Chapter 7: The Mediterranean split, Italy broken in two, and awaiting the year 1000, Armageddon


7.1 Splinters of Holy Western Empire and the conversion of the new Barbarians

At his death, Charles divided the empire into three segments, which soon fell also apart due to further breakups of the kingdoms and wars between the growing number of heirs. In the eastern part, the different kingdoms joined up at the turn of the tenth century and the common Germanic language helped to hold them together. There was dual engine at work there: different duchies gained force and power, but none of them proclaimed independence or to be a kingdom. A string of German kings (Conrad I, Henry the Fowler) ruled with difficulty, but held it together until Otto I came to power in 937.

In the western part, the breakup of the Carolingian Empire, like that of the Roman Empire centuries earlier, invited invasions and raids by external foes. The Atlantic and northern shores were assailed by a new enemy, the Vikings, who had attacked the British Isles and settled there and in Iceland. In 911, the Viking chieftain Rollo (died c. 931) received permission from the Frankish King Charles the Simple (who reigned 898–922) to settle in what became Normandy, literally the Land of the Northern men, as Vikings called themselves. It was a thinly veiled conquest: territory in return for peace[1], proof of the weakness of the Frankish kings and the new power of the Vikings who descend into Italy from their French base.

The Franks could not hold northern Spain or Italy against the raids of the Saracens, although the breakup of the Abbasid Dynasty meant that the Islamic world was fragmented into smaller states unable to exercise the force of earlier times.

An important development came when the eastern parts of the Frankish kingdoms, especially Germany and Italy, were under continual assault by the Magyars, people of Turkic descent who had established a large area of control in the Central European steppes. The Magyars were at last defeated by the Christian German kingdoms at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. The victory was crucial to bring about the 962 coronation of Otto I (936–973) as Holy Roman emperor. This restarted a period of development in Europe. In 972, Otto secured recognition of his title by the Byzantine Empire. It was a very important political pact sealed with the marriage of his son Otto II (who reigned 967–983) to Theophanu (died 991), daughter of an earlier Byzantine Emperor Romanos II (who reigned 959–963). It was also a recognition of the importance of the Byzantine Empire, which was efficiently countering the Arabs on all fronts, with Asia, Africa, and Italy and withstanding the pressure of the Bulgarians in the Balkans. By the late tenth century, Italy fell into the Ottonian sphere after a period of instability in part because after the experience of Charlemagne it was clear that influence over the pope was crucial for legitimizing imperial power. Otto III (who reigned 996–1002) spent much of his later reign in the peninsula[2].

Yet the emperor had only limited power and the dukes controlled most of the actual administration, something that would bear poisonous fruits in the future. But the compromise of power between the emperor and the dukes was the centerpiece of the establishment of Otto as emperor—a great compromiser, drawing pacts with the Byzantine emperor, the dukes, and the pope.

Most importantly, driven by a missionary spirit, the pope also focused on the conversion of heathens in Europe. This missionary work more than anything brought Europe together, gave different people a common ideal, and was the beginning of a common identity. This effort gave the pope a power and role that went well beyond the fetters the Western or the Eastern emperors tried to impose on him. In more than one way, the pope could call on his religious authority over many distant people to restrain closer powers. On the other hand, the expansion of the Christian missions and the spread of Christianity among the invaders tamed the violence of the new Barbarians, who could see that “civilization” was brought to them without them having to invade and topple existing kingdoms. Missionary work also brought some security to the Christian kingdoms, although it weakened the pressure they could put on the pope. This lesson was extremely important for the church, as it attempted to restart the efforts with different goals and in a different context in the 16th century after Luther started his reform movement.

Missionary work spread knowledge to the backwards places of Europe. Missionary efforts in Scandinavia during the ninth and tenth centuries helped strengthen the growth of kingdoms such as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, which gained shape, structure, and thus power and territory. Some, although not all, kings converted to Christianity by 1000. The Scandinavians also expanded throughout Europe. Besides the settlements in Ireland, England, and Normandy, further settlement took place in what became Russia and in Iceland. Swedish traders and raiders ranged down the rivers of the Russian steppe and even attempted to seize Constantinople in 860 and 907[3].

Even missionary work came from two directions: Rome and Constantinople. Northern Europe and Scandinavia was “covered” by priests of Latin tradition, whereas the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Russia was the preserve of pastors of Greek tradition. Missionary efforts by both Eastern and Western clergy resulted in the conversion of the Moravians, Bulgars, Bohemians, Poles, Magyars, and Slavic inhabitants of the Kievan Rus’. These conversions contributed to the founding of political states in the lands of those peoples—the states of Moravia, Bulgaria, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, and the Kievan Rus’[4]. Bulgaria, which was founded around 680, at its height reached from Budapest to the Black Sea and from the Dnieper River in modern Ukraine to the Adriatic Sea. By 1018, the last Bulgarian nobles had surrendered to the Byzantine Empire.

The different missionary traditions were also reflected in the spread of different scripts. In western and northern Europe, the new kingdoms adopted the Latin alphabet; in Central and Eastern Europe, they adopted an alphabet derived from Greek and adapted to the sounds of those languages by Saints Cyril and Methodius, the ninth-century Byzantine brothers credited with inventing what is now the Russian alphabet (called Cyrillic) and translating the Bible into the old Slavonic language.

At the same time, even without the support of the Frankish kingdoms, the local Spanish kingdom managed to wrest the independence of two northern kingdoms, Asturias and Leon, that expanded slowly south during the ninth and tenth centuries[5].

Most importantly, during this century of relative downward spiral in the west, in Eastern Europe, Byzantium revived its fortunes under Emperor Basil I (who reigned 867–886) and his successors Leo VI (who reigned 886–912) and Constantine VII (who reigned 913–959), members of the Macedonian Dynasty. Commerce picked up, pouring through the seams of different, competing Muslim kingdoms, and the emperors oversaw the extension of a uniform administration to all the provinces. The military was reorganized, which allowed the emperors John I (who reigned 969–976) and Basil II (who reigned 976–1025) to expand the frontiers of the empire on all fronts. The imperial court was the center of a revival of classical learning, a process known later as the Macedonian Renaissance. But this came also with an enormous push against Islam, which seemed to have lost its initial military drive.

7.2 The Byzantine resurgence and the battle for the south of Italy

Unlike the once mighty Persian Empire, the Byzantines managed to withstand the massive Arab advance, and between 780 and 824, the Arabs and Byzantines settled into border skirmishes, with Arab raids into Anatolia repaid in kind by Byzantine raids that “stole” Christian subjects of the Abbasid Caliphate and forcibly settled them into the Anatolian farmlands to increase the population (and hence provide more farmers, income, taxes, and soldiers). The situation changed with the rise to power of emperor Michael II in 820 (died 929). Forced to deal with the rebel Thomas the Slav, Michael had few troops to spare against a small Arab invasion of 40 ships and 10,000 men against Crete, which fell in 824[6]. This deprived the Byzantines of a central base in the Mediterranean, which had been extremely important to threaten Cyprus on the east and Sicily and the Greek coasts on the west. A Byzantine counterattack in 826 failed miserably. Worse still was the invasion of Sicily in 827 by Arabs of Tunis. Even so, Byzantine resistance in Sicily was fierce and not without success while the Arabs quickly became plagued by internal squabbles. That year, the Arabs were expelled from the island—although they would later return.

