Byzantine diplomacy concerns the principles, methods, mechanisms,
ideals, and techniques that the
Byzantine Empire espoused and used in
order to negotiate with other states and to promote the goals of its
Dimitri Obolensky asserts that the preservation of
Eastern Europe was due to the skill and
resourcefulness of Byzantine diplomacy, which remains one of
Byzantium's lasting contributions to the history of Europe and the
1 Challenges and goals
2 Principles and methods
3 See also
Challenges and goals
Byzantine-Mongol alliance and Sino-Roman
After the fall of Rome, the key challenge to the
Byzantine Empire was
to maintain a set of relations between itself and its sundry
neighbors, including the Persians, Georgians, Iberians, the Germanic
peoples, the Bulgars, the Slavs, the Armenians, the Huns, the Avars,
the Franks, the Lombards, and the Arabs, that embodied and so
maintained its imperial status. All these neighbors lacked a key
resource that Byzantium had taken over from Rome, namely a formalized
legal structure. When they set about forging formal political
institutions, they were dependent on the empire. Whereas classical
writers are fond of making a sharp distinction between peace and war,
for the Byzantines diplomacy was a form of war by other means.
Niccolò Machiavelli and Carl von Clausewitz, Byzantine
John Kinnamos writes, "Since many and various matters lead
toward one end, victory, it is a matter of indifference which one uses
to reach it." With a regular army of 120,000-140,000 men after the
losses of the seventh century, the empire's security depended on
Byzantium's "Bureau of Barbarians" was the first foreign intelligence
agency, gathering information on the empire’s rivals from every
imaginable source. While on the surface a protocol office—its
main duty was to ensure foreign envoys were properly cared for and
received sufficient state funds for their maintenance, and it kept all
the official translators—it clearly had a security function as well.
On Strategy, from the 6th century, offers advice about foreign
embassies: "[Envoys] who are sent to us should be received honourably
and generously, for everyone holds envoys in high esteem. Their
attendants, however, should be kept under surveillance to keep them
from obtaining any information by asking questions of our people."
Principles and methods
Aristocracy and bureaucracy
Omurtag, ruler of Bulgaria, sends delegation to Byzantine emperor
Michael II (
Madrid Skylitzes, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid).
Byzantine diplomacy drew its neighbors into a network of international
and interstate relations, controlled by the empire itself. This
process revolved around treaty making. Byzantine historian Evangelos
Chrysos postulates a three-layered process at work: 1) the new ruler
was welcomed into the family of kings, 2) there was an assimilation of
Byzantine social attitudes and values, 3) as a formalization of the
second layer of the process, there were laws.
In order to drive this process, the Byzantines availed themselves of a
number of mostly diplomatic practices. For example, embassies to
Constantinople would often stay on for years. A member of other royal
houses would routinely be requested to stay in Constantinople, not
only as a potential hostage, but also as a useful pawn in case
political conditions where he came from changed. Another key practice
was to overwhelm visitors by sumptuous displays. Constantinople's
riches served the state's diplomatic purposes as a means of
propaganda, and as a way to impress foreigners. When Liutprand of
Cremona was sent as an ambassador to the Byzantine capital, he was
overwhelmed by the imperial residence, the luxurious meals, and
Special care was taken to stimulate as many
of the senses in as high degree as possible: brightly lit things to
see, terrifying sounds, tasty food; even the diplomatic set-piece of
having barbarians standing around the throne wearing their native
The fact that Byzantium in its dealings with the barbarians generally
preferred diplomacy to war is not surprising. For the East Romans,
faced with the ever-present necessity of having to battle on two
fronts — in the east against Persians,
Arabs and Turks, in the north
Slavs and the steppe nomads — knew from personal
experience how expensive war is both in money and manpower. The
Byzantines were skilled at using diplomacy as a weapon of war. If the
Bulgars threatened, subsidies could be given to the Kiev Rus. A Rus
threat could be countered by subsidies to the Patzinaks. If the
Patzinaks proved troublesome, the
Uzès could be contacted.
There was always someone to the enemy’s rear in a position to
appreciate the emperor's largesse. Another innovative principle of
Byzantine diplomacy was effective interference in the internal affairs
of other states. In 1282,
Michael VIII sponsored a revolt in Sicily
Charles of Anjou
Charles of Anjou called the Sicilian Vespers. Emperor
Heraclius once intercepted a message from Persian rival Khosrau II
which ordered the execution of a general.
Heraclius added 400 names to
the message and diverted the messenger, provoking a rebellion by those
on the list. The emperor maintained a stable of pretenders to almost
every foreign throne. These could be given funds and released to wreak
havoc if their homeland threatened attack.
De Administrando Imperio
^ a b Obolensky 1994, "The Principles and Methods of Byzantine
Diplomacy", p. 3.
^ Gabriel 2002, p. 281; Haldon 1999, p. 101.
^ a b Antonucci 1993, pp. 11–13.
^ Dennis 1985, Anonymous, Byzantine Military Treatise on Strategy,
para. 43, p. 125.
^ Neumann 2005, pp. 869–870.
^ Shepard & Franklin 1992, Evangelos Chrysos, "Byzantine
Diplomacy, A.D. 300–800: Means and Ends", p. 35.
^ Laiou 2002, "Writing the Economic History of Byzantium", p. 3.
^ Neumann 2005, pp. 870–871.
Antonucci, Michael (February 1993). "War by Other Means: The Legacy of
Byzantium". History Today. 43 (2).
Dennis, George T. (1985). Three Byzantine Military Treatises (Volume
9). Washington, District of Columbia: Dumbarton Oaks, Research Library
Gabriel, Richard A. (2002). The Great Armies of Antiquity. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Haldon, John F. (1999). Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine
World, 565-1204. London, United Kingdom: University College London
Press. ISBN 1-85728-495-X.
Laiou, Angeliki E. (2002). The Economic History of Byzantium: From the
Seventh through the Fifteenth Century. 34. Washington, District of
Columbia: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
Neumann, Iver B. (August 2005). "Sublime Diplomacy: Byzantine, Early
Modern, Contemporary" (PDF). Millennium: Journal of International
Studies. Netherlands Institute of International Relations
'Clingendael'. 34 (3): 865–888. doi:10.1177/03058298060340030201.
Obolensky, Dimitri (1974) . The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern
Europe, 500-1453. London: Cardinal.
Obolensky, Dimitri (1994). Byzantium and the Slavs. Crestwood, New
York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 0-88141-008-X.
Shepard, Jonathan; Franklin, Simon (1992). Byzantine Diplomacy: Papers
from the Twenty-Fourth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies,
Cambridge, March 1990. Aldershot, Hampshire: Variorum.
Byzantine Empire topics
Constantinian-Valentinian era (
Constantinian dynasty - Valentinian
Twenty Years' Anarchy
Frankokratia represented by Latin Empire
Byzantine Successor States (Nicaea / Epirus–Thessalonica /
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Decline of the Byzantine Empire
Fall of Constantinople
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