Get Byzantine Bureaucracy and Aristocracy essential facts below. View Videos or join the Byzantine Bureaucracy and Aristocracy discussion. Add Byzantine Bureaucracy and Aristocracy to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
The Byzantine Empire had a complex system of aristocracy and bureaucracy, which was inherited from the Roman Empire. At the apex of the hierarchy stood the emperor, yet "Byzantium was a republicanabsolute monarchy and not primarily a monarchy by divine right". There were no codified laws regarding imperial succession and the Roman Republic was never formally abolished, hence the Emperor was still to be elected, formally, by both Senate (Synkletos) and the Army. In reality, Senatorial power was severely curtailed over time and the Army practically had a monopoly regarding election. Also, while being a semi-republican entity, Emperors usually managed to secure succession for their children by indirect means, such as appointing them as co-Emperors, for example. The absence of codified succession laws and procedures, as well as the militarized state of the Empire, led to numerous coups and revolts, leading to several disastrous results, such as defeat at Manzikert.
Beneath the emperor, a multitude of officials and court functionaries operated the complex administrative machinery that was necessary to run the empire. In addition to those officials, a large number of honorific titles existed, which the emperor awarded to his subjects or to friendly foreign rulers.
Over the more than a thousand years of the empire's existence, different titles were adopted and discarded, and many lost or gained prestige. At first the various titles of the empire were the same as those in the lateRoman Empire. However, by the time that Heraclius was emperor (r. 610-641), many of the titles had become obsolete. By the time of Alexios I (r. 1082-1118), many of the positions were either new or drastically changed. However, from that time on they remained essentially the same until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.
In the early Byzantine period (4th to early 7th century) the system of government followed the model established in late Roman times under Diocletian and Constantine the Great, with a strict separation between civil and military offices and a scale of titles corresponding to office, where membership or not in the Senate was the major distinguishing characteristic. Following the transformation of the Byzantine state during the 7th century on account of massive territorial loss to the Muslim conquests, this system vanished, and during the "classic" or middle period of the Byzantine state (8th-late 11th centuries), a new, court-centered system emerged. In this, the new titles derived from older, now obsolete, public offices, and dignities of a certain level were awarded with each office. A senatorial class remained in place, which incorporated a large part of the upper officialdom as every official from the rank of protospatharios (Literally "first sword-bearer"; originally the head of the Emperor's bodyguards) was considered a member of it. During this period, many families remained important for several centuries, and several Emperors rose from the aristocracy. Two groups can be distinguished: a metropolitan civil nobility and a provincial military one, the latter remaining regionally based and having large land-holdings, but apparently no military forces of their own, in contrast to contemporary Western Europe.
The 10th and 11th centuries saw a rise in importance of the aristocracy, and an increased number of new families entering it. The catastrophic losses in the latter 11th century again prompted a reorganization of the imperial administrative system, at the hands of the new Komnenos dynasty: the older offices and titles fell gradually into disuse, while an array of new honorifics emerged, which signified primarily the closeness of their recipient's familial relationship to the Emperor. The Komnenian-led Empire, and later their Palaiologan successors, were based primarily on the landed aristocracy, keeping the governance of state tightly controlled by a limited number of intermarrying aristocratic families. In the 11th and 12th century for instance, some 80 civil and 64 military noble families have been identified, a very small number for so large a state. Finally, in the Palaiologan system as reported by pseudo-Kodinos one can discern the accumulated nomenclature of centuries, with formerly high ranks having been devalued and others taken their place, and the old distinction between office and dignity had vanished.
These were the highest titles, usually limited to members of the imperial family or to a few very select foreign rulers, whose friendship the Emperor desired.