In 829, Theophilos succeeded his father, Michael II, and managed to have mixed results in his fight against his Arab opponents. In 830 the Arabs returned to Sicily and after a year-long siege, took Palermo, and for the next 200 years were to remain there to complete their conquest[7]. The Abbasids meanwhile attempted to invade Anatolia in 830, which was met with fierce resistance by the Byzantines and did not yield much territory until Theophilos passed away in 842.

This started a process of re-conquest. The Byzantine force pushed back beyond the Anatolian peninsula, taking on the Melitine in what is now eastern Turkey and toppling the Arab rule in Armenia. And although they failed to win back Crete, they destroyed the Arab fleet in Damietta. After the ninth century, the Arabs would never be in a dominant position in the east, which used to be their political heartland.

Things went differently in Italy. Messina and Enna fell in 842 and 859, respectively, and this encouraged Arabs to take Bari in 847, establishing the Emirate of Bari, which would last until 871. In invading southern Italy, the Arabs attracted the attention of the Frankish powers to the north. Crete was crucial for the war, as it would cut Byzantine supply lines, but internal squabbles in the court prevented a full attack.

The Byzantine military offensive went back into full swing after 867. Basil I managed to score victories in the Euphrates valley in the east, and in the west the Saracens were driven out of the Dalmatian coast in 873 and Bari fell back to the Byzantines in 876. However, Syracuse was conquered in 878 by the recently established Sicilian Emirate. At the same time the emperor regained Taranto and much of Calabria by 880, thus thwarting further Arab advances in continental Italy. Still, Taormina fell to the Arabs in 902. Constantinople was under siege on all fronts. The Bulgars invaded Thrace in 912, and there were problems with the regency of the new emperor, seven-year-old Constantine VII. Instability in the empire was solved some ten years later, when the new able general John Kourkouas campaigned against the Saracens until 950, pushing them back on many fronts. He consolidated conquests of the eastern part of modern Turkey and Armenia, and went as far as Edessa, well into Mesopotamia. The policy was to keep peace with the Bulgars on the west through diplomacy while fighting the Arabs in the east. The use of diplomacy was also possibly because the Bulgars, both those in the south and those in the northern area gathered around Kiev, were slowly converting to Christianity. In the meantime further efforts into the Euphrates area proved ineffective, as Byzantine forces were defeated and stopped in their eastern advance in 958. The empire failed then to break the territorial continuity of eastern and western Islamic kingdoms.

A year later, the new emperor Romanos II turned his attention to the Mediterranean. The Byzantine Empire was controlling the northeast, whereas the Arabs were firmly in the south and west, from Spain to Africa, through Sicily and Crete. This would threaten the Byzantine territory in Italy, and the pope, the source of religious legitimacy for the empire, could himself soon end up like the once-powerful patriarchs of Egypt or Syria, hostage to the local emir. There were economic reasons: Arabs would trade directly with kingdoms of Europe, bypassing the Byzantines.

In 960, after a bitter siege that had lasted eight months and all through winter, the Byzantines conquered Crete. After that the Byzantines went on a campaign in Asia Minor, and in Cilicia about 55 walled cities were returned to Byzantine control. The emir of Aleppo, in modern Syria, was left defeated and soon became a Byzantine vassal, although still Islamic. In 965 Tarsus fell, followed by Cyprus that same year. In 969, the city of Antioch, the symbolic site of one of the most important patriarchs of Christianity, was retaken by the Byzantines. Yet Byzantine success was not total; in 964 Byzantines failed to retake Sicily.

But it was a time of Byzantine resurgence and overall Arabs were on the defensive, unable to mount a systematic attack. The retake of Antioch and the absence of other large Christian powers put the Byzantines back at the center political stage.

The Byzantine centrality was further proven by the fact that they held out against the Fatimid Caliphate, which overwhelmed the badly shaken Abbasids, themselves under pressure from the Turkic Seljuks coming from the east. Emperor John I Tzimiskes pushed back the Shiite Fatimid, and Syria, Lebanon, and much of Palestine fell to the imperial armies of Byzantium in 975. In all of this the holy city of Jerusalem remained in Arab hands. Neither did the Byzantine push for Arab capital of Baghdad succeed, although in those years they had a chance. By now anyway it was clear that religion was no longer the main dividing line for the empire. The emperor had a Muslim vassal, the emir of Aleppo, and Christian foes, the Bulgars from the northwest, who although Christians had set up a church that answered to their king and not to the emperor. In the following years, until the turn of the millennium, the Byzantines fought a new Bulgarian threat, forced them to accept Christian unity, and also pushed back the Fatimid attack against their vassal in Aleppo, going as far as Tripoli in modern Lebanon and de facto becoming almost the arbiter in a religious fight still raging in Islam of old Sunni emirs against new Shiite Fatimid.

The feat of these victories awed the recently reestablished Holy Western emperor, who, as we saw, ran to seek the imperial recognition, and thus formally submitting himself to Constantinople.

7.3 The reform of the Eastern Empire leading to its resurgence and crisis

The resurgence of the Byzantine Empire in the tenth and 11th centuries had its basis in the extensive administrative and political reform of the themes first brought about in the seventh century. The first themes were created from the areas of encampment of the field armies of the Eastern Roman army, and their names corresponded to the military units that had existed in those areas. It was only at the end of the eighth century that the civil fiscal administration was beginning to be organized around them, instead of following the old provincial system of Roman times[8]. This process, resulting in unified control over both military and civil affairs of each theme by its strategos (general) was complete by the mid-ninth century and is the “classical” thematic model mentioned in such classical works as the Klētorologion and the De Administrando Imperio. The issue to be addressed was creating a strong tie between military and civil needs that would protect the interests of the small landowners against the pervasive activity of large and powerful landlords and motivate small farmers in defense against aggression of foreign forces. The system was clearly copied from the early Roman colonies, where the soldiers of the legion would be compensated for their service with a lot of land in a distant country, and they would defend their land. The system was improved and applied systematically, breaking what had become a problem in the imperial administration after the times of Diocletian in the fourth century: the constant conflicting interests of civil and military officials.

The system was applied systematically in all the empire in order to protect the Anatolian heartland from Arab raids and make local agriculture more efficient. To secure the border areas, moreover smaller themes were created in the later eighth and early ninth centuries, the kleisourarchiai (“defiles, enclosures”). The term was previously used to signify strategically important, fortified mountain passages and was now expanded to entire districts that formed separate commands under a kleisourarchēs, tasked with guerrilla warfare and locally countering small- to mid-scale incursions and raids. Gradually, most of these were elevated to full themes.

