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Turks, Serbs and others. Thus, Choniates uses genos both more widely,
that is for more groups, and less generally: genos tends to be used expressly
with a named group and is usually singular and speci¬c, while ethnos is
typically plural and general. Again, when ethnos is used speci¬cally, this is
with groups relatively most likely to be called barbarian; for application to
Romans genos is preferred, and genos is less derogatory than ethnos. There
is, then, an approximate correlation between Choniates™ terminology of
race and his terminology of barbarism.


In conclusion . . .
Choniates was very much a man of his time. In his presentation of the
nature of Roman-ness, he illustrates the mindset of the educated Byzantine
Roman elite that ruled Constantinople and the empire in the second half
of the twelfth century. Like the emperors John II Komnenos and his son
Manuel I, Choniates had an implicit belief in the Roman empire as a
political entity with an ideal territorial extent that did not always match
the reality. As Byzantine Roman writers had done for centuries, Choniates

Niketas Choniates
saw ˜the Romans™, Rhomaioi, as the expression and reality of this political
entity. As an individual, the most fundamental aspect of being a Roman
was to be loyal to the empire; nevertheless, there were other aspects of
Roman identity that existed alongside this political element. These ethnic
elements of Roman-ness are most easily seen by contrast with the non-
Roman barbarians, and they included being Christian, speaking Greek,
living in an urbanised and civilised way and behaving in a humane manner.
Choniates is moreover a voice of the educated elite; he does not and cannot
speak for the less privileged internal ˜others™ of the empire.
Living and writing before and during the Latin conquest and occupa-
tion of ±°, Choniates is an invaluable bridge between the complacency
of the twelfth century and the shocked necessity to address defeat and
vulnerability after the fall of Constantinople. In his attempt to deal with
the conquest, we can see him struggling with his established modes of
expression as the tremendous blow dealt to the political Roman identity
allowed new weight to the ethnic criteria of Roman-ness.
chapter 4

The thirteenth century: ambition, euphoria and the
loss of illusion



george akropolites and the rise of nikaia
George Akropolites and George Pachymeres both had strong associations
with the Byzantine Roman state based in Nikaia, in Asia Minor, one
of the two states of any consequence that arose among the Romans in
response to the disaster of ±°.± The Empire of Nikaia was founded
by Theodore Laskaris, a son-in-law of the emperor Alexios III Angelos.
Escaping from the City in ±°, Laskaris had swiftly organised armed
resistance to the Latins in Asia Minor where, thanks in large part to the
tribulations of the Latin empire and despite having to deal with various
rivals, he eventually organised something like a new imperial state in Nikaia.
In ±°, on the appointment of a new ecumenical patriarch, he had himself
crowned emperor. Fourteen years later he handed over a strong state to
his successor John III Vatatzes, who brought the empire of Nikaia to its
zenith.
The historian George Akropolites was born around ±±· to wealthy
Roman parents in Latin-ruled Constantinople and received his early edu-
cation in the City, before moving to Vatatzes™ Nikaia in ± to complete
his education (Akropolites, History .±“±µ). He comments that his father
wanted to ˜release him from the hands of the Latins™ (History .±µ); he was
then sixteen, so of an age to proceed to the advanced education required
for a distinguished career. He became a student of Nikephoros Blemmy-
des, the leading scholar of Nikaia and, from ±°, the tutor of the future
emperor Theodore II Laskaris (History .“µ°.). Before the age of
thirty, Akropolites had beome a secretary to the emperor John III Vatatzes:
his career was well underway, and Vatatzes also subsequently appointed
him in turn as tutor to the heir Theodore and as an imperial ambassador

± Angold ±·µa; also Gardner ±±; Nicol ±µ· and ±.
 Harris °°: ±“±·; Macrides °°·: “, ±, ±“.


µ
The thirteenth century: ambition, euphoria and the loss of illusion
(History ·.±“, ±±.“, .“). At some point, Akropolites married a
woman named Eudokia from the distinguished Palaiologos family (History
±.±“±).
While Laskaris had been busy in Anatolia, another Roman aristocrat
was also setting up his own version of the empire in the European half of
the old empire. Michael Doukas, a cousin of Isaak II Angelos who had
not fared well under the usurping Alexios III, succeeded in establishing a
rival successor state in Epiros. Initially collaborating with the Latins under
Boniface of Montferrat, Doukas soon removed himself from the Latins
and managed to establish himself as ruler in Arta, in Epiros. Over the
course of the next year he extended his control over much of western
Greece from Albania to the Gulf of Corinth. By the time of his death in
around ±± he had extended his rule over Thessaly and into Macedonia,
and his heir Theodore went on to take Thessaloniki from the Latins in
±. Theodore™s goal was Constantinople and his main rival was the
empire based at Nikaia; rivalry between Epiros and Nikaia was open on
the battle¬eld but also fought out in quarrels over church administration;
above all, both of these rival Roman powers wanted to set the seal on
their imperial legitimacy by regaining Constantinople. However, Theodore
Doukas was defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Klokotnica in ±°,
and Epiros never subsequently regained its strength. John III Vatatzes
of Nikaia then forced the rulers of Epiros to renounce their imperial
pretensions and acknowledge his sovereignty and, most importantly, Epirot
power was pushed back to its heartland when Nikaia seized Thessaloniki
in ±.
Vatatzes, who went on to eat steadily away at the Latin territory around
Constantinople, was succeeded by Theodore II Laskaris in ±µ. Akropolites
knew Theodore well as fellow pupil and student, and the new emperor
promoted him to the post of Grand Logothete “ in essence, Akropolites
was now after the emperor himself the head of the imperial administration,
much as Choniates had been before him. Akropolites did not always enjoy
an easy relationship with Theodore Laskaris, and the emperor comes in
for some harsh criticism in the History (e.g. ±°“). Akropolites was then
made governor of the western provinces and commander of the troops sent
against Epiros in ±µ·. On this occasion, Akropolites was captured by the
Epirots and imprisoned for two years (History ±µ°.±“); he was thus in
prison when Theodore II died in ±µ.