Basileus (): the Greek word for "sovereign" which originally referred to any king in the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire. It also referred to the Shahs of Persia. Heraclius adopted it in 629, and it became the Greek word for "emperor." Heraclius also used the titles autokrator (? - "autocrat," "self-ruler") and kyrios ( - "lord"). The Byzantines reserved the term "basileus" among Christian rulers exclusively for the emperor in Constantinople, and referred to Western European kings as r?gas, a Hellenized form of the Latin word rex ("king"). The feminine form basilissa referred to an empress. Empresses were addressed as eusebestat? avgousta ("Most Pious Augusta"), and were also called kyria ("Lady") or despoina (the female form of "despotes", see below). Primogeniture, or indeed heredity itself, was never legally established in Byzantine imperial succession, because in principle the Roman Emperor was selected by common acclamation of the Senate, the People and the Army. This was rooted firmly in the Roman "republican" tradition, whereby hereditary kingship was rejected and the Emperor was nominally the convergence of several offices of the Republic onto one person. Many emperors, anxious to safeguard their firstborn son's right to the throne, had them crowned as co-emperors when they were still children, thus assuring that upon their own death the throne would not be even momentarily vacant. In such a case the need for an imperial selection never arose. In several cases the new Emperor ascended the throne after marrying the previous Emperor's widow, or indeed after forcing the previous Emperor to abdicate and become a monk. Several emperors were also deposed because of perceived inadequacy, e.g., after a military defeat, and some were murdered.
Porphyrogenn?tos () - "born in the purple": Emperors wanting to emphasize the legitimacy of their ascent to the throne appended this title to their names, meaning they were born in the delivery room of the imperial palace (called the Porphyra because it was paneled with slabs of purple marble), to a reigning emperor, and were therefore legitimate beyond any claim to the contrary whatsoever.
Autokrat?r (?) - "self-ruler": this title was originally equivalent to imperator, and was used by the emperors.
Basileus Autokrat?r ( ?) was a combination of titles reserved for the senior of several ruling co-emperors (, symbasileis), and denoted the person who held substantive political power.
Despot?s () - "Lord": This title was used by the emperors themselves since the time of Justinian I, and was an honorific address for the sons of reigning emperors. It was extensively featured in coins, in lieu of Basileus. In the 12th century, Manuel I Komnenos made it a separate title, the highest "awarded" title after the emperor. The first such despot?s was actually a foreigner, Bela III of Hungary, signifying that Hungary was considered a Byzantine tributary state. In later times, a despot could be the holder of a despotate; for example, the Despotate of Morea, centred at Mistra, was held by the heir to the Byzantine throne after 1261. The feminine form, despoina, referred to a female despot or the wife of a despot, but it was also used to address the Empress.
Sebastokrat?r (?) - "Venerable Ruler": a title created by Alexios I Komnenos as a combination of autokrat?r and sebastos (see below). The first sebastokrat?r was Alexios' brother Isaakios. It was essentially a meaningless title, which signified only a close relationship with the Emperor, but ranked immediately after the despot?s. The feminine form was sebastokratorissa. The first foreigner to be called sebastokrat?r was Stefan Nemanji? of Serbia, who was given the title in 1191. A Bulgarian aristocrat by the name Kaloyan also used the title.
Kaisar () - "Caesar": originally, as in the late Roman Empire, it was used for a subordinate co-emperor or the heir apparent, and was first among the "awarded" dignities. The office enjoyed extensive privileges, great prestige and power. When Alexios I created sebastokrat?r, kaisar became third in importance, and fourth after Manuel I created despot?s. The feminine form was kaisarissa. It remained however an office of great importance, and was awarded to a few high-ranking and distinguished officials, and was only rarely awarded to foreigners. Justinian II named Tervel, khan of the Bulgars, kaisar in 705; the title then developed into the Slavic term tsar or czar (from Latin through Bulgarian and then into Russian, Serbian etc.). Title was also awarded to George II of Georgia. Andronikos II Palaiologos also named Roger de Flor, leader of the Catalan Grand Company, kaisar in 1304.
Nobelissimos () - from the Latin Nobilissimus ("most noble"): originally a title given to close relatives of the Emperor, subordinate only to the kaisar. During the Komnenian period, the title was awarded to officials and foreign dignitaries, diluting its status. The title Pr?tonobelissimos was created in its stead, until it too started to decline, only to be replaced by a further augmented form: Pr?tonobelissimohypertatos. By the late Palaiologan era, the former had vanished, while the latter was a provincial official.
Kouropalat?s () - from the Latin cura palatii, "charge of the palace": First attested in the time of Justinian I, it was the official in charge of the running of the imperial palace. However, the great authority and wealth deriving from this position, as well as the close proximity to the Emperor, meant that it accumulated great prestige. It was awarded to important members of the imperial family, but from the 11th century onwards, it declined, and was usually awarded to the vassal rulers of Armenia and Georgia.
