Byzantium Under Siege: Military and Political Challenges in the 7th-8th century
This article delves into the complicated history of the Byzantine Empire during the reigns of Constans II and Constantine IV, and the many military and political challenges they faced from external threats, such as the Arab invasions, the conquest of Africa, and the appearance of the Bulgars, as well as internal struggles related to religious beliefs and power struggles. We explore the evolution of military politics, the rise of the Iconoclast emperors, and the controversies surrounding the veneration of religious images, as well as the movements that led to the restoration of Orthodoxy. We also touch upon the social transformations happening in the Balkans during this period, and the emergence of Slavic language and culture.
Table of Contents
- Military and Political Challenges in the 7th-8th century: An Overview
- Military Politics and Religious Issues
- The Rise of the Iconoclast Emperors
- The Controversy over Religious Images
- The Second Council of Nicaea
- The Balkans and Slavic Culture
- The Great Fence of Thrace
- The Fall of Iconoclasm and the Restoration of Orthodoxy
- Intellectual Debates and Political Elite
- Ignatios the Deacon
Q: What were the most significant external threats to the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Constans II and Constantine IV?
A: The Byzantine Empire faced several external threats during this period, primarily from the Arab invasions, which attacked by sea and led to the conquest of Africa, culminating in the fall of Carthage. The Balkans also saw the appearance of the Bulgars, a powerful group that defeated the Byzantines and became independent rulers of northern Bulgaria. These challenges put immense pressure on the Byzantine military and political structures, and contributed to the rise of military politics and religious issues.
Q: What was the evolution of military politics during this period?
A: The period marked by the reigns of Constans II and Constantine IV saw the evolution of a new style of military politics, whereby the army dealt directly with the emperor. This was in contrast to the previous period, where military officials were appointed by the emperor, and the army maintained a subordinate role. The military’s growing influence was tied to the Byzantine Empire’s many external threats, as well as internal struggles related to power and religious beliefs.
Q: Can you explain the controversy over the veneration of religious images?
A: The Byzantine Empire faced a controversy over the veneration of religious images known as Iconoclasm. The controversy was sparked by Emperor Constantine V, who banned the veneration of religious images, leading to the destruction of many icons. However, the controversy had widespread grassroots support, and was not simply an imperial cult. The Second Council of Nicaea, called by Eirene, Constatine’s daughter-in-law, condemned Iconoclasm and legitimized the veneration of images.
Q: How did the social transformations in the Balkans impact the Byzantine Empire during this period?
A: The Balkans saw many social transformations during this period, similar to Anglo-Saxon England, with small groups taking over provinces and even changing the language. By the mid-tenth century, Slavic became the common tongue in the north and central Balkans, though Greek and Latin were still spoken. The multi-ethnic khaganate of the Turks was taken over by the Slavs, and the Bulgars posed a challenge to the empire.
Q: What led to the restoration of Orthodoxy and the fall of Iconoclasm?
A: The Byzantine Empire experienced many military defeats during this period, which made Iconoclasm seem like the source of defeat. Theodora overturned Iconoclasm in 843, restoring Orthodoxy and ending the series of coups. Second Iconoclasm was an organized negative image, and the prosperity of the eighth century allowed intellectual debates on theology, classical literature and philosophy, which became increasingly accessible to the political elite.
The period marked by the reigns of Constans II and Constantine IV was marked by many military and political challenges for the Byzantine Empire. From external threats such as Arab invasions and the appearance of the Bulgars to internal struggles related to religious beliefs and power struggles, the empire faced immense pressure. While there were periods of military success, they were often short-lived, and the Byzantine Empire underwent significant social transformations, particularly in the Balkans. The restoration of Orthodoxy in 843 put an end to the Iconoclasm controversy, but the empire would continue to face many challenges in the centuries to come.