With the beginning of the Byzantine offensives in the east and in the Balkans in the tenth century, newly gained territories were also incorporated into themes, although these were generally smaller than the original themes established in the seventh and eighth centuries[9]. Each theme was able to provide a variable number of soldiers, depending on their size and the productivity of its land. At this time, a new class of themes—the so-called “minor” or “Armenian” themes—appear, which Byzantine sources clearly differentiate from the traditional “great” or “Roman” themes. Most consisted merely of a fortress and its surrounding territory, with a junior strategos as a commander and about 1,000 men, chiefly infantry, as their garrison. As their name reveals, they were mostly populated by Armenians, either indigenous or settled there by the Byzantine authorities.

While well suited for defense, the “Armenian” themes were incapable of responding to major invasions or undertake sustained offensive campaigns on their own. Thus, from the 960s, more and more professional regiments were stationed along the border. That is, these themes were prevailing military forces but without economic basis, and they had to rely on central support for sustenance. They thus put a new stress on the empire’s finances. Moreover their prevailing military goals gave the border generals an unbalanced power, sometimes greater than their colleagues in the interior, although these received less resources and contributed more to the wealth of the empire.

The themes, while effective instruments for defense and optimizing wealth production, constrained expansion drives during the time of great victories in the tenth century. Newly conquered lands could not be rapidly incorporated into the theme system. The old Roman imperial system conquered kingdoms and took them in wholesale under the military-command system of the imperial emperor while respecting the local customs, laws, and administrations. The new theme system conversely immediately reorganized the newly occupied territories. To command them as well as coordinate the forces of the small frontier themes, a number of large regional commands (“ducates” or “catepanates”) were established. In the east, the three original commands, set up by John Tzimiskes, were those of the dukes of Antioch, Chaldia, and Mesopotamia. As Byzantium expanded into Greater Armenia in the early 11th century, these were complemented or replaced by the commands of Iberia, Vaspurakan, Edessa, and Ani. In the same vein, the “Armenian” themes seem to have been placed under a single strategos in the mid-11th century.

The efficiency of the themes and the conquests led to a situation where by 1025 Byzantium was more powerful than any of its enemies. At the same time, the mobile, professional forces of the tagmata gained in importance over the old thematic armies (and fleets) of the interior, which soon began to be neglected. Indeed, from the early 11th century military service was increasingly commuted to cash payments.

While the frontier ducates were able to meet most local threats, the dissolution of the old theme-based defense deprived the Byzantine defensive system of any strategic depth. Coupled with increasing reliance on foreign mercenaries and the forces of allied and vassal states, as well as the revolts and civil wars resulting from the widening rift between the civilian bureaucracy in Constantinople and the land-holding military elites, by the time of the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when Byzantines were beaten by Turks, the Byzantine army was already undergoing a severe crisis and collapsed completely in the battle’s aftermath.

At the end the structure of the themes had been emptied. The landlords had deprived the themes’ farmers of most of their land, a small group of some 150 families controlled most of the power and resources in Byzantium, farmers had no stake in defending the empire, and this in turn brought a great reliance on mercenaries.

To reform the system, in the 12th century the empire tried to learn from the feudal system that was dominating part of northern Europe with the system of the pronoia[10]. Land was given to a general to manage, but he didn’t own it and at his death it had to be returned to the state. The farmers also had land to farm on behalf of the general and had to swear allegiance to him. While preventing a further encroachment by the landlords, the new system de facto alienated both the generals and the farmers, who felt no intimate interest in the defense of land that didn’t belong to them.

7.4 The rise of the Turks, the start of the decline of the Byzantines, and the arrival of the Normans in southern Italy

At the turn of the millennium, after about three centuries of very bitter battle, the Arabs were beaten and Christian Roman imperial leadership looked triumphant once again. The Eastern Roman Empire had not made huge territorial gains, but the Islamic threat was on the defensive, both the Sunni Abbasid and the new Shia Fatimid power.

In northern Europe, after the brief reign of Charlemagne and his coronation, there was no match for the power of the Byzantines, who were the only power in southern Italy with influence over Rome and providing a barrier to the Arabs, firmly established in Sicily.

The new Barbarians from the north, the Bulgars from Kiev and Thracia, were beaten and reduced to recognizing the centrality of the empire. Byzantium then, even if it did not actually expand its territory managed to establish the centrality of its power in all directions, some kind of hegemony over the split Islamic caliphates stretching from Syria to Spain, Germanic northern Europeans, and Slavic eastern kingdoms. It had regained a pivotal role in the Mediterranean, with the control of Cyprus, Crete, and southern Italy, and thus it was the central player in a very complicated moment when no single power could claim supremacy over another.

With a mix of clever diplomacy, forceful military action, care to not over-stretch its forces, and better economic resources thanks to improved administration of land estates in the hands of the state, Byzantium then had reaffirmed itself in the central of the Mediterranean. It was the political and economic bridge between north and south, east and west, speaking to Christians under Christian or Islamic rulers.

This came tumbling down rapidly with the arrival on the scene of two new political actors between the 11th and 12th centuries: the Seljuks in the east and the Normans in the west.

The Seljuks were the first to stop the Byzantine offensive at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. Possibly, as Luttwak argues[11], the battle was almost an accident: the Byzantine forces made huge tactical mistakes and gave space to the Turkic Seljuks, who before the fight may have been intimidated by the Byzantine might.

The Seljuks were not interested in invading the Byzantine Empire, and after the battle they returned the captured Byzantine emperor without ransom. Their sights were on the Fatimid and Abbasid Caliphates and they needed a benign neutrality from Byzantium. But the signal was soon clear: the resurgence of the empire was being checked, and Byzantium was back again in the throes of its worst enemy: palace squabbles and intrigues, where one faction would ally itself with the enemy just to defeat an enemy faction.

The political picture in Asia Minor was rapidly changing and the new power of the Turkish Seljuks, who were to soon adopt the Persian language and habits, was gaining momentum.

“First, the Seljuk offensive against the Fatimids gave them Jerusalem by 1071, but in the ensuing chaos the Holy Land became insecure for Western pilgrims evoking, along with any other set of causes one wishes to assert, the crusading movement in western Europe. Twenty six years after Manzikert in 1097, the fighters of the First Crusade arrived, just as lusty for war as any Turkoman raider or Ghazi holy warrior. They arrived to rapidly conquer western Anatolia on their way to distant Antioch and the Holy Land.

“Second, civil war in Byzantium was an exercise in the survival of the fittest, and Alexios Komnenos (1081–1118), the winner in the decade-long contest that followed the deposition of Romanus, was certainly a talented man fit to rebuild a devastated empire, ruling successfully for 37 years.

“Third, the core of the Seljuk Empire was Iran and Alp Arslan’s priority was evidently to control of the adjacent region of Central Asia—it was on the Oxus River (Amu Daria) between modern Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan that Alp Arslan was killed in 1072 outliving his Manzikert victory by only one year.

“Moreover, the Seljuk exposure to the chronic instability of the great steppe would have disastrous consequences: in the Qatwan steppe near Samarkand, the Seljuk sultan Sinjar lost an army on September 9, 1141, at the hands of the Qara Xitay.” [12]

Shortly before this time the empire was being weakened in the west, in Italy, where Normans coming from their bases in northern France were wresting southern Italy from both the Arabs and the Byzantines. This conquest proved to the pope of Rome, the Italians, the Arabs, and the northern Europeans, that they were the real new power in the Mediterranean.

