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The Nicomedian Empire was the predominantly Greek-speaking Middle Eastern part of the Roman Empire throughout the Middle Ages. The Empire remained a major player in the Near Orient, despite serious military and political defeats during the Romano–Persian and Romano–Arab Wars. The Empire recovered during the 1000's, becoming a pre-eminent power in the Eastern Mediterranean by the late 11th century, rivaling the Islamic Caliphates. After 1200, however, much of Asia Minor, the Empire's heartland, was lost to the Seljuk Turks. Most of its remaining territories were lost in the Romano–Ottoman Wars, which culminated in the Fall of Nicomedia and the ceding of its remaining territories to the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.
Roman Background and Foundation of the Tetrarchy
The army of the Roman Empire succeeded in conquering a vast collection of territories covering the entire Mediterranean region and much of Western Europe. These territories consisted of many different cultural groups, ranging from primitive to highly sophisticated. Generally speaking, the eastern Mediterranean provinces were more urbanized and socially developed, having previously been united under the Macedonian Empire and Hellenized by the influence of Greek culture. In contrast, the western regions had mostly remained independent from any single cultural or political authority, and were still largely rural and less developed. This distinction between the established Hellenized East and the younger Latinized West persisted and became increasingly important in later centuries.
Under the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, the political division of the Roman Empire began. In 285, he promoted Maximian to the rank of Augustus (Emperor) and gave him control of the Western regions of the Empire. In 293, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus were appointed as their subordinates (Caesars), creating the First Tetrarchy. This system effectively divided the empire into four major regions and created separate capitals besides Rome as a way to avoid the civil unrest that had marked the 3rd century. In the West, the capitals were Maximian's Mediolanum (now Milan) and Constantius' Trier. In the East, the capitals were Sirmium and Nicomedia. On 1 May 305, the two senior Augusti stepped down, and their respective Caesars were promoted to Augusti and appointed two new Caesars, thus creating the Second Tetrarchy.
These men were from the Roman province of Illyria, several in the city of Sirmium, which would become one of the four capitals under this system. From the time of Domitian (81–96), when over half the Roman army was deployed in the Danubian regions, the Illyrian provinces had been the most important recruiting ground of the auxilia and later the legions. In the 3rd century, Romanised Illyrians came to dominate the army's senior officer echelons. Ultimately, the Illyrian officer class seized control of the state itself.
The four Tetrarchs based themselves not at Rome but in other cities closer to the frontiers, mainly intended as headquarters for the defence of the empire against bordering rivals (notably Sassanian Persia) and barbarians (mainly Germanic, and an endless procession from the eastern steppe; many nomadic or elsewhere chased tribes) at the Rhine and Danube.
Establishment and Wars with Persia
Gaius Valerius Galerius Maximinus (c. 20 November 270 – July or August 313), commonly known as Maximinus Daia or Daza, or Maximinus II, ruled as a Roman Emperor from 308 to 313. He was born of peasant stock to the half sister of the emperor Galerius near their family lands around Felix Romuliana; a rural area then in the Danubian region of Moesia, now Eastern Serbia.
He rose to high distinction after he had joined the army, and in 305 he was adopted by his maternal uncle Galerius and raised to the rank of caesar, with the government of Syria and Egypt. In 308, after the elevation of Licinius to Augustus, Maximinus and Constantine were declared filii Augustorum ("sons of the Augusti"), but Maximinus probably started styling himself after Augustus during a campaign against the Sassanids in 310. On the death of Galerius, in 311, Maximinus divided the Eastern Empire between Licinius and himself, keeping the rich and fertile heartlands of Anatolia and Egypt for himself and leaving Licinius with the Balkans. This division of the Eastern Roman Empire is often said to mark the founding of the two distinct kingdoms, Nicomedia and Pannonia. When Licinius and Constantine began to make common cause with one another, Maximinus entered into a secret alliance with the usurper Caesar Maxentius, who controlled Italy.
Maximinus chose Nicomedia in northwestern Asia Minor (modern Izmit in Turkestan) as his capital, an excellent base for defence against invasion from the Balkans and Persia's Sassanid Empire.
