Skip to main content Accessibility help

John Lydus’ political message and the Byzantine idea of imperial rule

  • Sviatoslav Dmitriev (a1)


On Powers, an antiquarian treatise with a political agenda by John Lydus, an erudite and imperial official in the late fifth and early sixth century, has been interpreted as either a panegyric to the emperor or as a work that was critical not only of Justinian’s rule but of monarchy in general. By reexamining it within the broader context of Byzantine political philosophy, this article proposes to see On Powers as a display of a traditional meritorious approach to the emperor, who was judged by measuring his personal and political qualities against the ideal image of the ruler.



Hide All

1 Fr. Schiller, Don Carlos, Scene X (trans. R. D. Boylan). This article uses the following edition of Lydus’ On Powers: Jean Le Lydien, Des magistratures de l’État romain, ed. and trans. Dubuisson, M. and Schamp, J., vol. 1-2 (Paris 2006). The English translation is by Bandy, A. C., [Lydus] On Powers, or The Magistracies of the Roman State (Philadelphia 1983), with occasional modifications. Some of these ideas were presented at the 38th Annual Conference of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America (Hellenic College Holy Cross, Brookline, MA, 1–4 November 2012). I am indebted to Prof. W. Kaegi for pointing me to Zosimus’ evidence, and to two anonymous readers for their helpful comments.

2 Esp. Dubuisson, M., ‘Jean le Lydien et les formes de pouvoir personnel à Rome’, Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz 2 (1991) 67, 71; Maas, M., John Lydus and the Roman Past: Antiquarianism and Politics in the Age of Justinian (London and New York 1992) 5, 83-96; Dubuisson, M., ‘Rhétorique et histoire chez Jean le Lydien’, in Roduit, A. et al. (ed.), Approches de la troisième sophistique. Hommages à Jacques Schamp (Brussels 2006) 446 . For Lydus, see also Kaster, R. A., Guardians of Language. The Grammarian and Society in Late Antiquity (Berkeley 1988) 306-9; Baldwin, B., ‘John Lydus’, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, vol. 2 (Oxford and New York 1991) 1061-2; and Whitby, L. M., ‘Lydus’, The Oxford Classical Dictionary3 (Oxford and New York 2003) 899 , reprinted in the fourth edition (2012) 873.

3 Lydus deserved only a passing footnote reference in Hunger, H., ‘Kaiser Justinian L’, Anzeiger der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Ph.-Hist. Kl. 102 (1965) 339-56; repr. in Das Byzantinische Herrscherbild, ed. Hunger, H. (Darmstadt 1975) 333-52, and found neither a place on the list of important sources about the image of Byzantine rulers nor a mention in the index in Tinnefeld, F. H., Kategorien der Kaiserkritik in der Byzantinischen Historiographie: von Prokop bis Niketas Choniates (Munich 1971). This negligent attitude changed, to a large extent only because of the appearance of two translations of On Powers into English (each with an extensive commentary), by Carney, T. F., Bureaucracy in Traditional Society: Romano-Byzantine Bureaucracies, Viewed from Within (Lawrence 1971) and Bandy, A. C. (see n. 1), and a detailed study by Caimi, J., Burocrazia e atritto nel De magistratibus di Giovanni Lido (Milan 1984).

4 E.g., Chrysos, E. K., ‘The title Βασιλεύς in early Byzantine international relations’, DOP 32 (1978) 69 ; Maas, Lydus, 85–6, 95–6.

5 Pazdernik, Ch., ‘Justinianic ideology and the power of the past’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. Maas, M. (Cambridge and New York 2005) 194 ; and Kaldellis, A., ‘Republican theory and political dissidence in Ioannes Lydos’, BMGS 29 (2005) 1 . Criticism: Bell, P. N., Three Political Voices from the Age of Justinian (Liverpool 2009) 5, 73 (Lydus ‘may have expressed a preference for the republican government’); Angelov, D. G., ‘Three kinds of liberty as political ideals in Byzantium. Twelfth to fifteenth centuries’, in Iliev, I. et al. (ed.), Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress of Byzantine Studies, I (Sofia 2011) 313 ; Bell, P. N., Social Conflict in the Age of Justinian. Its Nature, Management, and Mediation (Oxford and New York 2013) 282-5.

6 Kaldellis, A., ‘Identifying dissident circles in sixth-century Byzantium: the friendship of Procopius and Ioannes Lydos’, Plorilegium 21 (2004) 2,3,13; Kaldellis, A., Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity (Philadelphia 2004)134,137; Kaldellis, ‘Republican theory’, 1; Kaldellis, A., The Byzantine Republic. People and Power in New Rome (Cambridge, MA and London 2015), (on Lydus as ‘favoring the Republic’ ) 68–9.

7 Vigilant (2.15, 3.39, 3.55: ‘the most indefatigable’); superb qualities (1.6, 2.8, 2.15, 3.2, 3.39, 3.57, 3.69); wise and versed in books (2.28); learning (3.29–30); virtuous (3.1, 3.39); taking care of subjects (2.15, 2.28, 3.1, 3.38); the territory (2.24, 3.1, 3.53, 3.56); excellence (3.39). The quote: 2.28.