They had come to southern Italy in small groups since the late tenth century as raiders and mercenaries[13], but soon came to find a political space of their own, battling everybody but keeping good ties with the pope.

In a war that stretched as a series of campaigns from 1050 to 1071, the Normans expelled the Byzantines from most of southern Italy, and at the same time, in 1060, they started to take Sicily from the Arabs, ending their conquest in 1091. By the turn of the 12th century they were firmly in control of all of southern Italy, from Abruzzi to Sicily, stopping only with the Papal States. Moreover, the Normans crossed the sea and beat the Byzantines in Illyria, between what is modern northern Greece and Albania. They also conquered Malta and parts of North Africa.

They thus proved to the world they were the real power in Italy, stronger than the Byzantines or the Arabs. The advance of the Normans in southern Italy was then supported and encouraged by the pope, who in 1054 had split with the church of Constantinople: The Normans were the sword of the pope, and Constantinople was unable to reaffirm its power over either the Muslims or western Christians.

7.5 The great East-West schism and its complicated and ancient roots

Relations between the Eastern and Western churches had been fraught with problems for centuries. Differences rose and subsided at times over several issues of theological and jurisdictional nature. The question of the filioque, the nature of the son in the trinity, as we saw, was central, but there was a very practical issue over the place and the powers of Rome and Constantinople in the ancient system of the five important patriarchates (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria).

The Arab conquest and the weakening of the Eastern Empire had tragically changed the ancient system. First, three of the five patriarchs (Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria) now lived under Muslim rulers and their communications with Constantinople and Rome were heavily hindered, as religious exchanges were suspected of bearing political significance. Their prestige and theological weight was similarly weakened, as their social and political life was constrained. The three patriarchs under the Arab caliphs were free to practice but their evangelical and research activities were at least de facto if not de jure limited, and they could not leverage any political clout behind them, as they used to before the Islamic conquest.

Moreover, the power of the two remaining holy sees became more directly intertwined with different political realities. In Constantinople ties between the emperor and the patriarch became almost symbiotic as each side relied on the other to reinforce one another. In Rome, the popes learned to balance different powers while surviving on their growing estates and limited but independent military forces. Moreover, the extraordinary feat of the Frankish halt of the Islamic advance in France and Spain and the establishment of the Holy Empire in 800 gave greater confidence to Rome, especially if one considered the difficulties of the Eastern Empire in the ninth century vis-à-vis the growing Arab control of the Mediterranean and the push against Constantinople by the newly Christianized Bulgars, which in large measure looked like a second Frankish conversion.

Rome, to survive, might go and bet on the converted Barbarians, be they Germanic like the Franks or Slavic like the Bulgars, rather than on the weakening Greek Byzantines. Of course, this attitude of Rome was easily considered a betrayal by the imperial Romans who for over three centuries had been the bulwark of the Christian faith against the old heathens and the new Muslims.

The first bitter power clash between Rome and Constantinople came in the middle of the ninth century with what came to be called Photian Schism. Then the empire was under the double pressures of Muslim Arabs and Christian Bulgars, and Rome could rely on the fragmented yet very present Frankish kings from northern Europe.

The religious spark for the schism started in 858 when Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople was deported by Emperor Michael III, suspected of scheming with his uncle who controlled Bardas and was a challenger to the imperial power[14]. At that point the layman Photius was elected patriarch and consecrated bishop within one week, contrary to the canonical rules but not without precedent. One of the consecrating bishops was Gregory Asbestos of Syracuse in Sicily—close and possibly threatening to Rome—whom Ignatius had condemned and deposed. When some bishops and most of the monasteries refused to recognize him, Photius held a synod in 859 that declared Ignatius no longer patriarch.

The year after, in 860, Michael III invited Pope Nicholas I to send legates to a council in Constantinople that would further elucidate Catholic doctrine on icons, an important issue for the faith, as we saw that some of the Eastern monks had been supporting the doctrine against the cult of the icons, similar to the Muslim idea of the image of God (Islam forbids imagery of God). The cult of icons was then restored, but the church had to find its unity again with the new doctrine. The fact that these councils were held in Constantinople, the imperial seat, proves the weight of Constantinople at the time in comparison to that of Rome.

The pope decided to send legates and wrote to Photius, expressing satisfaction at his orthodox profession of faith, yet reproving his hurried un-canonical consecration and leaving further considerations open. Exceeding their powers and perhaps under pressure from the imperial court, in 861 the papal legates took part in a synod at Constantinople that ruled in favor of Photius. Pope Nicholas I eventually disowned their choice, and in 863 held a synod of his own in Rome, which annulled the proceedings of the 861 synod, condemned Photius and reinstated Ignatius. The emperor stepped in with a strongly worded letter to the pope and declared in 865 that he was ready to reopen the case.

At this stage, rivalry erupted also in relation to the Bulgars, whose khan had accepted Christianity from the Byzantines after a short war that resulted in his conversion. The Bulgars requested a separate patriarch, evidently to enhance their autonomy from Constantinople, but to avoid greater separation, Photius refused. Then Khan Boris I invited in Latin missionaries. As the emperor feared an advance of the Franks close to his capital, Photius invited the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem to meet in Constantinople and pounce on this “encroachment” of Latin missionaries in the Balkans, formerly part of the Constantinople patriarchy. This 867 synod took the grave step of condemning Pope Nicholas as a heretic and declaring him deposed[15]. Then Khan Boris I approached Pope Nicholas and further complicated issues. However, possibly also considering a delicate balance, the pope refused to appoint Formosus as archbishop of Bulgaria, and the khan once again turned to Byzantium, who granted Bulgaria autocephalous status.

The delicate political and jurisdictional clash was resolved by independent events. Pope Nicholas died before news of all of this reached Rome. In the same year, Emperor Michael III was killed, and his murderer and successor Basil I deposed Photius, re-replacing him with Ignatius. Their successors, the new pope and the Constantinople patriarch reestablished communion, thus ending the schism, though not the disputes between the two sees.

All of this friction was not washed away, and it was still present almost two centuries later. Then, the resurgence of the Byzantine power emboldened the imperial support for the patriarch’s clout on religious issues. It was a way to underscore the imperial influence when the Byzantines were on the offensive, as we saw, from Asia Minor to southern Italy. It was a good time to bring Rome back within the imperial embrace. The ancient patriarch of Antioch, had come back within imperial sovereignty, that of Jerusalem, just a few miles away. And Alexandria was now under the “more liberal” Shiite Fatimids. Rome could fold easily. But this proved more difficult than anticipated, also because of the unexpected arrival of Normans and the Seljuks.

