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Emperor and Church in the Last Centuries of Byzantium

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2018

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

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 2018 

It is a commonplace in the modern historiographical literature on late Byzantium that the Church rose in prestige and power in the last centuries of the empire, the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, just as imperial power and authority declined. According to this view, if, at the beginning of the empire's life in the fourth to sixth centuries, the term caesaropapism could be applied to Church-state relations or the Church could be described as a department of state, by late Byzantium a dramatic reversal had occurred.Footnote 1 In his book on the Orthodox Church under Ottoman rule, The Great Church in Captivity, Steven Runciman, writing in the 1960s, expressed the situation as follows:

The recovery of the capital [in 1261] in the long run benefited the Patriarch more than the Emperor, re-establishing him as unquestioned head of a hierarchy whose sees stretched from the Adriatic to Russia and the Caucasus, while soon the Imperial territory began to shrink. The growing impoverishment of the Empire damaged the Emperor more than the Patriarch. For reasons of economy the Palace ceremonies were curtailed and simplified. The Emperor began to lose his aura of mystery and splendour.Footnote 2

In Runciman's view, a strong Church was the legacy of the Byzantine empire to the Ottomans. All those writing about the Church before and since Runciman have come to a similar conclusion.Footnote 3

In discussions of the change in status of Church and emperor under the Palaiologoi, the last dynasty to rule the empire, the ceremonial of the court which was mentioned by Runciman is rarely examined, while the Church's growth in ‘institutional strength, judicial powers and ideological claims’ is more often asserted and discussed.Footnote 4 This article will re-examine this question and the arguments put forward by those who adopt the view of an empowered Church and a diminished imperial office in the years that saw two attempts at the union of the Eastern and Western Churches in 1274 and 1439, two civil wars and Turkish conquests of Byzantine lands.Footnote 5

Whoever seeks to determine the relationship between emperor and Church in Byzantium will obtain little help from Byzantine formulations. Only once was an attempt made, in the ninth century, in the reign of Basil I, in a law book in the composition of which the patriarch Photios played a part. Two sections entitled ‘On the Emperor’ and ‘On the Patriarch’ describe the spheres of influence and authority of these two powers. The emperor, called a ‘lawful dominion’, is concerned with the physical wellbeing of the people, while the patriarch, ‘a living icon of Christ’, cares for their spiritual wellbeing. The legal activities and capacities of emperor and patriarch are clearly demarcated. The emperor must maintain and preserve Holy Scripture, the pronouncements of the seven ecumenical councils and also Roman law. He is not to promulgate any law that transgresses the canons. The patriarch alone, however, interprets the canons of the holy fathers and synods.Footnote 6

This attempt to delineate two powers with separate spheres of influence and distinct functions was short-lived. Thirty years after this law code was issued, a revision was promulgated. Just as it is no surprise that the remarkable formulation of the separate spheres of the two powers was the work of a patriarch, it is equally clear that its undoing was the work of an emperor, none other than a student of Photios, Leo VI. The desire of this emperor to expunge the problematic statements and thus to limit the Church's influence can be understood both in the light of his personal animosity towards Photios and with regard to the opposition he had experienced from the Church over his fourth marriage.Footnote 7 Never again was a demarcation of imperial and patriarchal functions and competences undertaken. Instead, we find sporadic attempts to identify and define imperial rights, but on the level of personal opinion.Footnote 8

A neglected source that can be used to gauge relations between emperor and Church is ceremonial. Until now, only Runciman has mentioned imperial ceremonial in this context. However, for the Byzantines, ceremonial held a constitutional significance, as is evident from the Greek word for ceremony, katastasis, literally meaning ‘state’.Footnote 9 In the absence of a definition on paper of the prerogatives and limits of the emperor's power and his role in the Church, we can look for a definition through performance.

