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Emperor and Church in the Last Centuries of Byzantium

  • Ruth Macrides (a1)


This study discusses relations between the Church and the emperor in the last two centuries of the Byzantine empire's existence, in the Palaiologan period (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries). It questions the accepted view that the Church rose in importance and status as imperial power and authority declined. According to this view, expressed by Steven Runciman and accepted by historians since, a strong Church was the legacy of the Byzantine empire to the Ottomans. In this article the ceremonies of the late Byzantine court, as represented by the mid-fourteenth-century text of Pseudo-Kodinos, are examined for indications of continuity in the emperor's dominant role in the Church in this later period. Gilbert Dagron's contrary perspective is considered. It is then argued that the writings of two late Byzantine churchmen, Symeon of Thessalonike and Makarios of Antioch, who insist on a lesser role for the emperor in the selection and the making of a patriarch, provide evidence for the contemporary performance of the promotion of a patriarch as described by Pseudo-Kodinos. While the two churchmen tried to show that the emperor was subject to the Church, practice shows something different.

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*Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT. E-mail:


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1 For the history of this term, see Dagron, Gilbert, Emperor and Priest: The Imperial Office in Byzantium, transl. Birrell, Jean (Cambridge, 2003), 282312; see also a reconsideration of ‘the problem of caesaropapism’ in Geanakoplos, Deno J., Byzantine East and Latin West: Two Worlds of Christendom in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Studies in Ecclesiastical and Cultural History (Oxford, 1966), 5583.

2 Runciman, Steven, The Great Church in Captivity: A Study of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the Eve of the Turkish Conquest to the Greek War of Independence (Cambridge, 1968), 66–7.

3 Ostrogorsky, George, History of the Byzantine State, transl. Hussey, Joan, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1968), 486–7; Nicol, Donald M., Church and Society in the Last Centuries of Byzantium (Cambridge, 1979), 2830; Angold, Michael, Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni 1081–1261 (Cambridge, 1995), 562–3; Angelov, Dimiter G., Imperial Ideology and Political Thought in Byzantium, 1204–1330 (Cambridge, 2007), 351416; idem, ed., Church and Society in Late Byzantium (Kalamazoo, MI, 2009), 1–7; Tom Papademetriou, ‘The Turkish Conquests and Decline of the Church reconsidered’, in Angelov, ed., Church and Society, 183–200, at 184–5; Ekaterini Mitsiou, ‘Interaktion zwischen Kaiser und Patriarch im Spiegel des Patriarchatsregisters von Konstantinopel’, in Grünbart, Michael, Rickelt, Lutz and Vučetić, Martin M., eds, Zwei Sonnen am Goldenen Horn? Kaiserliche und patriarchale Macht im byzantinischen Mittelalter. Akten der internationalen Tagung vom 3. bis 5. November 2010, part 1 (Berlin, 2011), 7996.

4 See Angelov, Imperial Ideology, who puts the case for the Church in these terms.

5 For a survey of the events of the Palaiologan period, see Nicol, Donald M., The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261–1453, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1993).

6 Zepos, Ioannes and Zepos, Panagiotes, Jus Graecoromanum, 2 vols, 2nd edn (Aalen, 1962) 2: 240–3. See Schminck, Andreas, Studien zu mittelbyzantinischen Rechtsbüchern (Frankfurt am Main, 1986), 1215, 62–107, for his revision of the legislation of the Macedonian emperors and his renaming of the text previously known as the Epanagoge as the Eisagoge.

7 Schminck, Andreas, ‘Rota tu volubilis. Kaisermacht und Patriarchenmacht in Mosaiken’, in Burgmann, Ludwig, Fögen, Marie-Theres and Schminck, Andreas, eds, Cupido legum (Frankfurt am Main, 1985), 211–34.

