The Ecclesiastical organization in Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Asia Minor on the Eve of the Turkish Conquest

Anatolia had an elaborate ecclesiastical organization of metropolitanates, archbishoprics, and bishoprics subordinated to the patriarch of Constantinople. In the earlier centuries this provincial organization of the church had followed the pattern of the imperial administrative organization. Thus the town, or polis, became the seat of the bishopric. By the eleventh century, Asia Minor possessed approximately forty-five metropolitanates, ten archbishoprics, and a great number of suffragant bishoprics. In the tenth century there had been approximately 371 bishoprics subordinate to them, and by the eleventh century there was a significant increase in their number due largely to the expansion of the frontiers in the east.



The metropolitans were the ecclesiastical lords of large areas and usually of a number of towns as well as villages, over which towns were the bishops. The powers and influence of these hierarchs in their respective provinces were considerable, not only in the spiritual domain but also in the sphere of administration and in the courts. It was the metropolitans and archbishops who linked the provincial administrative structure of the church to Constantinople, patriarch, and emperor. They had the right to participate in the meetings of the synod in Constantinople and also to participate in the election of the patriarch. The elaborate structure of  metropolitanates-bishoprics-indeed of the whole ecclesiastical institution-was supported by extensive properties and certain cash incomes. It was with these incomes that the metropolitans and bishops provided for guesthouses, poorhouses, orphanages, hospitals and to a certain extent, local education. The ecclesiastical as well as the bureaucratic, administrative personnel were recruited from the local population and Constantinople, so that the priesthood and hierarchy represented both the capital and the provinces.

Asia Minor was not only the most important Byzantine province militarily and economically, but also it was so in the religious domain. Anatolia possessed the richest, most populous metropolitanates of the empire. Their importance relative to that of the European metropolitanates is clearly reflected in the offcial lists, the notitiae episcopatum, composed for purposes of protocol, where the metropolitanates are listed in order of their rank. Of the first twenty-seven metropolitanates listed in a notitia of the eleventh century, only two were located in Europe, the remaining twenty-five were situated in Anatolia. This emerges more clearly when one compares the number of bishops to be found in the two regions of the empire. In the first half of the tenth century, there were about 371 bishoprics in Asia Minor, 99 in Europe, 18 in the Aegean isles, and 16 in Calabria and Sicily. Also, and most important, Asia Minor was strewn with sanctuaries and cults of numerous saints. Asia Minor had been one of the earliest provinces of Christian missionary activity, intimately associated with the personality, activity, and writings of the Apostle Paul.

The cults and churches of the various Anatolian saints were famous not only among the Greek Christians but also among Latins, Georgians, Slavs, and others who visited them on the pilgrimage, and these cults were, of course, very important in the everyday life of the Byzantine inhabitants of Asia Minor. The list of the sanctuaries located in Anatolia is a long one, and some of these were especially popular. In the westernmost regions the important cults included those of Tryphon at Nicaea, Polycarp at Smyrna, John the Theologian at Ephesus, Nicholas at Myra, and the Archangel Michael at Chonae. On the Black Sea coast were the shrines of Eugenius at Trebizond, Phocas at Sinope, and Hyacinthus at Amastris. The most famous of the martyrs’ sanctuaries in the hinterland included those of St. Theodore at Euchaita, the Forty Martyrs at Sebasteia, Mercurius and Mamas at Caesareia, and the various shrines of St. George in the regions of Paphlagonia. Of equal importance were the churches of the fourth and fifth-century saints Basil of Caesareia, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Amphilochius of Iconium, all of whom had played such an important role in determining the evolution of the Eastern church.

New sanctuaries continued to arise about the personalities of newer holy men, a fact that intensified the sanctity of Anatolia as a repository of τα άγια for the Byzantines. Ioannicius (d. 846) of Mt, Olympus in Bithynia, Michael Maleinus (d. 961) in Bithynia, Lazarus (d. 1053) on Mt. Galesium near Ephesus, Philaretus the Merciful (d. 792) of Paphlagonia, George (d. C. 802-807) of Amastris, Nicephorus (fl. tenth century) of Latmus in the district of Miletus, Paul (d. 955) in western Anatolia, Luke the Stylite (d, 979) in Chalcedon, Blasius (d. c. 911-912) of Amorium, the Forty-two Martyrs (d. 838) of Amorium, and many others were evidence of the intensity, if not the variety, of religious life in Anatolia during this period. From these holy men came a considerable portion of the monastic, hierarchical, and missionary leaders. It was an Anatolian monk, St. Nicon tou Metanoeite, who in the tenth century left Asia Minor to convert the Muslims of newly reconquered Crete and the Slavs in the Morea. The great Athonite father and organizer St. Athanasius was born and educated in Trebizond. The eleventh-century professor of law and patriarch Xiphilenus was also born and partially educated in Trebizond, while the illustrious twelfth-century archbishop of Athens Michael Acominatus and his brother the historian Nicetas Choniates were from Chonae.

Less spectacular, perhaps, but of equal importance was the significance of these cults for the integration of the majority of the Anatolians into a generally homogeneous society and culture. These cults were absorbed by the Byzantine church, an institution that played such a critical role in unifying the empire. Though the church tended greatly to regularize the practices attendant upon these cults in consonance with the Orthodoxy of Constantinople, many local strains were so firmly entrenched that they were simply accepted. It has been repeatedly stated that the bishops and metropolitans, and the clergy in general, attempted to care for both the spiritual and physical needs of their flocks, and the local saints , in the eyes of the provincials, did much the same thing. It was this close attachment of the provincial peoples to the saints which forced the church to accept many of the anomalous practices attendant upon their cults. The principal city or town of the saint was usually identified with that in which his bones rested, though of course there would be numerous churches and shrines (to say nothing of bones) associated with that particular saint elsewhere. Usually the saint was the possessor of a special town, and the inhabitants of that town thought of the saint almost as their co-citizen, and they naturally conceived of him as being partial to this city. One of the most important functions of the saint was to protect his city from devastating invasions of various foreign peoples, which came to be such a salient feature of Byzantine life. The miracula of the various saints credit them with considerable success in this respect.