He finally came to an open rupture with Licinius in 313, invading Thrace with an army of 70,000 men, but still sustaining a crushing defeat at the Battle of Tzirallum, in the neighbourhood of Heraclea Perinthus, on the April 30. Maximinus fled to Nicomedia awaiting retaliation, but Licinius was unable to pursue, partially due to the crippling losses among the ranks of his own legions.
Maximinus spent the rest of his reign shattered by his defeat; in 319 he was subsequently assassinated by the usurper Anicius. In the mid-330s, Anicius would go on to distinguish himself when Shapur II of Persia began a series of offensives against the Romans. Despite a string of victories in battle over Anicius, his campaigns achieved little lasting effect: three Persian sieges of Nisibis were repulsed, and while Shapur succeeded in taking Amida and Singara, both cities were soon regained by a determined counterattack launched by Anicius. This re-ignited the Romano-Persian Wars, which had been temporarily halted while the Sassanids warred against antagonistic tribes on their northern frontiers.
In 350, Anicius died and was succeeded by his named successor and distant relative, Clodoreius. In 359, Amida was again captured by the Persians; Clodereius did little to stem the invasion and remained idle to the threat. Instead, hoping to negotiate a peace on his eastern frontier, Clodereius negotiated to withdraw from Nisibis and Singara, and the Persians had soon conquered Armenia as well. A formal treaty was agreed upon in 367, allowing the Persians to keep most of Armenia. Clodereius soon plunged into European affairs during this peace with the Sassanids; he hoped to extend his sphere of influence over to the Western Roman Empire.
In order to get rid of an attempted rebel, Procopius, Clodereius groomed him as the next Western emperor and dispatched him to Italy with an army. In the chaotic civil war with the Romans of Pannonia and the established Western court at Ravenna which followed, Nicomedian arms finally prevailed, securing Procopius to the throne by 377. However, Procopius, extremely unpopular with the Senate and the imperial government, was quickly deposed, and Clodereius, foiled, withdrew from the politics of the West.
Further wars with Pannonia and Persia
By the dawn of the year AD 500, Germanic Barbarians had overrun most of Europe. The Pannonians, taking advantage of the fall of Attila and the Gepid victories over the Huns after their ruler's death, re-consolidated the Illyrian provinces previously ravaged by the Huns and strengthened the empire's borders. The Emperor Licinius III had attempted an expedition against Sicily and Malta in 478, but was thwarted by an alliance between the Vandals and the Western Roman Senate, which virtually ruled southern Italy as its own independent state. With this destruction of plans for western expansion, the Pannonian emperors turned their attention and exerted most of the ir energies to the East and the Nicomedian Empire.
Indeed, the successors of Licinius concentrated very little on their European provinces, coming from the West yet looking East. The rich heartlands of Anatolia appealed to them in particular. This would lead to a major period of instability and constant civil war between the two Roman empires. The Emperor Virius Nepotianus began the tradition with an attempt in invade Asia in AD 504. The Nicomedians hastily gathered a force of the Asiatic legions to meet them, and the Pannonians were crushed in Bithynia.
The Pannonians, outnumbered, fled across the Straits of St. George and into Thrace. The Nicomedian emperor, Dulcitius, took his time before pursuing Virius Nepotianus to Byzantium. The town had fallen in a week, and within another week, meeting no significant resistance, Dulcitus advanced as far as Adrianople. This may well have spelled disaster for the Thracian provinces, and Virius Nepotianus was determined to prevent it. He quickly constructed a series of forts around the Thracian territory occupied by Dulcitus to prevent him from advancing any further into Europe. Again and again, though, the Pannonian recruits broke ranks before the dreaded Nicomedian veterans, and it wasn't until 559 that they were able to finally expel Nicomedia from the Balkans, and even then only because they were able to exploit a Persian invasion of Palestine and Asia Minor.
