Byzantium and conspiracy theories: because Prokopios – another short essay.

Continuing on my “I have all these ridiculous topics I’ve written about” side quest, additional digging into the bowels of my external hard drive has produced this gem.

Note that this one delves into the more complex nature of religion during the Byzantine period, but does little to define them for folks that are unsure of how the early church dealt with heretical sects. It’s not something that you see a lot of in the SCA side of things, because it’s incredibly dense material, and my paper only discusses them briefly. If this isn’t something you are familiar with, don’t be afraid to visit Wikipedia or other open source site that can help you understand these terms better. Hell, even my brain starts melting out of my ears when it comes to this level of study. My professor who taught us the basis for heresy in graduate school had gone to divinity school, and STILL couldn’t fully grasp it. This is some heavy stuff.

Again, any citations needs to be done from the paper directly, not my blog. Academia.edu link:

https://www.academia.edu/36922619/Prokopios_conspiracy_theory_Justinian_versus_the_Heretics


 

Prokopios’ conspiracy theory: Justinian versus the Heretics.
The religious reforms of Emperor Justinian I would continue to resonate through the Byzantine Empire well after his time, with his fingertips still reaching into the modern doctrines of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. His combative stance against paths of Christianity labeled as heretical was notable, and his increased support of the Chalcedonian doctrine is what no doubt elevated him to Orthodox Sainthood. Though the eyes of the controversial 6th Century writer, Prokopios, a glance of Justinian’s attempts to win over the opposition can be seen, and blame is cast directly on the imperial monarchs for exacerbating the situation beyond control, perhaps for nothing more than to legitimize their rule.

Justin I’s reign presented a struggle in returning the doctrine of Chalcedon to the forefront of Byzantine Orthodoxy. It was clear that his successor, Justinian, would follow in these footsteps and continue the pro-Chalcedonian rhetoric from the throne, despite stiff opposition from outlying areas such as Egypt and Syria. Even before his ascension to the throne in 527, it was clear that the Chalcedonian doctrine was a cornerstone in his policies.[1] Despite evidence in that his wife, Theodora, may have been a follower of the anti-Chalcedonian school, and that he was willing to work with opposing doctrines as a way to find peace, the ultimate goal of Justinian was to appease the Pope in the west, not only to legitimize his rule, but also to create a smoother transition as he pushed to regain the lands lost once belonging to the Classical Roman Empire, and unifying his New Rome with Old Rome once more.[2]

The anti-Chalcedonian doctrine perceived the embodiment of Christ as being one person, one hypostasis, and one nature that was entirely divine, whereas the embodiment as codified by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 421, stated that Jesus had two natures: one divine, and one mortal. Another idea, Nestorianism, which is described as the true antithesis of Monophysitism, believed that Christ was even more complex by having two forms of hypostasis, mortal and divine. This view was rejected by Chalcedon, but many Monophysites believed that it was this Nestorianism that had won in the council. This was incorrect, and Justinian did attempt to correct this misunderstanding as an attempt to coax the anti-Chalcedonians into accepting what he was asserted the true orthodox doctrine. This failed, and the emperor was forced to save face and appease the Pope in more desperate measures.

Justinian’s marriage to Theodora may have been used as a method of reaching out to the anti-Chalcedonians. Prokopios, found this to be an appalling technique of policy when writing his Secret History. He claims that Justinian and his heretic wife did nothing independent of each other, but he believed that by pitting the opposing doctrines against each other in rival circus factions, that they may have deliberately prolonged the controversy, and created the illusion that the struggle was far direr than it appeared.[3] Surely, a marriage to a Monophysite could have and should have helped the tension between the opposition dissolve, but that was not the case, at least according to what Prokopios claims to have witnessed not just with the in-city violence between factions, but also in the alleged persecutions that the emperor performed against heretical sects. He paints the picture of a blood-thirsty demonical tyrant, out for the accumulated wealth of these practically backwater churches, for no reason but to attempt forced conversion, and the joy of spilling blood.[4] However, Prokopios contradicts his own views here within his Wars, were he expresses his dislike of the heretical doctrines, and also accepts them as false.[5] He never gives his support of the emperor’s alleged violence against these groups in Wars, but in Secret History, Prokopios seems to believe that it was all constructed by Justinian for his own benefit to legitimize himself on the throne. By pushing the doctrine of Chalcedon even in the most violent way, Justinian could effectively show the Pope that he was doing right, and perhaps as previously mentioned, regain control of the Italian peninsula with greater ease.