St. Theodore is said to have routed the Arabs, who were besieging Euchaita in 934, by appearing before the gates of the city on horseback. St. Eugenius performed the same task for the Trebizondines by interceding from above and turning away and smashing the bows and swords of the godless barbarians. George of Amastris, while still living, went out of the walls of that city, gathered as many of the Christians in the neighborhood as he could, and then brought them to safety within while the Arabs were raiding the area. St. Amphilochius is credited with turning away the Ismaelite army from the walls of Iconium. The Archangel Michael is credited with helping Heraclius defeat the Persians, and John Tzimisces as a result of the victory over the Russians in the Balkans, which he attributed to the intervention of St. Theodore, rebuilt the saint’s church in Euchaita. The saints also figure quite prominently in the repatriation of Christians taken prisoner by invaders. Accordingly, Saints Theodore, Nicholas, and George answer the prayers of the local inhabitants of Caria, Paphlagonia, and Euchaita who have lost relatives to the Arabs, and then secure the return of these relatives from Crete and Syria. Some of the cults were particularly close to soldiers, those of the so-called military saints, Theodore, George, and Mercurius.

The most numerous miracles and services attributed to the saints are those that have to do with healing. It was to the local saint that the ill came, or sometimes they would travel long distances from their own villages and towns to the shrines of particular saints whose medical reputations were widespread. The provincials also appealed to the saints to still the dreadful forces of nature. If disease came upon their livestock, if drought or floods destroyed the crops, one invoked the saints with special prayers and invocations.

The subject of religious conversion does appear in the hagiographical texts, though the accounts are not often as precise as one would desire. St. Nicholas, at least according to his miracula, was known as far afield as Muslim Egypt and Syria. St. George – τροπαιούχος is credited with the conversion of Muslims in Syria. St. George of Amastris was responsible for the conversion to Christianity of the pagan Russ who, while raiding Amastris, broke into his sanctuary in order to steal the rich treasures they believed to be buried under his casket. Indeed, one of the tenth century Anatolian saints St. Constantine was himself a converted Jew. St. Lazarus converted a village of heretics, probably Paulicians, in the vicinity of Philetis in Caria, and the same hagiographer describes the conversion of a Saracen in Ephesus. The references to conversion are scattered and few in number, but there is no reason to doubt that the Church, through the shrines and sanctuaries, exerted a considerable proselytizing and missioning force upon the non-Christians and heretics of Anatolia. This role of the saints and their shrines as vital integrating forces in society is more forcefully illustrated by the activities of St. Nicon in Crete and Sparta and by the mass program of conversion which John of Ephesus implemented in the sixth century.

The shrines of the saints, as indeed the whole of the ecclesiastical institution, were intimately involved in the economic life of the Anatolians. The saints and their churches were the sponsors of the local fairs (some of which were of an international character) or panegyreis held on the feast days of the saints. Such were the panegyreis of St. John at Ephesus, St. Eugenius at Trebizond, St. Phocas at Sinope, St. Theodore at Euchaita, St. George throughout the lands of Paphlagonia, and Archangel Michael at Chonae. These fairs were important for the church of the particular saint, and for the town and rural environs as well, by virtue of the economic activity and economic prosperity that they brought. These panegyreis attracted great numbers of people, both from the neighborhood and from far away. The Trebizondine fairs were international and attracted traders and goods from the whole of the Islamic and Indic worlds. Even farther inland, at such a town as Euchaita, John Mauropus remarks that a great host of people came to the celebration. He states that it was the great fame of the shrine of St. Theodore and the panegyris that had made it into a great, prosperous, and populous full of stoas and marketplaces.

The saints’ shrines, and indeed the church as an institution, were closely connected with the economic life of the provinces, whether as the possessors of large landed estates and serfs, or as the recipients of considerable wealth in cash and kind, or as the sponsors of the large panegyreis. The presence in a town of a saint’s shrine, of the bishop and his staff, were of great significance for any settled area.

One must also keep in mind that from the seventh century until the foundation of the coenobitic institutions of Mt. Athos, Asia Minor was also the basic monastic province of the empire, the monastic foundations and traditions of Anatolia going back to St. Basil of Caesareia and his institution of a monastery at Annesoi. The regions of Chalcedon, Mt. Auxentius, as well as the whole of the Opsicion theme, were important monastic centers. Mt. Olympus, Prusa, Nicaea, and the entire Propontid coast were literally strewn with these establishments. In the south, Mt. Galesium, near Ephesus, and Latmus, in the vicinity of Miletus, were the scenes of vigorous monastic life. In the district of Iconium, on the present day Kara Dağ monastic communities thrived down to the Seljuk invasions. The bishopric of Hagios Procopius (Ürgüp) was the center of the famous troglodyte monasteries, while at Trebizond and the environs were located the famous monasteries of St. Eugenius, Vazelon, and Sumela. Many of these monasteries had existed for centuries when the Seljuks first arrived in Anatolia, while many were founded from the ninth through the eleventh century. At the moment of the Turkish invasions, the monasteries were thriving.

(Source: The Chapter titled “Byzantine Asia Minor on the Eve of the Turkish Conquest“, from the book titled “The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century“, by Speros Vryonis, Jr.)



Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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