Upon Michael, neophyte and false Patriarch, brought only by mortal fear to assume the monkish habit, and now for his abominable crimes notorious; upon Leo, so-called Bishop of Ochrid; upon Constantine, chancellor of that same Michael, who has publicly trampled the liturgy of the Latins beneath his feet; and upon all those who follow them in their aforesaid errors and presumptions, except that they repent, let there be Anathema Maranatha as upon the Simoniacs, Valesians, Arians, Donatists, Nicolaitans, Severians, Pneumatomachi, Manicheans, Nazarenes, as upon all heretics and finally upon the Devil and all his angels. Amen, Amen, Amen.
Last paragraph of Cardinal Humbert's Bull of Excommunication
When Michael V met his fate on Tuesday evening, 20 April 1042, the Empress Theodora was still in St Sophia. She had by now been there for well over twenty-four hours, steadfastly refusing to proceed to the Palace until she received word from her sister. Only the following morning did Zoc, swallowing her pride, send the long-awaited invitation. On Theodora's arrival, before a large concourse of nobles and senators, the two old ladies marked their reconciliation with a somewhat chilly embrace and settled down, improbably enough, to govern the Roman Empire. All members of the former Emperor's family, together with a few of his most enthusiastic supporters, were banished; but the vast majority of those in senior positions, both civil and military, were confirmed in office. From the outset Zoe, as the elder of the two, was accorded precedence. When they sat in state, her throne was placed slighdy in advance of that of Theodora, who had always been of a more retiring disposition and who seemed perfectly content with her inferior status. Psellus gives us a lively description of the pair:
Zoe was the quicker to understand ideas, but the slower to give them utterance. With Theodora it was just the reverse: she concealed her inmost thoughts, but once she had embarked on a conversation she would chatter away with an informed and lively tongue. Zoe was a woman of passionate interests, prepared with equal enthusiasm for life or death. In this she reminded me of the waves of the sea, now lifting a vessel on high, now plunging it down again. Such extremes were not to be found in Theodora: she had a calm disposition - one might almost say a dull one. Zoe was prodigal, the sort of woman who could dispose of a whole ocean of gold dust in a single day; the other counted her coins when she gave away money, partly no doubt because all her life her limited resources had prevented her from any reckless spending, but partly also because she was naturally more self-controlled ...
In personal appearance there was a still greater divergence. The elder, though not particularly tall, was distinctly plump. She had large eyes set wide apart, with imposing eyebrows. Her nose was inclined to be aquiline, though not overmuch. She still had golden hair, and her whole body shone with the whiteness of her skin. There were few signs of age in her appearance ... there were no wrinkles, her skin being everywhere smooth and taut. Theodora was taller and thinner. Her head was disproportionately small. She was, as I have said, readier with her tongue than Zoe, and quicker in her movements. There was nothing stem in her glance: on the contrary she was cheerful and smiling, eager to find any opportunity for talk.
How well did this unlikely tandem govern the Empire? There are two schools of thought. For Psellus, the pair were a near-disaster: he claims that they understood nothing of finance or politics, that they were unable to distinguish between serious affairs of state and 'the most futile distractions of the gynaeccum', and that Zoe exhausted the exchequer by her insane largesse. John Scylitzes tells a very different story. He points to the imperial decrees against the buying and selling of offices, the improvements to the civil and military administration and several admirable high appointments, including that of Constantine Cabasilas as commander-in-chief of the European armies and - still more important — of George Maniakes as catapan in Italy with the rank of magister, the highest in the nobility outside the imperial family itself.1 Meanwhile a tribunal was appointed to inquire into the abuses of the previous reign: the Nobilissimus Constantine was dragged from his monk's cell for searching interrogation, and ultimately revealed — by what means of persuasion
1 Scylitzes is almost certainly wrong here. We know that Maniakes returned to Italy as catapan at the end of April 1042, i.e., only a few days after the fall of Michael Calaphates; his appointment must therefore have been due to Michael rather than to Zoe.
we do not know - the existence of a secret hiding-place in his Palace in which were found 5,300 pounds of gold missing from the treasury.
Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing was certain: the joint regime lacked that fundamental stability without which it could never enjoy the confidence of the people. As the weeks passed and the two sisters' mutual dislike became ever more apparent, officials and senators were inevitably obliged to side with one or the other; the government thus began to show signs of a potentially dangerous polarization. Before long it was clear that it could not continue without a firm male hand at the helm. This, however, could be achieved in one way only: by an imperial marriage. Theodora, after well over half a century of virginity, refused absolutely to contemplate such a step; Zoe, on the other hand, asked nothing better. Although her previous attempts at matrimony had all been notably unsuccessful and third marriages were, as we have seen, viewed with horror by the Eastern Church, hope sprang eternal in her sixty-four-year-old breast and she immediately began to cast around for a suitable husband.