Sebastos () - "August One" this title is the literal Greek translation of the Latin term Augustus or Augoustos, was sometimes used by the emperors. As a separate title it appeared in the latter half of the 11th century, and was extensively awarded by Alexios I Komnenos to his brothers and relations. The female version of the title was sebast?. The special title Protosebastos ("First Venerable One") was created for Hadrianos, Alexios' second brother, and awarded also to the Doge of Venice and the Sultan of Iconium. During the 12th century, it remained in use for the Emperor's and the sebastokrat?r's children, and senior foreign dignitaries. However, the parallel processes of proliferation and devaluation of titles during the 12th century resulted in the creation of a bewildering array of often ridiculously large variations, by using the prefixes pan ("all"), hyper ("above"), pr?to ("first"): examples include Pansebastos, Panhypersebastos, or hyperpr?topansebastohypertatos. Few of them actually survived past the 12th century, and all of them rapidly declined in importance.
In the 8th-11th centuries, according to information provided by the Taktikon Uspensky, the Kl?torologion of Philotheos (899) and the writings of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, below the imperial titles, the Byzantines distinguished two distinct categories of dignities (): the "dignities by award" (), which were purely honorific court titles and were conferred by the award of a symbol of rank, and the "dignities by proclamation" (), which were offices of the state and were conferred by imperial pronouncement. The former were further divided into three subcategories, depending on who was eligible for them: different sets of titles existed for the "Bearded Ones" ( from Latin barbati, i.e. not eunuchs), the eunuchs () and women. State officials usually combined titles from both main categories, so that a high official would be both magistros (an "awarded" title) and logothet?s tou dromou (a "proclaimed" office).
Titles for the "Bearded Ones"
The "by award" titles for the "Bearded Ones" (non-eunuchs) were, in descending order of precedence:
Proedros () - "president": Originally reserved for eunuchs (see below), it was opened up in the mid-11th century to "Bearded Ones" as well, especially military officials.
Magistros () - in the early Byzantine state, the magister officiorum was one of the most senior officials, but as his duties were gradually relegated to other officials, by the 8th century, only the title was left. It remained a high honour, and only rarely awarded until the 10th century. By the early 10th century, there were 12, the first in precedence among them bearing the title of pr?tomagistros. Thereafter the number of its holders was inflated, and the office vanished sometime in the 12th century.
Vestarches () - "head of the vestai", adopted in the latter half of the 10th century for high-ranking eunuchs, it was awarded to "bearded" senior military officers and judicial officials of Constantinople from ca. 1050 on. It disappeared in the early 12th century.
Vestes () - senior honorific title, first attested under John I Tzimiskes. Awarded to both eunuchs and non-eunuchs, it survived until the early 12th century. The term is etymologically connected to the vestiarion, the imperial wardrobe, but despite earlier attempts to connect the vestai and the related title of vestarch?s, the head of the class of the vestai (see above), with the officials of the vestiarion (see below), no such relation appears to have existed.
Anthypatos () - "proconsul": Originally the highest rank for provincial governors, it survived the creation of the Theme system, until, in the 9th century, it too became a purely honorific title. The variant pr?tanthypatos was created in the 11th century to counter its decline in importance, but both disappeared by the end of the 12th century.
Patrikios () - "patrician": Established as the highest title of nobility by Constantine the Great, it remained one of the highest dignities until its disappearance in the Komnenian period, awarded to high-ranking officials, including eunuchs, and foreign rulers. The spouses of patricians bore the title patrikia (not to be confused with z?st? patrikia, see below).
Pr?tospatharios () - "first spatharios". As its name signifies, it originally was the title borne by the leader of the spatharioi ("swordbearers," the Emperor's bodyguards.) For instance, in the 6th century Narses bore this title. It later became one of the most common high court titles, awarded to senior officials such as the logothetai, the commanders of the imperial tagmata or the strategoi in charge of a theme. The title of pr?tospatharios also signified admittance to the Senate. The office survived until the Palaiologan period, but had declined to the 35th place of the hierarchy.
Dishypatos () - "twice consul". A very rare dignity, which originated possibly in the 8th century.
