Emperors and Elites in the Eleventh Century Eastern Roman Empire
My dissertation investigates socio-cultural change in Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire) over the eleventh century. The empire began this period as the political superpower in Western Eurasia, was almost destroyed in its second half, and rebounded at its end. The process transformed its society.
Eleventh century Byzantium was unstable politically; sixteen emperors held the throne in less than sixty years. Civil wars were frequent. The First Crusade crashed onto this scene. Forced to adapt, contemporaries experimented with revolutionary new ideas: Foreigners rose to prominence, women became key power brokers, and emperors parceled out their empire’s peripheries to maintain stability at the center. The Byzantine world endured.
Amid this backdrop, the Byzantines deliberated on a series of questions as they tried to make sense of their world: Is a person defined by his family or by his office? How should a woman wield political power, if at all? What is the best way to integrate foreigners into society? Should emperors command an army on the battlefield or manage their empire from their capital?
My dissertation reconstructs contemporary answers to these questions through several themes. It begins with emperors, tracing the shifting models of kingship between bureaucratic, military and monastic ideals. Succession patterns move from elective to hereditary. I then move to analyze the developing social networks in Byzantine society, showing the growing connectivity in its center. I zoom in to examine groups such as foreigners, women and religious minorities, revealing how they negotiated their place in society to expand their influence. I conclude that increasing diversity served as an engine of social change in Byzantium. This process was ad hoc and haphazard, the result of a discourse between multiple groups with conflicting perspectives.