Her eye first fell on the distinguished and handsome Constantine Dalassenus - recently released from prison - who, it will be remembered, had in 1028 been the choice of her dying father until the civil bureaucracy had persuaded him to reconsider;1 but when summoned to the court he shocked everyone by appearing in civilian clothes, and then adopted a manner so cold and haughty to the old Empress that she dismissed him at once. The next candidate was a certain Constantine Artoclines, a court official (also remarkably good-looking) whom she had always admired - so much, indeed, that there had been rumours of an amorous intrigue between them in the days of Romanus Argyrus, thirteen years before. Alas, he died in mysterious circumstances a few days before the wedding was due to take place - poisoned, it was said, by his own wife, who doubtless remembered the circumstances attending the marriage of Romanus and was anxious to avoid a repetition. In desperation, Zoe now turned to a third Constantine, a member of the ancient and noble family of Monomachus. He too was outstandingly attractive - always an important consideration with Zoe - and had acquired a formidable reputation as a ladies' man; he was also elegant, sophisticated and immensely rich. After the early death of his first wife he had married the niece of Romanus Argyrus, long before the latter's
1 See p. 269.
elevation to the throne; but only during Romanus's brief reign had he ever been properly accepted at court. In the days of Basil II and Constantine VIII there had been doubts about his loyalty, his father having once been implicated in a minor conspiracy; while Michael IV and John the Orphanotrophus, uneasy about his increasingly close relationship with .Zoe, had banished him to Lesbos, where he had spent seven years in exile and whence he was now summoned.
Constantine Monomachus arrived in the capital in the second week of June. On the previous day he had been met at Damocrania on the Marmara where, in the Church of St Michael the Archangel, he had received the regalia and where an imperial vessel was waiting to carry him on the last stage of his journey. He was thus able to enter Constantinople in state, amid cheering crowds, and on n June he and Zoe were married in the chapel of the Nea. A slight cloud was cast over the proceedings by the absolute refusal of the Patriarch to officiate at what was, for both parties, a third marriage (one of the imperial chaplains fortunately proved more obliging), but by the following day he had overcome his scruples sufficiently to conduct the coronation service without protest.
The Emperor Constantine IX was more confident than Constantine VIII, more of a realist than Romanus Argyrus, healthier than Michael IV and less headstrong than Michael V. Politically, however, through sheer idleness and irresponsibility, he was to do the Empire more harm than the rest of them put together. By the time he died in 1055 the Normans of south Italy under their leader Robert Guiscard - the most dazzling military adventurer between Julius Caesar and Napoleon - were well on the way to eliminating once and for all the Byzantine presence in Apulia, Calabria and Sicily; the Seljuk Turks, now firmly established in Baghdad, were already beginning to contemplate their subsequent irruption into the Anatolian heartland; the Danube frontier had been broken by invading tribes from the steppes - Pechenegs, Cumans and Uz; the Eastern and Western Churches were effectively in schism; while within the Empire itself the nobility had made two near-successful attempts at revolt and the army had been allowed to decline until it was in a worse state than at any time in the past century. Constantine, meanwhile, scarcely seemed to notice. Unlike his predecessors in Zoe's bed, he made no attempt to check her wild prodigality; indeed, he spent even more than she did. Not since the days of Constantine VII had the capital seen such luxury and ostentation. The Porphyrogenitus, however, had used court ceremonial as a deliberate instrument of policy to increase his imperial prestige; Monomachus, by making no pretence of spending for anything other than his own pleasure, achieved precisely the contrary effect.
Zoe, for her part, proved equally tolerant towards her new husband. At last her interest in the physical aspects of marriage seems to have been on the wane: she certainly made no objection to his long-term association with the niece of his second wife, a lady of extraordinary charm who was the paternal granddaughter of old Bardas Sclerus, erstwhile rival of Basil II, and who had uncomplainingly shared her lover's seven long years of exile. When Monomachus had received his summons she had at first remained on Lesbos, obviously not wishing to compromise him and so prejudice his chances of the crown; knowing all too well the difficulties connected with third marriages, she seems not to have contemplated the possibility of his union with Zoe, the news of which had been a severe shock to her. Still greater, however, must have been her surprise when messengers arrived on the island with a letter from the old Empress, assuring her of her good will and encouraging her most warmly to return to the capital. There her initially modest dwelling was gradually transformed by the doting Constantine into a magnificent mansion while their affair, which was at first carried on with a seemly discretion, gradually became more and more open until finally the Emperor made a public admission. In the course of a most curious ceremony attended by the entire Senate, Monomachus and the Sclerina (as she is always called) were formally associated with one another by means of a contract known by the sycophantic senators as 'the loving-cup', after which she joined him and Zoe in an apparently happy menage a trois. 'In appearance,' writes Psellus,
without being beautiful in the true sense of the word, she was so elegant, graceful and attractive that it was difficult indeed to criticize her. As for her character and temperament, she could beguile a heart of stone. Her manner of speech was delightful, unlike that of anyone else: rhythmic, subtle and harmonious. She possessed an exquisite voice, and her diction was as perfect as her tone was sweet. Everything she said had an inexpressible charm. She would often bewitch me by plying me with questions, in that gentle voice of hers, about the Greek myths, adding here and there little glosses that she had picked up from other experts on the subject. No woman was ever a better listener.
She endeared herself to the two Empresses by giving them everything that they most enjoyed. To Zoe she would make presents of gold, not to keep for herself but to give away, which was always the old lady's greatest pleasure. She would also provide her with sweet herbs and spices from the Indies, scented woods and unguents, tiny olives and sprigs of white laurel - in a word, all the ingredients necessary for her favourite pastime, the concoction of perfumes. To Theodora, on the other hand, she would present ancient coins and medals, of which that Empress possessed a large collection kept in specially-made cabinets of bronze.