8 For this and other aspects of Church-state relations, see Macrides, Ruth, ‘Nomos and Kanon on Paper and in Court’, in Morris, Rosemary, ed., Church and People in Byzantium (Birmingham, 1990), 6186, reprinted in Macrides, Ruth J., Kinship and Justice in Byzantium, 11th–15th Centuries (Aldershot, 1999), VI.

9 Magdalino, Paul, The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos 1143–1180 (Cambridge, 1993), 237–8.

10 Runciman would have used the edition of I. Bekker (Bonn, 1843), since that of Verpeaux, Jean, Pseudo-Kodinos, Traité des Offices (Paris, 1966), appeared too close in time to the publication of The Great Church in Captivity. In this article, all references to the text will be from the edition, translation and study by Macrides, Ruth, Munitiz, J. A. and Angelov, Dimiter, Pseudo-Kodinos and the Constantinopolitan Court: Offices and Ceremonies, Byzantine, Birmingham and Studies, Ottoman 15 (Farnham, 2013).

11 For a reconstruction of the palace complex based on a reading of Pseudo-Kodinos, see Macrides, Ruth, ‘The Citadel of Byzantine Constantinople’, in Redford, Scott and Ergin, Nina, eds, Cities and Citadels in Turkey: From the Iron Age to the Seljuks, Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement 40 (Louvain, 2013), 277304.

12 Magdalino, Paul, ‘Court and Capital in Byzantium’, in Duindam, Jeroen, Artan, Tülay and Kunt, Metin, eds, Royal Courts in Dynastic States and Empires: A Global Perspective (Leiden, 2011), 131–44.

13 See n. 11 above; Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 367–78.

14 Ibid. 138–41.

15 Philotheos, Kletorologion, in Nicolas Oikonomides, ed., Les Listes de préséance byzantines des IXe et Xe siècles (Paris, 1972), 201 ll. 12–13.

16 Ibid., ll. 15–16.

17 Dagron, Gilbert, ‘From the mappa to the akakia: Symbolic Drift’, in Amirav, Hagit and ter Haar Romeny, Bas, eds, From Rome to Constantinople: Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron (Louvain and Paris, 2007), 203–20, at 217, 219.

18 De cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae, ed. J. J. Reiske, 2 vols (Bonn 1829–30), 1: 637–9; Moffatt, ET Ann and Tall, Maxeme, The Book of Ceremonies: With the Greek Edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), 2 vols (Canberra, 2012), 2: 367–9; Dagron, ‘From the mappa to the akakia’, 209–10.

19 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 134 l. 5 and n. 347, 140 l. 12.

20 Vasiliev, Aleksandr, ‘Harun-ibn-Yahya and his Description of Constantinople’, Seminarium Kondakovianum 5 (1932), 149–63, at 159; for al-Bakri, see Wasserstein, David, ‘Byzantium and al-Andalus’, Mediterranean Historical Review 2 (1987), 76101, at 92.

21 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 118 ll. 1–2, 120 ll. 6–7, 121 n. 297.

22 Balsamon, Theodore, ‘On Patriarchal Privileges’, in Rhalles, G. A. and Potles, M., Σύνταγμα τῶν θείων καὶ ἰερῶν κανόνων, 6 vols (Athens, 1966; first publ. 1852–59), 4: 545; see Parani, Maria, ‘“Rise like the sun, the God-inspired kingship”: Light-Symbolism and the Uses of Artificial Lighting in Middle and Late Byzantine Imperial Ceremonial’, in Lidov, Alexei, ed., Light and Fire in the Sacred Space (Moscow, 2013), 159–84 and fig. 2.

23 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 140 ll. 8–11.

24 Ibid. 172 ll. 1–19.

25 Jeffreys, Michael, ‘The Comnenian Prokypsis’, Parergon n.s. 5 (1987), 3853; Magdalino, Empire, 240.

26 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 403–4.

27 Ibid. 140 l. 12 – 146 l. 6.

28 Dagron, Gilbert et al., ‘L'Organisation et le déroulement des courses d'après le Livre des cérémonies’, Travaux et Mémoires 13 (2000), 3180, at 123 and nn. 94, 95; Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 407–8.