A point that may support Prokopios’ idea that Justinian and Theodora played the game of opposing each other for furthering their agenda would be Theodora’s own outreach to her fellow Monophysites in Constantinople. John of Ephesos, a Monophysite who according to Anthony Kaldellis in footnote 80 of his translation of The Secret History, was actually a missionary for Justinian sent to preach against Jews, heretics, and pagans, wrote a volume known as The Lives of the Saints, in which he praises Theodora for her good works in protecting Monophysites within the imperial capital of Constantinople.[6] If Justinian was so adamant on crushing these anti-Chalcedonians as virulently as Prokopios claims, why would he have allowed his wife to give sanctuary to heretics within the capital of his empire? In the same chapter, John of Ephesos states that Justinian continued to look after these Monophysites in the capital after Theodora’s death.[7]  Prokopios in that case may be correct in assuming that such consistent head-butting between the imperial couple was deliberate, and that Justinian overall did not generally oppose the idea of anti-Chalcedonians living safely, but was simply creating the illusion that actions were being taken to quash the heretical theories.

Prokopios’ views on Justinian’s actions against the anti-Chalcedonian heresies of the 6th Century may contain evidence that strife between the opposing Christian doctrines were deliberately escalated by the ruling heads of Byzantium in attempt to legitimize what the author felt was a farcical rule. By creating the illusion of consistent struggle against the heretics, Justinian could appease the Pope in the West, prove to the Chalcedonians that he was working in their best interest, and be successful while creating his own struggle with his anti-Chalcedonian empress in attempts to prolong the fight.

Bibliography

Prokopios, The Secret History with Related Texts. Translated by Anthony Kaldellis. Indianopolis: Hackett, 2010.

Prokopios, History of the Wars Books III and IV. Translated by H. B. Dewing. Cambridge: Harvard, 1916. Project Gutenberg Edition 2005. Accessed September 30, 2015. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16765/16765.txt

Maas, Michael. Editor. The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian. New York: Cambridge, 2005.

 

Notes

[1] Patrick T. R. Gray, “The Legacy of Chalcedon”, in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. Michael Maas. (New York: Cambridge. 2010), 228.

[2] Ibid. 229.

[3] Prokopios, The Secret History with Related Texts. Trans. by Anthony Kaldellis. (Indianopolis: Hackett, 2010), 10.13, 48.

[4] Ibid, 11.14, 52.

[5] Prokopios, History of the Wars Books III and IV. Trans.by H. B. Dewing. (Cambridge: Harvard, 1916), 5.3.5-9. Accessed September 30, 2015. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16765/16765.txt.

[6] Secret History, 53, and page 145 in “related texts” of same volume.

[7] Secret History, 148.

Insult “Culture” and Violence in Early Merovingian Gaul – short essay

I have a treasure trove of weird, short papers I’ve done throughout my academic and professional career. Every now and then, I revisit my folders to find a source, and run into an occasional gem of an essay that was either an assignment, or a way for me to start additional research that I never followed up on.

My persona is most definitely not Merovingian, nor do I play one on TV, but I’ve spent more time reading Salic Law than I want to admit. This article is a very short paper I wrote examining the use of insults to incite feuds. After Pennsic, I think I’m going to revisit this topic and expand it into something more suitable for publication in an SCA context, because insults!

If you are interested in citing this, I’ve posted a version of it on Academia.edu here for access, please do not cite my blog:

https://www.academia.edu/36922447/Insult_Culture_and_Violence_in_Early_Merovingian_Gaul


Insult “Culture” and Violence in Early Merovingian Gaul

Gregory of Tours made his opinion of the Merovingian rulers quite clear throughout his Historia. These Frankish kings and queens were nothing more than brutish, blood-thirsty, and revenge-driven maniacs who turned a blind eye to the Church and its teachings, much to the chagrin of the bishop holding the pen. Gregory’s words were rather scathing, but in between the lines of disdain toward the violence inherent in the line of Long Haired Kings, the Bishop of Tours provides other clues as to what was going on to bring about such ensanguined entropy. The paper will argue that intense gossip and insults may have been used as a tool to provoke feuds, and incite violence in aristocratic Merovingian society.

Salic Law, during which the first draft was composed under Clovis I around the year 500, has an entire section devoted to insults, and the fines (wergeld) that they carry.[1] These insults range from being rather base by accusing somebody of homosexuality, or accusing them of being an informant or calumniator. This speaks a great deal of how strongly an insult was taken in the Frankish kingdom for it to have been codified in law. If these accusations were strong enough to incite the paying of wergeld to the victim, then what would the odds have been that such pejorative phrases would incite violence as a response, and that the laws were conceived in attempts to stop this response?