Runciman saw an impoverishment of the emperor's ceremonial as an effect of the impoverishment of empire but he did not indicate the sources from which he drew this conclusion. In fact, the only text he could have had in mind is the mid-fourteenth-century ceremonial book known by its anonymous author's name, Pseudo-Kodinos.Footnote 10 The first thing that should be said about this text is the contrast it presents with the much earlier and better-known tenth-century Book of Ceremonies. Just a glance at the two is enough to convince historians of a cutting back in later ceremonial. Pseudo-Kodinos is a much shorter work and describes ceremonies for a different palace, not the Great Palace in the south-east corner of the city but another, the Blachernai, in the north-west, diametrically opposite, approximately five kilometres away. The Palaiologan emperors lived in that palace permanently from the time of the return to Constantinople after its reconquest from the Latins in 1261.Footnote 11 The significance of this new venue for the ceremonial routine of the court is great. First of all, for the first time since the foundation of the city by Constantine, emperor and patriarch were not neighbours. Hagia Sophia, the Great Church, where the patriarch had his apartments, was no longer a few minutes’ walk from the palace. A patriarch who wanted to speak with the emperor would have to board a ship and sail up the Golden Horn or go on horseback through the city. Furthermore, the emperor no longer had the use of the hippodrome, a huge space for self-display connected to the Great Palace.Footnote 12

All these changes since the tenth century might signify to some an impoverishment, a loss of splendour for the imperial office. Certainly the scale is different, the court is smaller and the palace is centralized around a courtyard. The Blachernai, unlike the Great Palace, was not a sprawling complex of buildings covering a vast area.Footnote 13 Many material changes and developments had taken place since the days of the tenth-century empire; but do these changes signify a loss in imperial stature?

One of those who thinks they do is Gilbert Dagron, who in various publications concerned with the tenth-century Book of Ceremonies and in his book Emperor and Priest has made passing comments about late Byzantine imperial stature based on the protocols of Pseudo-Kodinos. Several passages arrested Dagron's attention. Their topics range from the symbolism attached to the imperial costume to the formula of words used by the emperor when he promoted a patriarch. I shall deal with each in turn.

Pseudo-Kodinos gives his fullest discussion of imperial attire in his protocol for Christmas, when the emperor appeared on a tall platform in the courtyard of the palace in a ceremony called prokypsis. Included in his description of the ceremony is an enumeration of the items of clothing and insignia an emperor might wear and bear, together with an interpretation of the significance of these items. He informs his readers:

The emperor wears whichever of these headdresses and garments he wishes. However, he always carries the cross in his right hand and a silk cloth similar to a scroll, tied with a handkerchief, in his left hand. This silk cloth contains earth and is called akakia. By carrying the cross the emperor shows his faith in Christ; by the crown he shows his office; by the belt, he shows that he is a soldier; by his black sakkos, the mystery of the imperial office; by the earth which, as we said, is called akakia, that he is humble, as he is mortal and that he is not to be proud or arrogant because the imperial office is so exalted; by the handkerchief, the inconstancy of his office and that it passes from one person to another.Footnote 14

Interpretations of the emperor's clothing can be found also in earlier ceremonial books, the Kletorologion of Philotheos (899), a text laying out the seating arrangements at banquets, and the Book of Ceremonies. Yet there is a difference. While the two earlier ceremonial books assign a religious symbolism to the garments and insights, Pseudo-Kodinos associates the same items with attributes of the imperial office, imperial virtues, such as advice literature to the emperor (sometimes referred to as a ‘Mirror of Princes’) might endorse. For him, the belt shows that the emperor is a soldier; for Philotheos, it signifies the winding cloth of Christ.Footnote 15 Pseudo-Kodinos describes the akakia as similar to a scroll, tied with a handkerchief and filled with earth. He is the first to state that the akakia contains earth (χῶμα). For Pseudo-Kodinos, the earth signifies the humble and mortal nature of the emperor. Philotheos makes an indirect reference to the earth in the cloth, interpreting its significance in a divergent way from Pseudo-Kodinos. For Philotheos, the akakia represents the resurrection and victory over man's earthly essence.Footnote 16