 Macrides °°·: µµ.
 Being Byzantine: Greek: identity before the Ottomans
Theodore was succeeded by his young son John IV Laskaris but, within
months, Michael Palaiologos, the premier aristocrat and soldier of his time,
had usurped the throne. John IV was ¬rst sidelined and then blinded,
the habitual Byzantine method of ensuring the unsuitability for of¬ce
of awkward rivals. Again, Akropolites was in prison when Michael VIII
took over; this does not, however, excuse his complete failure to men-
tion Michael™s savage treatment of John IV, which is all part of the
History™s extreme bias in favour of Palaiologos. As already mentioned,
Akropolites was linked by marriage to the Palaiologos family, and the new
emperor stood by this relationship: Akropolites was freed from captivity
by the end of ±µ, and took up the post of logothete under the new
regime.
The apparent instability in Nikaia resulting from Palaiologos™ coup
seemed to offer Michael II Doukas of Epiros one more chance on Con-
stantinople, and to this end he enlisted the aid of the Franks active in the
region. In ±µ Doukas married one daughter to Manfred of Sicily and the
other to William II of Achaia in the Peloponnese, and both men joined him
in his campaign against Nikaia later the same year, culminating in Nikaian
victory and the disastrous Frankish defeat at the Battle of Pelagonia.µ
Michael Palaiologos was driven by ambition to regain the lost territory
and glory of the empire and Nikaia™s recapture of Constantinople now
seemed inevitable. Yet the eventual seizure of the City came about almost by
accident. In the summer of ±± the Nikaian general Alexios Strategopoulos
was on routine patrol near the city when, learning that the Latin forces
were absent en masse on an expedition into the Black Sea, he was able to
seize the opportunity, enter the City, and hold it for his emperor. The Latin
emperor Baldwin II ¬‚ed, as did the Latin patriarch Pantaleone Giustiniani,
and in August ±± Michael VIII Palaiologos entered the city in triumph
as the new Constantine.
George Akropolites returned to Constantinople with Michael in ±±
and wrote his historical account of the years from ±° to ±± most prob-
ably during the ±°s: as might be expected the History (which as we
have it is incomplete) is a triumphant panegyric of the accomplishment of
Nikaia and of Michael Palaiologos in particular.· Akropolites also headed
up the refounded university in the City, and one of his students, the future
patriarch Gregory of Cyprus, relates that he was an excellent teacher of

 Fryde °°°: °“. µ Geanokoplos ±µ.  Macrides ±°: “.
· Macrides °°·: µµ“µ; ODB I: ; Fryde °°°: °“; Angold ±·µa: ±“µ. History: Heisenberg
±° I.
·
The thirteenth century: ambition, euphoria and the loss of illusion
mathematics, rhetoric and philosophy; as he himself says in his History, he
made a particular study of the Neoplatonists. On the other hand, Akropo-
lites shared in Michael Palaiologos™ unpopularity when the emperor, by way
of removing the pretext for Latin attacks on Constantinople, attempted
to bring about a union of the eastern and western churches. Akropolites
was an active supporter of this policy, and he led the lay delegation to
the Council of Lyons in ±· which accepted a union of the churches,
acknowledging both papal supremacy and the ¬lioque reading of the creed.
Probably as a result of his involvement in this ill-fated and hugely unpopu-
lar policy, many of his writings were destroyed in the anti-unionist backlash
of the ±°s, and these writings may have included a completed version of
the History which took in the later course of Michael Palaiologos™ reign.
Akropolites himself died in ±, the same year as the master he had served
so loyally.±°
Choniates and Akropolites thus lived in many ways very similar lives.
Like his predecessor, Akropolites was sent by his family to receive an edu-
cation at the imperial court and spent the rest of his life in the imperial
service, reaching the very highest rank. Both men wrote a history of their
times, as well as theological and rhetorical works. However, Choniates wit-
nessed the fall of Constantinople in ±° while Akropolites saw it regained
in ±±, and this difference inevitably tempers their work. More impor-
tantly, Akropolites was not trained in the unchanging atmosphere of the
Constantinopolitan court, and his outlook was far less traditional, not least
with regard to his attitude towards foreigners. Again, whereas Choniates
had been outspoken in his criticism of his imperial masters, Akropolites is,
with the exception of Theodore II Laskaris, largely uncritical “ particularly
with regard to Michael Palaiologos, with all mention omitted of Michael™s
violent usurpation of the rightful heir, John IV Laskaris. Akropolites adopts
criticism of other emperors solely to magnify the achievements and char-
acter of Michael Palaiologos, making his a work of panegyric rather than
of genuine evaluation.±± Akropolites™ History, again in contrast to that of
Choniates, is admirable for its clarity of language and style, and presents
itself as commendably direct and uncomplicated; in fact, written in the
self-satis¬ed aftermath of ±±, the work has the disadvantages attendant
on any work of propaganda. It is a eulogy of the Nikaian state as the

