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1. The Administration of Theophilus
FOR eight years Theophilus had been an exemplary co-regent. Though he was a man of energetic character and active brain, he appears never to have put himself forward,1 and if he exerted influence upon his father's policy, such influence was carefully hidden behind the throne. Perhaps Michael compelled him to remain in the background. In any case, his position, for a man of his stamp, was an education in politics; it afforded him facilities for observing weak points in an administration for which he was not responsible, and for studying the conditions of the Empire which he would one day have to govern. He had a strong sense of the obligations of the Imperial office, and he possessed the capacities which his subjects considered desirable in their monarch. He had the military training which enabled him to lead an army into the field; he had a passion for justice; he was well educated, and, like the typical Byzantine sovran, interested in theology. His private life was so exemplary that even the malevolence of the chroniclers, who detested him as a heretic, could only rake up one story against his morals.2 He kept a brilliant Court, and took care that his palace, to which he added new
1 He emerges only on two occasions in our meagre chronicles-(1) as helping in the defence of the city against Thomas, and (2) as responsible for the death of Euthymios of Sardis (but for this see below, p. 139).
2 The scandal was that he mis
behaved with a pretty maid of his wife. When Theodora discovered his conduct and showed her chagrin, he swore a tremendous oath that he had never done such a thing before and would never repeat the offence (Cont. Th. 95).
and splendid buildings, should not be outshone by the marvels of Baghdad.
We might expect to find the reign of Theophilus remembered in Byzantine chronicle as a dazzling passage in the history of the Empire, like the caliphate of Harun al-Rashid in the annals of Islam. But the writers who have recorded his acts convey the impression that he was an unlucky and ineffective monarch.1 In his eastern warfare against the Saracens his fortune was chequered, and he sustained one crushing humiliation; in the West, he was unable to check the Mohammadan advance. His ecclesiastical policy, which he inherited from his predecessors, and pursued with vigour and conviction, was undone after his death. But though he fought for a losing cause in religion, and wrought no great military exploits, and did not possess the highest gifts of statesmanship, it is certain that his reputation among his contemporaries was far higher than a superficial examination of the chronicles would lead the reader to suspect. He has fared like Leo V. He was execrated in later times as an unrelenting iconoclast, and a conspiracy of silence and depreciation has depressed his fame. But it was perhaps not so much his heresy as his offence in belonging to the Amorian dynasty that was fatal to his memory. Our records were compiled under the Basilian dynasty, which had established itself on the throne by murder; and misrepresentation of the Amorians is a distinctive propensity in these partial chronicles. Yet, if we read between the lines, we can easily detect that there was another tradition, and that Theophilus had impressed the popular imagination as a just 2 and brilliant sovran, somewhat as Harun impressed the East. This tradition is reflected in anecdotes, of which it would be futile to appraise the proportions of truth and myth,-anecdotes which the Basilian
1 Cp. esp. Cont. Th. 139 (dvσTuxÝS).
2 The hostile chroniclers admit his love of justice, and Nicetas (Vita Ignatii, 216) describes him as "not otherwise bad" (apart from his heresy) and as δικαιοκρισίας ἀντεχόμενος. Gelzer (Abriss, in Krumbacher, G.B.L. 967) judges Theophilus severely: "Ein Grössenwahn nach dem Vorbilde orientalischer Sultane, ein Allwissenheitsdünkel der selbständig mili
tärische, kirchliche wie Verwaltungsfragen allein entscheidet, und eine vollendete Verständnislosigkeit für die Zeichen der Zeit sind die Eigentümlichkeiten dieses stark überschätzten, im Grunde keineswegs bedeutenden Regenten." His ecclesiastical policy was a failure, but otherwise I fail to see the grounds for this verdict.
historiographers found too interesting to omit, but told in a somewhat grudging way because they were supposed to be to the credit of the Emperor.
The motive of these stories is the Emperor's desire to administer justice rigorously without respect of persons. He used to ride once a week through the city to perform his devotions in the church of the Virgin at Blachernae, and on the way he was ready to listen to the petitions of any of his subjects who wished to claim his protection. One day he was accosted by a widow who complained that she was wronged by the brother of the Empress, Petronas, who held the post of Drungary of the Watch. It was illegal to build at Constantinople any structure which intercepted the view or the light of a neighbour's house; but Petronas was enlarging his own residence at Blachernae, with insolent disregard for the law, in such a way as to darken the house of the widow. Theophilus promptly sent Eustathios the quaestor, and other officers, to test the accuracy of her statement, and on their report that it was true, the Emperor caused his brother-in-law to be stripped and flogged in the public street. The obnoxious buildings were levelled to the ground, and the ruins, apparently, bestowed upon the complainant.1 Another time, on his weekly ride, he was surprised by a man who accosted him and said, "The horse on which your Majesty is riding belongs to me.' Calling the Count of the Stable, who was in attendance, the Emperor inquired, "Whose is this horse?" "It was sent to your Majesty by the Count of Opsikion," was the reply. The Count of the Opsikian Theme, who happened to be in the city at the time, was summoned and confronted next day with the claimant, a soldier of his own army, who charged him with having appropriated the animal without giving any consideration either in money or military promotion. The lame excuses of the Count did not serve; he was chastised with stripes, and the horse offered to its rightful owner. This man, however, preferred to receive 2 pounds of gold (£86, 8s.) and military promotion; he proved a coward and was slain in battle with his back to the enemy.2 Another anecdote is told of the Emperor's indignation on