Dagron sees in these differences of interpretation a ‘reflection of the evolution of the imperial institution whose claims to sacredness and quasi-sacerdotal charisma were increasingly officially and effectively challenged by the Church’.Footnote 17 Yet before such a conclusion can be drawn, the context of the statements made on the imperial costume should be considered. In the work of Philotheos and in the Book of Ceremonies the interpretation of the emperor's clothing is embedded in the protocols for the Easter ceremonies, where references to the resurrection can be expected.Footnote 18 Pseudo-Kodinos's discussion is found in a much more mundane place – the emperor's wardrobe and the items of clothing he keeps in it. Pseudo-Kodinos inserts this list in his protocol for the prokypsis ceremony, the Christmas appearance of the emperor, like a radio or television presenter who fills in time during the intermission at a concert or other performance. While the emperor is changing his costume behind the curtains, Pseudo-Kodinos runs through the items kept in the imperial wardrobe, explaining the significance of each.Footnote 19

Furthermore, Pseudo-Kodinos's connection of the akakia with the mortality of the emperor relates to a tradition preserved in Arab authors going back to the late ninth century. Harun-ibn-Yahya describes a procession he witnessed in Constantinople in which the emperor holds in his hand a box of gold containing earth. The official who walks behind him says to him in Greek, ‘Remember death’. Al-Bakri, writing in the late eleventh century, gives a similar account.Footnote 20 Pseudo-Kodinos, then, transmits a different but coexisting tradition concerning the earth in the akakia.

Pseudo-Kodinos's explanation of the significance of individual items of the emperor's attire cannot be interpreted, as Dagron does, as evidence of the emperor's loss of sacrality, especially since Dagron has left an item out of consideration, the lampas or large candle carried in front of the emperor on the major feast days. It is also held in front of the enthroned emperor in his reception hall.Footnote 21 The lampas is described in the twelfth-century canonical commentaries of Theodore Balsamon, who says that it was decorated with two wreaths signifying the emperor's responsibility for the bodies and souls of his subjects.Footnote 22 This item is the last one discussed by Pseudo-Kodinos in his list of articles of clothing and imperial attributes. Of it, Pseudo-Kodinos says, ‘They carry [it] in front of him because of the words of the Lord, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”’ (Matt. 5: 16).Footnote 23

On Palm Sunday the candle leads the way along an elevated outdoor walkway that connects the palace to the church. Emperor and clergymen walk along the path strewn with myrtle and laurel leaves. The emperor is in full regalia. The leader of the procession holds the candle of the emperor. He ascends the walkway chanting the hymn attributed to the ninth-century emperor Theophilos, ‘Go out nations, go out people and behold today the king of the heavens’. At this point Pseudo-Kodinos explains that the gospel book that joins the procession is a representation of Christ. But it is not the gospel book that follows the holder of the candle: it is the emperor. It is with him that the words of the hymn are associated: ‘behold today the king of the heavens’.Footnote 24 The sacred connotations traditionally associated with imperial power appear to have survived into the fourteenth century.

Another case for Dagron of diminution of the emperor's prestige is the ceremony of the prokypsis mentioned earlier. The origins of the ceremony can be traced to the twelfth century and the reign of Manuel I Komnenos.Footnote 25 In the fourteenth century it is performed twice a year, at Christmas and Epiphany, on an elevated platform in the courtyard of the palace.Footnote 26 Curtains part to reveal the emperor from the knees up, framed by the columns of the structure and its balustrade. Singers chant verses appropriate to the feast day and instruments sound – trumpets, bugles, kettle drums and flutes.Footnote 27

The prokypsis display of the emperor has characteristics similar to his appearance at the hippodrome. Both were imperial manifestations from a height in a structure connected to the palace. The emperor's box at the hippodrome, his kathisma, was actually part of the palace at the top of a spiral staircase or ramp. The emperor in his box was seen from a distance by the people of the city. He was framed by the columns of the box and balustrade and surrounded by members of his court. The crowds chanted ‘Rise’ (Anateilon), inviting the emperor to appear before the start of the races. The emperor's emergence in the kathisma was thus compared to the rising of the sun on the horizon.Footnote 28

