SHCHAVELEV A.S. On One Byzantine Rhetorical Gambit to Disavow Diplomatic Precedent (Const. Porph. Dai. 13.145–194 & Liud. Relatio. 55)


Aleksey S. Shchavelev

Candidate of Sciences (History), Senior Researcher,

Department of History of Byzantium and Eastern Europe, Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences,

Prosp. Leninskiy, 32a, 119334 Moscow, Russian Federation

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Abstract. Introduction. The article aims to compare two texts concerning byzantine diplomatic practices of the mid 10th century. The first one is described in the 13th chapter of the treatise “De Administrando Imperio”, in which its author Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus gave some pieces of advice to his son Romanus II Porphyrogenitus how to line up rhetorical manipulation during the negotiations with ambassadors of different ‘barbarian’ nations. The second one is the description of conversation, which took place on September 17, 968 between emperor Otto I the Great’s ambassador bishop Liudprand of Cremona and patrician Christopher. It is described in Liudprand’s “Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana”.

Methods. The classical comparative method is used to examine the veracity of two independent texts of different character describing the similar diplomatic trick. The author compares a program-ideological and simultaneously a propaedeutic treatises with a semiofficial report of a foreign senior ambassador.

Analysis. In the 13th chapter of the treatise “De Administrando Imperio” its author Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus advised his son Roman II in negotiations with the ambassadors of the “barbarian” nations not to except the precedent of giving in marriage the granddaughter of the Byzantine emperor Romanus I Lecapenus Maria-Irina to Bulgarian ruler Peter, since Romanus I Lecapenus was a man of poor education and incompetent in the ancient sacred customs of the Roman Empire. In “Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana” by bishop Liudprand of Cremona during the confiscation of “purple clothes”, which he had bought, he referred to the fact that during his last visit to Constantinople, emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus had allowed him to take out even more expensive clothes without any obstacles. Contrary to this example, he received a reply from patrician Christopher, that emperor Constantine was a weak man and cherished the friendship of barbarians and foreigners with gifts, and ruling emperor Nikephoros II Phokas was a strong and warlike man, he didn’t allow such liberties for foreigners. In both cases, the same counter-argument was used to disavow precedent – a criticism of the bygone emperor in comparison with the current sovereign. This suggests that it was a common rhetorical device for Byzantine diplomats. These two cases allow to clarify the sophisticated ideology of “Tradition” and its “Split” as a corner-stone political idea of Eastern Roman Empire.

Results. As a result of comparing the texts “De Administrando Imperio” (952–959) and “Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitano” (969) it becomes clear that Byzantine politicians in the mid 10th century used for disavowing diplomatic precedents the criticism of their own emperor, who agreed to some concessions in the past. His personality was declared inappropriate to the high standards of a Roman ruler in comparison with the current emperor. Such rhetoric was surprising for the peoples who considered a series of their rulers as a genealogical aggregate of relatives responsible for their predecessors as for themselves. Byzantine politicians calmly recognized imperfections of their bygone emperors, what allowed them to ignore the strongest diplomatic argument of the early Middle Ages – a historical precedent.

Key words: Byzantium, Constantinople, Holy Roman Empire, 10th-century diplomacy, diplomatic practice, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, Liudprand the bishop of Cremona.

Citation. Shchavelev A.S. On One Byzantine Rhetorical Gambit to Disavow Diplomatic Precedent (Const. Porph. Dai. 13.145–194 & Liud. Relatio. 55). Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2019, vol. 24, no. 6, pp. 129-138. (in Russian). DOI:

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On One Byzantine Rhetorical Gambit to Disavow Diplomatic Precedent (Const. Porph. Dai. 13.145–194 & Liud. Relatio. 55) by Shchavelev A.S. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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