 Fryde °°°: °.  Macrides °°·: ±“.
±° Macrides °°a: °±“, ±°; Macrides °°b: ·“µ.
±± Macrides °°·: : ˜the case ˜˜for™™ Michael requires the case ˜˜against™™ Theodore II and his father
John III™.
 Being Byzantine: Greek: identity before the Ottomans
successor and avenger of Byzantium, and of Michael Palaiologos in partic-
ular as the saviour of the empire.±
Nevertheless, Akropolites™ approach cannot be reduced to something as
simple as Palaiologian propaganda; there must have been a genuine joy in
the writing of such a magni¬cent success story, and it is important that
Akropolites is writing from the perspective of a victor. Nikaia and Michael
Palaiologos, to whom he was closely tied both personally and politically,
had succeeded in regaining Constantinople and in the ±°s showed every
sign of being destined for further glorious successes. This makes a huge
contrast with Choniates, writing as one who had witnessed the fall of the
City and had personally suffered a decline in fortunes as a result. As we
shall see, it also contrasts with Pachymeres, who, writing some forty years
after Akropolites, had been forced by events to recognise that the empire
based in Constantinople was riven with internal problems and menaced
by multiple external threats.
As Pachymeres was to make clear, Michael VIII Palaiologos had a clear
agenda for the restoration of Byzantine Roman rule over the areas lost in
the years after ±°; however, it could not have been clear when Akropolites
was writing his history in the ±°s just how much it would be possible to
regain. As his History was a work of propaganda for the renascent Romans of
Nikaia, Akropolites had to focus on the great achievement of the recovery
of Constantinople without emphasising just how much still remained
to be done. Thus only the successes under the Nikaian empire, which
were impressive enough, are emphasised in his History, while Akropolites™
treatment of areas still lost or only insecurely held is more cautious. Again,
the story of the rise of Nikaia is one of struggle against rival powers,
in particular the rival Roman state based in Epiros in western Greece,
and Akropolites is concerned to assert Nikaian legitimacy in contrast to
the Epirot claim “ this is, in fact, a primary objective.± Thus, in Nikaia
Akropolites had to deal with and extol a state that, although meeting with
striking successes, had lost most of the territory it historically would have
liked to call its own, and which was far from the only claimant to pre-
eminence in the Byzantine Roman world. He employs the terminology of
Roman-ness skilfully in the pursuit of these rhetorical aims. As a result,
there is a clear division between his expression of the political Roman
identity, which includes the ethnic detail but is limited to the empire

± Macrides °°·: µµ“µ.
± In this discussion, ˜Epirot™ will be employed, albeit anachronistically, to denote the Greek successor
state established in western Greece after ±°, its rulers and its subjects.

The thirteenth century: ambition, euphoria and the loss of illusion
of Nikaia, and his rarer but signi¬cant expression of the ethnic Roman
identity, which he was led of necessity to use in relation to Romans not
loyal to Nikaia, but nonetheless still Roman.

Akropolites: the political Roman identity
Akropolites™ use of Rhomaioi as the collectivity of subjects who are com-
plementary to the terminology and machinery of imperial rule is as per-
vasive as that of Choniates, even though he uses the Roman terminology
far less frequently than his predecessor (Appendix ±, pp. °“). Of the
forty-three uses of the genitive formula in Akropolites, a mere handful are
military; all the rest can be seen to have a collective political application.
The commonest use of the genitive formula is with arche; ˜basileus of the
Romans™ is next most frequent, though it is rare compared to Choniates
with just ¬ve occurrences, and also appearing more than once are prag-
mata and chora. Like Choniates again, use of Rhoma¨kos shows a different
±
emphasis with well over half of the occurrences having a military context,
str†teuma (strateuma: army) alone occurring twelve times. As we shall
see, this emphasis on the Roman-ness of the army may be understood as
one way for Akropolites to underline the identity of the Nikaian empire as
the truly Roman power in contrast to the rival Romans based in western
Greece: there is thus a strong political connotation to many of these mili-
tary uses of Rhomaikos. Moving on to the use of the plain formula, around
three quarters of the occurrences have political associations, with over µ°
per cent of the total denoting the collective identity of the subjects of the
state.
In his use of the terminology of Roman-ness, Akropolites contrasts
with Choniates in his lack of emphasis on territorial control and the

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