Byzantine Empire (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
Article abstract: Military significance: The medieval and Christian continuation of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire acted as a strong centralized political unit against the Germans, Arabs, and Slavs and spread Christianity to the Balkans and Russia.
Constantine the Great, who changed the religion of the Roman Empire to Christianity and its capital to Byzantium after becoming emperor in 306, also made the first of many military changes when he reorganized the army into a border force and a mobile imperial strike force. When the Battle of Adrianople in 378 seemed to show the superiority of the Gothic cavalry, Byzantine emperor Theodosius I started taking German warriors into the central army en masse, employing their chiefs as officers. This policy backfired when some of these chiefs plundered or betrayed the empire, resulting in the bloodless takeover of Italy in 476 by the western army leader Odoacer. However, the Byzantine army of the sixth century was still largely made up of groups of foreign allies with their own subcommanders and tactical specialties.
In 502, the first of the Byzantine-Persian Wars (502-591) broke out, some of which would be fought by Justinian I, who also reconquered North Africa and Italy. In the seventh century, another war with Persia (610-628) was quickly followed by the first of the Byzantine-Muslim Wars (633-1035), in which Muslims took over the disaffected provinces of Egypt,...
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Byzantine Empire (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
BYZANTINE EMPIRE. Constantine I, the first Christian emperor of Rome (reigned 30637), established a new eastern capital in 330 at a site unrivaled for its beauty and unmatched as a center for administration and trade. The Greek colony of Byzantium had prospered on its exports of salted bonito and other seafood. Now renamed Constantinopolis (modern Istanbul), it was destined to be the capital of the later Roman or Byzantine Empire for eleven hundred years.
The civilization of Constantinople is sometimes misunderstood as a poor imitation of classical Greece and Rome. From the perspective of medieval western Europe, however, Constantinople was a city of magic and mystery. Early French epics and romances tell of the wondrous foods, spices, drugs, and precious stones that could be found in the palaces of Constantinople.
Byzantine culture never ceased to develop and to innovate, and this is certainly true of its cuisine. Among favored game were the gazelles of inland Anatolia, and wild asses, of which herds were maintained in imperial parks. The seafood most appreciated by the Byzantines was botargo
Byzantine cheeses included mizithra (produced by the pastoral Vlachs of Thessaly and Macedonia) and Cretan prosphatos. As for bread, the bakers of Constantinople were in a most favored trade, according to the ninth century Book of the Eparch, a handbook of city administration: "bakers are never liable to be called for any public service, neither themselves nor their animals, to prevent any interruption of the baking of bread." Mastic and anise were among the aromatics used in baking.
The distinctive flavor of Byzantine cookery is best represented by sweets and sweet drinks. There are dishes that we would recognize as desserts: grouta, a sort of frumenty, sweetened with honey and studded with carob seeds or raisins; and rice pudding served with honey. Quince marmalade had been known to the Romans, but other jellies and conserves now made their appearance, based on pear, citron, and lemon. The increasing availability of sugar assisted the confectioner's inventiveness. Rose sugar, a popular medieval confection, may well have originated in Byzantium.
Flavored wines, a variant of the Roman conditum (spiced wine), became popular as did flavored soft drinks, which were consumed on fast days. The versions that were aromatized with mastic, aniseed, rose, and absinthe were especially popular; they are distant ancestors of the mastikha, vermouth, absinthe, ouzo, and pastis of the modern Mediterranean. A remarkable range of aromatics, which were either unknown to earlier Mediterranean peoples or used only as perfumes or in compound drugs, were added to Byzantine spiced wines: spikenard, gentian, yellow flag, stone parsley, spignel, valerian, putchuk, tejpat, storax, ginger grass, chamomile, and violet.
Two influences combined to produce the great range of powerful flavors at the heart of Byzantine cuisine. One was the Orthodox Christian church calendar, with its numerous fast days on which both meat and fish were proscribed: the rich (including rich abbots and ecclesiastics) gave their cooks full rein to produce fast-day dishes as piquant and varied as could be imagined. Byzantine pease pudding, a fast-day staple, was aromatized with nutmeg, an eastern spice unknown to the classical Greeks and Romans.
The second influence was that of dieticians. Ancient Greek and Roman dietary manuals had been addressed to experts. The Byzantine ones, however, were written for nonspecialists. As in classical Greece and Rome, physicians relied on the theory of the "four humors" (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile) and prescribed diets aimed to achieve a proper balance of humors in each individual. The effect of each ingredient on the humors was therefore codified so that the desired balance could be maintained by a correct choice of dish and by a correct adjustment of ingredients, varying for the seasons, the weather, the time of day, and each individual's constitution and state of health. Dieticians sometimes recommended vegetarian meals, eaten with vinegar or other dressing. Spices and seasonings became ubiquitous, used both during the cooking process and at the table to amend the qualities of each dish. Fresh figs, if eaten in July, must be taken with salt. A daily glass of conditum, strong in spikenard, was recommended in March; anisaton, anise wine, was appropriate for April. These Byzantine dietary manuals are important sources of culinary history; botargo is first named in the eleventh century by the dietician Simeon Seth, who notes that it "should be avoided totally." The earliest work in this tradition is Anthimus's On the Observance of Foods, compiled by a Byzantine physician for a gothic monarch in the early sixth century.