8 Care for subjects (2.20, 3.18); respect for knowledge (1.2, 2.21, 3.50); clemency (3.26); prudence and other virtues (2.27, 3.45, 3.48, 3.53); public good (3.29, 3.47); intellectual qualities (3.47).

9 Obedience to laws (1.3, 1.6); the old state of things (2.28, 3.1); innovations (1.49, 2.19, 2.21, 3.22); defense of subjects (2.15, 3.53, 3.56); busy round the clock (3.15); intellectual and military training (3.33); the elected ruler (1.3).

10 Republican consuls (1.30,2.8); their merits (2.20–21,2.25, 3.30, 3.50, 3.72–73). The quote: 2.36. For the period 539 to 565 as Peter’s continuous tenure of office, see, e.g., Antonopoulos, P., Peter the Patrician. The Byzantine Diplomat, Official and Author (Athens 1990) 236-7 and Martolini, A. M., ‘I frammenti dell’ Anonymus post Dionem/Pietro Patrizio nell ambito della storiografia tardoantica e bizantina’, in Dalla storiografìa ellenistica alla storiografia tardoantica, ed. Roberto, U. and Mecella, L. (Soveria Mannelli 2010) 210 .

11 Wisdom and learning (3.29–30); modesty and constant intellectual activity (1.22–23, 3.26–27); learning (3.26–28); teaching (3.29); responsibilities (3.27); disdain for material gain and respect of superiors and colleagues (3.27, 3.30). The former view: Maas, Lydus, 92–6. The latter: Kaldellis, ‘Republican theory’, 3: ‘Lydos was hostile to Justinian … his praise is entirely pro forma’.

12 Croke, B., ‘Justinian, Theodora and the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus’, DOP 60 (2006) 47 (with bibliography). Nov. 8, praef., in [lustiniani] Novellae 6, ed. R. Schoell and G. Kroll (Berlin 1954) 64–5. This interpretation: Cameron, Av., Procopius and the Sixth Century (Berkeley 1985) 61 (explaining this reference by the ‘usual hagiographic interpretation of such physical endurance’ ), 247, and Croke, B., ‘Justinian the “sleepless emperor”’, in Nathan, G. and Garland, L. (ed.), BASILEIA. Essays on Imperium and Culture in Honour of E. M. and M.J.Jeffreys (Brisbane 2011) 104, 107-8, who saw the idea of the emperor’s wakefulness as a Christian virtue and as Justinian’s political innovation.

13 Synesius, On Kingship, 5.4, 6.1, in Synésios de Cyrène, V: Opuscules, II, ed. Lamoureux, J. (Paris 2008), with Hunger, H. H., Prooimion: Elemente der byzantinischen Kaiseridee in den Arengen der Urkunden (Vienna 1964) 94100 tracing this theme as far back as Dio Chrysostom. Agapetus, Advice to the emperor Justinian, 2, in Riedinger, R., Agapetos, Der Fürstenspiegel für Kaiser Iustinianus (Athens 1995); Leo, Taktika, pr. 2, in The Taktika of Leo VI, ed. and trans. G. T. Dennis (Washington 2010); the Epanagoge, 2.2, in Jus graecoromanum, ed. Zepos, P. and Zepos, J., vol. 2 (Athens 1931) 240 ; [Constantine VII,] Life of Basil I, 30, in Chronographiae quae Theophanis Continuati nomine fertur Liber quo Vita Basilii Imperatoris amplectitur, ed. Ševčenko, I. (Berlin and New York 2011). Alexios’ vigilance: Anna Komnene, Alexias, 5.6.3, 7.11.1, 12.5.2, 14.4.7, in Annae Comnenae Alexias, ed. Reinsch, D. and Kambylis, A. (Berlin and New York 2001); his incessant toil for his subjects: 5.5.2, 12.3.4, 14.3.9, 14.4.1, 15.7.1–2; his death: 15.11.4. Theophylaktos of Ohrid, in Théophylacte d’Achrida, Discours, traités, poésie, trans, and comm. Gautier, P., vol. 1 (Thessalonike 1980) 207, 1.78; Manuelis Holoboli Orationes, ed. Treu, M., vol. 1-2 (Potsdam 1906-1907) 59, 1.26; Blemmydes, Royal Statue, 149 (hereafter cited as Blemmydes, RS), in Hunger, H. and Ševčenko, I., Des Nikephoros Blemmydes Βασιλικος Άνδριάς und dessen Metaphrase von Georgios Galesiotes und Georgias Oinaiotes (Vienna 1986); Planoudes, Basilikos, 10 and 12, in Westerink, L. G., ‘Le Basilikos de Maxime Planude’, BS 27 (1966) 98103, 28 (1967) 54-67, and 29 (1968) 34-48.