Sadly, however, the warm feelings of the two old women towards their enchanting young benefactress were not shared by the people of Constantinople. Shocked and scandalized by the shamelessness of the affair, they soon made clear their displeasure. Scylitzes - though not Psellus - records how on 9 March 1044 an imperial procession in honour of the Holy Martyrs was interrupted by catcalls from the assembled crowd. 'Down with the Sclerina!' they shouted. 'Long live our beloved mothers,1 Zoe and Theodora, whose very lives she threatens!' For a moment it appeared that the Emperor's own life was in danger; only after his wife and sister-in-law had shown themselves at the Palace windows did the mob disperse. The procession, meanwhile, was abandoned. Thenceforth Constantine seldom ventured out in public alone, being almost invariably accompanied by his wife on his right, his mistress on his left.
The accusation was certainly baseless. As the reader will by now be aware, there were many potential murderers at the Byzantine court, but the Sclerina was not one of them. Nor, so far as we can tell, was Constantine Monomachus. Weak, irresponsible and pleasure-loving he may have been, but there was no real evil in him. If, as was rumoured, he did indeed consider the possibility of somehow raising his mistress to the throne - and she was, after all, effectively there already - he could probably have done so by adopting her as his daughter and then simply declaring her co-Empress; Zoe's death would not have been necessary, Theodora's even less so. But the question is academic: it was not the Empresses who died, but the Sclerina herself. The date of her death is not recorded. All we are told is that she was attacked by some pulmonary disease, that she was unable to breathe and that the doctors were powerless to help her. The Emperor wept like a child, and buried her in the magnificent convent of St George at Manganes
1 In Greek, the familiar and affectionate (Mamai), literally 'Mums'; cf. 'the Queen Mum’ in our own day.
(which he had had built next to her house, in order - it was said - to have an excuse for visiting her) alongside the grave that he had reserved for himself.
It is impossible not to feel sympathy for the Sclerina. She was clearly a woman of rare qualities, and her love for Constantine Monomachus was deep and true. But - although she herself cannot be blamed for it - her association with the Emperor had one disastrous consequence, which was to have a profound effect on the whole future of Byzantine Italy.
George Maniakes had, as we have seen, returned to the peninsula in April 1042. Since his recall to Constantinople two years before, the situation there had gone from bad to worse. In Sicily, Messina was the only city now remaining in Byzantine hands; on the mainland, the previous year had seen three major defeats at the hands of the Lombards and the Normans, who now possessed impregnable fortresses at Aversa and Melfi and were rapidly mopping up the whole of south Italy. The catapan landed with his army to find that, with the single exception of Trani, all Apulia north of a line drawn from Taranto to Brindisi was in open revolt. He wasted no time. The horrors of that summer were long remembered in the province - by those of its inhabitants who survived. Inexorably, pitilessly, Maniakes - assisted by a regiment of Varangians and the legendary Scandinavian warrior king Harald Hardrada — smashed his way from one insurgent town to the next in a fury of destruction, leaving a trail of smoking ruins and mutilated corpses in his wake. Men and women, monks and nuns, the aged and the children - none was spared: some were hanged, some beheaded; many (particularly the children) were buried alive. The rebels fought back, and for a while the two sides seemed fairly evenly matched; but then came the disaster. For the second time in two years, George Maniakes fell victim to palace intrigue.
His enemy on this occasion was the Sclerina's brother. The Anatolian estates of Romanus Sclerus bordered his own, and for eleven years already relations between the two had been poisoned by territorial disputes. Maniakes, as we already know, was a dangerous man to cross: some years before, in the course of a particularly violent altercation, he had laid hands on his neighbour and very nearly killed him. Romanus had sworn revenge; and now, finding himself through his sister a member of the Emperor's intimate circle and seeing his chance to even the score, he had litde difficulty in persuading Constantine to recall Maniakes from Italy. Meanwhile, profiting by the latter's absence, he looted his house, laid waste his estate and as a final insult seduced his wife.
Maniakes received his letter of recall at the same time as the news of his other misfortunes. His rage was terrible to behold. When in September his successor arrived at Otranto he seized him, stuffed his ears, nose and mouth with horse dung and tortured him to death. The Patrician Tubakis, who had accompanied the luckless man from Constantinople, suffered a similar fate a week or two later. Maniakes, his anger still unabated, then had himself proclaimed Emperor by his men (who worshipped him) and led them back across the Adriatic - whose storms, according to an Apulian chronicler, he first tried to assuage by human sacrifice - with the intention of advancing along the Via Egnatia to Constantinople, gathering additional forces as he went. Marching on Thessalonica, he met and defeated an imperial army sent to intercept him at Ostrovo in Bulgaria but fell, mortally wounded, at the very moment of victory. His head was carried back to the capital and presented to the Emperor, who had it impaled on a spear and exhibited on the highest terrace of the Hippodrome. Later Monomachus staged a full-scale triumph, in which the rebel army - which had disintegrated on the death of its leader - was paraded round the arena, its men riding backwards on donkeys, their heads shaved and covered with ordure; but not even this humiliating display could conceal the fact that, but for a single well-aimed lance, Constantinople might well have fallen to Maniakes and found itself in the power of - if not necessarily the greatest - by far the most terrifying ruler in all its history.
