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This introduction outlines the key aims of the book and its genesis, including a definition of what political culture means – the rituals and explicit legitimisation of power, status and property-holding, alongside the unstated assumptions and customs that help to channel tensions and rivalries within polities. It situates the volume’s approach – a presentation of three neighbouring and overlapping political spheres – within the recent turn towards the global middle ages. Neither a work of systematic and explicit comparison nor an attempt at overarching synthesis or grand narrative – nor a shot at tracing trans-regional connections – the book aims rather to find a conceptual language applicable to all three spheres, attempting to make each sphere accessible to non-specialists. This pioneering survey of three spheres – the Latin west, Byzantium and the Islamic world – should provide useful tools for learning, teaching and research today but is also an invitation to future study of medieval political culture.
After considering what is meant by ‘political culture’, this chapter looks at how such an abstraction can be applied to the long period between c.700 and c.1500, over vast stretches of the western Eurasian landmass. The author looks for recurring themes – not grand theory, but rather elements visible in and shared by societies in the three spheres of the Latin west, Byzantium and the Islamic world in this period. Four such elements are suggested – religion, women, property and war – and the author only resorts to abstract analytic categories when they help in exploring these elements across the spheres. He suggests that alertness to them might help us find some fresh things to say about a number of long-established categories such as social hierarchy, loyalty, political legitimacy and the formation of political classes.
This comparative study explores three key cultural and political spheres – the Latin west, Byzantium and the Islamic world from Central Asia to the Atlantic – roughly from the emergence of Islam to the fall of Constantinople. These spheres drew on a shared pool of late antique Mediterranean culture, philosophy and science, and they had monotheism and historical antecedents in common. Yet where exactly political and spiritual power lay, and how it was exercised, differed. This book focuses on power dynamics and resource-allocation among ruling elites; the legitimisation of power and property with the aid of religion; and on rulers' interactions with local elites and societies. Offering the reader route-maps towards navigating each sphere and grasping the fundamentals of its political culture, this set of parallel studies offers a timely and much needed framework for comparing the societies surrounding the medieval Mediterranean.
State violence was radically transformed in the Byzantine Empire during the period of the Komnenoi (1081-1185). At a time when the power of the reformed Catholic Church was growing, the Komnenoi implemented policies refining the notion of Orthodoxy. They sought to head off the threat to the established order of the eastern Mediterranean posed by repeated invasions from armies of Normans, Venetians and other Latins claiming to be crusaders waging holy war. Long-forgotten types of persecution re-emerged under the dynastic founder, Alexios I, who justified his actions through the reinterpretation of ancient Roman Law concerning the capital crimes of sacrilege and treason. Under Alexios, individuals and small groups with specific ethno-religious backgrounds were subjected to trials for heresy and confronted with burning at the stake. Subsequent Komnenian emperors continued to profess an attachment to these procedures, resorting to them with some regularity. But they also pursued alternatives. In the final years of the dynasty, a shift of emphasis occurred to mass arrests and, eventually, pogroms. These developments accompanied changes to imperial Byzantine authority in both domestic and foreign settings. Ultimately, the Komnenian mode of rule failed. The dynastic member, Andronikos I, was deposed and executed as a tyrant.
Byzantium's relations with the Latin west in this period have a 'Cheshire cat' character in comparison with ninth-century exchanges. Very little attention is paid to the Christian west by Byzantine writers even when Saxon potentates begin to intervene in Italy and bedeck themselves with imperial trimmings. In the late 950s Byzantines envisaged the reconquest of Crete as the prelude to victory in Sicily, while Otto I's intervention in Italy came in response to appeals from nearly every prominent figure, including John XII. The nature and extent of the impact of Theophanu on Ottonian court culture is controversial and ambivalent. The Byzantine late tenth- or early eleventh-century objets d'art still extant in German cathedral treasuries and museums probably arrived by a variety of routes, not merely from Theophanu's sumptuous dowry. Otto III tried to earn the appreciation of Rome's citizens through his promotion of the cult of the Virgin as protectress of Rome.
This book covers a period in European history best described as the long tenth century, stretching from the 890s through to around 1020/30. It explains a contrast between the Latin west and the courtcentred cultures of Byzantium and Islam. Some kinds of material remains have escaped historians' general neglect of non-written sources, most notably those traditionally studied by art historians: painting, sculpture, goldsmithery and ivorywork, architecture. The post-Carolingian core of Europe retained a residual sense of pan-Frankishness long after kingdoms, had started to develop their own sense of identity. It is significant, therefore, that Italian and Spanish historians have been heavily influenced in recent years by the concerns of French medievalists. The chapter also discusses the anomalous historiographical traditions of Byzantine history and European Islamic history. For Americans whose secondary or primary ethnicity is eastern, central or southern European, they are not even the most important ones.
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