29 Dagron, Gilbert, ‘Trônes pour un empereur’, in Avramea, Anna, Laiou, Angeliki and Chrysos, Evangelos, eds, Byzantium, State and Society: In Memory of Nikos Oikonomides (Athens, 2003), 179203, at 184–5. The prokypsis did not, as Dagron claims, take place inside, in churches, but rather always outside, on a platform specially built for the purpose.

30 Kantorowicz, Ernst H., ‘Oriens Augusti – lever du roi’, DOP 17 (1963) 117–77, at 151.

31 See the prokypsis poems by Holobolos, Manuel, in Jean François Boissonade, Anecdota graeca e codicibus regiis, 5 vols (Hildesheim, 1962; first publ. Paris, 1829–33), 5: 159–82.

32 One of the last references to stylite saints in Constantinople, to my knowledge, is Robert of Clari's mention in the early thirteenth century: ‘And on each of these columns lived a hermit, in tiny huts which were there’: Robert of Clari, La Conquête de Constantinople, ed. Peter Noble (Edinburgh, 2005), 109 (§92).

33 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 186 ll. 19–22, 187 n. 534.

34 De cerimoniis, ed. Reiske, 1: 34 ll. 2–5 (Moffatt and Tall, Book of Ceremonies, 1: 34).

35 Skylitzes, Ioannis, Synopsis historiarum, ed. Thurn, Hans (Berlin and New York, 1973), 375; Dölger, Franz, Regesten der Kaiserurkunden des oströmischen Reiches, von 565–1453, 2: Regesten von 1025–1204, rev. ed. Wirth, Peter (Munich, 1995), 34 (no. 831).

36 Nicetae Choniatae Historia, ed. J.-L. van Dieten, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 11 (Berlin and New York, 1975), 49 ll. 35–7.

37 Pachymeres, George, Relations historiques, ed. Failler, Albert, transl. Laurent, Vitalien, 5 vols (Paris, 1984–2000), 4: 31; Smyrlis, Kostis, ‘Priesthood and Empire: Ecclesiastical Wealth and Privilege under the Early Palaiologoi’, in Gastgeber, Christian et al., eds, The Patriarchate of Constantinople in Context and Comparison (Vienna, 2017), 95103; Hendy, Michael F., Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c.300–1450 (Cambridge, 1985), 198201.

38 See the discussion by Majeska, George P., ‘The Emperor in his Church: Imperial Ritual in the Church of St Sophia’, in Maguire, Henry, ed., Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1204 (Washington DC, 1997), 111.

39 For a discussion of this point, see Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 445–8.

40 Ibid. 232 ll. 18–22, 233 n. 678. In the tenth century the emperor received communion at a small table outside the sanctuary: Majeska, ‘The Emperor in his Church’, 4.

41 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 228 ll. 4–5, 229 n. 664.

42 Ibid. 228 l. 5 – 230 l. 6.

43 Symeon of Thessalonike, Opera omnia, PL 155, cols 352C–D.

44 Taft, Robert, ‘The Byzantine Imperial Communion Ritual’, in Armstrong, Pamela, ed., Ritual and Art: Byzantine Essays for Christopher Walter (London, 2006), 126, at 4–5.

45 Dagron, Emperor and Priest, 280–1, 288.

46 On the depotatos (δηπότατος), see Darrouzès, Jean, Recherches sur les ΟΦΦΙΚΙΑ de l’église byzantine (Paris, 1970), 215–16, 272–3, 552, 569.

47 ‘Anonymous Miracles of the Pege’, in Miracle Tales from Byzantium, transl. Alice-Mary Talbot and Scott F. Johnson (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2012), 280–1 (ch. 55).

48 Angold, Church and Society, 99, 100, 102, 530, 546–62; Dagron, Emperor and Priest, 253–5. For Manuel I as epistemonarches, see Magdalino, Empire, 277, 280–1; Angelov, Imperial Ideology, 359–60.