Spatharokandidatos () - a portmanteau of the titles spatharios and kandidatos, both of which were types of palace guards in the 4th-6th centuries. The earliest references to the title occur in early 8th century and the title is clearly attested only from the early 9th century on. Its distinctive badge (brabeion) was a golden chain (maniakion) worn around the chest.
Spatharios () - "spatha-bearer": As their name signifies, the spatharioi were initially a special corps of imperial guards (A spatha is a kind of sword.) They performed specific duties inside the imperial palace. The title survived until the early 12th century.
Hypatos () - "consul": As in the Roman Republic and Empire, the title was initially given each year to two distinguished citizens (the "ordinary consuls"), until Justinian I halted the practice due to the extraordinary expenditure it involved. The title continued to be occasionally assumed by emperors on accession until the end of the 7th century. Honorary consuls however continued to be named, as attested by seals bearing the titles hypatos or apo hypat?n ("former consul"). The title was often conferred to the rulers of south Italian city-states.
Kandidatos (?) - from the Latin candidatus, so named because of their white tunics. They were originally a select group of guards, drawn from the Scholae Palatinae. The title disappeared in the Komnenian period.
Vest?t?r (), were officers of the imperial wardrobe (Latin vestiarium).
Silentiarios (), originally a group of courtiers responsible for the maintenance of order (including respectful silence) in the palace.
Strat?lat?s (), a translation of the Latin magister militum, and apoeparch?n (? or ?), a translation of the Latin ex praefectis. These two titles are listed as equal by Philotheos. Both were still high dignities in the 6th century, but were devalued afterwards.
Titles for the eunuchs
By descending order of precedence, the "by award" titles for the eunuchs were:
Proedros () - "president": This was an entirely new rank introduced in the 960s by Nikephoros II Phokas and first awarded to Basil Lekapenos, the eunuch parakoim?menos. The holder of this dignity was also the president of the Senate, and the term proedros was often used to denote precedence, e.g. proedros of the notarioi for the pr?tonotarios. The title was widely awarded in the 11th century, when it was opened up to non-eunuchs, prompting the creation of the pr?toproedros to distinguish the most senior amongst its holders. It disappeared in the latter 12th century.
Vestarches () - adopted in the latter half of the 10th century for high-ranking eunuchs, it was awarded to "bearded" senior military officers and judicial officials of Constantinople from ca. 1050 on. It disappeared in the early 12th century.
Nipsistiarios () - from Greek ?, "to wash hands"), the nipsistiarios was tasked with holding a gold, gem-encrusted water basin and assisting the emperor in performing the ritual ablutions before he exited the imperial palace or performed ceremonies.
There is also a single special title reserved for women, that of z?st? patrikia (, "Girded patrikia"). This title was given to the empress' ladies of honour, and, according to Philotheos, ranked very high in hierarchy, above even the magistros and proedros and just below the kouropalates. The title is known from the early 9th century, and disappeared in the 11th century. Otherwise women bore the female forms of their husbands' titles.
From 14th to 15th century
Book of Offices ranks the order of command below the emperor:
Parakoimomenos - literally, "one who sleeps nearby", was the High Chamberlain who sleeps in the Emperor's bedchamber. Usually a eunuch, during the 9th-10th centuries, the holders of this office often functioned as de facto chief ministers of the Empire.
Protovestiarios - usually a minor relative of the emperor, who took care of the emperor's personal wardrobe, especially on military campaigns. He was also sometimes responsible for other members of the imperial household, and the emperor's personal finances. The older term, from before the time of Justinian I, was curopalata (or kouropalates in Greek). This was derived from kourator (curator), an earlier official responsible for financial matters. The vestiarios was a subordinate official. The protovestiaria and vestiaria performed the same functions for the empress.
Papias - great concierge of the imperial palaces, responsible for the opening and closing of the palace gates each day.
Pinkernes - originally the emperor's cupbearer, later a senior honorific title.
Kanikleios - the keeper of the imperial inkstand, one of the senior officials of the imperial chancery. In the Komnenian and Palaiologan period, some of its holders were de facto chief ministers of the Empire.
Epi tes trapezes - Greek , "the one in charge of the table," official responsible for attending to the imperial table during banquets.
Exarchos - The exarchs were governors of remote parts of the empire such as Italy or Africa. They enjoyed a greater degree of independence than other provincial governors, combining both civil and military authority, practically acting as viceroys.
