FINLAY'S BYZANTINE EMPIRE,
FROM the removal of the seat of empire to Constantinople by Con- stantine, in the earlier part of the fourth century, until the capture of the city by the Turks in the middle of the fifteenth, upwards of eleven hundred years elapsed, the larger portion of which is ranked by historians as among the least creditable and interesting of civilized annals. Province after province was lost to the Byzan- tine sovereign, without exciting a regret or scarcely a thought ; the Mahometans, under various dynasties and as various nations, ravaged Asia with soldiers or swept the Grecian seas with ships ; the Bulgarians continually plundered the territories adjacent to Constantinople, and insulted the capital itself; art and literature gradually declined ; even fanaticism failing for many hundred years to stimulate the acuteness of the Greek or the fancy of the Oriental intellect to the production of a theological treatise. Morals were corrupt ; all manly spirit was extinguished; and the throne of the East, sunk below even the degradation of the Roman Empire, was not the prize of a successful general given by the voice of soldiers, but the attainment of cunning and unscrupulous intrigue carried on by eunuchs and often consummated by murder. At "Disraeli the Younger" sang in his Revolutionary Epic— "War brought no glory, peace bore no delight; The hand forgot its craft—the eye its skill—
All sense of beauty and all sights of love Dropp'd off and died ; the temple of high Thought,
Raised by the lofty, souls that conquer Time, Each hour some falling column told its fate ;
The very soul of man seem'd changed and struck,
For even his crimes lack'd vigour, though most vile—
.The craft of woman and the eunuch's spite, All honour, justice, love of fatherland, And holy fiuth, and household chastity, And all for which men strive, or live, or die, All witheed from the face of the wan earth."
Such, with variations or modifications according to their nature, is the general if not the universal opinion of historians ; but Mr. Finlay differs from the conclusion, and has written this history to promulgate his views. According to Mr. Finlay, the period of Byzantine history on which he is engaged, from 716 to 1057, is an exception to the general opinion. When Leo the Isaurian a ge- neral, by the by, successful through treachery) ascended the throne, after the cruel tyranny of Justinian the Second, and the 1 anarchy of various competitors which followed Justinian's first 1 deposition and his final murder, Mr. Finlay admits that the Byzan- tine Empire was reduced to the brink of ruin. It is his theory that the race of Isaurian princes stimulated the vitality, reformed the government, defeated the enemies, and restored at all events the material prosperity of the empire ; while the Amorian and Basilian dynasties maintained the status in quo till the downfall of their race and the accession of Isaac Comnenus. Several sieges of the capital, the loss of Crete, Sicily, and the possessions in Italy, the ravages of the Bulgarians, Russians, and Mahometans in Europe and Asia, with the deoivase rather than the extension of the Eastern boundaries—above all, the tor- pid and abject state of the courtiers and the capital, and the vices of the court—do not say much for Mr. Finlay's theory. Neither does he offer many proofs of his assertions. The talents of Leo the Isaurian and his successor Constantine are generally admitted, and a few other Emperors of vigour and capacity may be picked out from a list extending over three hundred years. The ex- ternal signs of wealth in a country enriched for a long series of centuries by Grecian taste and Roman magnificence, accumulated treasure and material prosperity, (subject in the Byzantine case to the drawback of hostile ravages,) might exist without much virtue, spirit, or historical interest, as we see in the case of China ; and the mere popular odium of an imperial divorce in order to marry a maid of honour is not sufficient to prove the moral state of a people. Admitted that commerce flourished at Constantinople— that in the territories more immediately verging on the capital life and property were secure—that a reign of law rather than of will or licence was established in the same places, while Western Europe was in a state of anarchy : the same may be said of China for many centuries, and of Austria now. Yet the rude but vigor- ous spirit of a yowlg anarchy was better than order preserved by the prescriptions of routine bureaucracy, which Mr. Finlay al- lows was the source of order in the Byzantine empire, as it was in China, and is in Austria.
Though we think Mr. Finlay's opinions too favourable, if not altogether erroneous, his History of the Byzantine Empire is an acirisition to English literature. The survey of Gibbon was too brief and summary to satisfy a reader desirous of fulness. The singular pertinacity of the Roman civil administration and mili- tary system in resisting all but overwhelming barbarian force, which destroys what it cannot manage, offers a lesson in favour of what we call bureaucracy, or of municipality. The laws of a country will always enable us to learn something of its social con- dition and in the Byzantine Empire theological disputes indicate the state of opinion, and, alas, of literature and what was deemed Christianity. Neither is the period devoid of remarkable charac- ters, strange vicissitudes of fortune, incidents that smack of ro-
mance, and crimes that are startling ; though it may be that the persons are too truly "Greeks of the Lower Empire "—that the fortunes are so Oriental as to wear the air of favouritism or the
History of the Byzantine Empire, from DCOXVI. to MLVII. By George Fin- lay, Honorary Member of the Royal Society of Literature. Published by Blackwood and Seas.
caprice of power, rather than of merit and self-struggle—that the romance is somewhat childish, and the crime often of an Old Bai- ley cast.
The author, moreover, is qualified for the task. His previous studies for the history of Greece rendered him familiar with the state of the Eastern Empire. He came to his present inquiries with a stored and apprehensive mind. He is practically acquainted with a considerable part of the country which is the scene of his narrative, familiar with some of it. His views seem to have been deduced from previous study ; and his narrative of facts supplies the means of correcting his theory to a considerable extent. His work exhibits the true mental grasp and comprehensiveness of the historian who deals with results. We are not sure, however, but that Mr. Finlay might advantageously have descended from the dignity of history, and not only dwelt more than he has done upon personal traits and particular anecdotes but expounded laws as a picture of society, and made an attempt—though materials are scanty—at more fully exhibiting the state of art and of trade. We do not think the historical narrative has been sacrificed to political disquisition, but the author's theory has perhaps diverted his at- tention from those social and moral conditions which are of much more importance in Byzantine history than a series of events which led to nothing, or which when seemingly successful could not avert the decay of the empire.
