Roman and Byzantine Greece

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History of Greece series
Aegean Civilization before 1600 BC
Mycenaean Greece ca. 16001200 BC
Greek Dark Ages ca. 1200800 BC
Ancient Greece 776323 BC
Hellenistic Greece 323 BC146 BC
Roman and Byzantine Greece 146 BC1453 AD
Ottoman Greece 14531832
Modern Greece after 1832
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Roman Greece

The Greek peninsula became a Roman protectorate in 146 BC, and the Aegean islands were added to this territory in 133. Athens and other Greek cities revolted in 88, and the peninsula was crushed by the Roman general Sulla. The Roman civil wars devastated the land even further, until Augustus organized the peninsula as the province of Achaea in 27.

Greece was a typical eastern province of the Roman Empire. The Romans sent colonies there and contributed new buildings to its cities, especially in the Agora of Athens, where the Agrippeia of Marcus Agrippa, the Library of Pantaenus, and the Tower of the Winds, among others, were built. Life in Greece continued under the Roman Empire much the same as it had previously. Roman culture was highly influenced by the Greeks; as Horace said, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit. The epics of Homer inspired the Aeneid of Virgil, and authors such as Seneca the younger wrote using Greek styles. Although some Romans felt the Greeks were backwards and petty, the emperors tended to be more philhellenic. The emperor Nero visited Greece in 66, and performed at the Olympic Games, despite the rules against non-Greek participation. He was, of course, honoured with a victory in every contest, and in 67 he proclaimed the freedom of the Greeks at the Isthmian Games in Corinth, just as Flamininus had over 200 years previously. Hadrian was also particularly fond of the Greeks; before he became emperor he served as eponymous archon of Athens. He also built his namesake arch there, and had a Greek lover, Antinous.

At the same time Greece and much of the rest of the Roman east came under the influence of Christianity. The apostle Paul had preached in Corinth and Athens, and Greece soon became one of the most highly Christianized areas of the empire.

Later Roman Empire

During the second and third centuries, Greece was divided into provinces including Achaea, Macedonia, and Moesia. During the reign of Diocletian in the late 3rd century, Moesia was organized as a diocese, and was ruled by Galerius. Under Constantine I Hellas was part of the prefectures of Macedonia and Thrace. Theodosius I divided the prefecture of Macedonia into the provinces of Creta, Achaea, Thessalia, Epirus Vetus, Epirus Nova, and Macedonia. The Aegean islands formed the province of Insulae in the prefecture of Asiana.

Greece faced invasions from the Heruli, Tervingi, Goths, and Vandals during the reign of Theodosius. Stilicho, who acted as regent for Arcadius, evacuated Thessaly when the Visigoths invaded in the late 4th century. Arcadius' chamberlain Eutropius allowed Alaric to enter Greece, and he looted Athens, Corinth, and the Peloponnese. Stilicho eventually drove him out around 397 and Alaric was made magister militum in Illyricum. Eventually, Alaric and the Goths migrated to Italy, sacked Rome in 410, and built the Visigothic Empire in Iberia and southern France, which lasted until 711 with the advent of the Arabs.

Although Greece remained part of the relatively unified eastern half of the empire, the land had still never fully recovered from the Roman occupation almost 500 years earlier. It had become poor and underpopulated, and the focus of the Greek east had moved to Constantinople and Anatolia during Constantine's reign. Athens, Sparta, and other cities were ignored, and many of their statues and other art were removed and taken to Constantinople. Nevertheless, the area remained one of the strongest centers of Christianity in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods.

Further Invasions and Reorganization

Greece was raided again in Macedonia in 479 and 482 by the Ostrogoths. The Bulgars also raided Thrace and the rest of northern Greece in 540. The Huns and Bulgars raided Greece in 559 until the Byzantine army returned from Italy, wheren Justinian had been attempting to recapture the former heart of the empire. By this time the prefecture of Macedonia had been added to the larger prefecture of Illyricum.

The Slavs invaded and settled in Greece beginning in 579 and the Byzantines nearly lost control of the entire peninsula during the 580s. By now the only major city in Greece was Thessalonica, although even it was attacked by the Slavs around 615. The Slavs were eventually defeated, gathered by the Byzantines and placed into segregated communities known as Sklavinai. The Slavic populations that were placed in these segregated communities were used for military campaigns against the enemies of the Byzantines. Many of these Sklavinai were either destroyed or transferred to Asia Minor.

In the mid-7th century the empire was reorganized into themes first by Emperor Heraclius (610 A.D. - 641 A.D.) and then by Constans II, including the Thracian Theme, and the naval Carabisian Theme in southern Greece and the Aegean islands. The Carabisian Theme was later divided by Justinian II into the Theme of Hellas (centred on Corinth) and the Aegean islands. By this time, the Slavs were no longer a threat to the Byzantines since they had been either defeated numerous times or placed in the Sklavinai. The Slavic communities in Bithynia were destroyed by the Byzantines after General Leontios lost to the Arabs in the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692 A.D. as a result of the Slavs having defected to the Arab side. These themes rebelled against the iconoclast emperor Leo III in 727 and attempted to set up their own emperor, although Leo defeated them. Leo then moved the headquarters of the Carabisian theme to Anatolia. Up to this time Greece and the Aegean were still technically under the ecclesiastic authority of the Pope, but Leo also quarreled with the Papacy and gave these territories to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Meanwhile the Arabs began their first serious raids in the Aegean and the Thracesian Theme.

