The trip of the Great Persian Embassies to Byzantium during the reign of Justinian I (527-565) and its logistics

The trip of the Great Persian Embassies to Byzantium during the reign of Justinian I (527-565) and its logistics

By Ioannis Dimitroukas


Introduction: According to a long-standing custom, the diplomatic communication between Persia and Byzantium in the sixth century was carried out mainly by the great envoys. The small or lesser envoys, who were sent to give thanks for the receipt of the great envoys, played only a secondary and complementary role. The reception of the Persian great envoys at the frontier, their safe conduct3 to the Byzantine capital and their official reception in Chalcedon and Constantinople were subject to very strict rules; the master of offices (magister officiorum), the highest dignitary of the empire and head of the imperial post (cursus publicus), with his staff of officials, was responsible for the application of these rules.

Our main source of information on these rules are the chapters 89-90 of the Book One of De cerimoniis, a work of compilation produced for Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959). The chapters 84-95 are excerpted from the lost manual On the Political State of Affairs by the great Roman diplomat and master of offices Peter the Patrician (ca. 500-565) and incorporated in De cerimoniis. Both chapters, although presented as a prescriptive text, are in fact the description of an actual event stripped of specifics, i. e. the Peter’s official account of one of the three diplomatic missions to Byzantium, that were undertaken by the Persian great envoy Iesdekos or Isdigusnas (Procopius) or Jesdegusnaph Zikh (Menander Protector) between 547 and 557; the embassy in question is in all probability to be identified with the second mission of Zikh (551); his third mission (557) is less probable, while his first one is out of question (547). Therefore the adaptation of the account is to be dated to between 551 or 556-7 and 565. The scholars of Constantine VII did not revise, but copied the excerpts and added some comments, which are included in parentheses.

The aim of this paper is, through a minute analysis of the chapter 89 and partially of the chapter 90, to investigate and to examine the logistics of the Persian embassy’s trip (itinerary and duration of the trip, economics, means of transportation, lodging and feeding of the embassy) as well as to describe the administrative framework, through which the whole transit operation was supported.

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