of the Italian Army (Exercitus Italiae), then present in
Constantinople. There is no way of knowing whether they were still there at the time

c h a p t e r 1 : T h e B y z a n t i n e p o l i t i c a l p r o c e s s a t c r i s i s p o i n t

of Justinian IIs downfall in 695, but Italians, with citizens of Ravenna to the fore,
are singled out for the part they played in his overthrow.51 In the aftermath of the
removal from office of Philippikos Bardanes in 713, the papacy received, as we
know, a grovelling apology from the patriarch John for his participation in the
so-called Monothelete council organized by Philippikos.52 The future patriarch
Germanos equally took part in the council. On becoming patriarch his immediate
concern was to obtain papal approval for his elevation.53 Even the new emperor
Flavius Anthemios choice of Anastasios as his imperial name may have been a
tribute to the two Anastasioi, who were Latin followers of Maximos the Confessor
and under the emperor Constans (64168) suffered torture and exile with their
master for their opposition to Monotheletism.54 It was during this struggle that it
became clear that Rome offered an alternative to imperial autocracy: one which
stressed the primacy of priestly authority. It is unlikely that this lesson was lost on the
new patriarch Germanos.
Once patriarch he became the dominant political force within Constantinople. He
engineered the peaceful transfer of the imperial office from Anastasios to Theodosios,
who had the backing of the Opsikion theme.55 The new emperor and the patriarch
then jointly concluded a treaty with the Bulgarians, which confirms the pre-eminent
role the patriarch now enjoyed in the political life of Constantinople.56 When the
emperor Theodosios found himself challenged by Leo, strategos of the Anatolics,
Theodosios first action was to consult the patriarch and members of the senate, who
persuaded him to abdicate and provided him with pledges that his life and his sons
lives would be spared.57 The patriarch had already obtained an assurance on oath
from Leo that as God was his surety, he would in no way disturb Gods Church [by
disregarding] its apostolic and divinely instituted laws.58 Once again the patriarch
was playing a decisive role in the transfer of power from one emperor to another. He
commanded the loyalties of the senate and people of Constantinople in a way that
the emperor at this juncture did not. There can be no doubt that it was the patriarchs
support that allowed Leo III to mount the successful defence of Constantinople
against the Arabs in the years 71718. The patriarch will have helped to secure the
intervention of the Bulgarians against the Arabs, which more than anything else
forced them to raise the siege of Constantinople. There are even suspicions that
without pressure from the patriarch acting in conjunction with the senate Leo III
might have carried out the bargain he made with Maslama, the commander of the
Arab forces, to become a client of the Umayyads in return for support against the
emperor Theodosios.59
Germanos organized the liturgies and processions which were an essential part of
the defence of the city. Their theme was the protection afforded to Constantinople
by the Mother of God. When one of the Arab commanders fell from his horse under
the walls of the city popular opinion attributed this mishap to the action of an icon
of the Mother of God.60 In a sermon Germanos understood the deliverance of
Constantinople to be entirely the work of the Mother of God. He said nothing of any
contribution made by the emperor.61 As the orchestrator of the cult of the Mother of
God much of the credit for the successful defence of Constantinople will have gone
to the patriarch. At first, Leo III was happy to placate Germanos. He asked him to
baptize his son Constantine, who was born soon after the departure of the Arabs
from under the walls of Constantinople.62 Two years later Germanos blessed the

