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Medieval Academy of America

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Claudia Rapp
Reviewed work(s):
Peace and War in Byzantium: Essays in Honor of George T. Dennis, S. J. by Timothy S.
Miller ; John Nesbitt
Source: Speculum, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 528-530
Published by: Medieval Academy of America
Stable URL:
Accessed: 13/01/2010 08:59

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528 Reviews
Peninsula deserves attention in its own right. In reading Garvin's edition one gets no real
sense of a text coming from seventh-century Spain. All the spellings have been sanitized to
their pure "classical" form. One never encounters prespicax, prespicuum, prespicuus, su-
praestitionis, pulberes, fabore, traite, hagmine, etc., etc.-spellings that reveal their true
home of origin and with which students of early-medieval Latin culture will do well to
become increasingly familiar. It was not lack of education nor any sort of uncouthness that
produced such spellings. Their emergence is due to their origin in a region where Latin was
a living and evolving language.
This point deserves some stress, especially today, for students of medieval history brought
up to respect classical spellings as a standard universal "norm." A further example may
help to underline this point. No one doubts that the Spaniard Theodulf of Orl6ans was
one of the best educated and most sophisticated persons present in Charlemagne's entou-
rage. A good part of the treatise he composed for Charlemagne, known as the Libri Caro-
lini, survives in the original court copy. Here we see hundreds of alterations made by the
court correctors to remove what were obviously Spanish spellings from the original draft:
supraestitiosus, for example, was twenty times altered to superstitiosus to make it conform
to the norm taught in the schools-taught, I should add, by masters (whether Frank or
Anglo-Saxon) for whom Latin was not a mother tongue. In suppressing such features they
were eliminating important and crucial evidence regarding the true authorship of the work.
The inclusion of all the original features of Maya Sanchez's edition of VSPE in version 2
of the Brepols CLCLT CD-ROM will now permit scholars to make a thorough study of
its vocabulary, and should encourage them to include alternative (regional) spellings in
their search for given words or expressions.
PAUL MEYVAERT, Cambridge, Mass.