49 For Michael VIII, see Pachymeres, Relations historiques, ed. Failler, transl. Laurent, 1: 341 ll. 17–20 (his right as epistemonarches to convene a synod to depose the patriarch Arsenios); Zepos and Zepos, Jus Graecoromanum, 1: 503 (prostagma of 1270 appointing Skoutariotes as dikaiophylax).

50 Macrides, ‘Nomos and Kanon’, 63 and n. 7.

51 Dagron, Emperor and Priest, 255.

52 The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople, ed. and transl. Alice-Mary Maffry Talbot, Dumbarton Oaks Texts 3 (Washington DC, 1975), 182 (no. 61), 248 (no. 95). Angelov, who argues for the Church's ascendancy in the Palaiologan period, explains the patriarch's behaviour thus: ‘In making these concessions Athanasios proved to be a realist’: Imperial Ideology, 394.

53 Dositheos, Tomos katallages (Iaşi, 1692), 194–5; new edn by Christos Triantafyllopoulos, ‘An Annotated Critical Edition of the Treatise Against the Errors of the Latins by Makarios, Metropolitan of Ankyra (1397–1405)’, 2 vols (PhD thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2009), 2: 111 ll. 17–18: ‘it was given to him by Christ to be epistemonarches and dephensor of the Church’.

54 Dagron, Gilbert, ‘Empires royaux, royautés impériales’, in Maria Kiesow, Rainer, Ogorek, Regina and Simitis, Spiros, eds, Summa. Dieter Simon zum 70. Geburtstag (Frankfurt am Main, 2005), 8197, at 92; De cerimoniis, ed. Reiske, 1: 565 ll. 1–3 (Moffatt and Tall, Book of Ceremonies, 2: 565); Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 254 ll. 5–8.

55 The protocol for the patriarchal promotion has been studied by Blanchet, Marie-Hélène, ‘L’Élection du patriarche à Byzance à la fin du Moyen Âge (XIVe–XVe siècles)’, in Péneau, Corinne, ed., Élections et pouvoirs politiques du VIIe au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 2006), 6378; Renauld Rochette, ‘Le Ciel et le sang. Le Pouvoir impérial à Byzance à l’époque des Paléologues (1261–1453)’ (doctoral thesis, Université Paris I, 2009). See also below, 137–9.

56 Macrides, Munitiz and Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos, 244 l. 1, 248 l. 1, 250 l. 1.

57 The triklinos: ibid. 244 l. 3, 250 l. 18.

58 Ibid. 252 l. 3, 253 n. 742.

59 Ibid. 252 l. 7.

60 Ibid. 254 ll. 1–4.

61 Ibid. 257 n. 759, 389.

62 Ibid. 254 l. 14.

63 Ibid. 252 l. 11.

64 Ibid. 250 l. 19 – 252 l. 1, 253 n. 740.

65 Ibid. 252 ll. 5–8.

66 Ibid. 254 ll. 9–11.

67 Ibid. 254 ll. 10–11.

68 Ibid. 254 ll. 5–8.

69 Ibid. 256 ll. 13–16.

70 Sathas, K. N., Μεσαιωνικἠ Βιβλιοθήκη, 7 vols (Athens, 1972; first publ. Venice and Paris, 1872–94), 6: 653 ll. 3–20 (no. 19); De cerimoniis, ed. Reiske, 1: 564; Rochette, ‘Le Ciel et le sang’, 393.

71 Symeon of Thessalonike, PL 155, cols 437C–444D, at 440B–441A. For a discussion of the statements of Symeon and Makarios, see Blanchet, ‘L’Élection’, 63–78.

72 PL 155, col 441C.

73 Ibid., col. 440C.

74 Ibid., col. 441B.

75 For the text, see Laurent, Vitalien, ‘Le Rituel de l'investiture du patriarche byzantin au debut du XVe siècle’, Bulletin de la section historique de l'Académie roumaine 28 (1947), 218–32, at 231–2.

