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Deployment of such arguments actually undermines confidence in the hypothesis. Charles Paz-
dernik analyses Totila’s speech defending his strategy after Belisarius recaptured Rome in 547 in
the context of Pericles’ final speech in Thucydides, to demonstrate the complex intertextuality of
Procopius’ allusions to his historiographical model. Elodie Turquois investigates Procopius’ use
of technical language and descriptions, plausibly urging that these are just as relevant to the inter-
ests of his readers as to his own expertise. Finally Marion Kruse compares Justinian’s explanation
of Roman success in his Novels with the analysis of imperial failure in Zosimus and Jordanes.
The section on Technical Genres covers Military Manuals, employment contracts and eth-
nicity, the last clearly being a topic rather than a genre but whose inclusion is perhaps justified by
exploitation of legal texts. Conor Whately tackles the issue of who read military manuals, devel-
oping an interesting argument that they were more than practical guides and so illumine the tastes
of contemporary audiences. Christel Freu reviews the extensive evidence for labour contracts in
Late Antiquity to argue, notwithstanding stylistic changes and emergence of new legal statuses,
for substantial continuity with earlier employment arrangements. The final miscellaneous section
embraces Cassiodorus’ Variae, World Chronicles and Himerius. Shane Bjornlie argues that the
Variae need to be seen as deliberately introducing encyclopaedic variety into a letter collection
that idealises Ostrogothic administration; the result hints at the intellectual culture of the admin-
istrative elite to which Cassiodorus belonged. Sergei Markov considers the genre of World
Chronicles as being defined by their Christian view of world history as a linear progression from
the Creation rather than by a particular format or audience; this is undoubtedly plausible, though
the chapter has little to say about late antique texts. Finally Edward Watts briefly highlights inno-
vations in Himerius 8, a monody in which a traditional lament for the death of Himerius’ son is
interwoven with his personal situation in exile.
Different readers will find particular sections of greater or lesser interest, but there is much
of value in this collection overall.

Michael Whitby
University of Birmingham

Juan Signes Codoñer, The Emperor Theophilos and the East, 829–842. Court and Frontier in
Byzantium during the Last Phase of Iconoclasm, Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies
13. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. xii+518.
DOI: 10.1017/byz.2015.18

To the extent that history is about people, as well as being the politics of the past, political biogra-
phy remains an essential way of reading and writing it. This is especially true for ancient and
medieval societies, where autocratic rulers adopted high political profiles and the surviving writ-
ten record is largely structured around their personal reigns. Yet the profiling of rulers in ancient
and medieval sources presents the modern historian with a particular challenge, since it is all too
often deficient in objective, coherent, incisive and contextualised explanations for political
actions and decisions. Faced with the inadequacy of biographical information, scholarship since
the nineteenth century on Roman and Byzantine emperors has opted for one, or a combination,
of three approaches. One is to write a history of ‘the age of X’, in which the biographical narra-
tive is subordinated to descriptive analysis of the geopolitical, social, economic and cultural con-
text. Another is to foreground a biographical narrative that relies on a critical but positivist
ranking and harmonisation of the sources, combined with intuitive conjecture to fill in the gaps
of the evidence. Both these approaches are driven by the issues rather than the evidence. The third
approach prioritises the evidence, or rather, it treats the evidence as the principal point at issue,
and aims to provide the prolegomena for a biographical narrative, by subjecting the sources to
exhaustive philological and narratological deconstruction.
Juan Signes’ 500-page study of an emperor who ruled for thirteen years and died around the
age of forty combines the second and third approaches. It answers the need for a biographical,
narrative focus on a controversial, high-profile ruler who gave rise to an extraordinary number
of anecdotes. Its overriding concern is to establish a correct chronological sequence for the
crowded events of Theophilos’ career. At the same time, it subjects the evidence for each event to
an exhaustive, analytical review, so that the book reads more like a series of critical essays than a
narrative synthesis. Although this does not make life easy for the reader, it is entirely justifiable,
given the previous scholarship on Theophilos. In the state of this scholarship, the most pressing
178 Reviews