14 The image of the state as a ship and a statesman as a ship pilot can be traced to Alcaeus, fr. 6.1–3 (Voigt, 180) with, e.g., Rösler, W., Dichter und Gruppe. Eine Untersuchung zu den Bedingungen und zur historischen Funktion früher griechischer Lyrik am Beispiel Alkaios (Munich 1980) 115-26 and Bonnafé, A., Poésie, nature et sacré, vol. 2: L’âge archaïque (Lyon 1987) 83-6. See also Theognis 671–680, in Anthologia lyrica 2, ed. Bergk, T. (Leipzig 1868); Pindar, 1. Pyth. 86–92, in Pindari Carmina, cum fragmentis, ed. Bowra, C. M. (Oxford 1947); Aristophanes, Wasps, 29; and Aristotle, Politics, 1326a.41–1327b.7, in Aristotle, Politica, ed. Ross, W. D. (Oxford 1957). Dennis, G. T., ‘Imperial panegyric: rhetoric and reality’, in Maguire, H. (ed.), Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1204 (Washington 1997) 135 ; cf.Angelov, D., Imperial Ideology and Political Thought in Byzantium, 1204-1330 (Cambridge and New York 2007) 80-2. Lydus, On Powers, 3.1.

15 Blemmydes, RS, 91; Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 207, ll. 18–29; Leo, Oraison funèbre de Basile I par son fils Léon VI le Sage, ed. and trans. Vogt, A. and Hausherr, I. (Rome 1932) 46,ll.13-14; Anna Komnene, Alexias, 7.9A, 9.6.2; Lettres et discours [de] Michel Italikos, ed. Gautier, P. (Paris 1972) 294,ll.13-14.

16 Lydus, On Powers, 3.29, 3.47, 3.1; Procopius, Buildings, 1.1.11, 1.1.7–8, 16, in Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia, vol. 4, ed. Haury, J. and Wirth, G. (Leipzig 1964); Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 227, ll.14–15; Georgii Acropolitae opera, ed. Heisenberg, A., with corrections by Wirth, P., II (Stuttgart 1978) 17, 11.18-35; 18, 11.1–1; 26,11.19–21; Blemmydes, RS, 123; Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 207,11.5–21, 233,11.24–27 and 235,11.1–2; Anna Komnene, Alexias, 7.10.3. Evagrius, 3.3 and 5.19, in The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius with the Scholia, ed. Bidez, J. and Parmentier, L. (London 1898) 100 and 214–5 (trans. Whitby, M.), respectively, with Whitby, Michael, ‘Evagrius on patriarchs and emperors’, in Whitby, Mary (ed.), The Propaganda of Power. The Role of Panegyric in Late Antiquity (Leiden and Boston 1998) 324-5.

17 Theodore Prodromos’ Rhodanthe and Dosikles, 4.78–80, 89, in Theodori Prodromi de Rhodanthes et Dosiclis amoribus libri IX, ed. Marcovich, M. (Leipzig 1992); Blemmydes, RS, 34. Alexios’ indifference to ‘royal pleasures’: Anna Komnene, Alexias, 5.4.4, 5.8.2; his resistance to despair: 5.4.3, 5.4.8, 7.6.4, 8.4.1, 9.10.1; his imperturbability: 9.5.2,12.9.7,10.9.4,15.2.1; his many virtues: 1.4.8, 6.13.4. For Anna’s descriptions of barbarians, whom she juxtaposed with Alexios, see note 35.

18 The Letters of loannes Mauropous, Metropolitan of Euchaita, ed. Karpozilos, A. D. (Thessalonike 1990) 103-7,11.26-31, 50-52, 64-66; Psellos, Michael, Orationes panegyricae, ed. Dennis, G. T. (Stuttgart 1994), 1.74, 102; 3.6-9, 44; 4.454; 6.55–56. This interpretation: A. Stone, ‘Imperial types in Byzantine panegyric’, in BASILEIA (as in note 12) 179; cf.Magdalino, P., The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180 (Cambridge 1993) 427 . Constantine X: Psellos, Orationes panegyricae, 14.25–30. Cf. a similar reference in his speech for John Mauropous (17.226–249), who was certainly familiar with the use of such topoi. Anna Komnene, Alexias, 5.8.2–3, 7.3.9, 14.7.9; cf. 5.9.3 (on preference of intellectual food over physical food) and 6.7.3 (on Alexios as patron of philosophy); Georgii Acropolitae opera, II, 27, 11.25 –30 and 28, 11.2–14. Tbeophylacti Simocattae Historiae, ed. de Boor, C. (Leipzig 1887), 7.6.1; cf. Ignatios the Deacon, The Life of Nicephorus I, in Nicephori Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani Opuscula Historica, ed. de Boor, C. (Leipzig 1880) 151-2 on practicing philosophy and using moderation and self-control (sophrosyne) to overcome various unruly passions. Lydus, On Powers, 3.26, 3.29. Ammianus Marcellinus: 3.28.