In his discussion of imperial appearances at the hippodrome based on the Book of Ceremonies, Dagron makes a passing reference to the prokypsis. He asserts that the magnificence of the imperial emergence in the hippodrome has deteriorated to become a banal appearance on the prokypsis platform. He compares the latter to the appearance of a speaker behind the podium, hardly spectacular or grand.Footnote 29 If, however, the hippodrome emperor was invited by chanting crowds to rise like the sun, the prokypsis emperor actually appeared in a sudden burst of light accompanied by fanfare. On two of the darkest afternoons of the winter months, an immobile illuminated emperor emerged from the frame of the prokypsis structure as if from the frame of an icon. As Kantorowicz remarked, the emperor on the prokypsis ‘stages’ Christ.Footnote 30 The verses written for the Christmas and Epiphany prokypseis celebrate the emperor as imitating ‘Him who was born in a cave. Like Christ he emerges from the darkness of the prokypsis with light shining on him and from him. He brings light to his subjects but fire to his enemies. As Christ came to earth on Christmas day, the emperor ascends to heaven’.Footnote 31 The elevation of the emperor high above his subjects, on a tall platform supported by columns, is also suggestive of a stylite saint's posture and position. Although saints who stood on pillars were no longer a part of the fourteenth-century cityscape, the spectators of this ceremony could not but be reminded of them.Footnote 32 The emperor's sacrality is intact.

Further observations on the emperor's diminished standing are made with regard to his liturgical privileges, which included the right to enter the sanctuary and cense the altar table and clergy there. Pseudo-Kodinos comments: ‘It was an old custom at this vesper service, for the emperor to enter the holy sanctuary and to cense the holy altar table and to give the clerics a gift of 100 pounds of gold from the vestiarion. Now this does not take place.’Footnote 33 Those who believe in a weaker emperor and a stronger Church claim that the emperor was no longer ‘permitted’ to enter the sanctuary. Pseudo-Kodinos's statement gives no indication of the reason for this change. It is not clear why this old Easter custom attested in the tenth-century Book of Ceremonies Footnote 34 no longer took place in Pseudo-Kodinos's time, but it is certain that the emperor did not have 100 pounds of gold to give to the Church in the fourteenth century. In the early eleventh century the emperor raised the value of his gift to Hagia Sophia from 100 pounds to 180 pounds of gold.Footnote 35 In 1143 the emperor gave 200 pounds of silver coins,Footnote 36 while at the end of the thirteenth century he gave 1000 hyperpyra or 14 pounds of gold.Footnote 37 Large gifts to the Great Church (Hagia Sophia) were a thing of the past in the fourteenth century.

The Book of Ceremonies gives a number of occasions, the major feast days, when the emperor entered the sanctuary and censed the altar table.Footnote 38 Apart from Pseudo-Kodinos's explicit reference to the discontinuation of this tradition on Easter Day, there is no evidence that all the other occasions for the emperor's entrance into the sanctuary mentioned in the Book of Ceremonies were likewise eliminated by the fourteenth century. The protocols in Pseudo-Kodinos are far fewer and far less detailed than those in the Book of Ceremonies, a fact that has occasioned many arguments ex silentio.Footnote 39 It is clear, however, that on their coronation day, emperors entered the sanctuary and censed the altar table. This was the case both in the tenth and the fourteenth centuries, but there was a significant addition after the time of the Book of Ceremonies: Pseudo-Kodinos describes the emperor on his coronation day receiving communion in the sanctuary and in the manner of the clergy.Footnote 40

By the fourteenth century the liturgy had become an integral part of the coronation ritual. Pseudo-Kodinos describes the emperor just before the Great Entrance, putting on a golden mantle and holding the cross in one hand and a staff in the other: ‘He occupies then the ecclesiastical rank that they call depotatos’.Footnote 41

Holding then both of these things, namely the cross and the staff [narthex] he leads the entire Entrance. All the axe-bearing Varangians and young armed noblemen, about a hundred in number, follow along with him on both sides. They accompany on either side . . . near the emperor. Immediately after him come the deacons and priests carrying other holy vessels and also the holy things themselves.Footnote 42

Symeon, archbishop of Thessalonike (1416/17–29), explains that the staff of the depotatos is soft and light. It is used to maintain good order in church.Footnote 43 Indeed, the emperor at the head of the Great Entrance procession, surrounded by a large bodyguard, can be seen to clear the way in the nave. He opens the way for the holy gifts.Footnote 44

Dagron sees in the emperor's status as depotatos a ‘breathtaking fall’, a ‘downgrading’ of the emperor's position.Footnote 45 Indeed, depotatos is a very low title in the Church hierarchy.Footnote 46 A tenth-century miracle collection refers to a son of a high official who was cured of a fever at the shrine of the Virgin at Pege, in Constantinople. In thanks for his cure, he served as depotatos at the church of the Virgin, leading the procession at the time of the holy eucharist.Footnote 47 In the miracle collection, as in Pseudo-Kodinos, the function of the title-holder is to lead the Great Entrance procession.

