Christians Beyond the Border: An Item on the Agenda of Byzantine Emperors?
During my stay, I studied the interrelationship between Byzantine emperors and Christians living at the periphery of the empire or beyond its borders. I considered not only the early period, when denominational borders were nonexistent or not yet fixed, but also the middle and later periods, when the emperors were confronted with Christians who were regarded by the imperial church as heterodox, if not heretical.
In the middle period especially, emperors developed different strategies to establish their authority at the periphery. First, they developed the model of the “family of kings,” symbolically integrating foreign rulers into Byzantium’s orbit. This model seems to have been restricted mainly to rulers professing orthodox Christianity, such as rulers of Georgia, Bulgaria, and the Rus’. In the case of nonorthodox rulers, emperors seem to have preferred other strategies of indirect rule, mainly the bestowal of titles and dignities, but also the exaction of tribute payments. In addition, non-Byzantine Christians such as Syrian Jacobites and Armenians were on different occasions subjected to policies of repopulation, transferring large numbers of people into the empire. Armenians were sometimes integrated into the imperial system by appointing a Chalcedonian Armenian, belonging officially to the imperial church, as ruler over a nonorthodox population.
Very exceptionally, emperors established diplomatic relations with rulers as far away as China. During such diplomatic exchanges, the Byzantines relied on the services of so-called Nestorian Christians, without apparently paying attention to their (from a Byzantine perspective) heterodox faith. While in China, such envoys could rely occasionally on assistance from Chinese Christians belonging to the East Syrian (Nestorian) church.