19 Lettres et discours [de] Michel Italikos, 283,1.20, with Lydus, On Powers, 3.33 (see note 9 above); Leo, Oraison funèbre, 48,11.11–12,16–17,20–21; 46,11.20–21; 56,11.27–28; 60,11.1–5; for Basil’s self-control and use of reason to calm down irrational passions, see also [Constantine VII,] Life of Basil 1, 72, 98. Cf. Tougher, S. F., ‘The Wisdom of Leo VI’, in Magdalino, P. (ed.), New Constantines: The Rhythm of Imperial Renewal in Byzantium, 4th-13th Centuries (Aldershot 1994) 171-9, who interpreted this image in Christian terms, with reference to the figures of David and Solomon. Agapetus, Advice, 17 (with Bell, Political Voices, 106 note 29: on this reference as Agapetus’ ‘flattering oversimplification of how Justinian succeeded his uncle, Justin I’) and 18; Blemmydes, RS, 6, 7–10, 33, 65–67; Thomas Magister, On Kingship, 3, in Magistro, Toma, La regalità, ed. Cacciatore, P. Volpe (Naples 1997). On philosophy as the supreme knowledge that is needed by the supreme ruler, see, e.g., Themistius, On Power, 1, in Themistii orationes quae supersunt, ed. Schenkl, H. et al., vol. 2 (Leipzig 1971); the Dialogue on Political Science, 5.123, in Menae patricii cum Thoma referendario De Scientia politica dialogus, ed. Mazzucchi, C. M. (Milan 1982); Thomas Magister, On Kingship, 30; and Anna Komnene, Alexias, 3.4.3.

20 Digenes Akritis, IV 1033–1041, in Digenes Akritis: the Grottaferrata and Escorial versions, ed. and trans. Jeffreys, E. (Cambridge and New York 1998). Georgii Acropolitae opera, II, 22,11.30–32; Blemmydes, RS, 61; Hadrian: Cassius Dio 69.6.3, in Dionis Cassii Cocceiani Historia Romana, vol. 3., ed. Dindorf, L. A. and Melber, J. (Leipzig 1928). For the virtues of earlier Roman emperors, who traditionally served as examples for later rulers, see Dmitriev, S., ‘“Good emperors” and emperors of the third century’, Hermes 132 (2004) 211-24.

21 [Constantine VII,] Life of Basil I, 19, with reference to how Michael III categorized the revolt of Symbatius and Peganes (aponoia, anoia); while Michael was not himself a paragon of (imperial) virtue, his words reflected the established view. Agapetus, Advice, 37; Procopius, Buildings, 1.1.16; Anna Komnene, Alexias, 6.2.4, 6.4.1,12.6.3–12.7.4; Demetrios Chomatenos, Ponemata diaphora, 10.6, in Demetrii Chomateni Ponemata Diaphora, ed. Prinzing, G. (Berlin and New York 2002) 365 ; Georgii Acropolitae opera, II, 22, 11.4–11, 16–20; Leo, Oraison funèbre, 72,11.1–2; Blemmydes, RS, 40,194–195. Eusebius, Tricennial Oration, 3.5, in Über das Leben Constantins. Constantins Rede an die heilige Versammlung. Tricennatsrede an Constantin, ed. Heikel, I. A. (Leipzig 1902); Blemmydes, RS, 37; Leo, Oraison funèbre, 78, 11.1–2; The Letters of loannes Mauropous, 105,11.35–36; 107,11.70–71.

22 Agapetus, Advice, 19; the Epanagoge, 2.1, in Jus graecoromanum, 2: 240; Anna Komnene, Alexias, 5.5.2, 12.3.4, 14.3.9, 15.7.1–2; Sovety i rasskazy Kekaumena, ed. and tr. Litavrin, G. G. (Moscow 1972) 288,11.9-12 (see note 33); Lettres et discours [de] Michel Italikos, 175,11.1–9; The Letters of loannes Maur-opous, 103,11.5–6,12–13; 105,11.35–37; Georgii Acropolitae opera, II, 21,11.11–12; Tartaglia, L., ‘L’opusculo De subiectorum in principem offciis di Teodoro II Lascaris’, Diptycha 2 (1980-1981) 200,11.106-116.

23 Agapetus, Advice, 27, 37,45 (cf. 21 ), who also spoke (5) of the ruler’s ‘debt of gratitude’ to the Creator; the Dialogue on Political Science, 5.5,5.9, 5.45; Sovety i rasskazy Kekaumena, 274, 11.1–2; Lettres et discours [de] Michel Italikos, 294,11.18–19; Tartaglia, ‘L’opusculo’, 200,11.123–125; Themistius, To the emperor, 1–2, in Amato, E. and Ramelli, I., ‘L’inedito Προς βασιλέα di Temistio’, BZ 99 (2006) 9 .

24 The Letters of loannes Mauropous, 105–107, ll.35–36, 42–44, 54–64. Sovety i rasskazy Kekaumena, 274, ll.6–9 and 288,11.13–14; Agapetus, Advice, 21–23, 64; Anna Komnene, Alexias, 6.3.2,13.8.7; Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 209, 11.13–15 and 227,11.6–7; Georgii Acropolitae opera, II, 22,11.32–34; Lettres et discours [de] Michel Italikos, 294,11.9–12 and 19.

