The Byzantine Political Process at Crisis Point

Authored by: Angold Michael

The Byzantine World

Print publication date:  February  2010
Online publication date:  December  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415440103
eBook ISBN: 9780203817254
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727870


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Byzantine 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, complex and incomprehensible bureaucracy.” 1 In fact, Byzantium was fairly typical of what social scientists label “Historical Bureaucratic Polities,” which were a dominant 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 establishes the ruler’s 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 political 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.

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