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in the capital were obviously useful, as Niketas followed his brother to
Constantinople in around ±± at the age of just nine. From now on and
into his adulthood Michael must have been a strong in¬‚uence, overseeing
his young brother™s education. Unlike Michael, however, Niketas made his
career in the imperial civil service. His ¬rst post was as a revenue of¬cer
in Pontos at some time before ±± (Michael, Epistles ), and he may have
served in a similar capacity in Paphlagonia (Michael, Epistles µ). His next
known post is as an undersecretary at the court in Constantinople “ this
was probably during the reign of the young Alexios II Komnenos (±±°“),
under the regency of Maria of Antioch (Michael, Monodia ). In ±±,
Michael Choniates left Constantinople to take up his post as bishop of
Athens; the brothers probably never met again.
The accession of Andronikos I Komnenos in ±± was a disaster for
Niketas. Still in his late twenties, he had begun to establish himself in
a steady career at the imperial court; however, he now withdrew from
the court, apparently in protest at Andronikos™ repressive style and his
demotion of many bureaucrats in favour of his own men, who were typically
of humbler origin (History ·“·; Michael, Monodia “µ°). Niketas is
characteristically scathing about these new men, and it is possible that his
retirement was more of a push than a jump. However, he returned to court
when Isaak II Angelos took the throne in ±±µ, and was clearly in favour
as he gave an oration to celebrate Isaak™s marriage to Margaret-Maria of
Hungary in ±±µ or ±± (Oratio µ). Probably around this time, he married
a girl from the Belissariotes family (Michael, Monodia µ°).
In ±±·, Niketas was on campaign with Isaak against the Bulgarians and
Cumans; a couple of years later he was promoted and, around this time, he
was made governor of the cities of Thrace (History ·; Michael, Monodia
µ°). In this capacity, he was a close witness to the disastrous and damaging
progress through Thrace of Frederick Barbarossa and his army on the Third
Crusade (History °“). According to his own account, Niketas was at
odds with Isaak over his policy towards the Germans, and was instrumental
in persuading him to release the German ambassadors held by the empire
in protest to the Germans™ aggressive actions in Thrace (History °“±°).
However, the History™s glowing portrait of Barbarossa and scathing account
of Isaak are much at odds with the tone of Niketas™ rhetorical works from
the period, and the History™s account may well have been polished up with
the bene¬t of hindsight.


 
Angold ±b: ·°. Harris °°: ±·“±; Magdalino ±b.
· Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
His career continued to prosper. He is known to have been the ˜judge
of the velum™ and an ephor, probably in the early ±±°s (Oratio ±); the
content of these posts is not known, but they probably involved ¬nancial
administration of the imperial estates. By ±±µ, Niketas had been appointed
˜logothete of the sekreta™ (Michael, Epistles ), which was pretty much the
head of the civil service answering directly to the emperor; speaking of
other holders of the of¬ce, Niketas shows that this was a very in¬‚uential
post with the opportunity for enormous personal gain. He lost this post
in ±° when Alexios V Mourtzouphlos brie¬‚y seized power (History µµ),
and by the time the crusaders took the city he described himself as a senator.
Niketas™ eyewitness account of the fall of the city is deservedly well
known (History µ·“). Abandoned by their servants and leaving their
beautiful home burning behind them, he and his heavily pregnant wife
escaped only with the help of a Venetian friend; they had to disguise
themselves as captives of this friend. On the way through the city, Niketas
successfully defended a girl from rape at the hands of a western soldier
(History µ°“±). It is a beautiful and tragic account of personal loss and,
more widely, a lament for the fate of Constantinople itself, which to Niketas
seems to stand for everything great and wonderful about the Byzantine
Romans.
Having escaped from the city, Niketas was horri¬ed by the contemptuous
treatment he and other refugees from the city received from the ordinary
people of the countryside (History µ). He and his family went ¬rst to
Selymbria in Thrace, but after the Bulgarians took Philippopolis in the
summer of ±°µ this region became too dangerous, and they returned to
Constantinople. Here, Niketas was able to see something for himself of
Latin rule in the city, and his account of individuals like the Latin patriarch
Thomas Morosini is clearly that of an eyewitness (History ·). Staying in
Constantinople for around six months, Niketas ¬nally moved to Nikaia
at the close of ±°µ, where Theodore I Laskaris was beginning to establish
a government to replace the imperial court. Niketas did not receive a
particularly warm reception (History µ), but eventually picked up some
work as an orator (Orationes ±, ±, ±·) and worked on theological works
and on his history. The latter remained un¬nished on his death in around
±±µ.µ
Niketas Choniates is now best known for his monumental history, ˜one
of the greatest literary masterpieces of Byzantine historiography™, though a


