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Christians beyond the Border: An Item on the Agenda of Byzantine Emperors?

Wolfram Drews, Universität Münster Historisches Seminar, Summer Fellow

During my stay I studied the interrelationship between Byzantine emperors and Christians living at the periphery of the empire or beyond its borders. Making use of the excellent library, I took the opportunity to study not only the early period, when denominational borders were nonexistent or not yet fixed, but also the middle and later periods, when the emperors were confronted with Christians who were regarded by the imperial church as heterodox, if not heretical. Especially during the middle period the emperors developed different strategies to establish their authority at the periphery. First, they developed the model of the “family of kings,” symbolically integrating foreign rulers into the orbit of the empire. This model seems to have been restricted mainly to rulers professing orthodox, i.e., Byzantine, Christianity (such as rulers of Georgia, Bulgaria, and the Rus). In the case of non-orthodox rulers, emperors seem to have preferred other strategies of indirect rule, mainly the bestowal of titles and dignities, but also the exaction of tribute payments. In addition, non-Byzantine Christians such as Syrian Jacobites and Armenians were on different occasions subjected to policies of repopulation, transferring large numbers of people into the empire. Sometimes Armenians were integrated into the imperial system by appointing a Chalcedonian Armenian, belonging officially to the imperial church, as ruler over a non-orthodox population. Only in very exceptional circumstances did the emperors establish diplomatic relations with rulers as far away as the Chinese emperor, with whom they tried to establish an anti-Islamic alliance. During such diplomatic exchanges, the Byzantines relied on the services of so-called Nestorian Christians, without apparently paying attention to their (from a Byzantine perspective) heterodox faith. While in China, such envoys could rely occasionally on assistance from Chinese Christians belonging to the East Syrian, i.e. Nestorian, church.

The results of my studies at Dumbarton Oaks will also be of great value to me after my return to Münster University, where I intend to use the material gathered in classes on transcultural history.

 

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Byzantine Studies Fellows, 2012/13