George Maniakes was not the only threat to the throne of Constantine IX - nor even the greatest. An immense Russian fleet which appeared in the Bosphorus in the summer of 1043 was repulsed - thanks as always to Greek fire - without too much trouble; but four years later, in September 1047, there came a far more serious emergency. Once again, it took the form of a military uprising, this time on the part of the army in Thrace and Macedonia which had its headquarters at Adrianople. Its leader was the Emperor's second cousin, an aristocratic Armenian named Leo Tornices who had lived for a long time in the region and, says Psellus, 'reeked of Macedonian arrogance'. Constantine had long suspected him of subversion, and was additionally irritated by Leo's close friendship with his — Constantine's - younger sister Euprepia, who was perpetually singing the Armenian's praises and comparing him favourably with the Emperor himself. He therefore took every opportunity to abuse and humiliate the young man, at one moment having him forcibly tonsured and reduced to rags.
At last Tornices could bear it no longer. One night he slipped out of the city with a party of Macedonian supporters and made straight for Adrianople, delaying any pursuers by killing, at every stage of their journey, all the imperial post-horses. On arrival he deliberately started a rumour that the Emperor was dead, that Theodora was now mistress of the Empire and that she had chosen Leo as her co-ruler. The story spread like wildfire through the army. Leo was raised on a shield, robed in purple and proclaimedbasileus; then, followed by several thousand cheering troops, he marched on Constantinople, the number of his followers constantly increasing as he approached the capital. On Friday, z j September he pitched his camp beneath the walls and prepared for a siege.
He could hardly have arrived at a more opportune moment. For some years already the army had been suffering a rapid decline. The civil government, in its detestation of the military aristocracy, had systematically reduced the strength of the armed forces, encouraging those of the peasant rank and file who had not already fallen victim to the great landowners to buy their exemption from military service for an agreed payment in cash. At the same time they had removed the day-to-day government of each Theme from its strategos and entrusted it instead to a civil magistrate, destroying at a stroke much of the army's power and prestige. Apart from a handful of mercenaries on largely ceremonial duties, there were few soldiers in Constantinople or anywhere near it, while the army of the East - such as it was - was far away on the Iberian frontier, repelling invasions by the local barbarian tribes.
Nor was Constantine himself the man he had once been. At the time of his accession he was a regular winner of the pentathlon at the Games; now his feet were so swollen that he could hardly walk. His hands, too, which in his youth had been capable of crushing the hardest nuts - 'an arm gripped by him', writes Psellus, 'was painful for days' - had become misshapen and dislocated. He was in fact already far advanced in the arthritis which was to progress relentlessly for the next eight years until his death. Had he possessed the courage of Michael IV, it is possible that he might have taken a more active part in the defence of his capital; but heroism had never been part of his nature. All he could do was to prove to his enemies that, contrary to what they had been led to believe, he was still alive and in control. On 26 September he had himself carried to the Palace of Blachernae, at the northern extremity of the land walls; and there, in full imperial regalia, he installed himself at a high window looking out across the ramparts, the two old Empresses at his side. This inevitably exposed him to taunts and abuse from the besiegers - and before long to the attentions of a mounted archer, whose arrow missed him by an inch and struck one of his lieutenants. The others present hurriedly removed him from the window; but he was back there the following morning as if nothing had happened.
That day - it was Sunday, 27 September - Leo Tornices had Constantinople at his mercy. It is difficult to piece together exactly what occurred: it appears that under cover of darkness a corps of engineers had constructed and fortified an advance position outside the walls opposite Blachernae, from which they had hoped to inflict severe damage on Leo's men. They had, however, underestimated their opponents. The rebels did not hesitate. 'Like a swarm of hornets' they fell on this pathetic fortification, destroying it in a matter of minutes. Most of the unfortunate troops who manned it were cut down; few indeed managed to return alive. But this catastrophe was only the beginning. Seeing the massacre, those charged with the defence of the walls -mostly Saracen mercenaries, supplemented by a number of able-bodied civilians and convicts released from prison for the purpose - were seized by a sudden panic, deserted their posts and fled into the city, leaving (we are told) the gates open to the enemy.
What held Leo Tornices back from almost certain victory? For some of the chroniclers it was a miracle: Constantinople was always known to enjoy divine protection, and nothing else could have been expected. For others - Psellus included - it was simply a miscalculation. 'He was confidently awaiting our invitation to assume the throne: he assumed he would be led up to the Palace preceded by flaming torches, in a procession worthy of a sovereign.' Perhaps, too, he wanted to spare a city that he believed so soon to be his from the pillage which would certainly have followed. At all events he ordered his men to stay where they were, to shed no more blood and to pitch their tents for the night.
The mistake proved his undoing. The anticipated civic delegation never came. The people of Constantinople might not have been deeply enamoured of their Emperor, but they had no wish to see him overthrown by force, least of all by a Macedonian-Armenian of whom they knew nothing and suspected a good deal. They had had enough of rioting and violence. Within hours the panic had subsided, the gates were secured, the defenders were back at their posts. The city was saved. Disappointed and bewildered, Leo Tornices marched his prisoners to a point immediately below Blachernae. He had rehearsed them well:
They begged the people not to treat with contempt men of their own race and their own family, nor to be forced to watch while they themselves were pitiably hacked to pieces before their eyes, like victims at a sacrifice. They warned us not to tempt Providence by underestimating a sovereign such as the world had never before seen, as they knew from their own experience ... Then, by way of contrast, they expatiated on the misdeeds of our own Emperor, describing how at the beginning of his reign he had raised high the hopes of the city, only to bring us down from the clouds to the edge of a precipice.