1 Simeon, Add. Georg. 793.
2 lb. 803. The story is told otherwise in Cont. Th. 93.
discovering that a great merchant vessel, which he descried with admiration sailing into the harbour of Bucoleon, was the property of Theodora, who had secretly engaged in mercantile speculation. "What!" he exclaimed, "my wife has made me, the Emperor, a merchant !" He commanded the ship and all its valuable cargo to be consigned to the flames.1
These tales, whatever measure of truth may underlie them, redounded to the credit of Theophilus in the opinion of those who repeated them; they show that he was a popular figure in Constantinople, and that his memory, as of a just ruler, was revered by the next generation. We can accept without hesitation the tradition of his accessibility to his subjects in his weekly progresses to Blachernae, and it is said that he lingered on his way in the bazaars, systematically examining the wares, especially the food, and inquiring the prices.2 He was doubtless assiduous also in presiding at the Imperial court of appeal, which met in the Palace of Magnaura, here following the examples of Nicephorus and Leo the Armenian.
The desirability of such minute personal supervision of the administration may have been forced on Theophilus by his own observations during his father's reign, and he evidently attempted to cross, so far as seemed politic, those barriers which hedged the monarch from direct contact with the life of the people. As a rule, the Emperor was only visible to the ordinary mass of his subjects when he rode in solemn pomp through the city to the Holy Apostles or some other church, or when he appeared to watch the public games from his throne in the Hippodrome. The regular, unceremonial ride of Theophilus to Blachernae was an innovation, and if it did not afford him the opportunities of overhearing the gossip of the town which Harun al-Rashid is said by the story-tellers to have obtained by nocturnal expeditions in disguise, it may have helped a discerning eye to some useful information.
The political activity of Theophilus seems to have been directed to the efficient administration of the existing laws and the improvement of administrative details; his govern
1 Gen. 75; told differently and with more elaboration in Cont. Th. 88.
2 Cont. Th. 87.
3 Cp. ib. 88 ἐν κριτηρίοις.
4 For the new Themes which he instituted, see below, Chap. VII. § 2.
ment was not distinguished by novel legislation or any radical reform. His laws have disappeared and left no visible traces-like almost all the Imperial legislation between the reigns of Leo III. and Basil I.1 Of one important enactment we are informed. The law did not allow marriage except between orthodox Christians.2 But there was a large influx, during his reign, of orientals who were in rebellion against the Caliph, and Theophilus, to encourage the movement, passed a law permitting alliance between Mohammadan "Persians' and Romans.* This measure accorded with his reputation for being a friend of foreigners."
One of the first measures of the reign was an act of policy, performed in the name of justice. According to one account" the people had gathered in the Hippodrome to witness horseraces, and at the end of the performance the Emperor assembled the Senate in the Kathisma, from which he witnessed the games, and ordered Leo Chamaidrakon, the Keeper of the Private Wardrobe, to produce the chandelier which had been broken when Leo V. was cut down by his murderers in the chapel of the Palace. Pointing to this, Theophilus asked, "What is the desert of him who enters the temple of the Lord and slays the Lord's anointed?" The Senate replied, "Death," and the Emperor immediately commanded the Prefect of the City to seize the men who had slain Leo and decapitate them in the Hippodrome before the assembled people. The astonished
1 A law concerning the fashion of wearing the hair is attributed to him in Cont. Th. 107. His own hair was thin, and he decreed (ééσπɩσEV and vóμov ¿¿élεто) that no Roman should allow his hair to fall below the neck, alleging the virtuous fashion of the ancient Romans. Such an edict is grossly improbable. We may suspect that he introduced a regulation of the kind in regard to soldiers; and some light is thrown on the matter by an anecdote (recorded about A.D. 845-847) in Acta 42 Mart. Amor. 24-25. Kallistos, a count of the Schools (i.e., captain of a company in the Scholarian Guards), presented himself to the Emperor with long untidy hair and beard (αὐχμηρᾷ τινι κόμῃ καὶ ἀφιλοκάλῳ γενειάδι). Theophilus very naturally administered a severe rebuke to the officer, and ordered him to be