7.6 The new political centrality of the pope and lingering doctrinal differences between the Latins and Greeks

Problems in Rome had simmered for centuries, yet the opening salvo for what was to become a permanent schism between the Eastern and Western churches came from Constantinople in 1053. The religious schism, as the following events proved, brought a lasting fracture between two intertwined branches of the western tradition, the Latin and the Greek traditions. This fracture was further complicated by interventions from Russia (which was later to claim to be the third Rome) and the Muslim world on the Greek side and Germanic northern Europe near to Rome.

In 1053, Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius ordered the closure of all Latin churches in Constantinople[16], thus making more difficult attempts at conciliation. The year after, a papal legate traveled to Constantinople to argue against Cerularius title as “ecumenical patriarch” (thus openly head of all Christianity) and insisting that he should conversely recognize Rome’s claim to be the head and mother of the churches[17]. The main purpose of the papal legation however was political: to seek help from the Byzantine emperor in view of the Norman conquest of southern Italy and to deal with recent attacks by theologian Leo of Ohrid against the use of unleavened bread at mass (the Eastern Church supported the use of leavened bread as a “symbol” of the presence of Christ in the eucharist). These attacks had the support of Cerularius. On the refusal of Cerularius to accept the demand, the leader of the legation, Cardinal Humbert, excommunicated him, and in return Cerularius excommunicated Cardinal Humbert. The papal legates departed abruptly, leaving a message from the pope with the patriarch. The patriarch thereafter refused to recognize their status as legates.

There were many technical issues that were unclear at the time and led to confusion and reasons to halt reconciliations over the centuries. When Pope Leo died on April 19, 1054, the legates’ authority perhaps legally ceased, but they effectively ignored this technicality. Still, the legates entered the church of Hagia Sophia during the liturgy and deposited a bull of excommunication on the altar. At the time of the excommunications, many contemporary historians, including Byzantine chroniclers, did not consider the event significant[18]. There was no single occasion that marked the breakdown. Rather, the two churches slid into and out of schism over a period of several centuries, punctuated with temporary reconciliations.

The primary causes of the schism were disputes over conflicting claims of jurisdiction, in particular over papal authority—Pope Leo IX claimed he held authority over the four Eastern patriarchs—and over the insertion of the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Western patriarch in 1014. The Eastern Orthodox Church today states that the 28th Canon of the Council of Chalcedon explicitly proclaimed the equality of the bishops of Rome and Constantinople and that it established the highest court of ecclesiastical appeal in Constantinople[19].

Many other issues increased tensions.

Theologically, there had been the iconoclast policy enforced by a series of decrees of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian in 726–729, which was resisted in the West, giving rise to friction that ended in 787, when the Second Council of Nicaea reaffirmed that images are to be venerated, but not worshipped.

Then the Western Church’s insertion of Filioque into its Latin version of the Nicene Creed (accepted in Rome in 1014) was objected to as done without holding a council or obtaining consent from the Eastern Church. Besides, Rome and Constantinople disputed ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Balkans, southern Italy, and Sicily, which politically were under Constantinople but geographically were closer to Rome.

There were also political issues. The Byzantine Empire was a theocracy: the emperor was the supreme authority in both church and state. “The king is not God among men but the Viceroy of God. He is not the logos incarnate but is in a special relation with the logos. He has been specially appointed and is continually inspired by God, the friend of God, the interpreter of the word of God. His eyes look upward, to receive the messages of God. He must be surrounded with the reverence and glory that befits God’s earthly copy; and he will ‘frame his earthly government according to the pattern of the divine original, finding strength in its conformity with the monarchy of God’.”[20] Contrary to that, in the west, where the decline of imperial authority left the church relatively independent, there was growth of the power of the papacy. Moreover, with the Muslim conquest controversies between the four Eastern patriarchies had given Rome the role of a neutral mediator, thus enhancing its religious role. This role was not totally shaken until the resurgence of the imperial power in the 11th century stressed the role of the emperor and of “his” patriarch in Constantinople.

Canonically there were disputes and some Western liturgical practices were considered in the East as illegitimate innovations: the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, for example, or the celibacy among Western priests (both monastic and parish), as opposed to the Eastern discipline whereby parish priests could be married men.

Politically the new isolation of the Western Church pushed the pope into the arms of the new local power, the Normans who had arrived in southern Italy at the end of the tenth century and had been expanding their possessions ever since.

7.7 The rise of Norman power in Italy and the west

A radical and unexpected change came to Italy when the Normans established their state in southern Italy. With that, the Normans managed to achieve three things. First they pushed Byzantine power out of southern Italy, ending a power that had been there for over 13 centuries, since the Romans had won over Taranto in the fourth century BC. They also managed to regain Sicily for Christianity, a goal that had escaped the Byzantines. They expanded in North Africa, reached out to the Balkans, and challenged the Papal States. This latter threat had pushed the papal legates to seek the imperial support in 1054, yet since it didn’t come, the popes sided with the Normans.

The conquest started very slowly, as a group of Norman mercenaries were called in to protect pilgrims from bandits in what is now Northern Apulia around the turn of the millennium. Italy, an integral part of the Byzantine Empire, had not been fully organized into the theme system that efficiently had reshaped the administration of the empire in Anatolia and in the eastern Mediterranean. Italy was conversely shaken by small-scale rebellions and banditry, and it was under constant threat from the Arabs, firmly positioned in Sicily. The island, at the center of the Mediterranean, a crucial link between Muslim Spain and the Muslim southeast Mediterranean, was inhabited primarily by Christians under Arab control at the time. It had originally been under the Islamic rule of the Aghlabids and then the Fatimids, but in 948 the Kalbids wrested control of the island and held it until 1053. During the 1010s and 1020s, a series of crises paved the way for interference by the Zirids of Ifriqiya. Sicily was racked by turmoil as petty fiefdoms battled each other for supremacy. Then, the Normans, who had been expanding their power in southern Italy and pushed back the Byzantines with the support of the local population, moved also into Sicily.

The Norman general Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger Bosso came intending to conquer; the pope had conferred on Robert the title of “Duke of Sicily,” encouraging him to seize Sicily from the Saracens. The pope had given up on the support of the Byzantines, for the many religious and political reasons we saw before, and also because in past years the Byzantines had been unable to stop the Norman advance in the south and their threat to the Papal States.

Robert and Roger first invaded Sicily in May of 1061, crossing from Reggio di Calabria and besieging Messina for control of the strategically vital Strait of Messina. Robert immediately fortified the city and allied himself with the emir, Ibn at-Timnah, against his rival, Ibn al-Hawas. Robert, Roger, and at-Timnah then marched into the center of the island. Robert invaded Palermo again in 1071, but only the city fell; its citadel did not fall until January 1072. It took some 20 more years to complete the conquest of Sicily, but by February 1091 Noto yielded at last, and the capture of island was complete. Not only had the Normans achieved what escaped the Byzantines for centuries, despite their century of resurgence, but after Sicily, the Normans went on. In 1091, Roger landed in Malta and subdued it. He imposed taxes on the islands, but allowed the Arab governors to continue their rule. In 1127 Roger II abolished the Muslim government, replacing it with Norman officials.