Autumn Dolan explores this avenue in her paper on the topic, “’You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut’: The Significance of Talk in Sixth-Century Gaul.” Dolan states that the social ramifications of such things could have gravely damaged reputations more so than a sword could.[2] Dolan herself focuses more on just the culture of verbiage that is evident in Salic Law, but also reverts back to Gregory’s histories. Gregory served up the tale of Firmin, the Count of Clermont, and Caesaria, his mother-in-law, in Book IV of his Historia, during which Firmin was “offered serious insults” by Chramnus, and forced to seek sanctuary in the cathedral with his mother-in-law.[3] Chramnus then orders to have them taken from the cathedral, and does so by send a man to basically lie to them in attempts to get them to leave. As soon as they were within arm’s reach of the open cathedral doors, they were taken into custody violently, and sent into exile.

Dolan uses this as only one example of how insults could be dangerous, but fails to mention that the use of the insults, and subsequent lying to coax the two from the church, was a gateway to a violent end. Using the insults here was a catalyst, not the be-all-end-all technique to scare somebody away. Firmin and Caesaria were not just told to go away, they sought sanctuary because they knew that they were in immediate danger due to the defamation of their character. Since the insults were from the mouth of the king, versus anybody else, the idea of receiving compensation went just as easy as they were plucked from the door of the church. In the end, Chramnus got what he wanted. It is possible that if Firmin had taken the insults and immediately fled into exile, that they would not have been pursued, but the fact that he chose to stay in Clermont meant that he believed there was a sliver of a chance for a fight, either legal or physical, but in the end it took nothing more than the bishop to turn his back, and devious lies to draw them back into danger.

The laws pertaining to certain infractions against women may also demonstrate how such attacks could be taken not just as defamation against the woman in question, but also to her family. Dolan alludes to this in her paper as well, and offers a quote from Gregory, when Chilperic exclaims that the “slander of my wife is considered my shame.”[4] Referring back to Salic Law, an interesting excerpt involves the releasing a woman’s hair from its restraints. This would cost the assailant a wergeld of thirty solidi, no small fine by any means.[5] It would seem obvious that, with the law written in such a way to discourage violence, that heavy fines were put into place in order to discourage this behavior knowing that the shaming of an aristocratic woman could result in subsequent bloodshed in the form of a feud. This of course doubles back to the chapter on insults.

Laws are written for a reason. With dedicated chapters on insults in Salic Law,  and Gregory of Tours’ interesting accounts of violent happenings in sixth century Gaul, it appears that an actual culture of shaming individuals as a way to spark feuds may have been a common occurrence in what Gregory described as a violent society. Whether it be a way to get under the skin of a political rival, or a backhanded attack by pulling a woman’s hair, the Merovingian’s certainly had a dark way of dealing with their business.

 

Bibliography

Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.

Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In The Internet History Sourcebook. Edited by Paul Halsall. Translated by Ernest Brehaut. https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.asp. Accessed November 22, 2015.

“The Salic Law (Lex Salica.)” In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.

Dolan, Autumn. “‘You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut:’ The Significance of Talk in Sixth Century Gaul.” In Proceedings from The Western Society for French History 40 (2012.) http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0040.001?view=text;rgn=main. Accessed November 22, 2015.

 

Notes

[1] “The Salic Law (Lex Salica.)” In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Ed. and trans by Alexander Callander Murray. (University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.) 552.

[2] Autumn Dolan, “‘You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut:’ The Significance of Talk in Sixth Century Gaul.” In Proceedings from The Western Society for French History 40 (2012.) http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0040.001?view=text;rgn=main. Accessed November 22, 2015.

[3] Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In The Internet History Sourcebook. Ed. by Paul Halsall. Trans. by Ernest Brehaut. https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.asp. Accessed November 22, 2015. Located on page 308 in the Murray edition, however it is abridged. The Internet History Sourcebook has the complete chapter.

[4] Dolan, 5, Gregory of Tours, VI.49.

[5] Salic Law CIV 1-3, as noted by Dolan.

My Compleat Anachronist is out!

Coming soon to a mailbox near you!
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If you don’t have a subscription, I will post an update as soon as the stock clerk has them available on the SCA website. I plan to also purchase additional copies aside from my author copies, and have them available at Birka.

I know I haven’t been posting as much as I used to. I do have content coming, but I was focusing on getting this off the ground, and, preparing for another fun-filled exciting cross-country move back to the East Kingdom from Caid. I was hoping they’d give us another winter in SoCal, but nooooooo. 😦