Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference
Maintaining the Image of Byzantine Power: Normative Ideology in the Epistolary Correspondence of Leo Choirosphaktes and Symeon I of Bulgaria
The Byzantine diplomat, moving outside of the metropolitan centre of Constantinople and beyond the borders of Byzantine imperial control, carries with him an internalised image of Byzantine ideology and Byzantine authority. It is his purpose to demonstrate, negotiate for, and represent that authority to non-Byzantines. The personal communications of a Byzantine diplomat – his participation in Byzantine epistolary culture – are therefore locations where Byzantine ideology is both normative and marginalised. Normative, as the diplomat is embedded in a letter-writing society which reinforces itself via a shared literary culture – and marginalised, as the diplomat encounters and interacts with subordinated or foreign peoples who offer alternatives to that ideology.
The collected letters of Leo Choirosphaktes suggest the possibility of exploring the self-identity and narrative coherence of the Byzantine imperial agent – i.e., for what purposes does a Byzantine diplomat produce texts, particularly epistolary ones? Choirosphaktes may serve as a model of a Byzantine diplomat, a sort of Ur-envoy: a man of distinguished and educated background, in receipt of several high titles, related by marriage to the imperial house, a producer of poetry and encomia intended for the receptive ears of the Constantinopolitan court – and who was, more than occasionally, sent on imperial business to the edges of Byzantine power.
Choirosphaktes’ presence on the diplomatic stage first emerges in the last decade of the ninth century, in which he was sent as envoy three separate times to Bulgaria. He interacted directly with Symeon I of Bulgaria in an attempt...
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