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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

14 - Ethnic and Religious Violence in Byzantium

from Part III - Social, Interpersonal and Collective Violence


State violence was radically transformed in the Byzantine Empire during the period of the Komnenoi (1081-1185). At a time when the power of the reformed Catholic Church was growing, the Komnenoi implemented policies refining the notion of Orthodoxy. They sought to head off the threat to the established order of the eastern Mediterranean posed by repeated invasions from armies of Normans, Venetians and other Latins claiming to be crusaders waging holy war. Long-forgotten types of persecution re-emerged under the dynastic founder, Alexios I, who justified his actions through the reinterpretation of ancient Roman Law concerning the capital crimes of sacrilege and treason. Under Alexios, individuals and small groups with specific ethno-religious backgrounds were subjected to trials for heresy and confronted with burning at the stake. Subsequent Komnenian emperors continued to profess an attachment to these procedures, resorting to them with some regularity. But they also pursued alternatives. In the final years of the dynasty, a shift of emphasis occurred to mass arrests and, eventually, pogroms. These developments accompanied changes to imperial Byzantine authority in both domestic and foreign settings. Ultimately, the Komnenian mode of rule failed. The dynastic member, Andronikos I, was deposed and executed as a tyrant.