Byzantine politics was a highly complex mix of centralised absolute power embodied in the Emperor, the outflow of this power was delegated to a very powerful and capable bureaucracy that existed throughout the Empire. The bureaucracy essentially served as the right arm of the Emperor in ruling his Empire whereas a powerful military was also a vital part of the Empire and helped guard its frontiers or expand them.
The Emperor and his politics were often involved with striking a balance between blessing the military or favouring the bureaucracy. And often the fortunes and the policies of Byzantine Emperors were dependent upon this issue.
Byzantine bureaucracy was a highly developed and advanced system of civil officials. These officials hailed from all classes of society and attained a rich education in Greek philosophy, science and classics. Specialised training and education for special departments also existed, so many bureaucrats were also specialists in their fields.
The bureaucrats were appointed to key official positions throughout the Empire’s territories. One of the high positions for a Byzantine bureaucrat was to be appointed a provincial governor and help the Emperor keep the military under his control. Another notable position for a bureaucrat in the Empire was to be included in the inner circle of the Emperor which advised the Emperor on key matters.
The Byzantine military was an elaborate machine which was carefully devised to enable the maintenance of a strong ground force at all times. For this purpose, the Empire would recruit troops from a local region and after a career spanning certain number of years, would reward the troops with parcels of land. The parcels of land were hereditary although they could not be sold.
Over time, military leaders who began to inherit the position of military leadership emerged as powerful entities in different regions. This ultimately resulted in many instances where military leaders wrested the power from the Emperor and took charge of the Empire. Due to the access of military leaders to such power, Emperors in Constantinople were often wart of military leaders and tried to keep them under constant observation through bureaucracy.
Role of Christianity in Byzantine Politics
From its inception, the Byzantine Empire was marked by a strong control of the Emperor over the role and function of the Church. This was especially reinforced after subsequent Byzantine Emperors allowed Christianity to spread in the Empire and eventually began to actively support it while condemning other faiths.
In contrast, the role of Church in the states left in the wake of the Western Roman Empire was far more active and the Church in Rome often actively interfered in the activities of the Christian states in the West. The Orthodox Christianity in Byzantine Empire formed a vital part of the Emperor’s rule and his power.
This key difference in the role of Christianity in the Byzantine politics, in contrast to the role of the Church in Rome, became one of the major instigators in the schism between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches later in the medieval period.