25 Lydus, On Powers, 2.3. Procopius, Buildings, 1.1.15–19. On Procopius’ Buildings as a panegyric of Justinian’s benefactions and promotion of Christianity: Av. Cameron, Procopius, 84–112; Bell, Political Voices, 79–81; cf. Elsner, J., ‘The rhetoric of buildings in the De Aedificiis of Procopius’, in Art and Text in Byzantine Culture, ed. James, L. (Cambridge and New York 2007) 35 (‘Procopius uses Justinian as builder as a sign to represent the greatness of Justinian as emperor in all aspects’), 50 (‘an ideal portrait of emperorship in the person of Justinian through the special selection of his buildings’). Whitby, Mary, ‘The Occasion of Paul the Silentiary’s Ekphrasis of S. Sophia’, Classical Quarterly n.s. 35 (1985) 220-2; Fayant, M.-Chr., ‘Le poète, l’empereur et le patriarche. L’éloge de Justinien dans la Description de Sainte-Sophie de Paul le Silentiaire’, in Mary, L. and Sot, M. (eds), Le discours d’éloge entre Antiquité et Moyen Âge (Paris 2001) 72, 76-7; Macrides, R. and Magdalino, P., ‘The architecture of ekphrasis: construction and context of Paul the Silentiary’s poem on Hagia Sophia’, BMGS 12 (1988) 75-6. Palmer, A., ‘The inauguration anthem of Hagia Sophia in Edessa’, BMGS 12 (1988) 145-6.

26 Agapetus, Advice, 4, with Bell, Political Voices, 101, note 12; The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, 214–215 (see note 16); Leo, Oraison funèbre, 46, 11.17–19, 22–26; 48,1.1; 50, 11.2–5, and a similar stance in [Constantine VII,] Life of Basil I, 6, 18–20, 28; cf. ibid., 18, 20–21, 25–27: the people in Constantinople wished to have virtuous Basil as their emperor rather than to be ruled by Michael III, whose vices and excesses pushed him beyond the limits of propriety and moderation, thus making him unworthy of the imperial power. For Leo’s brief treatment of Basil’s origins as his personal invention that did not conform with the ‘rules of panegyric’, see Kazhdan, A., ‘The aristocracy and the imperial ideal’, in The Byzantine Aristocracy, IX to XIII centuries, ed. Angold, M. (Oxford 1984) 44 ; Stone, ‘Imperial types’, 174, 177.

27 This interpretation: Kazhdan, ‘Aristocracy’, 43. Leo, Taktika, 2.17; cf. 2.1–9: self-controlled in his mode of life (not subject to impulses), sober, vigilant, frugal, discreet and not dragged down by physical pleasures, intelligent and wise, free from avarice, and 18–19: physically impressive, hardworking, courageous, steadfast, satisfied with little, trustworthy, approachable, unperturbed, and 20.5–7: unshakable, just, not rushing to punish, temperate in his way of life and vigilant, and 91–92: free of avarice and steady. Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 199, 1.30, and 201, 11.1–2 (basileus autophyes); Anna Komnene, Alexias, 1.1.3: toil and vigilance, 1.4.8: the liberality, bravery, and wisdom of the young Alexios attracted many people who wanted him to become emperor because he was blessed with ‘all virtues’; Georgii Acropolitae opera, II, 28, 11.2–14, and 21,11.13–16.

28 Numa (On Celestial Signs, 5, 16; On Months, 1.17, 1.34, 3.5); the quote: Lydus, On Powers, 1.3, with Synesius’ On Kingship, 6.5. ‘Legal kingship’: 1.3; Domitian and Caracalla: 1.49. The Dialogue on Political Science, 5.9. 5.25, and 5.210, with Fotiou, A. S., ‘Plato’s philosopher king in the political thought of sixth-century Byzantium’, Florilegiutn 7 (1985) 20-1 and O’Meara, D. J., ‘The Justinianic dialogue On Political Science and its neoplatonic sources’, in Ierodiakonou, K. (ed.), Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources (Oxford and New York 2004) 4962 . Election: the Dialogue on Political Science, 5.50. This interpretation: MacCoull, L. S. B., ‘Menas and Thomas: notes on the Dialogus de scientia politica ’, GRBS 46 (2006) 307 , with Lydus, On Powers, 1.3 (see note 9 above); cf. Fotiou, ‘Philosopher king’, 22–23 explaining this proposal in philosophical terms.

29 This explanation: Pertusi, A., Il pensiero politico bizantino, ed. Carile, A. (Bologna 1990) 13, 25-6. See also, e.g., the Dialogue on Political Science, 5.17 and 49, which, although limiting the pool of candidates to three of the ‘best people’ (5.50), still retained the superb qualities of the candidates as the basis for election, and Thomas Magister, On Kingship, 3, who spoke of the people supporting the emperor with their souls, like their father. Divine intervention: MacCormack, S. G., Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1981) 244-7. A very interesting study by Kosuch, A., ‘A deo electus? Klerus und Volk als Verkünder des göttlichen Willens bei der Königserhebung des frühen Mittelalters. Von Wirkung und Wandel einer alten Vorstellung’, in Erkens, F.-R. (ed.), Das frühmittelalterliche Königtum. Ideelle und religiöse Grundlagen (Berlin and New York 2005) 407-26, adopted what looks like a similar approach, but established no connection with the ruler’s personal qualities. Agapetus, Advice, 1, 27; the Epanagoge, 2.1, in Jus graecoromanum, 2: 240; Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 195,11.10 and 15.