 µ
Angold ±b: ±°; Magdalino ±b: µ. Magoulias ±: ix“xvi; ODB i: ; van Dieten ±·±.
·µ
Niketas Choniates
substantial theological anthology and several speeches also survive. This
History, which was mostly written before ±° but completed in Nikaia,
begins with the death of Alexios I Komnenos in ±±± and continues through
to the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. It is remarkable for its elegant,
highbrow style, rich in both classical and Biblical references, and also for
Choniates™ incisive critique of the failures of Byzantine rule under the
Komnenoi: in many ways this is his attempt to explain why the city fell to
the Latins in ±°.· Alongside the work of John Kinnamos it constitutes
our major source for the reign of Manuel I Komnenos, and Choniates also
provides a useful corrective to the better-known western accounts of the
Fourth Crusade by Geoffrey de Villehardouin and Robert de Clari. Several
copies of the history are known to have been made, and the work was
known and respected by later Byzantine Roman historians.
Intelligent and perceptive as he was, Choniates had no doubts about the
essential strength and rightness of Roman imperial rule, while the fall of
the City, which he witnessed, was cataclysmic for him. His history exalts
the Byzantine Roman state while at the same time providing a penetrating
critical analysis of its failings under the Komnenoi and Angeloi. It should be
borne in mind, however, that Choniates was at the heart of this failing state
at its nadir. As a historian, he says enough about the authoritarianism and
corruption of other leading civil servants, and it is clear from his account
of ±° that he himself, the lad from Chonai, had done very well out of his
career. When Andronikos I Komnenos sacked many of the existing civil
servants in ±±, this was in an effort to counter the waste and corruption
perceived at the heart of government; Choniates returned to of¬ce under
Isaak II Angelos, when ˜the old abuses became more ¬‚agrant . . . open
corruption became the order of the day™. It would of course be impossible
and unfair to blame Choniates for all the failings of the state he helped
to lead, but it is surely accurate to say that Choniates wrote an awful lot
better than he administered, and this was perhaps recognised in Nikaia.
Choniates™ reputation is nevertheless now high, thanks to his History.
In his approach to identity, Choniates is very much a writer of the
twelfth century. He shares much of his outlook with earlier historians
such as Anna Komnene or Eustathios of Thessaloniki, seeing the world
as divided into Romans and barbarians, and the Byzantine Roman state

 Fryde °°°:  and in general “; History: van Dieten ±·µ, English trans. Magoulias ±.
· Harris °°°; Magdalino ±; Kazhdan and Franklin ±: µ“; Kazhdan and Epstein ±µ:
µ“°; Angold ±µ: ±“.
 Browning ±°: ±µ.
· Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
as uniquely imperial and superior. Choniates has generally been seen as
fundamentally anti-Latin but, in fact, westerners were more peripheral to
Choniates than this and they served more as tools to highlight strengths and
weaknesses in the Byzantine Roman state, which was of so much greater
importance to him. Nevertheless, his was a limited analysis: although he
was brought face-to-face with the social and cultural divide between capital
and provinces in and after ±°, this is not a strong theme in his critique
of imperial rule. His focus and interests in the History are thoroughly
Constantinopolitan, despite a close personal connection both with his
homeland in Anatolia and with southern Greece, where his older brother
Michael was archbishop of Athens in the decades leading up to the Latin
conquest.±°