In the discussion of the depotatos title it is assumed that the emperor relinquished or was forced to relinquish a much more potent title, that of the difficult-to-translate epistemonarches, ‘chief scholar’ or ‘chief scientific expert’. It is a title associated with twelfth- and thirteenth-century emperors, and especially Manuel I Komnenos, a high-profile emperor if ever there was one.Footnote 48 It is used always in connection with the emperor's involvement in church affairs, his interrogation of a patriarch in a synodal gathering, or the synod's consultation with him on a matter of canon law. The last emperor to refer to himself with this designation is Michael VIII Palaiologos who in 1270 instructs the patriarch to give the deacon Theodore Skoutariotes a rank in the hierarchy equivalent to that of dikaiophylax, keeper of the law, which the emperor had bestowed on him.Footnote 49

Epistemonarches, however, like depotatos, is a minor ecclesiastical position low in the hierarchy. The epistemonarches is in charge of discipline in the monastery; until the twelfth century the word is found exclusively in monastic foundation charters where it refers to the duty of the monk epistemonarches to keep order at meal times and during chanting.Footnote 50 Thus it is similar to depotatos in its low rank and its function of maintaining order. But there is one large difference between them. No emperor ever referred to himself as a depotatos, whereas emperor and Church applied epistemonarches to the emperor, ‘a convenient and ambiguous label, a screen which avoided the necessity of justifying more or less recognised rights’.Footnote 51 When it suited them, patriarchs would acknowledge the emperor's right to intervene in ecclesiastical affairs by reference to their epistemonarchic competence. Thus, the patriarch Athanasios (1289–93, 1303–9), an ascetic and staunch supporter of the ‘liberty of the Church’, called on the emperor Andronikos II to expel provincial bishops residing in Constantinople and to put on trial the metropolitan of Cyzicus who was accused of simony. In doing so he made reference to the emperor's epistemonarchic rights.Footnote 52 Makarios, metropolitan of Ankyra (1397–1405), attacked the involvement of the emperor in ecclesiastical administration in a treatise on canon law, but referred to his epistemonarchic right in an anti-Latin treatise.Footnote 53 These examples indicate that the designations attached to emperors at different times are more indicative of the particular circumstances in which they are used than of the emperor's status.

Finally, Dagron draws attention to the form of words used by the emperor at the ceremony for the promotion of the patriarch. He finds significant the fact that in the Book of Ceremonies it is divine grace and the royal office, the basileia, that promote the candidate to the position of patriarch, while in Pseudo-Kodinos it is the Holy Trinity alone.Footnote 54 But if we look at the protocol for the promotion of a patriarch other striking aspects emerge.

In Pseudo-Kodinos's compilation, the protocol for the promotion of a patriarchFootnote 55 follows that for the three highest dignitaries after emperor – despot, sebastokrator and caesar – and presents a number of parallels with the third of these. The same word ‘promotion’ (problesis) designates the elevation of the highest dignitaries and that of the patriarch.Footnote 56 All these promotions take place in a hall of the palace.Footnote 57 The emperor wears his crown, which signifies his most formal dress.Footnote 58 The patriarch-to-be, called the ‘candidate-patriarch’,Footnote 59 is escorted by a high court official when he steps forward to receive his ensign of office, the staff, from the emperor.Footnote 60 The patriarch leaves the palace on horseback, mounting his horse in the palace courtyard, a privilege given only to members of the imperial family and highest dignitaries,Footnote 61 and returns to Hagia Sophia accompanied by court officials.Footnote 62