They were answered by a hail of projectiles, one of which narrowly missed Tornices himself. Then, and only then, did he realize that he had failed. The people did not want him after all. Encouraged by secret bribes from Constantine, his men began to desert him. In the first days of October he struck camp and moved away to the West. He was not immediately pursued: manpower in the capital was too short. Only when the army of the East, urgently summoned from distant Iberia, arrived in the city did Constantine give the order for his capture. By the time he was run to earth he had lost all his adherents save one - an old companion-in-arms named John Vatatzes. The two were brought back to Constantinople and, predictably, blinded.
Constantine Monomachus was fond of telling people that he led a charmed life. After the failure - by another almost incredible stroke of good fortune - of this second military insurrection in four years, there must have been many of his subjects who agreed with him.
For the progressive weakening of the Empire's military strength during his twelve-and-a-half-year reign, Constantine must take the lion's share of the responsibility. Had Basil II been on the throne, it is impossible to imagine that he would have permitted the Pecheneg tribes to cross the Danube in 1047 or thereabouts and to settle permanently in imperial territory. Over a century before, Constantine Porphyrogenitus had stressed the need to keep this most dangerous of barbarian races1 under
1 See p. 164.
constant surveillance. His own policy had been to buy their alliance with lavish presents, using them to attack his enemies - Bulgars or Magyars -in the rear and so to prevent any southward advance on the part of the Russians. With Basil's conquest of Bulgaria, however, and the extension of the imperial frontier to the banks of the Danube, the situation had changed. There was no longer a buffer state between Byzantium and the nomad hordes; their incessant plundering raids were now directed not against the unfortunate Bulgars but against the Empire itself. Constantine Monomachus, unable to stem the tide, sought to turn it to his advantage by using the Pechenegs as mercenaries, particularly for the garrisons of the border strongholds. They proved, however, too untrustworthy: instead of keeping the peace they rapidly reduced the whole region to chaos. Before long he had no choice but to take up arms against them once more, but once more he was doomed to failure. After several humiliating defeats he returned to the old system of bribery. By now, however, the Pechenegs were not so easily bought off. Only by grants of valuable land and several high honorific titles could he obtain so much as a truce.
For the greatest tragedy of his entire reign - indeed, one of the most shattering disasters ever to have befallen Christendom - Constantine can, on the other hand, be largely absolved from blame. The religious schism between East and West had many causes, but imperial apathy was not among them. Indeed, Byzantine Emperors had traditionally favoured the concept of Roman supremacy against their own Church, if only because they were anxious to preserve the universality of their Empire and to maintain their claims to south Italy. Nevertheless, as readers of this history will be aware, the two Churches had been growing apart for centuries. Their slow but steady estrangement was in essence a reflection of the old rivalry between Latin and Greek, Rome and Byzantium. The Roman Pontificate was rapidly extending its effective authority across Europe, and as its power grew so too did its ambition and arrogance - tendencies which were viewed in Constantinople with resentment and not a little anxiety. There was also a fundamental difference in the approach of the two Churches to Christianity itself. The Byzantines, for whom their Emperor was Equal of the Apostles and matters of doctrine could be settled only by the Holy Ghost speaking through an Ecumenical Council, were scandalized by the presumption of the Pope — who was, in their view, merely primus inter pares among the Patriarchs — in formulating dogma and claiming both spiritual and temporal supremacy; while to the legalistic and disciplined minds of Rome the old Greek love of discussion and theological speculation was always repugnant, and occasionally shocking. Already two centuries before, matters had very nearly come to a head over Photius and the Fi/ioque.1Fortunately, after the death of Pope Nicholas and thanks to the good will of his successors and of Photius himself, friendly relations had been outwardly restored; but the basic problems remained unsolved, the Fi/ioque continued to gain adherents in the West and the Emperor maintained his claim to rule as God's Vice-Gerent on Earth. It was only a matter of time before the quarrel broke out again.
That it did so at this moment was largely the fault of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, who had succeeded old Alexis in 1043. From what we know of him, he does not appear as an attractive figure. After long service in the civil administration he had been involved in a conspiracy against Michael IV, and it was while serving a consequent sentence of exile that he had entered a monastery and decided - for he was consumed with ambition - on an ecclesiastical career. He was as unlike his distant predecessor Photius as can possibly be imagined. Where the latter had been the greatest scholar of his day, Cerularius was a mediocre theologian with only a sketchy knowledge of Church history; where Photius had been a highly cultivated man of intelligence and charm, Cerularius was rigid and narrow-minded: a bureaucrat through and through.2 He was, however - as one might have expected - an able and efficient administrator; he possessed a will of iron; and - although it is not immediately easy to see why - he enjoyed considerable popularity in Constantinople.
If the Patriarch was the instrument of the new quarrel, its occasion was the darming increase in the power of the Normans in south Italy. On 17 July 10 j 3 Pope Leo IX, determined to eliminate these freebooting brigands once and for all, had attacked them with a large and heterogeneous army near the little town of Civitate; but he had suffered an ignominious defeat and had been held a virtual prisoner at Benevento for eight months, returning to Rome the following April only just in
1 See Chapter 6.
2 He seems, too, to have had in his character a streak of sheer vindictiveness, of which he gave an unpleasant demonstration in his treatment of his old enemy John the Orphanotrophus. Constantine on his accession had shown pity towards this now pathetic figure by transferring him from the dreadful Monobatae to his own former place of exile on Lesbos; one of the first acts of the new Patriarch, on the other hand, had been to have him blinded.
time to die. The Byzantine army had not turned up at Civitate - to the fury of the papalists, who understandably felt betrayed - but its leaders were every bit as apprehensive of the Norman menace as was the Pope himself, and it was plain enough to Argyrus, the Lombard-born commander of the imperial troops in the peninsula, that the only hope of saving the province for the Empire lay in an alliance with the Papacy. The Emperor, who admired and respected Argyrus, wholeheartedly agreed.
