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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Macedonian epoch (867-1081)

Relations with Italy and western Europe 


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The break between the two empires was accomplished, and Otto I invaded the province of Apulia. However, the new Byzantine Emperor, John Tzimisces, completely altered the Byzantine policy toward Italy. Not only did he conclude a treaty of peace with the German ruler, but he strengthened his relations with him by arranging the marriage of Otto's son and heir, Otto II, to the Byzantine Princess Theophano. Thus an alliance was finally formed between the two empires. The Arabian attacks on southern Italy, against which the successor of John Tzimisces, Basil II, could do nothing because his attention was claimed by the internal disturbances in the Byzantine Empire, forced the young Emperor Otto II (973-983) to organize a campaign against the Arabs. In one of the battles he was defeated, and died soon after. From this time on German advance into the Byzantine themes of Italy ceased for a long period of time.

At the end of the tenth century an administrative reform took place in Byzantine Italy. The former strategus of Longobardia was replaced by the catapan of Italy, who resided in Bari. As long as the various Italian kingdoms were engaged in mutual strife, the Byzantine catapan was able to handle the difficult problem of defending the southern coast of Italy against the Saracens.

The son of the Princess Theophano, Otto III (983-1002), educated in profound reverence for the Byzantine Empire and classical culture, was a contemporary and a relative of Basil II and a pupil of the famous scholar, Gerbert, who later became Pope Sylvester II. Otto III made no secret of his hatred for German coarseness, and dreamed of the restoration of the ancient Empire with Old Rome as the capital. According to James Bryce, None save he desired to make the seven-hilled city again the city of dominion, reducing Germany and Lombardy and Greece to their rightful place of subject provinces. No one else so forgot the present to live in the light of the ancient order; no other soul was so possessed by that fervid mysticism and that reverence for the glories of the past whereon rested the idea of the Medieval Empire. Although the prestige of ancient Rome was extremely high in Otto's imagination, still he was attracted chiefly to eastern Rome, to that court of fairy-like magnificence where his mother had been born and bred. Only in following the footsteps of the Byzantine rulers did Otto III hope to restore the imperial throne in Rome. He called himself imperator romanorum, and referred to the future world-monarchy as Orbis romanus.

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