These elements of the patriarch's promotion which are also found in the ceremonial of a dignitary's promotion raise questions about the status of the patriarch. He is both above the highest dignitaries and equal to them. This ambiguity is demonstrated by Pseudo-Kodinos when he explains why the despot, sebastokrator and caesar are not present for the patriarchal promotion. It is ‘inappropriate’ for them to stand while the patriarch sits; nor can they sit while he stands.Footnote 63

Other elements in the protocol further illustrate the patriarch's status vis-à-vis the emperor. Both the emperor and the patriarch sit on thrones that have been prepared for the occasion. However, the two thrones are not side-by-side on the same level. Not only is the emperor's throne raised up on a platform but it is also higher than his usual throne. His throne is like the one used at the emperor's coronation; it is ‘four or even five steps high’.Footnote 64 By contrast, the throne of the patriarch rests on the floor and is thus much lower than the emperor's, which it faces.Footnote 65 To receive his staff of office the patriarch has to ‘mount’ the platform where the emperor stands. He ‘again descends’.Footnote 66 On the other hand, unlike the despot, the patriarch does not kiss the foot of the emperor after his promotion, a sign of his submission and gratitude, but rather blesses him.Footnote 67

If these outward gestures and material conditions on the occasion of the promotion provide a mixed response to the question of the patriarch's status, the protocol leaves no room for doubt when it describes the way a patriarch-elect becomes patriarch. It is the emperor who creates the patriarch. Until his promotion in the palace he is a patriarch-elect. When the emperor pronounces the words, ‘The Holy Trinity . . . promotes you archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and ecumenical patriarch’, the patriarch is made.Footnote 68 This formulation is similar to that used in the ‘little consecration’ by which a bishop is ordained and, as Pseudo-Kodinos says, in the case of the patriarch the emperor's promotion takes the place of that consecration.Footnote 69 Indeed, the whole process of choosing a new patriarch is initiated by an imperial order.Footnote 70 The synod cannot meet without this imperative of the emperor and, as is well known, the emperor has the right to reject the candidates put forward by the synod.

Yet it could be asked how we can know that these protocols reflect the practice of the time and are not merely projecting a procedure that was never carried out as described. The answer is that numerous examples of patriarchal elections from different times attest to aspects of the election, while the specifics of the ceremony as Pseudo-Kodinos describes it are corroborated by two fourteenth- and fifteenth-century churchmen whose writings attempt to reduce the significance of the emperor's role in the making of a patriarch. Symeon of Thessalonike is the more consistent and polemical of the two. He explains how patriarchs are made:

The emperor serves [the decisions] of the synod, for he was established as the anointed of the Lord, defender (dephensor) and servant of the Church, and promised this when he was anointed . . . . They talk nonsense, those who, innovating and struck by malice, say that the emperor makes the patriarch. For, as explained, it is in no way the emperor but the synod that effects it and the emperor, being pious, simply serves. It is not only because he is protector (ekdikos) and emperor anointed by the Church but so that he might, by assisting and serving, cherish and maintain secure [the decisions] of the Church. . . . If the one elected is not a priest, he is made priest before he accepts the summons. Then something else happens before ordination; it is called ‘promotion’. It is a declaration of agreement from the very mouth of the emperor and [a mark of] honour to the Church that he cherishes the one chosen by her and voted by her, accepted to be the shepherd of the Church and in the name of the Holy Trinity which gave him the imperial majesty, he considers him archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and ecumenical patriarch. He does not make him patriarch, he confers nothing on him but rather he expresses his agreement and assists in the deed.Footnote 71

Symeon's insistence that the emperor carries out the decisions of the Church as its helper and servant – the verbs ‘to serve’, ‘to assist’ and the noun ‘servant’ appear no fewer than five times in the statements cited above – betrays the importance of the emperor's role in the making of a patriarch, from start to finish. His statements likewise show that the question, who makes a patriarch, was controversial in his time. He engages in a polemic with anonymous opponents, addressing the issues raised by those who ‘talk nonsense, those who . . . say that the emperor makes the patriarch’. Symeon emphasizes that at every stage of the procedure the emperor is serving the Church, honouring and not ‘ruling’ it.Footnote 72 According to him, as protector of the Church the emperor has permission from on high and from the holy fathers to bring together the holy synod to elect a candidate. When the candidate is elected, the summons brought to him by a high-ranking member of the court, in the name of the emperor, states that it is from the emperor and the holy great synod, ‘bearing witness that the emperor makes known the [decision] of the synod not from himself but with the synod. He serves only’.Footnote 73 With respect to the emperor's investiture of the patriarch-elect with his staff (dikanikion), Symeon declares that the emperor gives ‘nothing’.Footnote 74

