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Forum LockedByzantine Emperors of Greek Ethnicity?

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    Posted: 24-May-2009 at 02:13

The Byzantine Empire was a very 'cosmopolitan' empire in that a mixture of ethnic groups were under the Byzantine umbrella and many rulers of different ethnicities commanded the empire over its history.

How many of the Byzantine Emperors were known to be ethnically Greek, and who were they?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2009 at 02:55
I think it would just be best to say virtually all of them, and then go through the much quicker process of identifying those who were not.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2009 at 04:32
I think it's the opposite. I can't think of any Byzantine Emperor of Greek ethnicity, almost all were from the deepest parts of Anatolia that had only Greek speaking but not Greek populations. Even the Macedonian dynasty was actually Armenian.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote czarnian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2009 at 08:28
Originally posted by Vorian

I think it's the opposite. I can't think of any Byzantine Emperor of Greek ethnicity, almost all were from the deepest parts of Anatolia that had only Greek speaking but not Greek populations. Even the Macedonian dynasty was actually Armenian.
 
Yep, that's right. The empire was polytechnic, and the greeks were minority.


Edited by czarnian - 24-May-2009 at 08:29
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Post Options Post Options   Quote padem Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2009 at 10:43
Originally posted by czarnian

Originally posted by Vorian

I think it's the opposite. I can't think of any Byzantine Emperor of Greek ethnicity, almost all were from the deepest parts of Anatolia that had only Greek speaking but not Greek populations. Even the Macedonian dynasty was actually Armenian.
 
Yep, that's right. The empire was polytechnic, and the greeks were minority.

Actually it was more of a liberal arts empire with an emphasis on theology.True, it attracted many students and faculty from neighbouring countries but I would't go so far as to call the local Greek student population a minority...
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Post Options Post Options   Quote es_bih Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2009 at 14:57
Originally posted by Vorian

I think it's the opposite. I can't think of any Byzantine Emperor of Greek ethnicity, almost all were from the deepest parts of Anatolia that had only Greek speaking but not Greek populations. Even the Macedonian dynasty was actually Armenian.
 

Agreed.


Originally posted by CXI

I think it would just be best to say virtually all of them, and then go through the much quicker process of identifying those who were not.






The Macedonian line had various different backgrounds.


I think I would rather say that they virtually "all" fit under the Byzantine cultural umbrella, but to say they were Greek isn't right in my mind at all. 

Especially anything Anatolian, Anatolia is as mixed as the Balkans.

Greek speaker and Greek ethnicity aren't one and the same thing.


Edited by es_bih - 24-May-2009 at 14:58

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2009 at 23:48
As far as medieval people were often concerned, they rarely had any notion of ethnicity. The closest one could get to "Greek" ethnicity in the Medieval period was for a person to speak Greek and be a Greek Orthodox Christian. And indeed, most emperors were precisely this, though with notable exceptions.

And how is it we are claiming that simply because someone was Anatolian, that excluded them from being Greek? Would someone like to point out the tangible ethnic differences to me between someone living in Athens and someone living in Philadelphia in the early 10th century.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 01:46
Originally posted by Constantine XI

As far as medieval people were often concerned, they rarely had any notion of ethnicity. The closest one could get to "Greek" ethnicity in the Medieval period was for a person to speak Greek and be a Greek Orthodox Christian. And indeed, most emperors were precisely this, though with notable exceptions.
So were some clerics, scholars, nobles from the non-Byzantine medieval Bulgaria, Serbia, Wallachia, Armenia, Moldavia, etc.
Were the Poles not Poles or the Hungarians not Hungarians for speaking Latin and being Latin (Catholic) Christians?
 

And how is it we are claiming that simply because someone was Anatolian, that excluded them from being Greek? Would someone like to point out the tangible ethnic differences to me between someone living in Athens and someone living in Philadelphia in the early 10th century.
 I guess it depends who their parents were, who their neighbours were, what languages they spoke when they were young, what traditions the local community had, etc. Just imagine a mostly Slavic speaking village not far from 10th century Thessaloniki, a mostly Armenian speaking village somewhere in Cappadocia and a mostly Arabic speaking village in Cilicia.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 03:20
Originally posted by Chilbudios

So were some clerics, scholars, nobles from the non-Byzantine medieval Bulgaria, Serbia, Wallachia, Armenia, Moldavia, etc.
Were the Poles not Poles or the Hungarians not Hungarians for speaking Latin and being Latin (Catholic) Christians?


Roman Catholicism was like a Church without an Empire, it was a religious franchise which existed despite the fact the Pope owned little land compared to most kings. You could buy into this franchise and retain your ethnicity.

Byzantium was an Empire with a Church. If you were a citizen who followed this religion and spoke the language, you became more or less a Greek, even if your ancestry was different. The Byzantines had some success in assimilating foreigners within their borders into mainstream Byzantine culture.

