History of Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire for Kids

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Byzantine Empire Provincial Governors

In an attempt to hold the remaining Byzantine possessions in Italy against the Lombards, the emperor Maurice grouped them from about AD 584 in a new administrative structure based in Ravenna. In command of the entire region is an exarch - a provincial governor with absolute power over both military and civilian affairs.

Provincial governors were appointed from the center and charged with keeping tabs on military authorities. An elaborate system of spies helped preserve loyalty, while also creating intense distrust even among friends. It is small wonder that the word Byzantine came to refer to complex and convoluted institutional arrangements.

Senators and equestrians whom the emperor appointed as governors, generals, and prefects held substantial power in the provinces, although provincial administration was initially restricted to issues of taxation and law and order. The system grew increasingly complex, but it always remained rather small for such an expansive empire. Provincial governorships were seen as opportunities for enrichment or as stepping-stones to higher office.

Augustus was determined to improve imperial administration by making senators managers rather than politicians. He focused primarily on the talents of the individual senators who became policy advisors, provincial governors, military commanders, and senior administrators. An advisory council of senators set the legislative agenda and made recommendations to the emperor. This system allowed him to work with many senators whom he might later select for high office.

Theophilos was one of the most able provincial governor and military commander who distinguished himself in the wars against the Arabs during the reign of Romanus Lecapenus.

Among the Armenians who entered the services of the empire toward the end of the ninth century and established a place for themselves and their families, the most famous no doubt was Mleh, the Melias of the Byzantines. Melias died in 934, but he apparently left a son who also distinguished himself in the service of the empire, first as provincial governor and finally, under John Tzimiskes, as Domestic of the Schools. He died before Amida in 973. It is this Melias who is represented in a fresco in one of the churches in Cappadocia not far from Caesarea, where he is referred to as magister.

The Skleroi, whose first known member was governor of the Peloponnesus at the beginning of the ninth century, was another established Armenian family of major importance in the political and military life of the empire in the tenth century. The patrician Nicetas Skleros served under Leo VI and was entrusted with the task of inciting the Hungarians against the Bulgarian Symeon, a task which he successfully carried out.

Another Armenian family active in the military life of the empire in the late tenth and eleventh century, was that of Theodorokanos. The first known member of this family was the patrician Theodorokanos who served as general in the Bulgarian wars of Basil II. When he retired from active life in 1000--1001 because of old age, he was governor of Philippopolis.

A fixed legislation, and an uninterrupted administration of justice, prevented the political anarchy that prevailed under the successors of Heraclius from ruining society in the Roman empire; while the arbitrary judicial power of provincial governors, in the dominions of the caliphs, rendered property insecure, and undermined national wealth.

The members of the order, known as equites, filled financial positions in Rome and abroad. They even acted as governors in some smaller provinces such as Judea, where the equestrian Pontius Pilate ruled. The highest equestrian offices commanded so much power that Augustus preferred not to entrust them to ambitious senators. These posts included the prefect, or commander, of the grain supply, the prefect of Egypt, and the praetorian prefect, who controlled troops in Rome and Italy.

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