Domestikos - the domestikoi were originally imperial guards, who later functioned as senior staff officers in the Late Roman army. In the Byzantine period, they were among the highest military offices, and included:
Domestikos t?n schol?n (Domestic of the Schools) - the commander of the Scholai, originally a number of guards units, later a Tagma. This was a very prestigious title, and by the late 9th century, its holder functioned as commander in chief of the army. In ca. 959, the post was divided, with one domestic for the East and one for the West.
Domestikos t?n themat?n (Domestic of the Themes) - the commander and organizer of the military themes; there was one for the European themes and one for Asian themes.
Katepan? - The governor of a greater area combining two or more themes, such as the Catepan of Italy, a title developed in the 9th century.
Strat?gos - a military and later also civil commander of a theme, who often also had the title of doux. The term is basically equivalent to "general" or "admiral", as it was used in both branches of service.
Pr?tostrat?r - initially the Emperor's stable master, under the Komnenian and Palaiologan emperors the term was used for the second-ranking commander of the army.
Stratopedarch?s (Master of the Camp) - This official was in charge of making sure the army was stocked with food and arms.
Hoplitarch?s or arch?g?t?s - commander of all infantry in a large army, the title first appears in the mid-10th century, when the infantry is reorganized and gains in importance.
Pr?tokentarchos and kentarchos - commanders of a smaller division of the army in the field. The name was derived from the Latin centurion.
Merarch?s - commander of a division (meros) of the army. Usually, each army was divided into two to three such commands.
Taxiarch?s or chiliarch?s - commander of an infantry regiment (taxiarchia or chiliarchia) in the army.
Kavallarios - A title borrowed from the Latin caballarius, it originally meant a cavalry soldier. During the Palaiologan period, it became a minor court title.
Megas doux - The Megaduke or Grand Duke, was the basic equivalent of the modern Lord High Admiral. The office was created by Alexios I Komnenos, when he amalgamated the remnants of the imperial and thematic fleets into a single imperial fleet. By the end of the Palaiologos dynasty the megaduke was head of the government and bureaucracy, not just the navy.
Amirales - The Greek version of "Admiral", introduced via Sicilian practice. An office founded in the late Palaiologan era for Western mercenary leaders and rarely held, the amirales was the deputy of the megas doux.
Megas droungarios - Initially the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine navy, after the creation of the megas doux his lieutenant, in charge of the naval officers.
Droungarios - The title existed both in the army and the navy. In the navy of the 8th-11th centuries, a droungarios headed a fleet, either the central imperial fleet or one of the thematic fleets; in the army he headed a Droungos, roughly a battalion-sized grouping.
Kom?s or droungarokom?s - The commander of a squadron of dromons.
The vast Byzantine bureaucracy had many titles, and varied more than aristocratic and military titles. In Constantinople there were normally hundreds, if not thousands, of bureaucrats at any time. Like the Church and the military, they wore elaborately differentiated dress, often including huge hats. These are some of the more common ones, including non-nobles who also directly served the emperor.
Praetorian prefect - The Praetorian prefect was originally an old Roman office used for the commander of the army in the Eastern and Western portions of the Empire. It was abolished in the 7th century owing to wide reaching civil and military reforms. The title evolved into the domestikos. After Diocletian's reforms, the functions of the Prefect embraced a wide sphere; they were administrative, financial, judicial, and even legislative. The provincial governors were appointed at his recommendation, and with him rested their dismissal, subject to the Emperor's approval. He received regular reports of the administration from the governors of the provinces. He had treasuries of his own, and the payment and the food supplies of the army devolved upon him. He was also a supreme judge of appeal; in cases which were brought before his court from a lower tribunal there was no further appeal to the Emperor. He could issue, on his own authority, praetorian edicts, but they concerned only matters of detail.
Basileopat?r ()- "Father of the Emperor": an exceptional title, granted only twice in Byzantine history. Although a basileopat?r was not the emperor's actual father, and the title did not necessarily denote any familial relationship at all, both awardees were father-in-law to the emperor: Stylianos Zaoutzes under Leo VI the Wise and Romanos I Lekapenos briefly as regent for Constantine VII, before he raised himself to co-emperor. It ranked first among the "decreed" offices, and entailed wide-ranging administrative duties.