30 Lydus, On Powers, 2.8; cf. Kaldellis, ‘Dissident circles’, 8–9 on this reference as a hidden criticism. Mamertinus, 28.3–4, in XII panegirici Latini, ed. Mynors, R. A. B. (Oxford 1964), with Ammianus Marcellinus, 22.7.1; Themistius, On Power, 7. The praetorian prefect: Lydus, On Powers, 2.9, 2.17; Julius Caesar and tyrants: 1.2,1.38,1.51,2.1,2.6; Romulus: 1.3,1.5; Brutus: 2.8; Brutus and Justinian: 3.38; ‘master’: 1.6. For this title, see Bréhier, L., ‘L’origine des titres impériaux à Byzance’, BZ 15 (1906) 161-78, who dated (168–9) the beginning of its permanent use to the time of Constantine I. Juxtaposing with tyrants: 2.8.

31 Tacitus, Agricoh, 3.1 (principatum ac libertatem), in P. Cornelii Taciti Libri qui supersunt, vol. 2.3, ed. Delz, I. (Stuttgart 1983). CIL VI 472 = ILS 274. Coins of Nerva (Libertas Publica): e.g., Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, ed. Mattingly, H., III (London 1936) 130 (nos. 16, 46–47, 60, 91, 94, 96 etc.); Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet, University of Ghsgow, vol. 1, ed. Robertson, A. S. (Oxford 1962) 333-43 (nos. 7, 22, 28, 38, 41–42, 44 etc.), with Pliny, Letters, 9.13.4, in C. Plint Secundi Epistularum Libri Decem, ed. Mynors, R. A. B. (Oxford 1963). Obedience to law (Pliny, Panegyric, 9.3, 9.5, 34.2, 65.1); similar to consul (59.6, 65.1, 76.1, 76.6, 77.3–5, 78.3–5, 79.5); having the same rights as other citizens (10.4, 23.1–2, 64.4–65.1, 71.4), with S. Morton Braund, ‘Praise and protreptic in early imperial panegyric: Cicero, Seneca, Pliny’, in The Propaganda of Power (as in note 16 above), 61, who presented such references as displays of Trajan’s uniqueness. Trajan’s imperial title (21.3–4, 24.3, 44.2); emperor vs. tyrant (2.3); principate with freedom (27.1, 36.4, 44.6, 45.1–3, 55.2, 57.4, 58.3, 66.2–4, 78.3, 87.1); Brutus and Trajan (55.6–7); the quote: 24.4, in XII panegyrici Latini (trans. B. Radice). Senatorial historiography: Av. Cameron, Procopius, 247; on Roman roots of Lydus’ perception of the imperial power, see Pazdernik, ‘Justinianic ideology’, 194–195, 196–198; Kaldellis, ‘Republican theory’, 12–14. However, the difference in their philosophical approaches requires a separate examination, which I plan elsewhere. Themistius, On Power, 7–8,15–16; the Dialogue on Political Science, 5.46–48. Limits of power: Lydus, On Powers, 3.15, 3.39; ignorance: 1.6.

32 Ioannis Antiocheni fragmenta quae supersunt omnia, ed. Kambylis, A. (Berlin and New York 2008) 356 , fr. 196; Zosimus, New History, 1.5.3, 1.7.1, 2.29.1, in Zosimi comitis et exadvocati fisci Historia Nova, ed. Mendelssohn, L. (Leipzig 1887); Theophylaktos of Ohrid, 195, 11.9–19; 199, 11.22–29; Sovety i rasskazy Kekaumena, 274,11.6–9 and 288,11.13–14. See Romano, R., ‘Retorica e cultura a Bisanzio: due Fürstenspiegel a confronto’, Vichiana n.s.14 (1985) 315-6; Dennis, ‘Imperial panegyric’, 133; Angelov, Imperial Ideology, 29–77; Stone, ‘Imperial types’, 187–8. Cf. Kaldellis, ‘Republican theory’, 7, connecting Lydus’ views with those of Machiavelli and Ronald Syme. Titus: Lydus, On Powers, 49.2; Domitian and Caracalla: 1.49; ‘legal kingship’: 1.3.

33 Romulus (1.5); Domitian (2.19; cf. 1.3); Justin (2.28, 3.51); passions (1.3). The quote: 2.1 (see also 1.6); accordance with laws (3.18); people of good qualities (3.17, 3.38, 3.76); example of true virtue (3.39); vigilance (3.55); Anastasius (2.21); Justinian (3.29–30). Agapetus, Advice, 1, 30; The Letters of loannes Mauropous, 105, 11.50–52; Blemmydes, RS, 103–104; Sovety i rasskazy Kekaumena, 288, 11.9–12. For the emperor setting an example of virtue for future generations, see, e.g., Procopius, Buildings, 1.1.4–5.

34 The benevolent ruler (3.39), bad rulers (2.21, 3.57, 3.62), mistreatment (3.42, 3.61), confiscations and tortures (3.57–61), greed and cruelty (3.58), ignorance and lack of education (3.68), Marinus (3.46), John the Cappadocian (3.57), emperor’s unawareness (3.61–62, 3.69). Cf. [Constantine VII,] Life of Basil I, 30, 72, which juxtaposed vicious and corrupt associates of Michael III with the ‘best people of all’ who were appointed to offices by Basil I.

