Michael Attaleiates and the Politics of Imperial Decline in Eleventh-century Byzantium

Tempe: Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012

This volume is about a unique, understudied eleventh-century account and interpretation of Byzantine imperial decline. Focusing on the History, the major work of the judge and courtier Michael Attaleiates (c.1022–c.1080), it examines the place of historical narratives in Byzantine political and cultural discourse of the 1060s and 1070s. It specifically construes Byzantine historiography as an eminently political enterprise that allowed Attaleiates to communicate with his peers and express his ideas about the empire’s military and political crisis.

Intriguingly, Attaleiates’ study of Byzantine decline is sprinkled with images of Republican Roman glory. This walk down historical memory lane is not, however, a sign of idle antiquarianism. The civic virtue of Attaleiates’ Republican heroes reflects a quest for a new patriotism that was sorely needed in third quarter of the eleventh century. By demonstrating his understanding of that past and its relationship with the empire’s troubled present, Attaleiates hinted at his ability to foresee and plan the future. The History was therefore proof of his status as an active political figure and a competent advisor.

The portrait of Attaleiates emerging from this book is one of an ambitious, socially conscious, and astute observer of the political developments of his time, denouncing the failings of Byzantine administration, while engaging in close dialogue on current affairs with his contemporaries about the crumbling Roman world around them.

View Michael Attaleiates and the Politics of Imperial Decline on the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies website.