The Empire That Would Not Die represents an expanded version of the Carl Newell Jackson Lectures that John Haldon delivered at Harvard University in April 2014. As he explains in the introduction, he worried that returning to the topic he treated in Byzantium in the Seventh Century (1990) might seem a bit déjà vu. That it is not is clearly a tribute to his archaeological survey at Euchaita in northern Anatolia, his mastery of environmental issues (climate/agricultural production/pollen counts), his direction of the Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History (2005), and many other areas of research. As a result, he now gives greater weight to religious belief and theological differences, and emphasizes the enormous expansion of archaeological data, which demands a novel overview. By concentrating on the century between 640 and 740, Haldon can ask how Asia Minor, the Anatolian heartland of the Eastern Roman Empire, resisted the onslaught of Arab forces, which he characterizes as a David and Goliath conflict (24). He starts by setting up a broad comparison of how states fail, especially complex premodern empires, reviewing different theoretical models in order to examine why the empire “simply would not die” (294). After a brief account of the historical development of the period (26–55) and the questions that have to be addressed (55–78), he devotes chapters to beliefs and mental changes (the moral universe); identities and solidarities (what kept men together); elites (class issues, and their interests); regional variations; environment; and organizational coherence, which are integrated in a clear conclusion. This structure involves considerable repetition and overlap, for example in the discussion of senatorial decline. During the minority of Constans II (641–648) the Senate of Constantinople assumed greater responsibility and power, which it was forced to give up as the emperor imposed his own “palatinization” (centralization within the palace) of the administration (292). In accounting for this development, Haldon looks to the western half of the Roman world, while stating that it is difficult to employ earlier fifth–sixth-century resources comparatively. Despite these disclaimers, he then uses the better-documented process of decline of the Roman Senate as a model for what may have happened in the East. The old Roman Senate was “whittled down through losses in land, personnel (through death or migration to Constantinople, for example), and low birth rate as well as loss of authority and prestige in competition with officials and more powerful or influential nonsenatorial neighbors” (163). He then states that a similar process of this diminution of the elite’s social and economic importance took place throughout the surviving territories of the empire (164). And, indeed, it can be observed in the ubiquitous effects of “warfare, economic dislocation, disease, and competition from office holders and the patronage they were able to exercise on behalf of their own clients” (163). The new ruling elite that emerged in Anatolia, very precisely documented, was part of a greater militarization of society also experienced in the West (169–175). But the ways in which the elite senatorial class of Constantinople was gradually incorporated into the imperial court were quite specific; only a few western senatorial families (like that of Gregory the Great) found a parallel future in the papal court (and this is not mentioned). The problem of accounting for Eastern Roman resilience involves wide-ranging analyses of grain supplies to feed the population of Constantinople after the Persian and later the Arab occupation of Egypt; funds to finance more constant warfare (including the borrowing and minting of church silver); the arrest, trial, and exile of doctrinal opponents of official Monothelitism, and the emergence of a new range of middle-ranking administrators and military officers, often identified only by their seals. Haldon insists on the importance of combining analysis of minutiae with that of large-scale, society-wide changes to trace the variety of resources that aided rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire in their resistance not only to Arab forces but also to Slavs. The latter overran large areas of Greece and Thrace so successfully that none of the five bishops from established episcopal sees in the province of Thrace were able to attend the ecumenical councils of 553, 680/681 and 692. Yet the church and its activities are correctly singled out as “one of the single most neglected and underestimated elements” that contributed to Byzantine survival (59). This major revision of Haldon’s 1990 view is enhanced by a most illuminating analysis of the canons of the 692 Council in Trullo. Haldon also devotes a most interesting chapter to environmental factors: climatic variation, changes in land use, pollen counts that reveal particular trees and crops, all related to the failure of the previous pan-Mediterranean system. While the data are only suggestive, the development of a more resilient set of economic subregions and a simplified agrarian regime seems clear (290). Neither dendrochronology, which uses tree-ring growth to estimate annual rainfall, nor changes in diet (more barley and rye bread rather than wheat?) feature, but engaging with this complex scientific data adds enormously to our understanding of the seventh century. There are, however, unfortunate aspects of the printed version of the lectures: far too many long, rambling paragraphs and repetitions, which give an impression of rushed production and insufficient editorial review. In particular, convoluted sentence construction makes for tough reading, while the integration of detailed analysis with more general aspects diffuses the impact of novel conclusions. The book is poorly served by an inadequate index. While Haldon draws on fascinating evidence from bilingual glosses to explain how technical terms were understood in different parts of the late antique world, he does not give much attention to the Greek language as part of the “glue that held the empire together” (161). And after an extremely sophisticated analysis of identity, employing theories pioneered by German scholars, a surprising reference to “patriotism” pops up (289). Whether seventh-century inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire shared a true patria seems unlikely, but Haldon has provided a convincing overview of their loyalty to emperor and church, which helped to sustain the following seven hundred years of Byzantium. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.
Enjoy affordable access to
over 12 million articles from more than
10,000 peer-reviewed journals.
All for just $49/month
Read as many articles as you need. Full articles with original layout, charts and figures. Read online, from anywhere.
Keep up with your field with Personalized Recommendations and Follow Journals to get automatic updates.
It’s easy to organize your research with our built-in tools.
Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.
All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.
“Hi guys, I cannot tell you how much I love this resource. Incredible. I really believe you've hit the nail on the head with this site in regards to solving the research-purchase issue.”Daniel C.
“Whoa! It’s like Spotify but for academic articles.”@Phil_Robichaud
“I must say, @deepdyve is a fabulous solution to the independent researcher's problem of #access to #information.”@deepthiw
“My last article couldn't be possible without the platform @deepdyve that makes journal papers cheaper.”@JoseServera