Early Middle Ages (475-1000)

From Eastern Roman Revanche to Byzantium under Siege II: Justin II to Heraclius (565-641)

Beyond a more Grecophile culture and language, what made Heraclius' state Byzantine upon his death? A) Geographically, the loss of the West, as well as Egypt (and soon North Africa), Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia--all historically Roman lands--gave Byzantium the territorial parameters it was to maintain more or less for the next 800 years. The demographic basis of the Empire now became the lower Balkans, Greece, and Western as well as at times Central Anatolia. B) The geopolitical rhythm from here on consisted of yearly campaigns to fend off Muslim offensives and Barbarian plundering/occupation in the Danube region. Twice--in 687 and 717--this took the form of Arab Muslim sieges of the capital, but in the East, it was mostly confined to yearly Muslim thrusts as far as Nicaea, halted only during times of internal unrest in the Islamic state. In the west, Barbarian hordes would often lay siege to cities, causing loss of life and an eventual sacking. Often, Avars or Bulgars could be bought off with tribute. C) The way that Byzantine leaders began to meet the threat was characteristic of the new state. Perhaps even from the time of Heraclius, the Themes, and their peasant armies, provided closer military control of threatened districts, as well as vast pools of mobilizable soldiers, in addition to agricultural surpluses. While Theme armies would at times revolt under strategos, they could effectively deny long-term Anatolian conquests to the Arabs (and later Turks), providing the basis for a tenth- century partial Byzantine reassertion.

D) Finally, an enduring, identifying characteristic of Byzantine society came to the fore as early as the Persian wars of Heraclius. During this conflict, the entire people had united behind him, taking the Patriarch Sergius' cue, who had opened the coffers of the church to him. Miraculously, Heraclius was able to leave Constantinople to defend itself in 626, and the people did not revolt, proclaiming an anti-emperor. Further, during the course of the war, the population in the thoroughly Christianized Greek and Armenian regions began to identify the religion with the state's survival. Thus, Christian conviction motivated a Byzantine quasi-patriotism. Though not causing it, Heraclius recognized it and made good, earnest use of it. The campaigns against the Persians became proto-crusades, and the religious element provided a previously unseen political cohesion. This cohesion would only grow when Byzantium was challenged by an opponent whose sole basis of identity, and legitimacy of conquest, was based on religion: Islam. Thus, by the middle of the seventh century, Byzantium had crystallized as a state and society socially and ideologically mobilized for war and defensive retrenchment.

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