Originally posted by Chilbudios

I guess it depends who their parents were, who their neighbours were, what languages they spoke when they were young, what traditions the local community had, etc. Just imagine a mostly Slavic speaking village not far from 10th century Thessaloniki, a mostly Armenian speaking village somewhere in Cappadocia and a mostly Arabic speaking village in Cilicia.


This is a fair argument. But in the case of the Emperors, it was typical for the descendents of non-Greek Emperors to quickly assimilate into the mainstream culture of Constantinople. Justinian was no Greek, but Justin II came to be regarded as one. Leo III was an Isaurian, but Constantine V was certainly Greek. Michael II does not seem to have been ethnically non-Greek, the epithet "the Amorian" seems to indicate a provincial rather than non-Greek origin. Basil I was regarded as both Armenian and Macedonian, but Leo VI was certainly considered a Greek.

We must also be careful about confusing differences in rustic and urban culture. Psellus tells us of the 'barbarian' Paphlagonian homeland of Michael IV and his regime, though I suspect this had more to do with its provincial and marginal economic status than any perceived difference in ethnic identity.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 03:30
Originally posted by Constantine XI

As far as medieval people were often concerned, they rarely had any notion of ethnicity. The closest one could get to "Greek" ethnicity in the Medieval period was for a person to speak Greek and be a Greek Orthodox Christian. And indeed, most emperors were precisely this, though with notable exceptions.

And how is it we are claiming that simply because someone was Anatolian, that excluded them from being Greek? Would someone like to point out the tangible ethnic differences to me between someone living in Athens and someone living in Philadelphia in the early 10th century.
 
How dare you refute the modernist notion that we must recklessly and retroactively apply our own concepts of ethnicity, social order, etc. to bygone ages? How dare you?!? Vile, rank heresy, I say! LOL
 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote xristar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 07:52
Just imagine a mostly Slavic speaking village not far from 10th century Thessaloniki, a mostly Armenian speaking village somewhere in Cappadocia and a mostly Arabic speaking village in Cilicia

While you hae some right, I might also add that there were greek speaking populations (and I mean it as their native language) near Thessaloniki, in Cappadocia and... well I'm not sure about Cilicia but you get my point. How can one call someone non-greek because he was born in Cappadocia? Or is the the greek ethnos defined differently today than it was/ought to be/supposedly has been in the middle ages?

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 09:41
Unsurprisingly, most imperial dynasties of Byzantium originated in the Balkans or Anatolia.

All dynasties up until the Heraclian one descended from various parts of the Balkans; Thrace, Illyria, Moesia and thereabouts. The Heraclian dynasty seems to be the first Armenian one, and many would follow. The Isaurian dynasty originated in what is today Syria, while the Nikephoros dynasty is believed to have been of Arab extraction. The Phrygian dynasty was, well, Phrygian, while the the Macedonian dynasty was funnily enough Armenian. The Doukid dynasty was Paphlagonian (northern Anatolia), while the Komnenids were as far as I know Armenian. I have not been able to find the origin of the Angelid or Laskarid dynasties (not that I have much time to since I'm at work), while the Palaiologans seem to have been as noble as possible, descending from both the Komnenid and Doukid dynasties.

This does not give a truthful picture of their ethnic origin however, as most of these dynasties intermarried with people of various origin, particularly Slavic as far as I can see. Constantine XI's mother f.ex. was of Serbian origin. One should also account for the movers and shakers behind the throne, who occasionally held more power than those sitting on it. One of the greatest kingmakers in Byzantine history was Aspar, an Alan, who started the Leonid dynasty by installing Leo I.

Such is the wonderful complexity of this cosmopolitan empire. Thumbs Up

Edit: Paphlagonia in northern Anatolia, not eastern.


Edited by Reginmund - 25-May-2009 at 12:21
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Post Options Post Options   Quote xristar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 12:05
The Doukid dynasty was Paphlagonian (eastern Anatolia), while the Komnenids were as far as I know Armenian.

Ain't Paphlagonia in western Anatolia (I'm not sure)? Komneni I thought were from Kastamoni, which if i'm not mistaken is northwestern anatolian, and perhaps even paphlagonian.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 12:20
Originally posted by xristar

Ain't Paphlagonia in western Anatolia (I'm not sure)? Komneni I thought were from Kastamoni, which if i'm not mistaken is northwestern anatolian, and perhaps even paphlagonian.


I got Paphlagonia and Cappadocia mixed up. Paphlagonia is northern Anatolia, the coastal strip by the Black Sea.