76 See above, 135; Angelov, Imperial Ideology, 372.

77 PL 155, cols 441A–C.

78 Bréhier, L., ‘L'Investiture des patriarches à Constantinople au moyen âge’, in Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, 3: Letteratura e storia bizantina, Studi e testi 123 (Vatican City, 1946), 368–72.

79 ‘[S]ur le plan polémique, dans la pensée de deux théoriciens portés par les événements à lutter pour l'indépendance chaque jour plus réduite de l’Église’: Laurent, ‘Le Rituel’, 225.

80 ‘[I]l est bien difficile de conclure à une quelconque transformation historique’: Blanchet, ‘L’Élection’, 72.

81 PL 155, col. 441B; Makarios of Ankyra, ed. Laurent, ‘Le Rituel’, 232; Blanchet, ‘L’Élection’, 74–5.

82 See above, 137.

83 Darrouzès, Jean, ‘Ekthésis néa. Manuel des pittakia du XIVe siècle’, Revue des études byzantines 27 (1969), 5127, at 55; Laurent, Vitalien, ‘Les Droits de l'empereur en matière ecclésiastique. L'accord de 1380/82’, Revue des études byzantines 13 (1955), 520, at 16 (§6). For a recent re-examination of this text in which the ‘rights’ are considered in their historical context, see Guran, Petre, ‘Patriarche hésychaste et empereur latinophrone. L'Accord de 1380 sur les droits impériaux en matière ecclésiastique’, Revue des études sud-est européennes 39 (2001), 5362; see also Rochette, ‘Le Ciel et le sang’, 395–8, who also interprets the synodal act of 1380 as the emperor's reinforcement of his hold over the Church.

84 Darrouzès, ‘Ekthésis néa’, 55 (no. 39).

85 Laurent, Vitalien, ed., Les ‘ Mémoires’ du grand ecclésiastique de l’église de Constantinople Sylvestre Syropoulos sur le concile de Florence (1438–1439) (Paris, 1971), 104–5 (§4); Rochette, ‘Le Ciel et le sang’, 397.

86 Oikonomides, Nicholas, ‘Diplomacy, Byzantine, A.D. 1204–1453: Means and Ends’, in Shepard, Jonathan and Franklin, Simon, eds, Byzantine Diplomacy (Aldershot, 1992), at 80–1; Stavroula Andriopoulou, ‘Diplomatic Communication between Byzantium and the West under the later Palaiologoi (1354–1453)’ (PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2010), 121–32, 358.

87 The example of the metropolitan of Philadelphia, Phokas, who acted as mesazon for John III Vatatzes in the mid-thirteenth century, is cited by Angold as evidence of the Church's dominant position: Church and Society, 563. Phokas is, however, the only example he cites of a churchman in this position. For Phokas, see Macrides, Ruth, George Akropolites: The History (Oxford, 2007), 266 n. 24.

88 A similar example is the establishment of mixed courts of laymen and churchmen established by Andronikos III (1328–41), the so-called ‘universal judges’ (katholikoi kritai). It has been held as significant that churchmen were appointed to serve in these courts next to laymen. Again, the appointment of a bishop to each court of universal judges can be seen as a use of churchmen by the emperor as his ‘servants’: see Kazhdan, Alexander P. et al., eds, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, 3 vols (Oxford, 1991), 2: 1158, s.v.kritai katholikoi’.

89 Laurent, ‘Les Droits’, 10–12; Rochette, ‘Le Ciel’, 397 and n. 345.

90 Miklosich, Franz and Müller, Ioseph, eds, Acta et diplomata graeca medii aevi sacra et profana, 6 vols (Vienna, 1860–90); new edition with German translation in Das Register des Patriarchats von Konstantinopel, 1, ed. Herbert Hunger and Otto Kresten (Vienna, 1981), for 1315–31; 2, ed. Herbert Hunger et al. (Vienna, 1995), for 1337–50; 3, ed. Johannes Koder, Martin Hinterberger and Otto Kresten (Vienna, 2001), for 1350–63.