Three separate dynasties fill the period ; the Isaurian, the Amo- rian, the Basilian. Leo the Third, the first Isaurian Emperor, ascended the throne as a sort of necessity, though he dispossessed a reigning monarch. The first Amorian and the first Basilian Emperor attained the crown by ingratitude and murder. The fact may be pleaded as an excuse for the dying conduct of the second Amorian sovereign, though it says but little for the Greek morality, Mr. Finlay is so fond of talking about.
"Theophilus prepared for death with prudence and courage, but with that suspicion which disgraced his character. A council of regency was named to assist Theodora. His habitual distrust induced him to exclude Theo- phobos from this council. He feared lest Theophoboa might seize the throne by means of the army, or establish an independent kingdom in the Arnie- mac theme by means of the Persian mercenaries. The conspiracy on the night after the defeat at Dasymon had augmented the jealousy with which the Emperor regarded his brother-in-law ever after the rebellion of the Per- sian troops at Sinop° and Amastris. He now resolved to secure his son's throne at the expense of his own conscience, and ordered Theophobos to be beheaded. Recollecting the fortune of his father and the fate of Leo the Armenian, he commanded the head of his brother-in-law to be brought to his bedside. The agitation of the Emperor's mind, after issuing this order, greatly increased his malady ; and when the lifeless head of his former friend was placed before him, he gazed long and steadily at its features, his mind doubtless wandering over the memory of many a battle-field in which they had fought together. At last he slowly exclaimed, 'Thou art no longer Theophobos, and I am no more Theophiles' : then, turning away his head, he sank on his pillow, and never again opened his lips."
The Empress Theodora of the above extract was chosen in this wise.
"Theophilus was unmarried when he ascended the throne, and he found difficulty in choosing a wife. At last he arranged with his stepmother, Eu- phrosyne, a project for enabling him to make a suitable selection, or at least to make his choice from a goodly collection. The Empress-mother invited all the most beautiful and accomplished virgins at Constantinople to a ffite in her private apartments. When the gayety of the assembled beauties had removed their first shyness, Theophilus entered the rooms, and walked for- ward with a golden apple in his hand. Struck by the grace and beauty of Eikasia, with whose features he must have been already acquainted, and of whose accomplishments he had often heard, he stopped to address her. The proud beauty felt herself already an empress : but Theophilus commenced his conversation with the ungallant remark, Woman is the source of evil ' ; to which the young lady too promptly replied, 'But woman is also the CallSe of much good.' The answer or the tone jarred on the captions mind of the Emperor, and he walked on. His eye then fell on the modest features of the
young Theodora, whose eyes were fixed on the ground. To her he gave the apple without risking a word. Eikasia, who for a moment bad felt the throb of gratified ambition' could not recover from the shock. She retired into a monastery which she founded, and passed her life dividing her time between the practice of devotion and the cultivation of her mind. She composed some hymns, which continued long in use in the Greek Church."
A warlike incident within little more than seventy years after the death of Leo the Isaurian, the refounder of the Byzantine Em- pire, will indicate the condition to which it was reduced, and the state of moral opinion, which is always better than the practice.
"Leo was allowed little time to attend to civil business, for, six days after his coronation, Crumn appeared before the walls of Constantinople. The Bulgarian King encamped in the suburb of St. Mamas, and extended his lines from the Blachernian to the Golden Gate ; but he soon perceived that his army could not long maintain its position, and he allowed his troops to plunder and destroy the property of the citizens in every direction, in order to hasten the conclusion of a treaty of peace. Leo was anxious to save the possessions of his subjects from ruin • Crumn was eager to retreat without
losing any of the plunder his army had collected. A treaty might have been concluded, had not Leo attempted to get rid of his enemy by an act of the basest treachery. A conference was appointed, to which the Emperor and the King were to repair, attended only by a fixed number of guards. Leo laid a plot for assassinating Crumn at this meeting ; and the Bulgarian monarch escaped with the greatest difficulty, leavinglis chancellor dead, and most of his attendants captives. This infamous act was so generally approved by the perverted religious feelings of the Greek ecclesiastics, that the historian The- ophanes, an abbot and holy confessor, in concluding his chronological record of the transactions of the Roman Emperors, realities that the empire was not permitted to witness the death of Crumn by this- ambuscade, in consequence of the multitude of the people's sins. "The Bulgarians avenged the Emperor's treachery on the helpless inhabi- tants of the empire in a terrible manner. They began by destroying the suburb of St. Mamas ; palaces, churches, public and private buildings, were burnt to the ground ; the lead was torn from the domes, which were fire- proof; the vessels taken at the head of the port were added to the conflagra- tion; numerous beautiful works of art were destroyed, and many carried off, among which particular mention is made of a celebrated bronze Bon a bear, and a hydra. The Bulgarians then quitted their lines before Constantinople, and marched to Selymbria, destroying on their way the immense stone bridge
over the river Athyras, (Karason,) celebrated for the beauty of its construc- tion. Selymbria, Rhedestos, and Apres were sacked; the country round Gulag was ravaged, but Heraclea and Paulen resisted the assaults of the in- vaders. Men were everywhere put to the sword, while the young women, children, and cattle, were driven away to Bulgaria. Part of the army pene- trated into the Thracian Chersonese, and laid waste the country. Adrianople was compelled to surrender by famine; and after it had been plundered, the barbarians retired unmolested, with an incredible booty and an innumerable train of slaves."