Cerularius, on the other hand, saw the issue in an exclusively ecclesiastical light and at once declared his bitter opposition. He disliked and distrusted the Latins; above all he hated the idea of papal supremacy, and he knew that such an alliance, even if it were to succeed in expelling the Normans, would effectively prevent the return of previously Norman-held territories to the jurisdiction of Constantinople. Even before Civitate he had struck his first blow: learning that the Normans, with papal approval, were enforcing Latin customs - in particular the use of unleavened bread for the Sacrament — on the Greek churches of south Italy, he had immediately ordered the Latin communities of Constantinople to adopt Greek usages, and when they objected he had closed them down'. Next and more disastrous still, he had persuaded the head of the Bulgarian Church, Archbishop Leo of Ochrid, to write to the Orthodox Bishop John of Trani in Apulia a letter - to be passed on 'to all the bishops of the Franks, to the monks and people and to the most venerable Pope himself — in which he violently condemned certain practices of the Roman Church as sinful and 'Judaistic'.
A copy of this letter, in a rough Latin translation, reached Pope Leo during his captivity at Benevento. Furious, he prepared a detailed reply -insultingly addressed 'to Michael of Constantinople and Leo of Ochrid, Bishops' — defending the Latin usages to which the Patriarch had objected and setting out all the arguments for papal supremacy; it was perhaps just as well that before it could be dispatched there arrived two more letters, one of which carried at its foot the huge purple scrawl of the Emperor himself. The text is lost, but is unlikely to have contained anything remarkable: Leo's surviving reply suggests that it expressed regrets for Civitate and made vague proposals for a further strengthening of the alliance. Far more surprising was the second letter which, apart from a few verbal infelicities, seemed to radiate conciliation and good will. It contained no reference to the disputed rites, it prayed for closer unity between the two Churches — and it was signed by Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople.
It tnay have been the Emperor himself who persuaded the Patriarch to extend this obvious olive branch - though it is perhaps more likely to have been the Bishop of Trani, for whom the issue was far more immediate and who would have understood all too well how much was at stake. At any rate Cerularius seems to have made a genuine effort; Pope Leo would have been well advised to overlook the occasional little dig - he was addressed, for example, as 'brother' instead of 'father' - and to let the matter rest. But Leo was sdll angry and, very probably, already mortally ill; and his principal secretary, Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers — who in the events that followed was to show himself not a jot less bigoted and waspish than the Patriarch himself - had no difficulty in persuading him to put his name to two more letters, and to approve the dispatch of an official legation to deliver them personally in Constantinople.
The first of these letters, to the Patriarch, addressed him as 'Archbishop', which was at least one degree politer than before; but it castigated him for his unpardonable presumption in even questioning the Latin usages, accused him of having pretensions to ecumenical authority (which was probably due to a mistake in the Latin translation of his letter) and finally suggested that his election had been uncanonical - a deliberate slur for which there was no justification whatever. The second letter was addressed to the Emperor and was, as we have seen, largely devoted to political affairs. It carried, however, a sting in the tail: the last paragraph contained a vehement protest against Cerularius's 'many and intolerable presumptions ... in which if - as heaven forbid -he persist, he will in no wise retain our peaceful regard'. The Pope concluded with a commendation of the legates who would carry the two letters to Constantinople. He trusted that they would be given every assistance, and that they would find the Patriarch suitably repentant.
Leo was an able and intelligent man, but this time he had gravely miscalculated. Needing as he did all the help he could get against the Norman menace, he should have welcomed the opportunity of conciliation with the Orthodox Church; and had he been a little better informed about affairs in Constantinople he would have known that the Emperor
- who was by now, like himself, a dying man - would never attempt to override the Patriarch, who was a far stronger character and had the whole weight of public opinion behind him. Still more unwise was his choice of legates on this particularly delicate mission: Humbert himself-narrow-minded, opinionated and rabidly anti-Greek - and two others,
Cardinal Frederick of Lorraine (later Pope Stephen IX) and Archbishop Peter of Amalfi, both of whom had fought at Civitate and bore a bitter grudge against the Byzantines for having let them down.
The three prelates arrived in Constantinople at the beginning of April 1054. From the outset, everything went wrong. Calling on the Patriarch, they immediately took offence at the manner in which they were received and stalked away in a huff, leaving the papal letter behind them. When Cerularius read it, it was his turn to fly into a fury. His worst suspicions were confirmed: forced against his better judgement to make a gesture of conciliation, he now found it flung back in his face. And worse was to follow: the legates, who had been welcomed by the Emperor with his usual courtesy, had been encouraged by their reception to publish, in Greek translation, the full text of the Pope's earlier, still undispatched, letter to the Patriarch and the Archbishop of Ochrid, together with a detailed memorandum on the usages in dispute.
