Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World, 565-1204

By John Haldon | Go to book overview

Warfare and society in Byzantium: some concluding remarks

That warmaking and all that it entailed were integral aspects of Byzantine culture and social-economic organization is undeniable. In the foregoing discussion I hope I have been able to demonstrate the extent to which this was the case, and to suggest that only by taking these factors into account can we properly comprehend the spirit as well as the structure of Byzantine civilization. In examining Byzantine military organization in its social and cultural context, we can perhaps perceive the solution to the paradox presented at the beginning of this volume. For here we have a society in which war was condemned, peace extolled, and fighting was to be avoided at all costs, but which was nevertheless the inheritor of the military administrative structures and, in many ways, the militaristic ideology of the expanding pre-Christian Roman empire in its heyday. Yet, through the blending of Christian ideals with the political will to survive, the late Roman Christian society of the eastern Mediterranean/south Balkan region generated a unique culture which was able to cling without reservation to a pacifistic ideal while at the same time legitimate and justify the maintenance of an immensely efficient, for the most part remarkably effective, military apparatus.

In its self-awareness and in its constant effort to present and rationalize this paradox, East Roman culture evolved what was, in many respects, a remarkably modern political-theoretical rationale, in which philanthropy merged with the practical demands of medieval Realpolitik to harness both the pacific and the militaristic elements of the society—reflected in the culture of monasticism on the one hand and of the provincial military elite on the other. The fact that retiring soldiers so frequently took up the monastic life as a means both of securing their future economically and physically, as well as of recovering spiritual well-being and working towards the remission of their sins, is an indication of this—however much, in reality, the individuals themselves may have harboured a less refined notion of their actions.

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