In similar fashion, Makarios of Ankyra plays down the emperor's part in the making of a patriarch. He stresses that ‘the patriarch is called patriarch before the imperial promotion’. According to him, the promotion in the palace – the venue was not mentioned by Symeon – takes place only for the sake of ‘honour’; it has no foundation in civil or canon law.Footnote 75 Makarios is, however, less insistent, less polemical. He is also a less consistent writer than Symeon on the subject of the emperor's authority in church matters. His views are contradictory, as can be seen from his use of epistemonarches to refer to the emperor in an anti-Latin treatise, discussed above.Footnote 76

Despite the protests of Symeon and Makarios, it remains the case until the end of the Byzantine empire that the process of electing a new patriarch is put in motion only by an imperial order (prostagma), that the emperor can reject the candidate elected by the synod and put his own candidate in place, and that the patriarch-elect goes to the palace to be promoted and invested by the emperor. Concerning this last point, Symeon says as much.Footnote 77

Now, as then, the procedure for the election and installation of a patriarch is open to rival interpretations. Bréhier saw in the texts under discussion an evolution in the election procedure that corresponded to a weakening of imperial power.Footnote 78 Laurent rejected the idea of an effective change and stated that if there was change it was only ‘on the polemical plane, in the thought of two theoreticians carried along by circumstances to fight for the independence of the church, reduced every day more and more’.Footnote 79 Blanchet, the latest to analyse the writings of the churchmen, agrees that ‘it is difficult to conclude that there was any historical transformation’.Footnote 80 She does, however, point out that both Symeon and Makarios directly and indirectly express the view that a patriarch-elect who is a bishop has no need of the ‘little consecration’Footnote 81 which the emperor's promotion replaces, according to Pseudo-Kodinos.Footnote 82 Yet, even in this case, the patriarch-elect must go to the palace and be promoted by the emperor.

The reverse situation of that described by these two late churchmen is indicated by a late fourteenth-century patriarchal document which states that the emperor may employ metropolitans as if they were his douloi, ‘servants’.Footnote 83 In letters addressed to a crowned emperor a metropolitan must refer to himself as the emperor's doulos kai euchetes, ‘servant and the one who prays for your mighty and holy imperial majesty’, a formula close to the one used by lay servants of the emperor.Footnote 84 In the fifteenth century the use of the formula was extended to include all clerics. Sylvester Syropoulos, in his account of the council at Ferrara-Florence, where a union of the Churches was agreed in 1438–9, protested, saying that it was not acceptable for the Church to be put to the service of the emperor.Footnote 85 In these later centuries churchmen were often among the ambassadors who were sent abroad;Footnote 86 churchmen also acted as the emperor's go-between or mediator (mesazon) in public affairs, whereas earlier this role was always assigned to a layman.Footnote 87 Historians have seen these examples as signs of the growing importance of the Church. They can, however, be read as signs of the emperor's use of churchmen as his douloi.Footnote 88 Vitalien Laurent, an Augustinian Assumptionist and editor of these late patriarchal texts, was so revolted by the language of douleia (servitude), which he translated as ‘slavery’ (l'esclavage), that he looked upon the Ottoman conquest of the empire as a time of liberation for the Church.Footnote 89

Another factor that has been adduced as evidence of the Church's rising power and prestige is the expansion of its judicial competence. The patriarchal court in Constantinople, whose register has survived for the years from 1315 to 1402,Footnote 90 passed judgment not only on cases within its recognized jurisdiction, marriage and inheritance law,Footnote 91 but also beyond. For modern historians, the register provides proof of the Church's newly acquired judicial powers. Yet it needs to be considered that the apparent widening of the court's jurisdiction may be due to the fact that in the same period (1394–1402), the imperial court was absent from the capital or not functioning because of the Turkish siege of the city and the dispute between John VII and Manuel II.Footnote 92