M i c h a e l A n g o l d

coronation of the young Constantine, which was carried out by his father.63 This
occurred immediately after Leo III had surmounted a serious political crisis. Some of
the leading figures in Constantinople hatched a conspiracy to replace Leo III with the
former emperor Anastasios, then resident at Thessalonika. They obtained military
support from the Bulgarians, who marched with Anastasios on Constantinople. This
was a scenario that had been played out on so many occasions in the past few years.
There was an expectation of a peaceful transfer of the imperial office overseen by the
patriarch. Given Germanos connections with the former emperor, Leo III cannot
have been entirely sure of the patriarchs loyalties. He acted with great ruthlessness.
The leading conspirators in Constantinople were rounded up and executed. With
hopes of Constantinople being betrayed from within dashed, the Bulgarians thought
better of supporting the former emperor, whom they handed over to Leo III. The
emperor Anastasios and other supporters were immediately executed. Their heads
were then paraded through the hippodrome, where Leo III presided over the chariot
races.64 The coronation of the young Constantine, which followed soon afterwards,
was an affirmation of dynastic legitimacy. Germanos presence was a test of loyalty.
It must have been obvious to Leo III that, if he was to have any hope of asserting
imperial authority fully, he had to impose himself on the Church. He instructed a
succession of exarchs of Ravenna to discipline Pope Gregory II (71531), but their
efforts got nowhere in the face of local hostility. Leo III therefore confiscated the
papal estates in Sicily and southern Italy and at some point transferred ecclesiastical
jurisdiction over this region to the patriarchate of Constantinople.65 But the real
battle was with Patriarch Germanos. This came to centre on the question of images.
This was sharpened by Leo IIIs insistence that the supreme symbol of Christianity
was the cross with its connotations of imperial victory. His first issues show the
imperial portrait on the obverse and a stepped cross on the reverse.66 In 726 he
erected or, more probably, restored a cross over the Chalke Gate, which was the
main entrance to the imperial palace.67 Emphasizing the cross in this way devalued
the icons which played such an important role in the orchestration of the defence of
Constantinople by the patriarch. The emperors promotion of the cult of the cross
clearly had popular appeal, both in the provinces and in Constantinople. Germanos
did his best to defuse the situation, but got nowhere. This allowed the emperor to
intervene in the dispute. In 730 he called an imperial silention. This was a meeting
where emperors made their solemn pronouncements. It was held in the palace, but
large numbers of the populace were in attendance. The patriarch was summoned
before this assembly to set out his position on images. He refused to do this on the
grounds that he could not make a written declaration of faith without an ecumenical
council. He did not recognize an imperial silention as a fitting place for the resolution
of points of dogma and reminded Leo III of the undertaking he had made before
becoming emperor to respect the apostolic laws. The event was carefully stage-
managed. The patriarch was removed from office and replaced by his assistant, the
synkellos Anastasios.68
A key to Leo IIIs success was the popular support he enjoyed in Constantinople.
He celebrated his victory over the ex-emperor Anastasios with races in the hippo-
drome, when the heads of his opponents were paraded on poles.69 He involved the
populace in government by having their representatives present at meetings of the
imperial silention.70 His son Constantine V also used silentia to mould public opin-

c h a p t e r 1 : T h e B y z a n t i n e p o l i t i c a l p r o c e s s a t c r i s i s p o i n t

ion, on occasion holding them in the hippodrome rather than in the palace.71 In 767
he humiliated the deposed Patriarch Constantine by exposing him in the hippodrome
to the taunts and ill-treatment of the factions, as a prelude to the ex-patriarchs
execution.72 This represents a complete reversal of the situation at the beginning of
the eighth century, when a patriarch could count on popular support. It also repre-
sents the beginning of the emasculation of the circus factions, which became part
of the imperial apparatus of power and lost their autonomy.73 But there can be no
doubt that the success the emperors Leo III and Constantine V had in winning them
over to the imperial cause played a large part in their re-establishment of imperial
The renewed focus on the hippodrome coincided with an apparent decline in the
popularity of the cult of the Mother of God. Certainly, it no longer had the prom-
inence it enjoyed in the seventh century. Opponents of Constantine V claimed that
along with his condemnation of the cult of relics he denied the efficacy of the inter-
cession of the Mother of God and the saints.74 However, the Iconoclast council of
754 specifically anathematized those who denied that the Blessed Virgin Mary was
the Mother of God or were unwilling to accept the intercession of the saints.75 In
other words, Constantine V had no interest in antagonizing Constantinopolitan
opinion by any direct attack on the cult of the Mother of God.
Leo III and Constantine V used the circus factions as a weapon against the Con-
stantinopolitan elite. Following the example of Justinian II they brought their
opponents dead or alive to the hippodrome for ritual humiliation.76 Leo III used this
tactic early in his reign as part of his savage repression of the rebellion of the
ex-emperor Anastasios.77 This must have alarmed the Constantinopolitan elite, but it
hardly explains their total failure to back the patriarch Germanos in his confronta-
tion with the emperor over images. How was Leo III able to isolate the patriarch
from his natural supporters; even, given the willingness of the synkellos Anastasios,78
to take over as patriarch, it would seem, from the clergy of St Sophia? Could it be
that the patriarchs stance over images appeared to be an impediment to the restor-
ation of consensus around the imperial office, which Leo III seemed on the point of
achieving by associating the Constantinopolitan elite in his reforms? This would
seem to be the lesson of the Ekloga, a lawbook which the emperor issued at the very
end of his reign in March 741. This more than any other document reveals Leo IIIs
ideas about his imperial responsibilities. He was responding to the need for a clear
and systematic body of law. This was the most practical way in which he could
minister to the people entrusted to him by God. At some point around 730 he set up a
commission headed by the quaestor Niketas with the task of sifting through the
mound of legal documentation which had accumulated since Justinian Is codifica-
tion of the laws some two centuries earlier. It had reached a point where the law had
become either very difficult or impossible to understand.79 The creation of an effec-
tive system of justice required the reduction of this mass of legislation and rulings to
manageable proportions. The emperor also provided the quaestor and his subordin-
ates together with other judges with generous salaries in order to ensure equitable
justice.80 This was a measure that would have appealed to the Constantinopolitan
elite, but more importantly it showed that financial stability was returning, at a
time when the Ekloga provided solid foundations for regular administration. The
issuing of a lawbook, which was among the most successful of medieval legal