To Michael Cerularius, this was the final insult. Here was a letter addressed to him, of whose very existence he had been unaware until copies were circulating all over the city. Meanwhile a closer examination of the second letter - which had at least, after a fashion, been delivered -revealed that the seals on it had been tampered with. If - as seemed all too clear - the legates had opened it, to whom might it not have been shown? For all he knew, it could even have been tampered with. These so-called legates, he decided, were not only discourteous; they were downright dishonest. He announced forthwith that he refused to accept their legatine authority or to receive from them any further communications.
A situation in which a fully accredited papal legation, cordially received by the Emperor, remained unrecognized and ignored by his Patriarch could obviously not continue for long; and it was lucky for Cerularius that a few weeks after its arrival there came the news that the Pope had died in Rome. Humbert and his colleagues had been Leo's personal representatives; his death consequently deprived them of all official standing. The Patriarch's satisfaction at this development can well be imagined; it must however have been somewhat mitigated by the absence of any obvious discomfiture on the part of the legates. Their proper course in the circumstances would have been to return at once to Rome; instead, they remained in Constantinople apparently unconcerned by what had happened, growing more arrogant and high-handed with every day that passed. The publication of the papal letter had provoked a firm riposte from a certain monk of the Studium named Nicetas Stethatus, in which he had criticized in particular the Latins' use of unleavened bread, their habit of fasting on the Sabbath and their attempts to impose celibacy on their clergy. Though not a particularly impressive document, it was couched in polite and respectful language; but it drew from Humbert, instead of a reasoned reply, a torrent of shrill, almost hysterical invective. Ranting on for page after page, describing Stethatus as 'pestiferous pimp' and 'disciple of the malignant Mahomet', suggesting that he must have emerged from a theatre or brothel rather than a monastery and finally pronouncing anathema upon him and all who shared in his 'perverse doctrine' - which, however, he made no attempt to refute - the cardinal can only have confirmed the average Byzantine in his opinion that the Church of Rome now consisted of little more than a bunch of crude barbarians with whom no argument, let alone agreement, could ever be possible.
Michael Cerularius, delighted to see his enemies not only shorn of their authority but making fools of themselves as well, continued to hold his peace. Even when the Emperor, now fearing with good reason for the future of the papal alliance on which he had set his heart, forced Stethatus to retract and apologize; even when Humbert went on to raise with Constantine the whole question of the Filioque, repudiation of which had by now become a cornerstone of Byzantine theology, no word issued from the Patriarchal Palace, no sign that the Orthodox authorities took any cognizance of the undignified wrangle which was now the talk of the city. At last - as Cerularius knew he would — Humbert lost the last shreds of his patience. At three o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, 16 July 1054, in the presence of all the clergy assembled for the Eucharist, the three ex-legates of Rome, two cardinals and an archbishop, all in their full canonicals, strode into the Great Church of St Sophia and up to the high altar, on which they formally laid their solemn Bull of Excommunication. This done, they turned on their heel and marched from the building, pausing only to shake the dust symbolically from their feet. Two days later, having taken formal leave of the Emperor - who remained as courteous as ever and loaded them with presents - they left for Rome.
Even if we ignore the fact that the legates were without any papal authority and that the Bull itself was consequently invalid by all the standards of canon law, it remains an astonishing production. Sir Steven Runciman describes it thus:
Few important documents have been so full of demonstrable errors. It is indeed extraordinary that a man of Humbert's learning could have penned so lamentable a manifesto. It began by refusing to Cerularius, both personally and as Bishop of Constantinople, the tide of Patriarch. It declared that there was nothing-to be said against the citizens of the Empire or of Constantinople, but that all those who supported Cerularius were guilty of simony (which, as Humbert knew, was the dominant vice of his own Church), of encouraging castration (a practice that was also followed at Rome), of insisting on rebaptising Latins (which, at that time, was untrue), of allowing priests to marry (which was incorrect; a married man could become a priest but no one who was already ordained could marry), of baptising women in labour, even if they were dying (a good early Christian practice), of jettisoning the Mosaic Law (which was untrue), of refusing communion to men who had shaved their beards (which again was untrue, though the Greeks disapproved of shaven priests), and, finally, of omitting a clause in the Creed (which was the exact reverse of the truth). After such accusations, complaints about the closing of the Latin churches at Constantinople and of disobedience to the Papacy lost their effect.1
News of the excommunication spread like wildfire, and demonstrations in support of the Patriarch were held throughout the city. They were first directed principally against the Latins, but it was not long before the mob found a new target for its resentment: the Emperor himself, whose evident sympathy for the legates was rightly thought to have encouraged them in their excesses. Luckily for Constantine, he had a scapegoat ready to hand. Argyrus himself was in Italy, as yet unaware of what had happened and still working for the papal alliance; but those of his family who chanced to be in the capital were instantly arrested. This assuaged popular feeling to some extent, but it was only when the Bull had been publicly burnt and the three legates themselves formally anathematized that peace returned.