need was for a study to unpick the synthesis put forward by John Rosser in his 1972 PhD thesis,
and refined and popularised by Warren Treadgold in his book The Byzantine Revival, 780–842
(1988), which featured Theophilos as the culminating, tragic hero. Treadgold was well aware of
the opaque and tangled complexity of the sources for Theophilos, but he chose not to let it spoil
the flow of his narrative, and only indicated in his endnotes the degree of conjectural interpreta-
tion on which his confident statements were based. Problems of Quellenkritik, by contrast, come
to the fore in every chapter of the book here reviewed. The Greek sources nearly all reflect the
ideological reaction against the religious policy of the last iconoclast emperor, and most postdate
the overthrow of his dynasty by Basil I the Macedonian. The main Greek historical narratives
were put together over a hundred years after Theophilos’ death, so the authors of these texts
were working with excerpts and paraphrases from earlier sources, whose relationship they were
liable to misjudge when trying to make sense of them. The Arabic histories were similarly open to
distortion at the hands of tenth-century editors. The chronicler who most faithfully reproduces
the information of his ninth-century sources is, paradoxically, the thirteenth-century Michael the
Syrian.
The author was clearly inspired, and highly qualified, to write this book by his deep familiar-
ity with Greek literature of the ninth and tenth centuries, and especially with the most important
narrative text, the Continuation of Theophanes’ Chronicle, to which he devoted a ground-break-
ing monograph in 1995, and of which he is completing, with Michael Featherstone, the critical
edition begun long ago by the late Ihor Ševčenko. It is somewhat regrettable, therefore, that he
has not dedicated a chapter to a detailed discussion of the sources, and in particular of the now-
lost narratives that lie behind the accounts of Theophanes Continuatus and the other tenth-cen-
tury historians (Genesios and the various recensions of the Logothete Chronicle). It would be per-
tinent to this study to consider the literary origin of the many biographical anecdotes that
circulated about Theophilos and his associates. Perhaps Signes considers that he has already dealt
adequately with this subject in his monograph – but that was twenty years ago, and in Spanish.
There are other omissions – notably iconoclasm within the empire, and the West – that
would be regrettable in a work that set out to be a comprehensive monograph on Theophilos.
However, the author states that this was not his intention. As it is, he has produced a larger than
average book that fully justifies its concentration on the eastern sector of Byzantine imperial
interests in a period that saw the last peak of Abbasid aggression under the sons of Harun al-
Rashid, the caliphs Ma’mūn and Mu’taşim. In pursuing the exact chronology of events on and
around the Byzantine frontier with the Caliphate from 819 to 842, Juan Signes is led to revise sev-
eral assumptions, which appeared to be set in stone, about the politics, strategy and prosopogra-
phy of the empire’s eastern command. Thus he postulates the existence of a strong Armenian
aristocratic lobby at the Byzantine court in Theophilos’ early years, which partly reflected the
emperor’s attempt to reconnect with the regime of his godfather, Leo V, whom his father,
Michael II, had overthrown. He distinguishes between Thomas the Armenian and Thomas the
Slav, and argues that the latter’s attack on the regimes of Leo V and Michael II was not funda-
mentally a Byzantine civil war but an Abbasid invasion, in which Thomas owed both his initial
success and his ultimate failure to the fact that he was a puppet of the caliph Ma’mūn. Ma’mūn
used him in the way that the Byzantines used the disaffection of the Caliph’s Persian Khurramite
subjects. In clarifying the nature of the Khurramite movement and its Byzantine connection,
Signes makes a bold, but eminently sensible, reinterpretation of the evidence concerning the noble
Persian exiles in Theophilos’ entourage: ‘Theophobos’ was not simply the baptismal name of the
person referred to as Naşr, but a different individual, most likely the other’s son, whom Naşr had
left to be brought up at the court of Constantinople during his visit under Michael II.
Signes further suggests that other Byzantine setbacks of the 820s, the Aghlabid invasion of
Sicily and the seizure of Crete by a company of Andalusian exiles, were not coincidental, but
coordinated by Ma’mūn. Seen in this light, Theophilos’ strategy of retaliation does not seem
unimpressive. The central section of the book is devoted to the painstaking task of distinguishing,
dating and evaluating the campaigns that the emperor and the caliphs launched against each
other during the 830s. The arguments are often complex and the conclusions tentative, but on
balance they support the idea that the Byzantine war effort under Theophilos was more sustained
and effective than has generally been supposed. Above all, a careful reading of the non-Greek
sources suggests that the war effort did not collapse, and Theophilos did not give up in despair,
after the caliph’s capture and sack of Amorion in 838, the emperor’s birthplace and the empire’s
main centre of operations in Asia Minor; indeed, Mu’taşim was fortunate to be able to extricate
himself and his army from his overextended offensive. Theophilos supported his war-effort in
Asia Minor with continuously pro-active diplomacy on other fronts: he cultivated an alliance
with the Umayyad emirate of Cordoba against their common Abbasid enemy, and a revised
Reviews 179