M i c h a e l A n g o l d

compilations, marks out Leo III as a ruler who understood that just government was
his main responsibility, but he was careful to associate the Constantinopolitan elite
in the undertaking. In other words, Leo III was able to forge an understanding
with the different elements of Constantinopolitan society. He was remembered with
gratitude in Constantinople for the way he made good the damage done to large
sections of the land-walls by a series of earthquakes which occurred towards the end
of his reign; for, instead of relying on forced labour, as Justinian II had done for the
extensions he made to the imperial palace,81 he funded the repairs by putting a small
surcharge on the land tax raised throughout the empire.82 It was a sign that Leo III
was not going to leave Constantinople to its own devices, but was reconnecting it to
the empire at large. Leo III, followed by his son Constantine V, identified Byzantine
kingship with Constantinople, rather than trying to assert its independent existence
in the manner of a Justinian II.83
Leo III was the emperor who restored equilibrium to the Byzantine political
system. As Dagron noted, Leo III presented imperial rule in an Old Testament guise,
which clearly had considerable appeal and helps to explain the popular support he
received for his actions against images. It provided a simple riposte to the political
powers assumed by the patriarch.84 His adoption of an Old Testament model for the
exercise of imperial authority was well chosen.85 It emphasized Constantinople as the
New Jerusalem, which provided a better basis for cooperation between the emperor
and his capital than that of the New Rome. It indicated that the emperor was laying
claim to a different kind of authority from that exercised by the patriarch. But most
important of all, Leo III confirmed that Constantinople, its church, people and elite,
remained the heart of the political process at Byzantium. In doing so he was able to
restore that element of consensus on which the proper functioning of the Byzantine
political process depended.

The political achievements of Leo III and his son Constantine V were considerable.
They mended a political system that was on the verge of collapse under pressure from
Islam. Imperial government found itself with little room for manoeuvre, trapped,
as it was, between the new theme organization, which was emerging in the provinces,
and the self-importance of Constantinople. Of these it was the second which offered
the greater challenge because of its ideological implications, which included the
notion that imperial status inhered in the God-guarded City. The capitals
assertiveness was comparatively new and developed with the emergence of a clearer
sense of identity. It has to be remembered that, because of its refoundation by Con-
stantine, Constantinople was in many ways an artificial creation and it took time for
a sense of identity to develop. Until the seventh century the circus factions dominated
the social life of Constantinople. This was hardly conducive to the crystallization of a
civic identity because of the anarchic element they introduced. A far more promising
foundation was the cult of the Mother of God, the origins of which can be traced
back in Constantinople to the fifth century, but it was only in the seventh century
that it took hold of Constantinopolitan society and provided a unifying factor. Com-
plementing this was a new interest in the traditions of the city, which were neglected
in comparison to those of other great cities of the Roman empire.86 This surfaces in