The Normans achieved this with some good tactical military successes but also with some clever diplomatic and political innovations. The Norman brothers, hindered by Sicily’s hilly terrain and a relatively small army, sought influential, worn-down Muslim leaders to sign the treaties, offering peace and protection for land and titles. The conqueror maintained power over his Greek, Arab, Lombard, and Norman subjects living in Sicily at the time. Plus, whereas Sicily had been so far under the patriarch of Constantinople, the Normans, who had received the papal investiture for the conquest, introduced the Latin rights and brought Sicily and southern Italy directly under Rome. Sees were established in Palermo (with metropolitan authority), Syracuse, and Agrigento. After its elevation to a kingdom by papal authority in 1130, Sicily became the center of Norman power.

In the meantime the Norman offensive didn’t stop at the island. Between 1073 and 1077 they conquered Amalfi and Salerno, two powerful trade harbors dealing with the eastern Mediterranean. They both went on to play a crucial role in the early birth of the Mariners Republics that gave rise to the Renaissance. The Normans also battled the Byzantine out of Apulia and Calabria until roughly 1085, when the old masters were completely expelled from the regions.

It took a few more decades to conquer Naples, which capitulated definitely in 1130, when Roger II of Sicily was crowned king on papal authority and the fief of the Naples part of his kingdom[21]. At the same time, the Norman conquest of southern Italy brought about a gigantic change in the world of the time. A new Catholic kingdom had defeated the two major powers of the past 500 years, both the Arabs and Byzantines. This had political and religious significance.

Rome had so far been a weaker See, under siege by the Muslims and seeking protection from Constantinople. The See’s only hold on power was really that of being the ancient center of the Roman Empire, but the distant emperor of Constantinople had been less inclined to defer to its old authority and, conversely, as we saw, he had a huge sway on religious issues and often overruled over decisions of the pope or the patriarchs. In more than one way, the Arab conquest of the three patriarchal seats (Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem) yielded even more power to Constantinople, the seat of the emperor, which in turn had more power over Rome. Rome was unable to mediate, as it did before, between the other four major seats, and it was without a major political power buttressing its religious clout.

The feat of Charles the Great in 800, which challenged the weakened under Muslim pressure Byzantine power, was unrepeated. The Franks that had stopped the Arab conquest in France and Spain had not managed to push the Byzantines out of Italy and soon proved weak and broke into civil wars. As we saw, even the new German Holy Empire deferred to the authority of the Constantinople emperor. The Norman conquest of the south changed it all giving a greater weight to Rome over Constantinople and the Arabs.

For the first time in over a hundred years, a long consistent period of time, a new power had managed to push back the two political and religious powers of the time. For the first time really since the crisis of the empire in third century, the central Mediterranean was able to express a consistent power over that sea and possibly even project it to the east by breaking the logistic lines of the Arabs, who in Morocco and Spain remained isolated for a little over a decade. Then, from roughly 1135 to 1160, the Normans established a kingdom of Africa, extending over Tunisia, eastern Algeria, and western Libya. The Norman conquest proved ephemeral because the Normans had also overstretched themselves with wars with the Byzantines in the southern Balkans. But overall, the Normans, who were powerful in France and had conquered Britain, proved to Rome and the rising power of the Holy German Empire and its other Christian states in northern Europe that the new western power could beat the Arabs and the Byzantines. The political, military, and religious stage for the Crusades was set.

But before that we have to look back at what had been happening in northern Italy in connection with Germany.

7.8 The foundation of the Holy German Roman Empire

In the tenth century, the former Carolingian Empire had been divided into autonomous stem duchies. The main ones were Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony, and Lotharingia, stretching from the Pyrenees to roughly the area of the Elbe River. The kingdom had no permanent capital city, a sign of lack of central organization[22]. Kings traveled between residences (called kaiserpfalz) to discharge affairs. Each king preferred certain places and kingship continued to be transferred by election, although kings often had their sons elected during their lifetimes, enabling them to keep the crown for their families. All of this indicates a poor administration and the powerful legacy of old German tribal customs.

This started to change in 955, when Otto won a decisive victory over the Magyars in the Battle of Lechfeld. Four years earlier, in 951, Otto came to the aid of Adelaide, the widowed queen of Italy, defeating her enemies, marrying her, and taking control of Italy. Then in 962, Otto was crowned emperor by Pope John XII, thus intertwining the affairs of the German kingdom with those of Italy and the papacy. Otto’s coronation as emperor established the German kings as successors to the empire of Charlemagne, which through the concept of translatio imperii also made them consider themselves as successors to ancient Rome. Additionally, in 963, Otto deposed Pope John XII and chose Pope Leo VIII as the new pope (although John XII and Leo VIII both claimed the papacy until 964, when John XII died).

The idea of translatio imperii was fundamental in that period, as it proved a crucial ideological instrument to justify the new German Empire. The idea originates in Jewish eschatology during the Hellenistic era, with the “four empires” in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, as narrated in the Book of Daniel, chapter 2. In the story, Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream for him to the effect that his own empire “of gold” would be followed by three further empires, of silver, bronze, and iron, respectively, followed by a divided empire partially of iron and partially of clay, leading up to the end times. In the interpretation of the Christian theologian Jerome (c.  347–September 30, 420), the four empires were Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome, with the division of the Roman Empire into the east and west. Later the identity of the fourth empire had to be extended in order to salvage the validity of the prophecy, while removing the need to acknowledge the Byzantine Empire as the legitimate ruler of the known world. This was done by declaring the empire established by the Carolingians as the “Holy Roman Empire,” i.e. a continuation of the fourth and final empire, or an image of the Roman Empire proper.

This also renewed the conflict with the Eastern emperor in Constantinople, especially after Otto’s son Otto II (who reigned 967–83) adopted the designation Imperator Romanorum. Still, Otto formed ties with the East when he married the Byzantine princess Theophanu. Their son, Otto III, focused his attention on Italy and Rome, and employed widespread diplomacy but died young in 1002, to be succeeded by his cousin Henry II, who focused on Germany.

In 996 Gregory V became the first German pope, appointed by his cousin Otto III, who made the appointment shortly after being crowned Holy Roman emperor. A foreign pope and foreign papal officers were seen with suspicion by Roman nobles, who were led by Crescentius II to revolt. Otto III’s former mentor Antipope John XVI briefly held Rome, until the Holy Roman emperor seized the city. This confusion was a sign of German power’ encroaching on Italy and the weakening of Byzantine power there. The new German kings also needed the papal influence to affirm their authority over the other dukes. When Henry II died in 1024, Conrad II became the first of the Salian Dynasty. He was elected king only after some debate among dukes and nobles, which would eventually develop into the college of electors. This changed after the end of the Salian Dynasty in the 12th century, when, with the crucial papal blessing, the emperor skipped the approval of the electors and automatically named his first son the imperial heir. This meant the emperor had to rely on the pope more than on his dukes for power, something that in turn opened a new political and religious conflict between the pope and the growing imperial power.