choniates: the collective political identity
As noted in the preceding chapter, the vocabulary of Rhomaios was the
most important self-identifying tool for Byzantine Roman writers, and so
the following analysis of Choniates™ approach to Roman identity will focus
above all on his use of this vocabulary. In fact, Choniates makes a more
liberal use of the vocabulary of Roman-ness than any other writer under
consideration in this study: the Rhomaioi play an important part in his
History, as this is his history and analysis of the fall of the Rhomaioi, of the
Byzantine Roman empire. The Rhomaioi can be individual subjects of this
state, but the term overwhelmingly signi¬es the state, both as a concrete
fact and as an ideal.
Choniates™ conception of Roman identity is overwhelmingly political:
Romans are those who live in the Roman empire and who expect to be
ruled by a Roman emperor. This sense of loyalty does not preclude revolt
against the ruling emperor at any particular time, revolt which inevitably
leads to the establishment of a replacement emperor; it is loyalty to an
institution and an ideal. The Romans are the object of rule, they are the
essence and embodiment of the empire. Thus, like his predecessors in the
twelfth century and before, Choniates uses Rhomaioi and its associated
vocabulary to denote the empire, the state, as a collective identity of its
subjects.
The primacy of the political Roman identity can be illustrated by a
quantitative analysis of Choniates™ use of the terminology of Roman-ness,
where the collective sense comes through strongly in his use of both the