35 Indolence and disregard of public interests (2.15–16), idle living (pr. 14), oppression of subjects (2.1), disregard of duties (2.10), preference of personal interests (3.49), two praetorian prefects (2.20), John the Cappadocian (3.62, 65, 69), ‘wolves’ (2.21, 3.58), their actions (2.21, 3.57–3.69). Blemmydes, RS, 13; Anna Komnene, Alexias, 12.3.1, developing the theme of the fickle nature of the barbarians (10.3.4, 10.11.6), who cannot control their passions (10.5.4, 14.2.4, 14.4.6), and, prone to moodiness, go to the extremes (10.11.6, 13.10.1); cf. Anna’s juxtaposition of the Armenian Oshin, who succumbed to pleasures, turned into an idler, and eventually lost his life (12.2.3) with a clever and virtuous officer Eumathios, who was always busy successfully forestalling the enemy (14.1.5–6). See Synesius, On Kingship, 6.2–3, who compared tyrants with beasts, and praised philosophical education as protecting kings against becoming tyrants.

36 Zosimus, NH, 4.1.1; 4.28.1–3 and 4.33.1–4; 5.1.2–5. Procopius, SH, 8.22–26, in Procopii Caesariensis Opera Omnia, ed. Haury, J., rev. Wirth, G., vol. 3 (Leipzig 1963); trans. H. B. Dewing (with some modifications). Invective: Av. Cameron, Procopius, 60–61, with Brubaker, L., ‘Sex, lies and textuality: the Secret History of Prokopios and the rhetoric of gender in sixth-century Byzantium’, in Brubaker, L. and Smith, J. M. H. (eds.), Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300-900 (Cambridge and New York 2004) 83, 86,101 (‘a brilliant parody on the imperial panegyric’) and ‘Sex and gender in the age of Justinian’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. Maas, M. (Cambridge and New York 2005) 433 . Despotism: Kaldellis, Procopius, 128–142. Reinterpretations: Procopius, SH, 13.1–2 and 30–32. Cf. Brubaker, ‘Sex, lies and textuality’, 84–86 with very keen observations that Procopius’ major concern was not ‘facts’ but the way he built the characterization of main characters, although she approached Procopius’ ‘inverting the rules of panegyric’ solely by analyzing how Procopius ‘subverted conventional gender roles’.

37 Eusebius, Tricennial Oration, 5.2 (royal clemency vs. beastly rage, liberal disposition vs. malicious wickedness, prudence vs. folly, intelligence and wisdom vs. recklessness); Blemmydes, RS, 87 and 90 (intellect, mildness, and generosity vs. pleasure, anger, and love for money). Advice and counselling: Angelov, D. G., ‘Byzantine imperial panegyric as advice literature (1204-c.1350)’, in Jeffreys, E. (ed.), Rhetoric in Byzantium. Papers from the Thirty-Sixth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies [Exeter College, University of Oxford, March 2001] (Aldershot 2003) 55, 57. Sanction: Stone, ‘Imperial types’, 187 (‘the use of the general range of topoi could sanction the reign of the incumbent, particularly where legitimation was important’).

38 Godlike (Manuelis Holoboli Orationes, 32,11.12–13; 44,1.28; 90,1.21), common blessing (36,1.22; 44, 1.32), ocean of graces (71,11.23–26), statue of virtues (31,11.21–22). The latter resonated with the tradition that likened praising the ruler with erecting a royal statue comprised of virtues: e.g., Synesius, On Kingship, 9.5–6, 18.3, 29.4, and Blemmydes, RS. Dates: Macrides, R., ‘The New Constantinople and the New Constantinople—1261?BMGS 6 (1980) 19, 39; Angelov, ‘Panegyric’, 56 note 3. Cf. such comparisons in Lydus, On Powers, 2.28 (see note 7 above) and, e.g., Themistius, On Power, 7–8, who likened Theodosius I to his virtuous ‘forefathers’ Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, and Anna Komnene, Alexias, 1.5.4,12.3.4, as she put Alexios together with the emperors of the past, who were always mindful of the well-being of their subjects. For the origins of this practice, see Dmitriev, ‘“Good emperors’”. Cf. P. Heather, ‘Themistius: a political philosopher’, in The Propaganda of Power (as in note 16 above) 139–43, interpreting Themistius’ negative references to earlier rulers in panegyrics for current emperors as displaying his chances to tell the truth and gain credibility.

39 This explanation: Dennis, ‘Imperial panegyric’, 134. Coronation: Constantin VII Porphyrogénète, Le Livre des cérémonies, 1.47(38), ed. Vogt, A., vol. 2 (Paris 1939) 3 , with observations by Valdenberg, V., ‘Les idées politiques dans les fragments attribuées à Pierre le Patrice’, B 2 (1925) 6970 ; Kazhdan, A. P. and Epstein, A. W., Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1985) 110-1; Yannopoulos, P., ‘Le couronnement de l’empereur à Byzance: rituel et fond institutionnel’, B 61 (1991) 7192 ; and Dagron, G., Emperor and Priest. The Imperial Office in Byzantium, trans. Birrell, J. (Cambridge and New York 2003) 55 . Legitimacy: Nelson, J. L., Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe (London 1986) 263-4, and note 42 below.

