The Byzantine Empire: A Rich Culture of Hierarchy and Power

The Byzantine Empire: A Rich Culture of Hierarchy and Power


The Byzantine court of the ninth and tenth century had a rich culture of politics, theology, and ceremonies that was constantly being renewed and developed, even while claiming to be immemorial. The focus on power and hierarchy was evident in the extreme formality of their ceremonies and the network of offices and titles vital to the system of imperial power. The Byzantine rulers were known to be richer than anyone else in Christian Europe, and the tax system was critical in sustaining their ceremonial world. Despite this, the state remained solid and robust, and the empire managed to hold the frontier even during the ‘Abbasid revival. The article discusses the history of the Byzantine Empire during the ninth and tenth centuries, including their military conquests, political rivalries, and the cultural legacies they left behind.

Table of Contents

  • The Byzantine Empire and Its Elite Culture
  • Basil I and His Macedonian Dynasty
  • The Bulgar Khaganate and Its Conversion to Christianity
  • Symeon and Peter’s Bulgaria and Their Legacy
  • Administrative Reform and Military Conquests in the Tenth Century


Q: How did the Byzantine Empire revive the Roman past?

A: The tenth-century Byzantine educated elite aimed to restore the Roman past, which belonged to them, and the search for a Roman renewal led early to the revival of Roman law. Middle Byzantine court culture included a dense theological culture in all its writers and ceremonies that were constantly being renewed and developed, even while claiming to be immemorial.

Q: Who were the important figures in the Byzantine court culture?

A: Photios, from an elite family, was a major creator of the cultural template and intellectual assumptions of the post-Iconoclast Orthodox church, and his best-known work is the Bibliothk or Library, which discusses 279 separate Greek books in considerable detail, often quoting them at length. Several emperors were also authors and wrote connected prose as an essential element of statecraft.

Q: What was the Byzantine Empire’s military situation during Basil I’s reign?

A: The politico-military situation during Basil I’s reign was in most respects favourable. The ‘Abbasid caliphate had dissolved into political crisis after 861, thereby neutralizing the strongest power in Eurasia and Byzantium’s most immediate threat. The Byzantines became real military protagonists and even managed to hold the frontier in the generation of the ‘Abbasid revival.

Q: What happened during the Byzantine invasion of Bulgaria in 864?

A: Khagan Boris I agreed to be baptized by the Byzantines, and an early conversion to Christianity proved a prompt concession as the Byzantines invaded Bulgaria in 864. The Bulgarian mission became a political football between rival missionary projects of Constantinople and Rome. Boris got substantial concessions for his Greek choice: the Bulgar church was recognized as autonomous outside Constantinople in 870 and had its archbishop.

Q: What were the cultural legacies of Symeon and Peter’s Bulgaria?

A: Symeon, who took the title basileus, emperor (tsar, from ‘Caesar’, in Slavic) in 913, was feared to be aiming for the throne of Byzantium too – he called himself ‘emperor of the Bulgars and Romans’ by 924. The Bulgar state developed its own popular heresy, Bogomilism, during Peter’s reign, the beliefs of which were second only to the Slavonic liturgy as the most lasting cultural exports of Symeon’s and Peter’s Bulgaria.

Q: What was the focus of Basil I’s conquests?

A: Basil I went westwards and conquered southern Italy, turning the Lombard principalities into client states. The Bulgar khaganate was also a target for Byzantine aggression, and they gained a concrete hegemony over the newly unified Armenians and their Bagratuni kings.


Despite struggles with political rivals and the need for continuous renewal and development, the Byzantine court of the ninth and tenth century remained a solid and robust political system in Europe. Their focus on hierarchy and power was evident in their tax system, their extreme formality of their ceremonies, and their network of offices and titles vital to the system of imperial power. Their military conquests and cultural legacies, such as the Slavonic liturgy and Bogomilism, attest to their influence and legacy in history.

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