 ±°
Harris °°°: “±. ODB i: ·“; Fryde °°°: “·.
··
Niketas Choniates
genitive (˜x ton Rhomaion™) and plain formulas (see Appendix ±: pp. “
).
Of over ±µ° uses of the genitive formula, ±µ have clear political asso-
ciations. The commonest partners in the formula are basile…v (basileus:
emperor) and pr†gmata (pragmata: affairs). As noted above, back in
the tenth century, Constantine Porphyrogenitos made frequent use of the
formula ˜basileus of the Romans™. Also appearing more than twice are
ˆrcž (arche: rule), basile©a (basileia: imperial rule or majesty), sk¦ptra
(skeptra: sceptres, i.e. imperial rule), aÉtokr†twr (autokrator: emperor),
basile…wn (basileuon: imperial ruler), Šnax (anax: lord) and –pikr†teia
(epikrateia: province). All of these uses presuppose a collective understand-
ing of the Romans as the necessary object of imperial rule and, with the
exception of pragmata, have a speci¬c association with political author-
ity. Also important to Choniates is geography: ‚ria (horia: borders) and
g¦ (ge: land) also both appear more than twice. The emphasis on horia
re¬‚ects the vulnerability of the borders of the empire in Choniates™ time “
more than with any of our later writers the territorial extent of the empire
is crucial to him “ yet these uses of the formula in a geopolitical con-
text rely on a collective understanding of Rhomaioi. The phrase ‚ria
t¤n <Rwma©wn means ˜borders of the Romans™, whereby the ˜Romans™
in a collective sense represent the state, even in its concrete, geographi-
cal, expression. This use is mirrored in the usage ta Rhomaion of Cho-
niates™ contemporary Eustathios of Thessaloniki, noted in the preceding
chapter.
Choniates™ use of the adjective Rhoma¨kos has a slightly different empha-
±
sis, with over half of the occurrences having military connotations; however,
cÛra (chora: land) is the noun most commonly used with the adjective, and
–parc©a (eparchia: province), kwmop»liv (komopolis: town), sco©nisma
(schoinisma: portion of land) and horia also occur more than once, con-
¬rming the importance of the territorial aspect of the collective Roman
political identity. Arche also occurs twice with the adjective.
Some of the military usages of Rhomaioi can also be understood to
have collective application: the military is after all a concrete expression of
state power. Thus, ˜heavy-armed Roman troops™ (µ°.) means here simply
military assistance from the Byzantine Roman state, and this is a collective
political identity. However, it would be a mistake to understand all military
uses in the collective sense, as some clearly refer to speci¬c armies or limited
actions. Contrast, for example, ˜the Romans were terri¬ed and recklessly
took to their heels™ (µ·.“µ), which refers to speci¬c troops involved in an
engagement “ this is not the whole state defeated and ¬‚eeing in terror.
· Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
Moving on to other uses of the plain formula, Choniates™ usage here
broadly supports the thesis of a primary collective political identity. Out of
over °° occurrences, at least half have political associations, with around
° per cent of the overall total clearly denoting a collective identity as the
state under the rule of the emperor of the Romans. Thus, the Romans make
treaties, engage in war, send embassies, prosper or go into decline and so
on just as they had been seen doing in the tenth century in Constantine
Porphyrogenitos™ De administrando imperio.
The primacy of the collective sense is above all illustrated by the fact
that Choniates continues to use the plain formula in much the same way
when narrating events after ±° “ in other words, after the fall of the
empire. For example, in his account of these years he speaks of the Bul-
garians overrunning ˜all the western dominion under Romans™ (±.µ“)
when it is abundantly clear that this territory can in no sense now be within
a Roman-ruled state, as by this stage “ around February ±°µ “ the Latins
were well established in Constantinople and Thessaloniki. Again, Choni-
ates speaks of Latin authority being established over ˜both the eastern and
the western areas under Romans™ (°.·, see also ±.“·). The sense is
clear, even though taken literally this is practically a self-contradiction, and
here we clearly see the importance of the territorial aspect of the collective
Roman identity. This land, historically ruled from Constantinople, is nat-
urally thought of as Roman despite the facts, and for Choniates Rhomaioi
necessarily has “ even needs? “ a territorial dimension.
This outlook revealed in Choniates™ use of the terminology of Roman-
ness can be detected in the foreign policy of the Komnenoi, showing
Choniates to be very much a man of his time. As we have seen, Alexios
I and Manuel I expected, whether realistically or not, that the crusaders
should return to the empire any captured territory that had historically
been part of the empire; similarly, John II and Manuel I both took the
opportunity in their ceremonial entries into Antioch to underline the
Byzantine Roman suzerainty of the city; again, Manuel I tried to restore
southern Italy to the empire. At some level, therefore, Asia Minor, the cities
of the crusader states and even Italy might be thought of as, essentially, land
˜under Romans™, whatever the facts of the situation. This is the mindset
in which Choniates spent his working life, and it emerges strongly in his
account.
It is clear that when dealing with events after ±° Choniates continues
to use Rhomaioi in much the same collective way as before, even though
it is moot whether there was an empire of which these people could be
the collective expression. At the very least, Choniates™ continued use of the
·
Niketas Choniates
terminology in this way and in this context indicates the fundamentality
of the political understanding of Roman identity as, even without a sub-
stantive empire in a ruling position, the Romans were clearly considered
still to have a collective identity.
Nevertheless, this kind of usage for the period after ±° raises the
question of an ethnic Roman identity. The post-±° identity must logically
be assessed as in some sense ethnic rather than political, given that the
complementary ruling institution necessary for the identity as a collectivity
of subjects is now lacking. There must be something else that makes these
Romans Roman, and it is therefore worth looking more closely to see if
any ethnic content can be found in Choniates™ usage.

choniates: the ethnic identity
Firstly, Choniates™ tortuous treatment of the Latin empire of Constantino-
ple and its Latin emperors reveals that he certainly is working with an
ethnic understanding of Roman-ness alongside the political and collective.
Choniates clearly had enormous problems with accepting the Latin
empire as in any sense a valid basileia Rhomaion (empire of Romans), and

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