The origin of the Komneni surprised me too. I have never heard they were Armenian before, but that's what the internet tells me for what it's worth.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 12:57

Originally posted by Constantine XI

Roman Catholicism was like a Church without an Empire, it was a religious franchise which existed despite the fact the Pope owned little land compared to most kings. You could buy into this franchise and retain your ethnicity.
If we look at it that way, the same was about Greek Orthodoxy, as Bulgarian tsars, Wallachian voivods, Kievan kniazes, and centuries later even Russian emperors they were all Orthodox but not Byzantine (politically at least, you could argue they were so culturally).

If you were a citizen who followed this religion and spoke the language, you became more or less a Greek, even if your ancestry was different. The Byzantines had some success in assimilating foreigners within their borders into mainstream Byzantine culture.
Not a Greek, but a Roman.


As for assimilation, after the fall of the Byzantine frontiers in eastern Anatolia there were still Armenians, in northern Greece and central Balkans there were still Vlachs and Slavs, etc. Undoubtely some people assimilated and became Greeks (having Greek as maternal language), I'm not sure however how succesful overall the assimilation was. Just think of the northern and central Balkans conquered by the Macedonian dynasty and lost after the Komnenoi. They remained virtually non-Greek, even though under Byzantine authority and receiving a significant cultural influence.

This is a fair argument. But in the case of the Emperors, it was typical for the descendents of non-Greek Emperors to quickly assimilate into the mainstream culture of Constantinople. Justinian was no Greek, but Justin II came to be regarded as one. Leo III was an Isaurian, but Constantine V was certainly Greek. Michael II does not seem to have been ethnically non-Greek, the epithet "the Amorian" seems to indicate a provincial rather than non-Greek origin. Basil I was regarded as both Armenian and Macedonian, but Leo VI was certainly considered a Greek.
I guess Justin II could be regarded as a Latin-speaking (possibly a second language acquisition) Illyrian, being born to Justinian's sister in the 520s. Michael II came from Amorion, a city reknown for its ethnic and even religious diversity, holding an important Jewish community. Michael II was actually suspected to belong to a local heresy with Jewish flavour. But for most of the emperors we do not really know what language they spoke when they were young. Certainly in office they had to use Greek, probably did so also with some of their friends and relatives, however bilingualism is a very common feature in a multi-ethnic empire.

Originally posted by xristar

While you hae some right, I might also add that there were greek speaking populations (and I mean it as their native language) near Thessaloniki, in Cappadocia and... well I'm not sure about Cilicia but you get my point. How can one call someone non-greek because he was born in Cappadocia? Or is the the greek ethnos defined differently today than it was/ought to be/supposedly has been in the middle ages?
Sure they were, simiarly there were neighbourhoods of non-Greeks in Constantinople (Jews, Bulgarians, Genoese, etc.), I wouldn't claim all Cappadocians non-Greeks, but I'm not sure if we could easily label most Armenians in the Byzantine empire as Greeks invoking cultural or even linguistic assimilation.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 13:51
Originally posted by Chilbudios

If we look at it that way, the same was about Greek Orthodoxy, as Bulgarian tsars, Wallachian voivods, Kievan kniazes, and centuries later even Russian emperors they were all Orthodox but not Byzantine (politically at least, you could argue they were so culturally).


Really only later on. Not so for the first several centuries. And how many of these people spoke Greek as well as following the Orthodox religion? (I am actually quite curious to know, my impression has been that Roman Catholicism exported the Latin language more energetically than Orthodoxy exported Greek).

Originally posted by Chilbudios

Not a Greek, but a Roman.

As for assimilation, after the fall of the Byzantine frontiers in eastern Anatolia there were still Armenians, in northern Greece and central Balkans there were still Vlachs and Slavs, etc. Undoubtely some people assimilated and became Greeks (having Greek as maternal language), I'm not sure however how succesful overall the assimilation was. Just think of the northern and central Balkans conquered by the Macedonian dynasty and lost after the Komnenoi. They remained virtually non-Greek, even though under Byzantine authority and receiving a significant cultural influence.


We know they liked to call themselves Roman. But in language they were Greek. And their fashion, cuisine and literary tastes also reflected Greek heritage.

I am certainly not arguing that everyone in the Byzantine Empire was Greek. But certainly upstart non-Greek Emperors learned to groom their children for assimilation into the norms of the largely Greek culture of Byzantium. The Latin Emperors largely did not, and the Isaurians patronised Iconoclasm (which was probably part of their experience coming from the south east). But for the most part, royals of foreign descent did assimilate to the norms of the largely Greek culture of Byzantium.

It is interesting to see how some Byzantine princesses abroad did not do so. For example the princess married to the Venetian Doge, the Holy Roman Empress Theodora, and of course Zoe who married Ivan. These ladies all kept alive parts of Byzantine protocol and custom in their new homelands.