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that strange collection known as the Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai, which purports
to provide a guide to the monuments of the city. It was put together in the first half of
the eighth century. It is a mixture of folklore and half-remembered stories which are
given authenticity by erroneous attribution to named authors. As Dagron observes,
all this corresponds to the great crisis of the eighth century, to a Byzantium which
was forging a new identity by rejecting its contradictory inheritances, and to a half
ruined city, which had turned in on itself and seemed oblivious of the rest of the
world and the Empire.87 The essential was the preservation of Constantinople. This
was not just in the face of external enemies, for an emperor might be seen as an even
greater menace if he forgot his obligations to Constantinople. This seems to have
been the charge against Justinian II, who was in a weaker position than he realized.
He failed to take account of the political implications of the capitals new sense of
identity and its sense of solidarity around the patriarch. The latter had the backing of
the citys elite, who resuscitated the senate as an instrument of their political power.
A similar alliance in Rome had worked to undermine imperial authority. For a
moment, as Patriarch Germanos transferred authority from one emperor to the next
in quick succession, it looked as though this was also the case at Constantinople.
Leo III ensured that this did not happen by isolating Patriarch Germanos and
winning the support of both the Constantinopolitan elite and the populace. This
he did by identifying the imperial office with Constantinople and the interests of
its people.
How well Leo III and Constantine V had created this community of interest is
clear from the fact that there was no comparable collapse of imperial authority until
the eleventh century. In the intervening years there were coups, assassinations, rebel-
lions, invasions, religious controversies, minorities, changes of dynasties, but the
system continued to function. Its failure to adapt to the changes of the eleventh
century is difficult to explain except in terms of the delayed repercussions of Basil IIs
autocratic style of government.88 Basil IIs death was followed by a relaxation of
imperial control, which favoured the growth of aristocratic power.
It could be argued that just as the emergence of a Constantinopolitan identity was
the most important factor undermining imperial authority in the seventh century, so
the growth of a hereditary aristocracy played much the same role in the eleventh
century. It was also a potential threat to the ascendancy of Constantinoples senator-
ial elite. Just as in the seventh century patriarch and senate combined to protect
their position against changing circumstances, so the same happened in the eleventh
century.89 But this time the outcome was rather different. Alexios I Komnenos
(10811118) integrated the aristocracy into imperial government. The result, as the
historian John Zonaras complained, was that he ruled not as the steward of his
people, but as a grasping landowner who indulged his relatives.90 This produced a
radical alteration in the political process which worked to the disadvantage of the
senatorial elite and ultimately to that of Constantinople itself. The reaction against
the Komnenian regime came in 1185 with the execution of Andronikos I Komnenos
in the hippodrome amid the taunts of the Constantinopolitan populace, but his
overthrow did not loosen the grip of the aristocracy on the levers of political power.
All it did was to leave Constantinople exposed as the Fourth Crusade was sucked
into the whirlpool of Byzantine politics.91

M i c h a e l A n g o l d

1 Herrin 2007: 321.
2 Eisenstadt 1963; Darwin 2007. See also Arnason in this volume.
3 Alexander 1962: 33957.
4 Cheynet 1990: 44658.
5 Neville 2004: 39.
6 See Haldon in this volume.
7 Cheynet 1990: 2072, nos. 2, 3, 12, 26, 37, 59, 85.
8 See Featherstone in this volume.
9 See Stephenson in this volume, ch. 2.
10 Patlagean 1984: 2343.
11 Beck 1966b; Angold 1993.
12 Lemerle 1967; Oikonomides 1997.
13 See Beck 1966c: esp. 57.
14 Gautier 1981: 21.457.
15 ODB: s.v. Senate House.
16 See Magdalino 1991: 18891.
17 See Tougher 2002b, and in this volume.
18 ODB: s.v. John the Orphanotrophos.
19 See Bourbouhakis in this volume.
20 Dagron 2003a: 84124.
21 Dagron 2003a: 22347.
22 Dagron 2003a: 15891.
23 Dagron 2003a: 50.
24 See Haldon in this volume.
25 See Morrisson in this volume.
26 Oikonomids 1987: 919; Haldon 1990: 14152.
27 In general, see Ahrweiler 1966: 1735.
28 Theophanes 1883: I, 377.279:     
29 Theophanes 1883: I, 352.1423. On the date see Theophanes 1997: 492.
30 Llewellyn 1993: 1601.
31 Theophanes 1883: I, 369.213. See Beck 1966c: 41.
32 Theophanes 1883: I, 3689; Nikephoros 1990: 40.2042.
33 See Kaegi 1981: 186208; Treadgold 1997: 33745.
34 On the rise of the civic cult of the Mother of God see now Pentcheva 2006a: 1035.
35 Theophanes 1883: I, 383.67, 1517. For the exact function of the ornatorion, see Theophanes
1997: 534.
36 See Beck 1966c: 31.
37 Theophanes 1883: I, 375.813. See McCormick 1986: 73.
38 See van Dieten 1972: 15660; PBE I: s.v. Kallinikos 2; Cameron 1979; Pentcheva 2006a: 46, 12,
623 and passim.
39 Haldon 1990, 1997: 395402.
40 E.g. on the eve of his overthrow Philippikos Bardanes went to dine
: Theophanes 1883: I, 383.9.
41 Stein 1920. Redolent of Germanos ancient lineage was the decision he took in 730 to retire to his