At the same time, with the collapse of literacy and old Roman administrative structures in the former territories of the Western Roman Empire and the newly Christianized European kingdoms, rulers often employed priests and bishops in administrative affairs and frequently determined who would be appointed to ecclesiastical offices. However the Cluniac Reforms in the tenth century spread a sense clergy as independent from earthly power, with their chain of abbeys and sense of self-reliance. Besides, the papacy was feeling overpowered by the German involvement in papal elections, which as we saw resulted in a German pope in 996. The weakening of the Byzantine power and the growth of the Norman power, reliant on the papacy, gave new leverage to the pope. The reform-minded Pope Gregory VII (1015/1028–May 25, 1085) was determined to oppose such practices.

This led to the Investiture Controversy with King Henry IV (who reigned 1056–1106). It was a crucial question in the political history of the West and the Catholic religion: who had the power to appoint the bishops? The emperor claimed it, as he de facto had exercised this power over the past couple of centuries, and the pope reclaimed the same power, as he was claiming greater independence for him and his church from the secular authority. Henry repudiated the pope’s interference and persuaded his bishops to excommunicate the pope.

The pope, in turn, excommunicated the king, declared him deposed, and dissolved the oaths of loyalty made to Henry. This stirred the opposition of the German dukes, who were also uneasy with new concentration of power of the king. Henry thus found himself with almost no political support and was forced to make the famous Walk to Canossa in 1077, where he begged for forgiveness from the pope, and the pope in return gave him back the royal authority. The pope the achieved the political goal of not only reclaiming his authority over the bishops but also commanding a new authority over the kings because of his shrewd manipulation of the delicate balance of power at the time. The internal situation of the empire had been unhinged. While Henry was excommunicated, the German princes had elected another king, Rudolf of Swabia. Henry managed to defeat him but was subsequently confronted with more uprisings, renewed excommunication, and even the rebellion of his sons.

It was his second son, Henry V, who managed to reach an agreement with both the pope and the bishops in the 1122 Concordat of Worms. Hereby, the king was recognized as having the right to invest bishops with secular authority (“by the lance”) in the territories they governed, but not with sacred authority (“by ring and staff”); the result was that bishops owed allegiance in worldly matters both to the pope and to the king, for they were obligated to affirm the right of the sovereign to call upon them for military support, under his oath of fealty. Previous Holy Roman emperors had thought it their right, granted by God, to name church officials within their territories (such as bishops) and to confirm the papal election (and, at times of extraordinary urgency, actually name popes). This agreement contained the germ of nation-based sovereignty that would one day be confirmed in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) at the end of the Thirty Years’ War.

The political power of the empire was maintained, but the conflict had demonstrated the limits of any ruler’s power, especially in regard to the church, and it robbed the king of the sacred status he had previously enjoyed. Both the pope and the German princes had surfaced as major players in the political system of the empire.

However, after Canossa and before the whole power struggle in Germany was settled, the pope launched the first Crusade in 1095. The new power of the pope may be something difficult to understand from China. The popes had no real army except the minimum requested to peacefully hold the pontiff estate, and de facto his power existed in the delicate balance of many political powers in Europe and in the Mediterranean. The pope first sided with the dukes against the German emperor, and then with the German emperor against the dukes; with the Normans versus the Byzantines, and then the opposite, et cetera.

Although the pope had no real power and no army to field, his authority was significant enough to tip the delicate balance and so he could position himself at a higher rung than before. The schism with Constantinople had left the pope deprived of the old political patronage that had the church positioned as the special ruling religion of the Roman Empire and the kingdoms that came after its breakup. Yet in the decades after the schism the network of abbeys, the religious reforms, and the fight over the investiture of the monumental Pope Gregory VII had proved to the church it could stand by itself. It didn’t need any political patronage, and in fact it could be an independent international power lending or withdrawing authority right and left and thus be above the fray. The pope was the ultimate referee of this international order, and as we saw, this lasted until the rise of Westphalia in the 17th century. In a way, the role of the pope also prevented any single Christian power from prevailing over the others, yet Christianity was in theory united in its battle against Islam. This was true only in theory, however. There was unity and division in Christianity, a feature that lasted until Luther and Lepanto, two events that marked a break. With the Reformation, when Christians fought each other, Protestant Christians were willing to side with the Turks against fellow Christians on an unprecedented scale.

7.9 The First Crusade and the projection of papal power over the whole Mediterranean

In 1095, the pope was in a position of unprecedented power and influence. He had managed to bend the power of the German emperor over the issue of the investiture of the bishops, he had backed the Normans, and pushed back both Byzantines and Arabs in the south and even in the Balkans. Other Normans, cousins of his Italian allies, had conquered Britain and large swathes of France. The Catholic faith was on the rise vis-à-vis Islam, as was Greek Christianity, which had separated itself over theological issues about the trinity. In the meantime, the Byzantine resurgence had come to a halt, stemmed by internal strife and the rise of the Seljuk power in the east. This was the beginning of the turn of the tide of power between the Christians in the Mediterranean.

The First Crusade was launched on November 27, 1095 by Pope Urban II with the primary goal of responding to an appeal from Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who requested that Western volunteers come to his aid and help to repel the invading Seljuk Turks from Anatolia. An additional goal soon became the principal objective: the Christian re-conquest of the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the freeing of the eastern Christians from Muslim rule. The request for help and the prompt response of the pope proved that in 1095 there was still a strong bond between Rome and Constantinople, despite the recent religious split, and that Constantinople had a claim of political authority over the west. Yet just the request for help and the result of the crusade was to change this balance of power between the two sides of the former Roman Empire.

Essentially, between the years 1096 and 1101 the Byzantines experienced the crusade as it arrived in Constantinople in three separate waves. In the early summer of 1096, the first large unruly group arrived on the outskirts of Constantinople. It was an undisciplined and ill-equipped as an army and was later often called the Peasants’ or People’s Crusade. It was led by Peter the Hermit and Walter Sans Avoir, who had no knowledge of or respect for the wishes of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenus. This was already a heavy blow to the prestige of the emperor that he had to swallow because of his own predicament and the difficulty of waging a war against people who had come to help him at his own requests.

The second wave[23] was also not under the command of the emperor and was made up of a number of armies with their own commanders. This group and the first wave numbered an estimated 60,000. The second wave was led by Hugh I, Count of Vermandois. He was also the brother of King Philip I of France. It was this second wave of crusaders that later passed through Asia Minor, captured Antioch in 1098, and finally took Jerusalem 15 July 1099. The third wave, composed of contingents from Lombardy, France, and Bavaria, arrived in Jerusalem in the early summer of 1101.

That is, from its onset, although the crusade was started to support the imperial power of Constantinople, it didn’t put itself under the emperor and went to achieve a political objective, the liberation of Jerusalem, that Constantinople had not achieved or did not want to achieve in order to not upset the delicate power balance of the region.

The crusaders then proved to both the Byzantines and the Muslims that they were the new power in the region, similar to what the Normans were doing in southern Italy. Moreover, at the western edge of the Islamic expansion, the Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula was well underway by the 11th century. Even there, foreign knights, mostly from France, visited to assist the Christians in their efforts. Shortly before the First Crusade, Pope Urban II had encouraged the Iberian Christians to re-conquer Tarragona, using much of the same symbolism and rhetoric that was later used to preach the crusade to the people of Europe.