The food of the poor of Constantinople was no doubt limited, though a poetic catalog of a poor family's larder (Prodromic Poems 2.385, probably twelfth century) includes numerous vegetables and locally grown fruits along with a considerable list of flavorings: vinegar, honey, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, caraway, salt, and others. Cheese, olives, and onions perhaps made up for a scarcity of meat. Timarion, a satirical poem of the twelfth century, suggests salt pork and cabbage stew as being a typical poor man's meal, eaten from the bowl with the fingers just as it would have been in contemporary western Europe. The staple of the Byzantine army was cereal foodheat or barleyhich might be prepared as bread, biscuits, or porridge. Inns and wine shops generally provided only basic fare. However, in the sixth-century Life of St. Theodore of Syceon, a Byzantine text, there is a reference to an inn that attracted customers by the quality of its food.
Annual fairs were a focus for the food trade. Important fairs were held at Thessalonica and Constantinople around St. Demetrius's day. Constantinople was known for specialized food markets. Sheep and cattle were driven to market to Constantinople from pastures far away in the Balkans, and eastern spices followed long-established trade routes through Trebizond, Mosul, and Alexandria. The populist emperor Manuel (1143180) liked to sample the hot street food of the capital, paying for his selection and waiting for change like any other citizen.
Medieval travelers to Byzantium did not always like the strange flavors they encountered. Garos, the fish sauce of the ancient world, which was much used as a flavoring by the Byzantines, was unfamiliar and often unappreciated. Many disliked resinated wine (comparable to modern retsina), which was simply "undrinkable" according to one Italian traveler, Liutprand of Cremona. However, foreigners were seduced by the confectionery, the can-died fruits, and the sweet wines. William of Rubruck, a thirteenth-century diplomat who was looking for presents to take from Constantinople to wild Khazaria, chose dried fruit, muscat wine, and fine biscuits.
The cuisine of the Byzantine Empire had a unique character of its own. It forms a bridge between the ancient world and the food of modern Greece and Turkey. In Constantinople astonishing flavor blends were commonplace. For example, roast pork was basted with honey wine; skate was spiced with caraway; wild duck was prepared with its sauce of wine; there was garos, mustard and cumin-salt, and black-eyed peas served with honey vinegar. Old recipes were adapted to new tastes; whereas ancient cooks had used fig leaves, thria, as edible wrappings for cooked food, during Byzantine times vine leaves were used in recipes, the precursors of modern dolmades.
When the future emperor Justin II (reigned 51827) walked from his Dalmatian homeland to Constantinople in 470 as a penniless young man seeking service in the Imperial guard, we are told that he had nothing but army biscuits to keep him alive on his long march. This paximadion, or barley biscuit, makes the perfect link from the ancient, via the Byzantine, to the modern period. A classical Roman invention, popularized in the Byzantine Empire, it has many modern descendants: the Arabic bashmat, baqsimat, the Turkish beksemad, the Serbo-Croat peksimet, the Romanian pesmet, and the modern Greek paximadi.
Beyond the old boundaries of the Byzantine Empire, Byzantium's greatest legacy to western cookery may be summed up in these four things: the table fork, which entered Europe through Italy; marzipan, which appears to have originated in Armenia (the word is of Armenian origin); the samovar, which moved northward into Russian culture via the Greek Church; and the Cult of St. Nicholas, together with the gingerbread cookies associated with this Christmas saint.
See also Balkan Countries; Greece, Ancient; Mediterranean Diet; Middle East; Rome and the Roman Empire.
Few Byzantine texts relevant to food are available in English translation. They include the following, cited in the text of the article: The Book of the Eparch [text, translation and studies] ed. by I. Dujcev. London: Variorum Reprints, 1970. The Works of Liudprand of Cremona, tr. by F. A. Wright. London: Routledge, 1930. Anthimus, De observatione ciborum: On the Observance of Foods edited and translated by Mark Grant. Totnes, Devon, U.K.: Prospect Books, 1996. Three Byzantine Saints, translated by E. Dawes and N. H. Baynes. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1977. [Includes the Life of St. Theodore of Syceon.] The following, also cited above, are at present available only in Greek: Poèmes prodromiques en grec vulgaire, edited by D.-C. Hesseling, H. Pernot. Amsterdam: Müller, 1910. Simeonis Sethi syntagma de alimentorum facultatibus, ed. B. Langkavel. Leipzig: Teubner, 1868. Timarion, tr. by Barry Baldwin. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984. The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck, translated by P. Jackson. London, 1990. For more information see: Dalby, Andrew. Siren Feasts. New York: Routledge, 1996. Chap. 9. Dalby, Andrew. Flavours of Byzantium. Totnes, Devon, U.K.: Prospect Books, 2003. A. Kazhdan, et al. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.