dating of his intervention in support of the Khazars against the Magyars leads to the conclusion
that he transferred his recognition from the Khazar khagan to the newly emergent power of Rus
as the empire’s main partner in the lands to the north of the Black Sea.
Signes sees evidence for the effectiveness of Theophilos’ eastern policy in the reaction it eli-
cited from the Melkite (‘Greek Orthodox’) Christians under Muslim rule. Perhaps the most inter-
esting and impressive piece of Quellenkritik in the volume is the reinterpretation of the ‘Letter of
the three patriarchs’. In its surviving form, this document purports to be a letter from the patri-
archs of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch to the emperor Theophilos making the case for the
veneration of icons. The critical edition of this text in 1997 made clear what was already quite
obvious: that it was a piece of iconophile propaganda produced after the death of the last icono-
clast emperor. However, uncertainty remained as to whether it was a complete forgery, or the
result of heavy interpolation. Following the editors of 1997, Signes demonstrates that the sections
of the text most likely to be authentic are precisely those that speak of holy imagery in the
notional sense favoured by the iconoclasts. Two important conclusions emerge from his analysis.
Firstly, the Melkite churches in the eighth and ninth centuries were by no means as committed to
icon veneration as the careers of some prominent individuals, such as John of Damascus and
Michael the Synkellos, have suggested. Secondly, in the 830s their leaders nurtured hopes for an
end to Muslim rule, encouraged by the energetic campaigning of Theophilos, as well as by cur-
rent prophecies, both Christian and Islamic, that predicted the end of the Abbasid hegemony.
No study of Theophilos and the East would be complete without some discussion of the cul-
tural relations and intellectual exchanges between Constantinople and Baghdad in the early ninth
century. The concluding chapter of the book provides a useful summary of the state of research,
though if new insights are to be gained, they will come from the younger scholars who are work-
ing in this area.
The epilogue, in addition to recapitulating the results of the preceding chapters, deals with
the other distinctive aspects of Theophilos’ image and legacy: his populism and his reputation for
justice, reflected in many of the anecdotes about him. It would be unfair to complain that the
book, which is does not claim to be comprehensive and is already quite long, does not take this
discussion further. However, it is interesting and important to consider why these stories about
Theophilos were retold in the literature of the late ninth and tenth centuries: what does this say
about contemporary perceptions of the Macedonian dynasty, and what are its implications for
understanding the policy ideals pursued and propagated by the Macedonian emperors? The
same goes for other aspects of Theophilos’ regime that are documented in the sources of the Mac-
edonian period, and were echoed in the policies of the first Macedonian emperor; one thinks
notably of this emperor’s palace buildings, and his extensive Armenian connection. These are
important questions for the definitive study of Theophilos that Juan Signes will hopefully go on
to provide and that he has certainly inspired, not least by raising the stakes of the verdict that
Theophilos was ‘the unlucky’.
One can only be grateful that Juan Signes, who has published extensively in Spanish, decided
to exert his formidable linguistic skills and make this work available in English. Some minor quirks
– e.g. ‘provisory’ for ‘provisional’, ‘confound’ for ‘confuse’, and some unusual usage of prepositions
– subsist as reminders that English is not the author’s native language, but they evidently did not
bother the native speaker who read the manuscript prior to publication, and they certainly do not
get in the way of reading and appreciating this major contribution to scholarship.

Paul Magdalino
Emeritus Professor of Byzantine History, University of St Andrews.

Ruth Macrides, J.A. Munitiz and Dimiter Angelov, Pseudo-Kodinos and the Constantinopolitan
Court: Offices and Ceremonies, Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies 15. Farnham: Ash-
gate 2013. Pp. xxii, 540 + 24 plates, 5 tables.
DOI: 10.1017/byz.2015.19

‘Pseudo-Kodinos’ is the name given to an anonymous compilation of the mid-fourteenth century


which offers information on court ceremonial and incorporates various earlier protocols, with a
focus on hierarchical status as reflected in standing (not sitting) arrangements, attire —above all,
hats and staffs—, colour codes, spatial partitions, forms of address, and the like. It is a rich source
of information for historians of all persuasions (political, social and cultural), philologists, art

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