TIMOTHY S. MILLER and JOHN NESBITT, eds., Peace and War in Byzantium: Essays in
Honor of George T. Dennis, S.J. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press,
1995. Pp. xx, 282; black-and-white frontispiece and illustrations. $49.95.
The sixteen contributions in this festschrift have been offered by his students, colleagues,
and friends to Father Dennis, who has probably become best known for his editions (with
useful translations) of Byzantine treatises on warfare. (These and his other publications are
listed on three pages at the end of the volume.) It is only fitting, therefore, that the volume
should be divided under the headings "Peace," "War," and "Sources" within which the
contributions are arranged in vaguely chronological order.
It should be noted at the outset that the volume as a whole does not provide a coherent,
reliable picture of Byzantine military culture (such a work remains yet to be written).
Nonetheless and despite their variation in scope and quality, the contributions add new
facets to our understanding not merely of military activity in the Byzantine Empire, but
also of its historical, social, and religious context. The nonspecialist reader who succeeds
in overcoming the initial discouragement at the considerable amount of untranslated Greek,
and who has the stamina to seek continual assistance from the Oxford Dictionary of
Byzantium for further explanations of technical terms, will learn the following five lessons
about the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire through the lens of its military
activity and its religious and ideological ramifications. Most profit can be derived if, in
deviation from the current arrangement, the articles are read in the order suggested below.
1. As continuators of the Roman imperial tradition, the Byzantine emperors placed great
emphasis on the terminology of victory, symbolized in Christian terms by the cross, and
on the rhetorical praise of the victoriousness of the emperor, regardless of actual events on
the battlefield. Nicolas Oikonomides' article ("The Concept of 'Holy War' and Two Tenth-
Reviews 529
Century Byzantine Ivories") gives a helpful introduction to the theme of the volume, with
special attention to the rhetorical and artistic expressions of the theme of imperial victory.
As Joseph Munitiz's investigation of mirrors of princes, especially of the thirteenth century,
shows ("War and Peace Reflected in Some Byzantine Mirrors of Princes"), emperors were
expected, first and foremost, to display the classical quartet of cardinal virtues, to which
military prowess and victoriousness might be added on occasion. In contrast to the west,
the concept of the noble warrior did not play an important role in Byzantium, nor was
nobility associated with or defined by valor in fight.
2. Unlike their Latin and Arab neighbors, the Byzantines never developed the concept of
a holy war. As is fitting for an empire headed by an emperor who is the vicegerent of God,
military action, especially against the Persians and Arabs, was often explained and justified
in religious terms, but war was essentially an imperial affair: it was the emperor, not the
church, that called a war, and no spiritual benefits were promised in advance to the soldiers
(Oikonomides). St. Basil even advised that anyone who had been in a war, and thus defiled
himself by killing others, should submit to three years of penance, but theologians of the
twelfth and fourteenth centuries disagreed as to whether this canon had ever been enforced
(Patrick Viscuso, "Christian Participation in Warfare:A Byzantine View"). The articles by
Thomas Halton ("Ecclesiastical War and Peace in the Letters of Isidore of Pelusium") and
John Wortley ("Military Elements in Psychophelitic Tales and Sayings") assemble material
from the fourth to seventh centuries illustrating that the realities of military service and
violent confrontations within the empire or with external enemies encroached upon the
lives of men of the church as much as those of the desert Fathers.
3. On the whole, Byzantium aimed at the avoidance of war. War was seen as a necessity
in order to defend the empire; it was also a duty of the emperor; but it was a task to be
undertaken by professionals with the necessary skills. The Strategikon of Maurice edited
and translated by Dennis, for example, advocates that even on a campaign, pitched battle
was to be avoided by the use of stratagems and ruses, the description of which takes up a
good part of that text. Peace was not merely the absence of strife but was regularly men-
tioned in the liturgy, where it is understood as the religious communion of the individual
soul with God and of the unity among the members of the church (Robert Taft, "War and
Peace in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy").
The Byzantines were also masters at escaping the cost of war by playing two enemies
against each other. The Slav prince Svjatoslav, for example, was enlisted as an ally against
the Bulgarians, then came into conflict with the emperor when he failed to hand over his
conquests, and finally was-probably at Byzantine instigation-defeated and killed by the
Pechenegs whose leader had his skull fashioned into a drinking cup. Two articles explore
this story from a historical (Walter Hanak, "The Infamous Svjatoslav: Master of Duplicity
in War and Peace?") and a literary point of view (Stamatina McGrath, "The Battles of
Dorostolon [971]: Rhetoric and Reality").
4. The Byzantine Empire was, in modern parlance, a multi-ethnic society. The presence
of many different languages, beliefs, and ethnic traditions could easily erupt in tensions,
personal animosities, and religious conflict-issues that were of particular concern with
regard to the discipline and loyalty of the troops. Eric McGeer ("The Legal Decree of
Nikephoros II Phokas concerning the Armenian Stratiotai") discusses the ambiguous status
of the Armenians in the Byzantine army, who were prized for their fearsome efficiency as
infantrymen but at the same time treated with suspicion because of their unruliness and
their propensity-typical for inhabitants of the borderlands-to change sides to the Mus-
lims. The Normans, discussed by Emily Albu Hanawalt ("Scandinavians in Byzantium and
Normandy"), by contrast, were appreciated because of their unswerving loyalty and their
nimbleness with the double ax. From the tenth to the twelfth centuries they formed the
530 Reviews
imperial body guard, the Varangian Guard, and were rewarded for their services with the
freedom to maintain their language and faith.
5. If ethnic origin did not play a primary role in determining loyalty to the emperor and
his cause, what about differences of belief? Again, the answer must be negative. Allegiances
and loyalties were determined first and foremost by political considerations and might then
be given a religious veneer. L. S. B. MacCoull (" 'When Justinian Was Upsetting the World':
A Note on Soldiers and Religious Coercion in Sixth-Century Egypt") observes the apparent
paradox that in the sixth century the emperors in Constantinople had no hesitation in
relying on soldiers recruited in Egypt (and hence presumably non-Chalcedonian) in order
to enforce the official, Chalcedonian belief on the local population. For the fourteenth
century John Barker ("The Question of Ethnic Antagonisms among Balkan States of the
Fourteenth Century") shows that the rulers of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Byzantium, all of them
Orthodox Christians, failed to make common cause against the imminent threat of invasion
by the Muslim Turks and that Byzantium, for one, placed its desperate hopes for assistance
against the infidels on the Latins. Seen in a larger context, these articles remind us of the
importance of the study of Byzantium alongside western medieval culture for a clearer
understanding of the Geisteswelt and societal organization of Christian states in the Middle
The last four articles in this volume show that the discipline of Byzantine studies is in
many ways still in its infancy and that a great deal of work remains to be done in order to
make accessible and properly evaluate the sources, both those written in medieval Greek
as well as those from neighboring cultures that bear on Byzantium. Alexander Kazhdan
("Terminology of War in Niketas Choniates' Historia") prepares the ground for a lexical
study of the historian Niketas Choniates; David Johnson advocates a sixth- or seventh-
century date in the context of Byzantine political maneuvering on the Red Sea for what
would later become the national history of early Ethiopia, the Kebra Nagast ("Dating the
Kebra Nagast: Another Look"); John Fine ("A Tale of Three Fortresses: Controversies
Surrounding the Turkish Conquest of Smederevo, of an Unnamed Fortress at the Junction
of the Sava and Bosna, and of Bobovac") shows how a combination of Greek and Turkish
sources can throw new light on the exact progress of the Ottoman capture of Bosnia in the
fifteenth century; and Marios Philippides unmasks a supposed eyewitness to the fall of
Constantinople as a sixteenth-century French armchair historian ("Urbs capta: Early
'Sources' on the Fall of Constantinople [1453]").
In sum, a volume that offers new insights for the specialist and opens new perspectives
for the interested reader.
CLAUDIARAPP,University of California, Los Angeles

PIEROMORPURGO, L'idea di natura nell'Italia normannosveva. Introduction by Alexander

Murray. Bologna: CLUEB, 1993. Paper. Pp. xxv, 189. L 35,000.
ANDREASSPEER,Die entdeckte Natur: Untersuchungen zu Begriindungsversuchen einer
"scientia naturalis" im 12. Jahrhundert. (Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des
Mittelalters, 45.) Leiden, New York, and Cologne: E. J. Brill, 1995. Pp. xi, 365. $119.
The only book that should be allowed not to have an index is a novel. This is the second
time that Piero Morpurgo has published an academic book without an index (the first
being his Filosofia della natura nella Schola Salernitana del secolo XII, Bologna, 1990).
He claims "to wish to put at the disposal of his readers a collection of manuscript material
on which anyone can construct his own thoughts" and "to present his own interpretations
of this material in a clear way" (p. xxv), but he cannot expect scholars to refer to his books