Such is the sequence of events, at Constantinople in the early summer of 1054, which resulted in the lasting separation of the Eastern and Western Churches. It is an unedifying story because, however inevitable the breach may have been, the events themselves should never - and need never - have occurred. More strength of will on the part of the dying Pope or the pleasure-loving Emperor, less bigotry on the part of the narrow-minded Patriarch or the pig-headed cardinal, and the situation could have been saved. The initial crisis arose in south Italy, the one crucial area in which a political understanding between Rome and Constantinople was most vitally necessary. The fatal blow was struck by the disempowered legates of a dead Pope, representing a headless Church - since the new Pontiff had not yet been elected - and using an instrument at once uncanonical and inaccurate. Both the Latin and Greek excommunications were directed personally at the offending dignitaries rather than at the Churches for which they stood; both could later have been rescinded, and neither was at the time recognized as introducing a permanent schism. Technically indeed they did not do so, since twice in succeeding centuries - in the thirteenth at Lyons and in the fifteenth at Florence - was the Eastern Church to be compelled, for political reasons, to acknowledge the supremacy of Rome. But though a temporary bandage may cover an open wound it cannot heal it; and despite even the balm applied by the Ecumenical Council of 1965, the wound which was jointly inflicted nine centuries ago on the Christian Church by Cardinal Humbert and Patriarch Cerularius still bleeds today.
Despite the various disasters - political, spiritual and military — that marked the reign of Constantine Monomachus, life for the leisured classes in the capital must have been more agreeable than it had been for many years. The Emperor, for all his faults, possessed a sense of elegance and style that had been sadly lacking during the austere regime of Basil II and those of the ill-educated and boorish Paphlagonians who followed him. Not since the days of Constantine Porphyrogenitus had the court ceremonies been so magnificent, the entertainments so lavish. And if the basileushimself was no intellectual he was certainly not uncultured: he actively encouraged the arts and sciences and liked to surround himself with men of genuine learning. Of these the most remarkable was Michael Psellus: historian, politician, humanist, philosopher and by far the most distinguished classical scholar of his time. Moreover he was an orator of quite exceptional ability — at a period when that particular art was a good deal more important than it is today. The pity is that he should also have been self-seeking, sanctimonious, insufferably conceited - and, as we shall see, capable when the occasion demanded of the blackest perfidy.
Psellus's fellow-intellectuals in the inner circle around the Emperor were his oldest and most intimate friend, the lawyer John Xiphilinus of Trebizond, possessed of so prodigious a memory that he was said to carry the whole legal code of the Empire in his head; his old teacher, the poet and scholar John Mauropous; and the chief minister, Constantine Likhoudes. It was to them that the cultural renaissance of the mid-eleventh century was chiefly due, they above all who were responsible for the revival in 1045 of the University of Constantinople.- Their first concern was the Law School, which had sunk so low under Basil that by the accession of Monomachus there was not a single professor of jurisprudence remaining in the city. Now entirely reconstituted by Mauropous, it had at its head John Xiphilinus, who was given the resounding title of nomophylax, 'Guardian of the Law'. Courses at the new Faculty of Philosophy, entrusted to Psellus as 'Consul [hypatus] of Philosophers', opened with the ancient trivium of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic, continued with the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music and ended with philosophy itself, the ultimate synthesis of all knowledge.
Within a very few years, the university had become once again famous throughout Christendom and even beyond. For the past two centuries it had been the Arabs, rather than the Greeks, who dominated the intellectual world; the so-called wise men of Constantinople, they used to say, were not even mules - they were donkeys. Now, thanks to Psellus and his friends - and the enlightened patronage of Constantine Monomachus - Byzantium regained its old reputation and became once again a meeting-point for the scholars of Europe and Asia. As Psellus modestly wrote to Michael Cerularius:
The Celts and the Arabs are now our prisoners. From East and West alike my reputation brings them flocking to our city. The Nile may water the land of the Egyptians, but it is my golden words that nourish their spirit. Ask the Persians and the Ethiopians: they will tell you that they know me, that they admire me and seek me out. Only recently there arrived a Babylonian, impelled by an insurmountable desire to drink at the fountain of my eloquence.
All this must have done wonders for the Empire's international reputation, which had been steadily declining in the quarter-century since the death of Basil II; but the greatest benefit was to be felt at home. For years already, properly qualified judges and even trained civil servants had been in short supply. By the end of Constantine's reign the new university was producing a steady stream of highly educated young men on which the government could draw for its senior administrators. Their expertise would be more than ever necessary in the years to come.
Constantine IX never recovered his prestige after the departure of Humbert and his friends. He continued to be suspected (with good reason) of pro-Latin sympathies, and his lame and grovelling excuses to the Patriarch - in which he tried to put the blame on everyone but himself - impressed nobody. But in any case he was by now a pathetic figure. Soon after his humiliation he retired to his monastery of Manganes, where his tomb, next to the Sclerina's, was already awaiting him. It was, perhaps, the most sumptuous foundation that even Constantinople had ever seen. Psellus writes:
The building was decorated throughout with golden stars, like the vault of heaven, but whereas heaven has its stars only at intervals, here the surface was entirely covered with gold, issuing forth from its centre in a never-ending stream. Surrounding it were other, smaller buildings, surrounded completely or in part by cloisters. The ground everywhere was levelled, and stretched further than the eye could see. Then came a second circle of buildings, larger than the first, with lawns covered with flowers. .. There were fountains which filled basins of water; gardens, some of them hanging, others sloping down to the level ground; and a bath that was beautiful beyond description.
In this bath the Emperor would lie for several hours every day, in an attempt to find some relief from his constant pain; but some time in the autumn of 1054, with the air already growing chill, he stayed in too long. Pleurisy resulted. At first he seemed to recover, but then his condition began rapidly to deteriorate. He lingered on until the new year; then, on 11 January 105 5, he died.