91 Macrides, Ruth, ‘Dowry and Inheritance in the Late Period: Some Cases from the Patriarchal Register’, in Simon, Dieter, ed., Eherecht und Familiengut in Antike und Mittelalter (Munich, 1992), 8998, reprinted in Macrides, Kinship and Justice, V.

92 Argued by Papagianni, Eleftheria, ‘Πατριαρχικὀ καἰ αὐτοκρατορικὀ δικαστήριο ἐπἰ Ματθαίου Α: Μία σχέση ἀνταγωνισμοῦ᾽, in Antonopoulou, Theodora, Kotzabassi, Sofia and Loukaki, Marina, eds, Myriobiblos: Essays on Byzantine Literature and Culture (Boston, MA, Berlin and Munich, 2015), 253–60.

93 Tafur, Pero, Travels and Adventures, 1435–1439, ed. and transl. Letts, Malcolm (London, 1926), 145; for his description of the monuments he saw and conversations he had, see ibid. 117–25, 138–48.

94 For example, the ‘groom service’ of the emperor for the patriarch, which Symeon of Thessalonike describes but is not otherwise attested: see the comment of Lutz Rickelt, ‘Die Exkommunikation Michaels VIII. Palaiologos durch den Patriarchen Arsenios’, in Grünbart, Rickelt and Vučetić, eds, Zwei Sonnen 1, 97–125, at 104: ‘bleibt es fraglich, ob Symeon ein tatsächliche Zeremoniell niedergeschrieben hat’.

95 On Arsenios and the Arsenite schism, see Macrides, Ruth, ‘Saints and Sainthood in the Early Palaiologan Period’, in Hackel, Sergei, ed., The Byzantine Saint (Birmingham, 1981), 6787, especially 73–9, with the older bibliography; Ionut-Alexandru Tudorie, ‘Le Schisme Arsénite (1265–1310). Entre AKRIBEIA et OIKONOMIA’, Zbornik Radova 48 (2011), 133–75; Rickelt, ‘Die Exkommunikation Michaels VIII.’; Angelov, Dimiter G., ‘The Confession of Michael VIII Palaiologos and King David’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 56 (2006), 193204.

96 ‘The anointer is greater than the anointed, the one who blesses greater than the blessed one . . . . It is all necessary that the emperor, blessed and anointed, should be under the patriarch, as he is in need of grace’: Macrides, ‘Saints and Sainthood’, 78. This statement was first made in the anonymous ‘Logos for St Arsenios, patriarch of Constantinople’ in Patmos, cod. Pat. 366, fol. 434r, published by Nikolopoulos, Panagiotis G., ‘Ἀνέκδοτος λόγος εἰς Ἀρσένιον Αὐτωρειανóν πατριάρχην Κωσταντινουπόλεως’, Ἐπετηρὶς Ἑταιρείας Βυζαντινῶν Σπουδῶν 45 (1981–2), 406–61, at 461.

97 See the comments of Angelov, Imperial Ideology, 414.

98 Çolak, Hasan, The Orthodox Church in the Early Modern Middle East: Relations between the Ottoman Central Administration and the Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria (Ankara, 2015).

99 Runciman, Great Church, 171–2; idem, ‘“Millet, Rum”: The Orthodox Communities under the Ottoman Sultans’, in Yiannias, John J., ed., The Byzantine Tradition after the Fall of Constantinople (Charlottesville, NC, and London, 1991), 115.

100 Çolak, Orthodox Church, 239; Papademetriou, Tom, Render unto the Sultan: Power, Authority, and the Greek Orthodox Church in the Early Ottoman Centuries (Oxford, 2015), reviews the older literature.

101 It should be noted that the revisionists of Runciman's views all accept his and others’ perception of a strong Church under the late Byzantine emperors.



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