Protasekretis - "First Secretary" an earlier title for the head of the chancery, responsible for keeping official government records and head of the class of senior secretaries known as asekretis. Other subordinates included the chartoularios (in charge of imperial documents), the kastrensios (a chamberlain in the palace), the mystikos (a private secretary), and the eidikos (a treasury official).
Protonotarios - mainly during the middle Byzantium (8th to 10th c.), also "First Secretary" but chiefly employed as chief financial and executive officer of either each thema/province, directly under its governor-general, or as imperial secretary in various government ministries in the capital. Charged with the provisioning of the thematic troops, ahead of a campaign, the Protonotarios -at times- resembled a Commissar of the USSR answering only to the emperor. During the late Byzantine era, the title is only encountered at the Palaiologan court, as the emperor's private secretary. In post-imperial times the title was linked to a higher administrative position with the Orthodox Church authorities.
Logothet?s - "one who accounts, calculates or ratiocinates", literally "one who sets the word." a secretary in the extensive bureaucracy, who did various jobs depending on the exact position. In the middle and late Byzantine Empire, it rose to become a senior administrative title, equivalent to a modern minister or secretary of state. Different offices of Logothetes included:
Megas logothet?s (Grand Logothete) - the head of the logothetes, personally responsible for the legal system and treasury, somewhat like a chancellor in western Europe.
Quaestor - Originally an accountant or auditor, the office eventually became a judicial one for Constantinople.
Tribounos - translation of Latin tribune; responsible for maintenance of roads, monuments, and buildings in Constantinople (which were the responsibility of the Aedile, not the Tribunes in earlier Latin speaking times.)
Sakellarios - "Treasurer; purse-bearer." Under Heraclius, an honorary supervisor of the other palace administrators, logothetes, etc. Later, the chief financial comptroller of the Empire.
Praetor - Latin for "Man who goes before; first man." One of the oldest of Roman titles, predating the Roman Republic, the title's use morphed considerably through the years. By the time of Theodosius I (379-395) it meant the leading municipal magistrate (like a modern Mayor) but from late 10th century until 1204, a civil governor of a theme.
Horeiarios - in charge of distributing food from the state granaries.
The protasekretis, logothetes, prefect, praetor, quaestor, magister, and sakellarios, among others, were members of the senate.
At the peaceful height of Middle Byzantium, court life "passed in a sort of ballet", with precise ceremonies prescribed for every occasion, to show that "Imperial power could be exercised in harmony and order", and "the Empire could thus reflect the motion of the Universe as it was made by the Creator", according to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote a Book of Ceremonies describing in enormous detail the annual round of the Court. Special forms of dress for many classes of people on particular occasions are set down; at the name-day dinner for the Emperor or Empress various groups of high officials performed ceremonial "dances", one group wearing "a blue and white garment, with short sleeves, and gold bands, and rings on their ankles. In their hands they hold what are called phengia". The second group do just the same, but wearing "a garment of green and red, split, with gold bands". These colours were the marks of the old chariot-racing factions, the four now merged to just the Blues and the Greens, and incorporated into the official hierarchy. As in the Versailles of Louis XIV, elaborate dress and court ritual probably were at least partly an attempt to smother and distract from political tensions.
Eunuchs also participated in court life, typically serving as attendants to noble women or assisting the emperor when he took part in religious ceremonies or removed his crown. Eunuchs in the early Byzantine Empire were usually foreigners, and they were often seen as having a low status. This changed in the 10th century, when the social status of eunuchs increased and members of the educated Byzantine upper class began to become eunuchs.
However, even by the time of Anna Comnena, with the Emperor away on military campaigns for much of the time, this way of life had changed considerably, and after the Crusader occupation it virtually vanished. A French visitor[who?] was shocked to see the Empress going to church far less well attended than the Queen of France would have been. The Imperial family largely abandoned the Great Palace for the relatively compact Palace of Blachernae.
Guilland, Rodolphe (1967). Recherches sur les institutions byzantines (2 vols.) [Studies on the Byzantine Institutions]. Berliner byzantinische Arbeiten 35 (in French). Berlin and Amsterdam: Akademie-Verlag & Adolf M. Hakkert. OCLC878894516.