The heart of Western Europe had been stabilized after the Christianization of the Saxon, Viking, and Hungarian peoples by the end of the tenth century, all of whom followed the Latin rituals and were dependent on the Roman See.

In all of this the Investiture Controversy and the subsequent uprising of princes, in which popes such as Pope Gregory VII justified warfare against the emperor’s partisans in theological terms, brought a new element. The new environment made it possible for the pope to utilize knights in the name of Christendom, not only against political enemies of the papacy, but also against Al-Andalus, the Islamic emirate in Spain, or, theoretically, against the new Seljuk Dynasty in the east.

The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches had been in schism since 1054. Historians have argued that the desire to impose Roman church authority on the east may have been one of the goals of the crusade[24], although Urban II, who launched the First Crusade, never refers to such a goal in his letters on crusading. It is clear that for the pope the request for help was a way to prove to the Byzantine emperor the primacy of Rome, just as he had it with the German king.

The Seljuk Turks had taken over almost all of Anatolia after the Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, with the result that on the eve of the Council of Clermont, the territory controlled by the Byzantine Empire had been reduced by more than half. By the time of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine Empire was largely confined to Balkan Europe and the northwestern fringe of Anatolia, and faced Norman enemies in the west as well as Turks in the east.

In response to the defeat at Manzikert and subsequent Byzantine losses in Anatolia in 1074, Pope Gregory VII had called for the soldiers of Christ to go to Byzantium’s aid. This call, while largely ignored and even opposed by the western kings, nevertheless focused a great deal of attention on the east.

Meanwhile, by the turn of the 12th century the Turkish Sunni Seljuk Empire had divided in smaller kingdoms. The Arab Shi’ite Fatimid Caliphate controlled Egypt and much of Palestine. Warfare between the Fatimids and Seljuks caused great disruption for the local Christians and for Western pilgrims. The Fatimids had lost Jerusalem to the Seljuks around 1073 and recaptured it from the Artuqids, a smaller Turkish tribe associated with the Seljuks, in 1098, just before the arrival of the crusaders. The political result, after the conquest of Jerusalem was to establish the “crusader states” of Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Tripoli in Palestine and Syria (as well as allies along the crusaders’ route, such as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia). These kingdoms, however ephemeral, proved that the Byzantines were no longer able to defend themselves, that the real ballast against Islam was the Latin Christians, able to insert themselves in the hostilities between different Islamic kingdoms and Islamic creeds, whether the Shiites or the Sunnis.

The new crusader states in the east helped ease Seljuk pressure on the Byzantine Empire, which had regained some of its Anatolian territory with crusader help, and experienced a period of relative peace and prosperity in the 12th century. But its overreaching political influence was dented and the role of the Rome papacy now stressed.

Cooperation between Islamic states remained difficult for many decades, but from Egypt to Syria to Baghdad there were calls for the expulsion of the crusaders, culminating in the recapture of most Palestine under Saladin (1137/1138–March 4, 1193) with the battle of Hattin in 1187.

Then the dynamic of power between Christianity and Islam became totally different and Italy had reclaimed its centrality in the Mediterranean world. Only then the world was much bigger than the Roman world of seven or eight centuries before.

[1] Backman, Clifford R. The Worlds of Medieval Europe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003. 144–145.

[2] Wickham, Chris. The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400–1000. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. 435–439.

[3] Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe: 300–1000. Second ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 385–389.

[4] Davies, Norman. Europe: A History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1996. 321–326.

[5] Wickham, Chris. The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400–1000. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. 500–505.

[6] Magdalino, Paul. The Oxford History of Byzantium. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 171.

[7] For this section see Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage, 1997. Santagati, Luigi. Storia dei Bizantini di Sicilia. Caltanissetta: Lussografica, 2012.

[8] Haldon, John F. Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture, Cambridge University Press, 1990. See also Gallina, Mario. Potere e società a Bisanzio. Dalla fondazione di Costantinopoli al 1204. Torino: Einaudi, 1995. And Bisanzio. Storia di un Impero (Secoli IV-XIII). Rome: Carocci, 2008.

[9] Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press, 1997.

[10] Ostrogorsky, G. Storia dell’impero bizantino. Einaudi, 1993. 339.

[11] Luttwak, E. N. Byzantine Strategy. 230-250.

[12] Luttwak, E. N. Byzantine Strategy. 234.

[13] Joranson, Einar. “The Inception of the Career of the Normans in Italy: Legend and History.” Speculum. 23.3 (1948): 353–396.

[14] Dvornik, Francis. The Photian Schism: History and Legend. Cambridge University Press, 1948.

[15] Nichols, Aidan. Rome and the Eastern Churches. Ignatius Press, 2010.

[16] Dragani, Anthony. Adrian Fortescue and the Eastern Christian Churches. Gorgias, 2007. 44. Bihlmeyer, Karl and Hermann Tüchle. Church History: The Middle Ages. Newman Press, 1967. 102. Bury, John Bagnell. The Cambridge Medieval Histories. Plantagenet Publishing, 1923. 267.

[17] D’Agostino, M. G. Il Primato della Sede di Roma in Leone IX (1049–1054). Studio dei testi latini nella controversia greco-romana nel periodo pregregoriano [The primacy of the Roman See in Leo IX (1049–54)]. 2008.

[18] See Binns, John. An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches. Cambridge University Press, 2002. 203. Dvornik, Francis. “News.” Church History and Christian Reunion; Eastern Churches Quarterly. (January–March 1945). 29–30. “In spite of what happened in 1054, the faithful of both churches remained long unaware of any change in their relations and acts of intercommunion were so numerous that 1054 as the date of the schism becomes inadmissible.” King, Archdale. The Rites of Eastern Christendom. Gorgias Press, 2007. 6. Kallistos, Bishop. The Great Schism. New York City. 2001. 67. “Even after 1054 friendly relations between East and West continued. The two parts of Christendom were not yet conscious of a great gulf of separation between them.… The dispute remained something of which ordinary Christians in the East and West were largely unaware.”

[19] Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy. New York: Face Press, 1994. 14. Hartmann, Wilfried and Kenneth Pennington. The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500. Catholic University of America Press, 2012. 63.

[20] Runciman, Steven. The Byzantine Theocracy. Cambridge University Press, 1977.

[21] For this section see Norwich, John Julius. The Normans in the South 1016-1130. London: Longman, 1967. Norwich, John Julius. The Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194. London: Longman, 1970. Skinner, Patricia. Family Power in Southern Italy: The Duchy of Gaeta and its Neighbours, 850-1139. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

[22] For this section see Whaley, Joachim. Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, Volumes 1 and 2. Oxford University Press, 2012. And Arnold, Benjamin, Princes and Territories in Medieval Germany. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[23] For this section see Asbridge, Thomas. The First Crusade: A New History. Oxford, 2004. And Harris, Jonathan. Byzantium and the Crusades. Bloomsbury, 2014.

[24] Asbridge, op cit. p. 17.