Bulgar Invasions

Nicephorus I began to reconquer Slavic and Bulgar-held areas in the early 9th century. He resettled Anatolian families in Greece and the Balkans, and expanded the Theme of Hellas to the north to include parts of Thessaly and Macedonia, and to the south to include the regained territory of the Peloponnese. Thessalonica, previously organized as an archontate surrounded by the Slavs, became a theme of its own as well. These themes contributed another 10 000 men to the army, and allowed Nicephorus to convert most of the Slavs to Christianity.

In the late 9th century Leo VI faced invasions from the Bulgars under Simeon, who pillaged Thrace in 896, and again in 919 during Zoe's regency for Constantine VII. Simeon and his Slav allies invaded Greece and the Peloponnese again in 922.

In the late 10th century the greatest threat to Greece was from Samuel, who constantly fought over the area with Basil II. In 985 Samuel captured Thessaly and defeated, and in 989 he pillaged Thessalonica. Basil slowly began to recapture these areas in 991, but Samuel captured Thessalonica and the Peloponnese again in 997 before being forced to withdraw to Bulgaria. In 999 Samuel captured Dyrrhachium and raided northern Greece once more. Basil recaptured these areas by 1002.

By Basilís death in 1025 Greece was divided into themes including Crete, the Peloponnese, Hellas, Nicopolis, Larissa, Cephalonia, Thessalonica, the Cyclades and the Aegean. They were protected from raids and invasions by the new themes created out of Bulgar territory. Greece and Thrace became more prosperous in the 10th century and towns and cities began to grow again. Athens and Corinth probably grew to about 10 000 people, while Thessalonica may have had as many as 100 000. There was an important aristocratic class from these themes, especially the Macedonian emperors who ruled the empire from 867 to 1025. Greece even began exporting grain to Constantinople.

Normans and Franks

Greece and the empire as a whole faced a new threat from the Normans of Sicily in the late 11th century. Robert Guiscard took Dyrrhachium and Corcyra in 1081 (see Battle of Dyrrhachium), but Alexius I defeated him, and later his son Bohemund, by 1083. The Pechenegs also raided Thrace during this period.

In 1147 while the knights of the Second Crusade made their way through Byzantine territory, Roger II of Sicily captured Corcyra and pillaged Thebes and Corinth. In 1197 Henry VI of Germany continued his father Frederick Barbarossa's antagonism towards the empire by threatening to invade Greece to reclaim the territory the Normans had briefly held. Alexius III was forced to pay him off, although the taxes he imposed caused frequent revolts against him, including rebellions in Greece and the Peloponnese. Also during his reign, the Fourth Crusade attempted to place Alexius IV on the throne. The Crusaders gained support in Dyrrhachium, Corcyra, and Euboea, and in 1204 Alexius III was forced to flee from Constantinople to Thrace.

Greece was relatively peaceful and prosperous in the 11th and 12th centuries, compared to Anatolia which was being overrun by the Seljuks. Thessalonica had probably grown to about 150 000 people, despite being looted by the Normans in 1185. Thebes also became a major city with perhaps 30 000 people, and was the centre of a major silk industry. Athens and Corinth probably still had around 10 000 people. Greece continued to export grain to Constantinople to make up for the land lost to the Seljuks.

However, after Constantinople was conquered during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Greece was divided among the Crusaders. The Latin Empire held Thrace, while Greece was divided into the Kingdom of Thessalonica, the Principality of Achaea, and the Duchy of Athens. The Venetians controlled the Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean, and the Despotate of Epirus was established as a Byzantine successor state.

Michael VIII restored the empire in 1261, having also regained the Kingdom of Thessalonica. By his death in 1282, Michael had taken back the Aegean islands, Thessaly, Epirus, and most of Achaea, including the Crusader fortress of Mystras, which became the seat of a Byzantine despotate. However, Athens and the northern Peloponnese remained in Crusader hands. Charles of Anjou and later his son claimed the throne of the defunct Latin Empire, and threatened Epirus and Greece, but were never able to make any progress there.

Ottoman Threat and Conquest

Meanwhile the Ottoman Turks were threatening the empire and in 1303 the Catalan Grand Company under Roger de Flor offered to help defend against them. The Catalans and Byzantines never trusted each other, and the Catalans, and then also the Genoese, attacked the Byzantines throughout Greece and the Aegean. The Catalans also pillaged Thessaly in 1309. By the reign of Andronicus III, beginning in 1328, the empire controlled most of Greece, especially the metropolis of Thessalonica, but very little else. Epirus was nominally Byzantine but still occasionally rebelled, until it was fully recovered in 1339. Greece was mostly used as a battleground during the civil war between John V Palaeologus and John VI Cantacuzenus in the 1340s, and at the same time the Serbs and Ottomans began attacking Greece as well. By 1356 another independent despotate was set up in Epirus and Thessaly.

The Peloponnese, usually called Morea in this period, was now almost the centre of the empire, and was certainly the most fertile area. Mystras and Monemvasia were populous and prosperous, even after the Black Plague in the mid-14th century. Mystras rivaled Constantinople in importance. It was a stronghold of Greek Orthodoxy and bitterly opposed attempts by the emperors to unite with the Roman Catholic Church, even though this would have allowed the empire to gain help from the west against the Ottomans.

The Ottomans had begun their conquest of the Balkans and Greece in the late 14th century and early 15th century. In 1445 Ottoman-occupied Thessaly was recaptured by future emperor Constantine IX, at the time despot of Mystras, but there was little he could do against most of the other Ottoman territories. As emperor, Constantine was defeated and killed in 1453 when the Ottomans finally captured Constantinople. After the fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans also captured Athens and the Aegean islands by 1458, but left a Byzantine despotate in the Peloponnese until 1460. The Venetians still controlled Crete and some ports, but otherwise the Ottomans controlled all of Greece.

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