The evidence presented above, the ceremonial protocol, the patriarchal document and the writings of the churchmen, admits of a reading that differs from the conventional one. The history of the Church under the Palaiologan emperors in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries shows that the ascendancy of the emperor over the Church remained strong. The descriptions of imperial debilitation in the last centuries of the empire would seem to have more to do with modern historians’ knowledge of shrinking territory and diminished resources than with the actual state of the emperor's office. Pero Tafur, a Spanish traveller who visited Constantinople in 1437, in the reign of John VIII, remarked, ‘The emperor's state is as splendid as ever, for nothing is omitted from the ancient ceremonies but, properly regarded, he is like a Bishop without a See’.Footnote 93

What is new in the Palaiologan period is the existence of churchmen who contested loudly the ascendancy of imperial power. In their discussions of ceremonial, Symeon of Thessalonike and Makarios of Ankyra tried to show that the emperor was subject to the Church, while practice shows the opposite.Footnote 94 It is their writings that have been adopted by historians to form a picture of the rising Church.

The confident claims made by these churchmen have to do, to some extent, with the sins of the founder of the dynasty, Michael VIII, who usurped power from the young heir to the throne John IV and had him blinded, and who deposed the patriarch Arsenios who had excommunicated him.Footnote 95 The so-called Arsenite schism damaged the emperor beyond his death and produced literature that proclaimed the anointer to be superior to the anointed.Footnote 96 The lasting effects of this schism in the Church elevated defiance of the Palaiologan emperors to the level of a virtue. A further damaging act of two Palaiologan emperors, the union of the Churches declared by Michael VIII in 1274 and John VIII in 1439 but never accepted, contributed to divisions and gave the Church the moral upper hand.Footnote 97 Relations between Church and emperor, not only in the last centuries but also earlier, depended on the personalities and circumstances of the moment. It was these factors that determined who took the lead.

If Runciman's picture of the late Byzantine Church has continued to find acceptance in the literature on Palaiologan Byzantium, his perception of the Church's position under Ottoman rule has been criticized and overturned. The idea that ecclesiastical power was centralized in the patriarchate of Constantinople and that the patriarch had centralized control over the Eastern patriarchates has been shown to be false.Footnote 98 It has been shown too that the patriarch in Constantinople was not leader of the whole Orthodox community; he was not ‘an ethnarch, the ruler of a millet’, as Runciman stated.Footnote 99 Runciman ‘merged the nineteenth-century ideology of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Ottoman millet system theory and back-projected this view to the whole Ottoman period’.Footnote 100 Given this revision of the Constantinopolitan patriarchate's position under Ottoman rule, it is time to have another look at Byzantium's legacy to the Ottomans. The interpretation of the late Byzantine sources presented here suggests that there was more continuity from the Byzantine empire to Ottoman rule as regards Church-ruler relations than was previously thought.Footnote 101


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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), 203–20Google Scholar, at 217, 219.

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

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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), 5Google Scholar: 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), 375Google Scholar; Dölger, Franz, Regesten der Kaiserurkunden des oströmischen Reiches, von 565–1453, 2: Regesten von 1025–1204, rev. ed. Wirth, Peter (Munich, 1995), 34Google Scholar (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), 4Google Scholar: 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), 95103Google Scholar; Hendy, Michael F., Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c.300–1450 (Cambridge, 1985), 198201CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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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), 126Google Scholar, 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), 215–16Google Scholar, 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), 8197Google Scholar, 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), 6378Google Scholar; 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), 6Google Scholar: 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), 218–32Google Scholar, 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.Google Scholar

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), 5127CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 55; Laurent, Vitalien, ‘Les Droits de l'empereur en matière ecclésiastique. L'accord de 1380/82’, Revue des études byzantines 13 (1955), 520CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 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), 5362Google Scholar; 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), 104–5Google Scholar (§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)Google Scholar, 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)Google Scholar, 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), 2Google Scholar: 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)Google Scholar; 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), 8998Google Scholar, reprinted in Macrides, Kinship and Justice, V.

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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), 6787Google Scholar, 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), 193204Google Scholar.

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

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