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Religion and Politics in Byzantium on the Eve of the Arab Conquests

Religion and Politics in Byzantium on the Eve of the Arab Conquests

By J.D.C. Frendo

Florilegium, vol. 10 (1988-91)

Introduction: The three decades or so that go to make up the long and eventful reign of the Emperor Heraclius (610 – 641) constitute both a turning point in the evolution of the Byzantine state and a watershed in the history of Europe and the Middle East. It is difficult, therefore, though essential in the first instance for the purpose of the present analysis, to try to disentangle one aspect of this situation from the other. Nevertheless, a useful starting point for such an attempt has, I think, been provided by G. Ostrogorsky’s characterization of the changes that the Byzantine state itself underwent during a stretch of time if not identical with, at least in close proximity to and inclusive of, the period in question. It should be noted, moreover, that his observations are in a sense self-contained and, what is perhaps more important, that they are offered independently of any consideration of the epoch-making significance of the more or less simultaneous rise of Islam:

The years of anarchy under Phocas were the last phase in the history of the late Roman Empire. During this time the old imperium finally went under and the late Roman, or early Byzantine, period came to an end. Byzantium was to emerge from the crisis in an essentially different form, able to throw off the heritage of decadent political life and to draw on new and vigorous sources of strength. Byzantine history properly speaking is the history of the medieval Greek Empire, and it is now that it begins.

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