40 Blemmydes, RS, 56–57; Previale, L., ‘Un panegirico inedito per Michele VIII Paleologo’, BZ 42 (1943-1949), 26.2027.3 (the emperor as the image of God), 30.1–3 (temperance), 33.10 and 43.1 (prudence), 36.3 and 41.16 (wisdom), among others.

41 Commentaries: e.g., Maas, Lydus, 83–96 with Baldwin, B., in Classical Views 28 (1994) 5969 ; Dubuisson and Schamp, Jean Le Lydien, 1, cccxiii-cccixxxiii, with Feissel, D., in Antiquité Tardive 17 (2009) 339-57. See Kaldellis, ‘Dissident circles’, 4, 7, 9, 12 on similarities of political views expressed in Lydus’ On Powers and Procopius’ Secret History as resulting from their alleged friendship, and even proposing that Procopius entrusted his text to Lydus; cf. a hint at this explanation in Kaldellis, Procopius, 228.

42 The ‘heavenly emperor’: Auzépy, M.-F., ‘Le Christ, l’empereur et l’image (VlIe-IXe siècle)’, in Eupsychia: Mélanges offerts à H. Ahrweiler (Paris 1998) 3547 . Emperor crowned by God: Treitinger, O., Die oströmische Kaiser- und Reichsidee (Darmstadt 1969) 34-8, 61-2; Rösch, G., Onoma basileias. Studien zum offiziellen Gebrauch der Kaisertitel in spätantiker und frühbyzantinischer Zeit (Vienna 1978) 140-1; MacCormack, Art and Ceremony, 247–59; Yannopoulos, ‘Le couronnement’, 71 with note 4.

43 Imperial rule and tyranny: Dubuisson, ‘Les formes de pouvoir’, 64; cf. Kaldellis, ‘Republican theory’, 9: Lydus ‘never gives a theoretical argument for the legitimacy of imperial rule’. Kaldellis, A., ‘How to usurp the throne in Byzantium: the role of public opinion in sedition and rebellion’, in Angelov, D. and Saxby, M. (eds.), Power and Subversion in Byzantium (Farnham and Burlington 2013) 4356 offered numerous examples showing that when it came to the change of emperors the opinion of the people of Constantinople ‘was often the deciding factor in it, or at least it was held to be that by the political class’ (50). He suggested that Byzantium ‘was closer to a monarchical republic than a monarchy by divine right’ (54). It is impossible to properly evaluate the role of the people in Byzantine politics, however, without establishing that public opinion reflected the alleged or real lack of an emperor’s conformity with the image of the ideal ruler. Just as the emperor was acclaimed ‘worthy’ at his coronation (see note 39 above), he was decried as ‘unworthy’ by the people who deposed him: ibid., 52.

44 For his further development of the idea of Byzantium as a “monarchical republic,” see Kaldellis, Republic, xiii–xvi, 5–9 (cf. previous note). To a large extent this idea owes its existence to Kaldellis’ belief the the Byzantines rationalized the imperial power in religious terms (“the emperor was appointed to rule by the Christian God”), which allowed him to juxtapose the “secular republic” of Byzantium with the “theocratic ‘imperial idea”‘ (165–198). However, the Byzantines’ perception of the emperor was more complex and older than Christianity. Meritorious approach: Magdalino, Manuel, 250; Goyet, F., ‘Introduction’, in Cogitore, I. and Goyet, F. (eds.), Devenir Roi. Essais sur la littérature addressee au prince (Grenoble 2001) 717 . Lydus: e.g., Maas, Lydus, 83–96. Specific activities, including military leadership and civil administration, accentuated in different panegyrics for the same emperor: e.g., Heather, ‘Themistius’, 142. The coexistence of criticism and eulogy in Byzantine works: e.g., Cameron, Av., ‘Early Byzantine Kaiserkritik: two case studies’, BMG S 3 (1977) 117 , incl. 17 (‘Thesis and antithesis—Byzantine Kaiserkritik proceeded along a zigzag course as the characters of individual emperors oscillated between “good” and “bad”‘); repr. Cameron, Av., Continuity and Change in Sixth-Century Byzantium (London 1981) IX , and Angelov, ‘Panegyric’, 57 (‘counsel to the emperor, even in the form of criticism, and panegyric co-existed within the body of the same oration’). Cf. references to Lydus’ attitude toward Justinian as ‘ambivalent’ (Av. Cameron, Procopius, 246) or as both critical and ‘for the most part’ laudatory (Maas, Lydus, 5 and 92–6) or as both laudatory and ‘intimat[ing] a deeper unease’: Pazdernik, ‘Justinianic ideology’, 193–4.

John Lydus’ political message and the Byzantine idea of imperial rule

  • Sviatoslav Dmitriev (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed