Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cyprus: The Eastern Roman province

Cyprus since the beginning of the Eastern Roman empire's history was a province that belonged to the administration of the east.The capital of this authority was in Antioch.Cypriots were involved in dynastic wars as Licinius obliged them to help him against Constantine the Great.Licinius' defeat rendered the whole empire under Constantine's control.
One of the first moves of the new emperor was to reinforce the defences of the island in order to be able to deal with the constant pirate raids.He also sent a trusted person to govern the it called Kalokairos. Kalokairos failed Constantine as he was incapable and additionally he declared himself independent hegemon of Cyprus.This rebelion was suppressed and Kalokairos was executed.
The island tried to recover under the authority of Constantinople.However in parallel with the rebellion, Cyprus was also hit by a natural disaster as many earthquakes caused much devastation at the main cities of the island.The successor of Constantine emperor Constantius, took the initiative to rebuilt Salamina the capital of the island. As an honour for doing this, the citizens of Salamina renamed the city  Constantia

After the earthquakes, a starvation followed which during the 4rth century wiped out the majority of the population.
During the 5th cen. there is no event worth of rememberence except some ecclesiastical develpments as during emperor Zeno's rule Cyprus was an autocephalus archbishopric.
Since the 6th century under the emperor Justinian I Cyprus was under military administration along with the northern territories of the state and the islands of the Aegean.The historians presume that this weird administrative unit was created in such way so that the safe islands of the mediterranean would support economically the northern territories which suffered from barbarian raids.
During emperor Herakleios' reign Cyprus functioned as a shelter of refugees from Palestine and Egypt as a result from the constant wars of the Byzantines with the Sassanid empire.In the same period Islam started to spread in the Levant and Cyprus gradually was turned into a border province.

The first raids against Cyprus(7th cen.)

The Arabic conquests were really fast since the adoption of Islam as their main religion(622).The crucial battle in Yarmouk(638) was the deathblow for the Byzantines in the Levant.Consequently Jerusalem and Egypt fell some years after.
Thus the Arabs acquired rich territories with much population for making bigger armies and having higher tax income.Their next step was the creation of a strong fleet in order to attack the islands of the mediterranean.They used the knowledge of the conquered people who had long naval tradition.
The nearest and easier target for the Arabs in the area of the Eastern mediterranean was Cyprus.The first recorded raid of Arabs occured in 632 when Abu Bakr was still leader of the Arabs.However this source is strongly doubted as the Arabs hadn't finished conquering Syria during that time.
It is around 641 that we have certain information about an invasion on Cyprus.The leader of the Arab fleet consisted of 1700 ships was Muawiyah the governor of Syria and later the 5th caliph.During this invasion even Constantia the capital of the island was destroyed.The Arabs didn't intend to settle in the island and when the Byzantine fleet arrived they returned back to Syria. 
Generally the territorial advantage of the Arabs helped them conduct numerous raids during the 7th cen. which were not recorded in Byzantine chronicles but only in biographies of Cypriot saints and Arab archives.
During Constantine IV Pogonatos reign the Byzantines agreed on various peace treaties with the Arabs.Essentially there is no change of the status quo until the reign of Justinian II who renewed the peace treaty by offering as a tribute 365 thousand gold coins, 365 horses and 365 slaves. It was agreed then that the income from the bordering provinces between the Arab caliphate and the Byzantine empire.Therefore Cyprus would also be turned into a "grey zone".However this changing of status would be really destructive for Cyprus in the future.
The suffering came really early. During even Justinian's II reign in 691 the emperor himself decided to break the peace treaty and forced the majority of the island's population to migrate to Asia Minor. By doing this the emperor thought that he would give an economic blow to the caliph as there would be no population in Cyprus to pay him taxes.The consequenses for the island were devastating as most of the island was deserted and much of the transferred population died of starvation and diseases.
The majority of the Cypriots were resettled in the area of Kyzikos near the Hellespont straits.There the emperor found a city called Justinianopolis. The reduction of the population cut off the prosperous economy of Cyprus.After 7 years in "exile" under order of emperor Tiberius II most of the Cypriots returned in Cyprus.
Tiberius thought that he should reinforce a border province with populations that were loyal to the Byzantine crown in order to defend better against the Arabs who continued to expand in Northern Africa really fast.

The Arab raids in 8th-9th century

Remains of Salamis the capital of Cyprus(Known as Constantia)
After the sufferings of their exile, the Cypriots thought that a time of peace and prosperity would come. Indeed until the first half of the 8th century this happened.The rise of the house of Isauroi in the Byzantine throne and the failed siege of Constantinople by the Arabs in 717-718 gave the upper hand to the Byzantines who counter attacked. The crucial battle in Akroinon in 740 made the Arabs leave from Asia minor.Thus Cyprus remained away from the main war theater all these years.Additionally the transferring of the capital in Baghdad lowered the interest of the Arabs for the Mediterranean sea.
During those years we know that the Arabs attempted this time to transfer the Cypriots in Syria without success.In 746 we know that the Byzantine fleet arrived in Cyprus and by using the Greek fire they defeated an Arab fleet of 1000 ships from which only 3 managed to escape.
During this period we may assume that Cyprus was not under full Byzantine control as it was a land for exiled persons and for iconoclast monks.
In the beginning of the 9th century the emperor Mickael I sent priests in Cyprus to assist the pilgrims who were returning from the Holy lands.New tensions followed by Arab raids restart during Harun al Rashid's rule(786-809). The Arabs do not find any resistance as the Byzantines were involved in internal conflicts.
In 790 a rumour spread in Constantinople about a powerful arab fleet ready to attack Cyprus.Empress Irene who was regent of her son the emperor Constantine VI ordered the Byzantine fleet to confront them.In one of the naval battles around Cyprus the admiral of the Byzantine fleet was caught and sent to Baghdad. There he died as a martyr because he declined to convert.
The period of weakness for the empire would end when the emperor Nikephoros Phokas(802-811) would take the throne. Meanwhile Harun al Rashid himself conducted raids in Asia minor and detachments of the Arab army reached even Ankara.As a result Nikephoros used diplomacy once again to stop the Arab exapansion. The Arabs agreed to a peace treaty where they would receive large sums  of gold coins as tribute and a term that the Byzantines wouldn't rebuilt the destroyed castles in the border provinces.Nikephoros thinking that the castles were crucial for the defence of the state started to rebuild them.The Arabs considering that this was a violation of the treaty prepared extensive retaliation campaigns.The most highlighted was a destructive raid of Cyprus in 806.
The supremacy of the Arab fleet allowed the army to disembark on the island and loot. Cities were looted the rural areas were deserted and monasteries were destroyed.Many Cypriots were caught as hostages and were tranferred in Syria. Despite the ferocity of this invasion the Arabs didn't settle in the island. Contrary we have clues about the de jure control of the island by the Byzantines proved by a letter  sent from the patriarch Photios in 878 to the governor of the island called Stavrakios.
During the reign of Basil I(867-886) Cyprus became a theme of the Byzantine empire but not for long time as the Arabs restored the previous status quo of Cyprus as a grey zone.

10th century: Cyprus reclaimed by the Byzantines

In the 10th century the Byzantine interest for Cyprus was renewed.The emperor Leo the wise considered Cyprus of high strategic importance as the Byzantine fleet could gather there and attack Arab targets using the Greek fire.The Byzantines tried to maintain control of the area but not so successfully.In 904 for instance the Arab fleet of Leontas Tripolites which sacked Thessalonika used Paphos as its port.

The sacking of Thessalonika was just one episode of the numerous raids conducted by Leontas Tripolites who took advantage the absence of the Byzantine fleet which was sent to defend Sicily which also fell to the Arabs in 902.
Emperor Leo sent the admiral Himerios to pursue Leontas and after much wandering he found inveded Cyprus. There he treated the Arabs of Cyprus with cruelty as a retaliation for the raids.
The fleet of Leo Tripolites sacks Thessalonika
This act was considered by the Arabs as a violation of the neutrality of the island and an Arab  fleet under admiral Damianos invaded Cyprus pillaging and looting everything on their path,capturing  Cypriots as slaves or exchange hostages.Although there is no involvement of Cypriots in what Himerios did to the Arabs of Cyprus,  Damianos' cruelty cannot be justified as the Cypriots continued to pay their regular taxes to Baghdad.
In 913 most of the Cypriot hostages returned back to Cyprus grace to the bishop of Kythraia Demetrianos and the patriarch of Constantinople Nikolaos Mystikos.In the next years the Arabs faced many internal problems and stopped their raids against Cyprus.On the other side the Byzantines with skilled military leadership under Nikephoros Phokas restored their supremacy in the eastern mediterranean and in 965 under order of Nikephoros Phokas the general Niketas Chalkoutzes liberated Cyprus.

Emperor Nikephoros Phokas
Cyprus in the following years got rid of the Arabs but internal conficts in Byzantium made the Cypriots rebel and seek independence which was achieved for some years before the island would fall under Latin/crusader rule

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The battle of Matzikert:The astounding victory of Arp Aslan and the beginning of the end of the Byzantines in Anatolia

The Seljuk Turks first entered the Middle East some time during the 10th century and conquered the eastern Islamic lands that included Persia at that time. Although there were battles and skirmishes along their borders, they never seemed to have had any intention of advancing into Anatolia and conquering the Byzantines. They were far more interested the lands along the Mediterranean like Syria, Lebanon and eventually Egypt – actually they were particularly interested in Egypt, which was ruled by the Fatimid dynasty and was Shiite Muslim while the Seljuk Turks were Sunni Muslims.

The Seljuks had to contend with nomadic Turkish tribes who were entering the Middle East and they developed a policy of encouraging these people to continue on West into the pseudo no man’s land that had developed between the Byzantines and the Seljuks. There the nomads could fight each other, rather than unite and rebel against the central authority. In fact a peace treaty had even been signed by the Seljuks and Byzantines in 1069. 
Seljuk warriors
The Byzantine army, under the direct command of Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, was a mixture of elite Byzantine, mercenaries of various sorts including Turks, and an enormous imperial baggage train; it numbered anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000. Some sources give the number as 100,000. The emperor’s intent was not to actually fight the Seljuk Turks. In fact he thought the Turks were engaged in military action in Syria with a view of conquering Egypt. Romanos actually wanted to retake a number of Armenian cities that the Seljuk Turks had conquered from the Byzantine Empire. As Lars Brownworth has written about this period in time, “There was no Armenia, just a collection of princes, a population sharing common dialects, and vague, shifting borders.”

Reaching Manzikert

Byzantine Emperor Romanos in 1071 decided the Seljuks under Sultan Alp Arslan were busy elsewhere allowing him to retake the area of what had been Armenia and was, at that time, under Byzantine control. Romanos offered to renew the treaty between them to make sure the sultan would move in the direction of Aleppo. And the latter laid siege to Aleppo as a result. But when he caught wind a large Byzantine army was approaching, the Seljuk Tukish ruler Sultan Alp Arslan raised his siege of Aleppo and marched into Anatolia to fight the advancing force. It was August 1071. 

Romanos was so sure of himself and his abilities as an army commander that he assembled an army at Constantinople in March1071 and went on the march until August, losing his German mercenaries along the way and his Turkish allies, when the army reached Manzikert north of Lake Van. There it easily overpowered the Seljuk force manning the fortress. Romanos didn’t lack for military intelligence.
Now he heard that Alp Arslan had abandoned his siege of Aleppo and was moving eastward along the Euphrates River but received no further information. So Romanos split his army in two and sent one half South to head the Seljuk army off because he thought the Seljuks would come from that direction. 

What happened to those soldiers is a matter of speculation as the force that went south disappeared. Either it was totally annihilated or the Byzantines spotted the advancing Seljuks and retreated without informing Romanos. Yet a third theory has it that the commander of this force was Turkish and so were his men who hadn’t been paid in some time. They may have deserted to the Seljuks. Whatever happened, it left the Byzantine Emperor with only half his army although he didn’t know it. He also wasn’t aware that Alp Arslan had led his force north and come up around the eastern side of Lake Van. 

The battle of Manzikert took place on a plain set in rocky, hilly terrain. On Aug. 24 advance scouts from the Byzantines made contact with the Seljuk army and lost part of their cavalry. The next day, the Seljuks sent an offer of a peace treaty to the Byzantines, but this was rejected. So on Aug. 26 Romanos drew up his army on the plain in fighting order. He took charge of the central section and placed two commanders on his right and left flanks. His reserves were kept back under the command of Andronikos Doukas who happened to be his enemy. Opposite the Byzantine army Alp Arslan arranged his men in the form of an arc so that when the enemy advanced, it could hit the soldiers with arrows and cause considerable damage. 
The battle of Matzikert(from a french manuscript)
The center of the Turkish line retreated, drawing the Byzantine center further in as the archers who were on horseback attacked and retreated on the sides, inflicting further damage. Towards evening the Byzantines were even able to capture the Turkish camp, but then the center turned back since it hadn’t been able to force a decisive engagement on the enemy. However, the Byzantine right flank didn’t retreat and this opened up a chance for Alp Arslan to attack. Meanwhile the reserves under Doukas didn’t go cover the emperor’s retreat; instead he had his men leave the field, abandoning the Byzantine center and the emperor. The latter fought until he was injured and couldn’t hold his sword and so he was captured. 

When Romanos was brought before Alp Arslan, the latter put his foot on the Byzantine emperor’s neck and forced him to kiss the ground as a sign of his having been conquered. Afterwards, the sultan had him treated with respect and even dined with him at his own table. He held him for a week and demanded a ransom of ten million, an amount that was reduced to 500,000 thousand plus 360,000 annually. The cities of Manzikert, Edessa, Antioch and Hieropolis were to be surrendered to the Turks. And one of Romanos’ daughters was to be married to one of Alp Arslan’s sons. 

Treaty signed after the battle
The Byzantine and Seljuk empires at the aftermath of the battle
Following this disastrous defeat, Romanos was dethroned, his eyes were blinded and he was sent to a monastery. He died in 1072 as a result of an infection that he acquired when he was blinded. Alp Arslan also died in 1072 under suspicious circumstances while he was a prisoner of a fortress commander.

The treaty signed after the Battle of Manzikert was never honored on the Byzantine side under the circumstances and Alp Arslan was more interested in Fatimid Egypt than in Anatolia. But the sultan instead encouraged the several nomadic tribes to enter Anatolia proper and, due to the power struggles going on in Constantinople, these groups were not only able to reach the Aegean but went as far north as Nicaea (Iznik) which became the capital in 1077 of the nomads who became known as the Rum Seljuks. They later established their capital at Konya. 

How ironic that 941 years after the Battle of Manzikert Sunnis are still fighting Shiites, and Aleppo is again a battle zone and Turkey’s southeast region is still troubled


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Greeks in Soviet Russia and the Greek Soviet culture of the interwar period.

John Pasalidis with his wife and son in Sochumi.

An unknown subject of Greek historiography is the activity of Greek communist organisations in Soviet Union until 1937.

 Thousands of Greek refugees fled in USSR after the Asia minor disaster of the Greek army and the subsequent victory of Turkey.From the beginning, a Greek Bolshevik leadership organised to develop culturally and politically these Greek communities.
Thus a significant and populous Soviet hellenism was created, fully autonomous from the Greek state's influence(which was under Western influences). This Soviet Hellenism became a special Greek center with an unconventional social structure. It became a refuge for leftish Greeks from Greece . The Greek communities were governed by Greek communist party organisations which took bold decisions such as the implementation of a simplified Greek language and the reduction of the letters of the Greek alphabet in the education system.

Over than 300.000 Greeks

The Greeks  were one of the 160 ethnic groups that lived in the Soviet Union.The Greeks themselves belonged to distinct regional groups like the Pontian refugees , the Greek immigrants, the native Greeks of Mariupol , the refugees from the Asia Minor tragedy and self exiled Greek communists from mainland Greece.
Their exact numbers are difficult to be calculated. It is estimated that they numbered between 300.000 and 400.000 from which the 80% were farmers and one third had Greek citizenship .
This part of history remains unknown for the Greeks because later even though the Greeks embraced the principles and values of communism, they fell victims of the racist policies of Stalin and secondly Greek historiography was always introverted and state oriented(not nation oriented). Greek history never accepter the ecumenism and the cosmopolitan character of the Greeks beyond the Greek state's borders. The history of Greeks outside of Greece stops in 1922 for the Greek historiography.Generally this is a widely accepted technique in the science of historiography as we proceeded into a world were multi-ethnic empires crumbled and solid nation states were created.
In the interwar period the Greek communists governed the Greek communities for at least 20 years.The national policy of the Soviet union favoured the political representation of the different nations .Thus the greek communist party organisations essentially shaped new social structures altered  the cultural development and generally created a Soviet Greece at the coasts of the Black sea(where the majority of the Soviet Greeks were settled).
The Greek society of Soviet Union was reduced in numbers during 1919-1922 when many Greeks decided to repatriate.Those who remained back tried to combine the necessity for Greek education with the dominant ideology of communism.Those intellectuals who starred at this effort were Georgios Skliros, Giannis Passalidis, Giorgos Fotiadis, Giagkos Kanonidis,Vladimir Triantafilov, Nikolaos Anastasiadis and Orionas Alexakis.They made a remarkable effort to explain the Greek cultural and political heritage from a communist point of view..
Already since the October revolution(1917) there was activity of bolshevik friendly societies in the Greek communities.Especially the Greeks of Georgia and Kars supported with all heart this revolution.
The period after the victory of the Bolsheviks was characterised by the efforts of the Soviet-Greek scholars to construct a Greek-Soviet education system and an independent GrecoSoviet culture.Initially the center of this effort was in southern Russia,the valley of Kouban and the region of Krashnodar.This attempt was developed in the context of a national policy over the organisation of the Greeks as special groups in the communist party.
Significant centers of the Greek community were in the area of Kouban around the town of Krimskaya and in the area of Mariupol.20.000.Many Greeks were living in Crimea in cities like Kerch , Eupatoria and Sevastopol. In Caucasus most of the Greeks were living in Georgia.90 villages in Georgia were Greek.

The end

When Stalin rose to power the national policy was shifted.The Stalinist policy promoted the Sovietization of all the minorities and ordered the closing of schools churches and printing press enterprises.Most of the Greeks of Russia who came there as refugees persecuted by the Ottomans suffered a new persecution. Most of the Greek community was displaced in the depths of Asia(Kazackstan and Siberia) and the prominent members died in labour camps in Siberia.

The autonomous Greek regions

The concentrations of big populations of the Greek community in certain areas favoured the creation of autonomous Greek administrative areas.
Assembly of the Greek workers in Kolchoz(Soviet guild).The poster in Soviet Greek writes the motto of the guild."Ready for implementing the five years plan"

Until 1938 there were 4 autonomous Greek regions. Initially in 1928 there were three autonomous regions in southern Ukraine in Donnetsk and in Mariupol. This decision was taken by the central executive comittee of the Soviet republic of Ukraine.However the most significant Greek administration was in the region of Kouban were a Greek town called Krimsk became the center of the Greek region(Gretseski Rayion). In this area Greek was spoken everywhere and even the street the shop and school signs were written in Greek.

The majority of the population were Greeks and was estimated at 60.000. It's characterization as Greek area rendered Krimsk a magnet that attracted many Greek immigrants.In 1937-38 though most of the Greek party members would be executed as part of Stalin's persecutions.

Agtzides Vlassis.2013.Οταν οι Ελληνες Κομμουνιστές πήραν την εξουσία.Ελευθεροτυπία.January 27 2013
  • translation done by the blog owner

Saturday, April 6, 2013

An uknown heroine of the Greek independence war

Domna Visvizi

Domna Visvizi was a pretty much uknown heroine of 1821. She was the wife of the shipowner Antonios Visvizis.
She followed her husband during in all his military operations on the sea.When her husband died she took the role of the commander of their ship which was called Kalomira(good fortune)."During the siege of Euripos a city in Euboea, Antonios Visvizis was killed by Ottoman fire. At that moment Domna got in front and ordered the crew to continue fighting.Specifically she said: Take my husband down to his sons to cry for him, i'll have time to cry for him after we win this war."

During the independence war her ship was active in the North-eastern Aegean. In 1823 before retiring she put her ship under command of the Greek government which converted it into a fireship. With that ship Andreas Pipinos achieved to burn the Ottoman frigate Hazine Gemisi in 1824.

Domna Visvizi never forgot her role as a mother. She tried to send her son in England for studies but eventually he was sent in Paris.Before leaving for France she left a note for him saying:My dear son, when you return back perhaps i'll be dead. Avenge the death of your father.
After the independence of Greece she had many financial problems.Initially she lived in Nauplion in Hydra in Syros where her son lived and she ended up in Piraeus where she died poor in 1850.Demetrios Ypsilantis described her as a noble and polite woman.

Nowadays there is a statue of her in the "highway of heroes" in Athens.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ancient Greek mythological elements engraved on Chinese princess' stone grave

Big noses, curly hair on empress's coffin suggests deep cultural exchange on Silk RoadChinese archaeologists have found new evidence of international cultural exchange on the ancient Silk Road.
Four European-looking warriors and lion-like beasts are engraved on an empress’s 1,200-year-old stone coffin that was unearthed in Shaanxi Province, in northwestern China.
The warriors on the four reliefs had deep-set eyes, curly hair and over-sized noses — physical characteristics Chinese typically associate with Europeans.
The 27-tonne Tang Dynasty (618-907) sarcophagus contained empress Wu Huifei (699-737), Ge Chengyong, a noted expert on Silk Road studies, said Tuesday.
Ge said one of the warriors was very much like Zeus, the “father of gods and men” in Greek mythology.
The coffin was also engraved with deer, tigers and goats.
“It’s noteworthy that goats signify tragedy in Greek mythology. The word ‘tragedy’ itself means ‘song of the man-goat singer’,” he said.
He said the tragic element coincides with the empress’s unhappy life: several of her children died young and she herself lived constantly in fear.
Ge said the exotic sarcophagus is rare for China, where ancient coffins almost always had Buddhist-themed reliefs and murals depicting harmony, happiness and peace.
The elements of Greek mythology on Empress Wu Huifei’s coffin suggest cross-cultural exchange was common in Chang’an, capital of the Tang Dynasty, located in today’s Xi’an, he said. “There could have even been clergymen from Western countries serving in the Tang imperial court.”
Wu Huifei was Emperor Xuanzong’s favorite concubine and was posthumously known as Empress Zhenshun, meaning “the virtuous and serene empress.”
Her sarcophagus – 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high – was stolen from her tomb in the southern suburbs of Xi’an in 2006.
Police said it was then smuggled out of China and sold to a businessman in the United States for 1 million U.S. dollars.
It returned to China in April and has been housed at the Shaanxi History Museum from June.

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