 : Nikephoros 1990: 62.67.
42 Haldon 1990, 1997: 396.
43 Report of the Chartophylax Agatho in Riedinger 1992, pp. 898901; PBE I: s.v. Agatho 3.
44 Llewellyn 1993: 1635.
45 Riedinger 1992: 9018.
46 Riedinger 1992: 898900. Beck thinks that the soldiers must be the palace guard, rather than the-
matic detachments: Beck 1966c: 31, n. 60.
47 Theophanes 1883: I, 384.22385.2. On the patriarch Germanos, see Lilie 1999: 521; PBE I: s.v.

c h a p t e r 1 : T h e B y z a n t i n e p o l i t i c a l p r o c e s s a t c r i s i s p o i n t

Germanos 8. For the possibility that Germanos became patriarch in 714 rather than in 715, see
Theophanes 1997: 536.
48 Theophanes 1883: I, 351.248.
49 Theophanes 1883: I, 367.1521; Nikephoros 1990: 39.16; PBE I: s.v. Stephanos 4.
50 Cormack 1985: 96101.
51 Brown 1984: 48, 148; Brown 1995: 2936.
52 Riedinger 1992: 9018.
53 Theophanes 1883: I, 385.24.
54 Theophanes 1883: I, 347.13, p. 351.21. Cf. Llewellyn 1993: 164.
55 Theophanes 1883: I, 386.712; Nikephoros 1990: 51.1620.
56 Theophanes 1883: I, 497.726.
57 Theophanes 1883: I, 390.2026.
58 Theophanes 1883: I, 407.279.
59 Theophanes 1883: I, 387.114, 395.1315.
60 Constantine Porphyrogennetos 1967: 21.1236. Cf. Theophanes 1883: I, 396.1617, 397.1213,
398.1, 399.8.
61 Grumel 1958. Cf. Speck 1986, where his attempt to show that the sermon is a later schoolboy exercise
does not convince.
62 Theophanes 1883: I, 400.18.
63 Theophanes 1883: I, 401.912; Nikephoros 1990: 58.15.
64 Theophanes 1883: I, 4001; Nikephoros 1990: 57.136.
65 Llewellyn 1993: 1659.
66 Whitting 1970. Admittedly, his later issues showed his portrait on the obverse and his son Constan-
tines on the reverse. The theme here is dynastic.
67 Theophanes 1883: I, 405.78; Herrin and Cameron 1984: 44a.5, 78.710. See Auzpy 1990:
68 Theophanes 1883: I, 4079; Nikephoros 1990: 62.112. Cf. Stein 1980.
69 Nikephoros 1990: 57.335.
70 Theophanes 1883: I, 408.32; Nikephoros 1990: 62.12.
71 Theophanes 1883: I, 427.1924; Auzpy 1997: 140.12.
72 Theophanes 1883: I, 4412; Nikephoros 1990: 84.117. See Lilie 1999: 3044; PBE I: s.v. Konstan-
tinos 4.
73 Cameron 1976: 297308.
74 Theophanes 1883: I, 439.1927.
75 Anastos 1955: 1856.
76 Theophanes 1883: I, 438.826; Nikephoros 1990: 83.125 for Constantine Vs repression of an
alleged plot hatched by leading Constantinopolitan figures in 765.
77 Theophanes 1883: I, 4001; Nikephoros 1990: 57.136.
78 Lilie 1999: 229; PBE I: s.v. Anastasios 2.
79 Burgmann 1983: 162.4051.
80 Burgmann 1983: 166.1029.
81 Theophanes 1883: I, 367.1718.
82 Theophanes 1883: I, 412.621.
83 See Magdalino 2007b.
84 Dagron 2003a: 31.
85 Burgmann 1983: 164.668, 802.
86 Dagron 1984: 239.
87 Dagron 1984: 30.
88 See Angold 1997: 2434; Angold 2004: 2204. For an opposing view, see Holmes 2005: 52543.
89 Beck 1966c: 579.
90 Zonaras 184197: III, xviii, xxi, 8; 7323; xviii, xxix, 1924; 765.1119.
91 Angold 2005.