The Daily Life of a Byzantine Emperor

The Emperor and the Public 

Due to the specific authority of the Byzantine Emperor, it is very difficult to describe his relationship with the general public. Regardless of all church-religious mystique around the person of the Emperor, it can be said that in everyday life, with its everyday obligations  the Emperor endeavored to show himself before the people. Normally this is done with a specially organized ceremony, made by a particular person in charge – master of ceremonies. Here we will try to point out some of the everyday activities of the Emperor that allowed him to show himself before the people as pious and respectable of the order.




The Day of the Emperor 

Every day the Emperor started with God. From his room he crossed into the throne hall (Ceremonial Hall), where he prayed before the icon of Christ, he repented and as God’s servant he gave him the rightful respect. Before entering a Church the Emperor removed his crown, custom recognized since the first half of the V century. Much of the day of the Byzantine Emperor passed in countless religious ceremonies – processions and worship. Normally from the imperial palace he went to one of the many churches in Constantinople, where he celebrated the day of the respective saint. The so-called ”Big Outings” were performed in St. Sophia on Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, Transfiguration of the Lord, The Epiphany, the day of the coronation of the Emperor, in the consecration of the Patriarch etc. During  ‘Secondary Outings’ the Emperor first visited St. Sophia (without liturgy) and then solemnly guided to another Church. Of course, all this was taking place before the eyes of the people. All these sets of ceremonial religious actions don’t tell anything about the personal piety of the Emperor, they were significant but not decisive.

 




The Emperor and Religions Holidays 

Except for the aforementioned church ceremonies in the late Byzantine period, we encountered a number of religious holidays in which the Emperor acted openly before the eyes of the people as vicar of Christ. At times of the holiday in honor of the entry of Christ in Jerusalem (περιπατητικός), the Emperor would come out of his room, pass the imperial courtyard and arrive to St. Sophia, the way to the church would have been decorated with laurel and olive branches. During the procession the people sang: ”The Lord of Heaven”. i.e. They adored the emperor instead of Christ. On Holy Thursday, following closely the text of the Gospel (John 13, 1 ff.), the emperor washed the feet of 12 poor – an act of appeasement, but also an action in regency of Christ. During the liturgy of Palm Sunday, during the reading of the psalm ‘Arise, O God, judge the Earth’ before the church and the Emperor there were scattered laurel branches, i.e. again he acted an was revered as God’s vicegerent.

Other Ceremonies 

As a rule, in the beginning of Lent, the Emperor held sermon before courtiers and representatives  of political parties, in which he invited them to repent. During the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin on the 15th of August, the Emperor opened the harvest of the grapes with the liturgical concelebration  of the patriarch. In the same way it was celebrated in true vintage in mid-September. Church Ceremonies as the distribution  of palm branches on the eve of Palm Sunday, the distribution of apples on Holy Thursday, the baskets of gifts on Holy Saturday from the Emperor, show that in many details the boundary between political and religious life did not exist. These are the activities through which the Emperor approached the public while he was in Constantinople.

 

 

 




The Emperor outside of Constantinople

If the Emperor was outside of Constantinople, on a prolonged military campaign, he would send a letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople in which he would inform him of his successes. Such letters the Patriarch would have read to the people in the church St. Sophia and the people would have the opportunity to get acquainted with the activities of the Emperor outside of the capital. In case of victory, during the return of the Emperor to the capital a triumph would be organized. The triumphal procession of the Emperor moved along the main street in Constantinople. The Emperor was accompanied by torchbearers and incense bearers. Then followed the guard, followed by captives and trophies that resulted from the war.

Receiving of  foreign representatives 

According to protocol requirements in the admission of foreign representatives the Emperor was forbidden to speak. The Logothete guided the dialog in his name; data about this is given by Liutprand of Cremona from 949 A.D., when he was the representative of the Italian king Berengar. Such a practice can be interpreted as being of security reasons and also the Byzantine belief that the Byzantine emperor stands highest of all earthly rulers.