I guess Justin II could be regarded as a Latin-speaking (possibly a second language acquisition) Illyrian, being born to Justinian's sister in the 520s. Michael II came from Amorion, a city reknown for its ethnic and even religious diversity, holding an important Jewish community. Michael II was actually suspected to belong to a local heresy with Jewish flavour. But for most of the emperors we do not really know what language they spoke when they were young. Certainly in office they had to use Greek, probably did so also with some of their friends and relatives, however bilingualism is a very common feature in a multi-ethnic empire.


I can certainly agree with that.

Originally posted by Reginmund

The Phrygian dynasty was, well, Phrygian...... The Doukid dynasty was Paphlagonian


So aside from being more rustic than Constantinople, how would you say these two regions differed culturally to be considered deviations of Greek culture?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 14:10
Originally posted by Constantine XI

So aside from being more rustic than Constantinople, how would you say these two regions differed culturally to be considered deviations of Greek culture?


Those two regions I would presume were more similar than not to each other and Constantinople. I wouldn't argue Paphlagonia or Phrygia weren't Greek linguistically and culturally, while the question if they were Greek ethnically invites so many problems I don't want to delve into it, and I'm more than comfortable enough to think of them as Graecified Anatolians.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2009 at 14:58
Originally posted by Reginmund

Originally posted by Constantine XI

So aside from being more rustic than Constantinople, how would you say these two regions differed culturally to be considered deviations of Greek culture?


Those two regions I would presume were more similar than not to each other and Constantinople. I wouldn't argue Paphlagonia or Phrygia weren't Greek linguistically and culturally, while the question if they were Greek ethnically invites so many problems I don't want to delve into it, and I'm more than comfortable enough to think of them as Graecified Anatolians.


I think so too. As we move farther east into Trabzond and Cappadocia we certainly see a much heavier concentration of non-Greek people. Mostly, Armenians.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-May-2009 at 06:33
Originally posted by Constantine XI

Really only later on. Not so for the first several centuries. And how many of these people spoke Greek as well as following the Orthodox religion? (I am actually quite curious to know, my impression has been that Roman Catholicism exported the Latin language more energetically than Orthodoxy exported Greek).
In the first several centuries there's no Orthodoxy vs Catholicism. There were Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians, even Armenians opposing the "mainstream", there were Iconoclasts vs Iconodules, some of these divisions ran through the Byzantine Empire, not separating it from the rest of Christianity.
 
Many East Europeans certainly didn't speak Greek (but those few Bulgarians, Serbians, etc. who were Orthodox and spoke Greek weren't Greeks), but they were at least nominally Orthodox (the average Frankish peasant probably couldn't utter Lord's Prayer either, there are even testimonies about illiterate priests baptizing in nomine patria(sic!)). Eastern Christianities spread through missionaries, too, and at times they raced with their Western counterparts to Christianize the Central and Eastern Europe.
 
We know they liked to call themselves Roman. But in language they were Greek. And their fashion, cuisine and literary tastes also reflected Greek heritage.
Austria's language is German, Brazil's language is Portuguese. As for fashion, cuisine and literary tastes, in a mountainous Anatolian village the illiteracy was high (like it was throughout the empire), while the fashion and the cuisine and most customs actually were local, with little if anything to do with the typical Aegean traits. I would have my doubts to consider an important city like Constantinople Greek in fashion and cuisine, probably was rather cosmopolite than Greek.
 
I am certainly not arguing that everyone in the Byzantine Empire was Greek. But certainly upstart non-Greek Emperors learned to groom their children for assimilation into the norms of the largely Greek culture of Byzantium. The Latin Emperors largely did not, and the Isaurians patronised Iconoclasm (which was probably part of their experience coming from the south east). But for the most part, royals of foreign descent did assimilate to the norms of the largely Greek culture of Byzantium.
 
It is interesting to see how some Byzantine princesses abroad did not do so. For example the princess married to the Venetian Doge, the Holy Roman Empress Theodora, and of course Zoe who married Ivan. These ladies all kept alive parts of Byzantine protocol and custom in their new homelands.
What is Greek in the architecture of Hagia Sophia, about the Blues and the Greens, in the imperial protocols inherited from the times of Justinian and his predecessors? To be sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of Latin loan-words into Greek, most prevalent in law, ceremonies (see Constantine VII's works), offices, ranks, administration, sports, military etc. proof that the Byzantine culture owes a lot to a Roman (and Latin) past, it's not merely a Greek culture.

 


Edited by Chilbudios - 26-May-2009 at 07:03
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-May-2009 at 06:19
I will add that the later Palaiologoi had both Serbian and Italian ancestry in them. 
 
Manuel II Palaiologos was married to a Serbian princess, Helene Dragash, to whom all six of his ruling sons were born.  His grandfather, Andronikos III, was married to a countess of Savoy and another Western European noblewoman.
 
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