The Nicomedian emperor Saturninus II was forced to weaken his position in the Balkans in order to combat the renewed Persian threat, which had surfaced when the Persian King Khosrau I attempted to gain financial support by force from the him. In 559 AD, he quickly captured the unprepared city of Theodosiopolis and besieged Amida. In 561, the Romans attempted an ultimately unsuccessful siege of the Persian-held Amida while Khosrau invaded Osroene and laid siege to Edessa with the same results. Finally in 565, the Romans gained control through the renewed investment of Amida, which led to the fall of the city. But the Romans were just beginning to feel the wrath of Khosrau's fury.
In 568, Khosrau broke the brief truce with Nicomedia and struck Mesopotamia and Syria. He then moved out to Antioch, taking a path that was south of the usual military route in order to extract tributes from towns along the way to Antioch. The walls of Antioch had been greatly damaged during an earthquake in 525-526, and the Romans had not since repaired them because of western military campaigns, which made it much easier to conquer. The war ended when the Romans paid Khosrau a large tribute to stay away, and Syria was evenly divided between the Sassanids and Nicomedia, with Antioch and a number of other important cities now in Persian hands.
Towards a Greek and Hellenistic-Oriental Culture
The Roman Empire based in Nicomedia which controlled much of the Middle East into the Medieval Period was slowly shifting towards an Eastern and Greek culture and shifting away from old Roman civilization. The change also occurred in Pannonia, although to a much less noticeable extent and only in the 12-1300's. By the 500's it was already becoming apparent in Nicomedia.
Nicomedia was a Christian city, and one that faced the Orient, turning away from the old Rome in the West. Nicomedian power was naturally based in Asia Minor, where the capital was located. This played a major role in the Hellenistic culture which was to strongly influence Nicomedian civilization. Anatolia was completely Hellenized, and Greek was its main language. Latin was used only for official documents, and although most of the citizens understood how to speak it fairly, it was only truly maintained in a few places. Heresies never stayed long in the heartland of the Nicomedian empire, neither did enemy invasions. It remained more or less culturally and generally unchanged from the AD 400 to 1100. Only until the Turkish invasions which finally destroyed the Roman nation was it finally molded into the future Turkestan, a Muslim territory under the Ottoman Empire.
Religious Divisions and Monophysitism
A division was already breaking up religiously in the Nicomedian Empire, one that was to dominate this era of its history. In language and ritual the Syrian Church differed from the one in Nicomedia. Theological differences began to form a slow rift between the two churches. Aramaic, not Greek, was the language of the Syrian Church. The Egyptian Church was also alienating itself from Nicomedian influence. By the 500's it was embracing a condemned heresy, in the form of the Monophysite doctrine.
Monophysitism (from the Greek monos meaning 'one, alone' and physis meaning 'nature'), or Monophysiticism, is the Christological position that Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity, as opposed to the Chalcedonian position which holds that Christ maintains two natures, one divine and one human. As monophysitism is contrary to the orthodox Chalcedonian Creed it has always been considered heretical by the Western Church and most of the Eastern Church. A brief definition of Monophysitist Christology can be given as: "Jesus Christ, who is identical with the Son, is one person and one hypostasis in one nature: divine-human."
Egypt and Syria, two out of the three largest and administrative centers of the Nicomedian Empire now accepted this heresy, forming a schism with the Church in Asia Minor, which believed in the Christian doctrine that Christ had two perfect and indivisible, but separate entities of nature. This problem with a battle of the Churches and Doctrines would only intensify as time went on.
In 601, Marcellus III of Nicomedia came to the throne after killing Afrianus, a weak pretender to the imperial throne who claimed to be a descendant of Maximinus Daia. Marcellus ordered the rest of the Daia's extended family murdered to prevent anyone from trying to usurp his authority, and a brutal civil war ensued.
This did little to help the situation with the Persians, who took advantage of this to assault Palestine and Syria. When the Sassanid Shahs attempted to invade Egypt however, Marcellus had just fought off his imperial rivals and attacked to defend the rich grainfields of the empire. However, he seriously weakened his positions in Anatolia and other provinces to do so. The Pannonians invaded once again, and after defeating the Persians Marcellus had to hurry back and attempt to expel them. By 609, he had driven them out of the Asiatic provinces, with the exception of Ephesus, which he failed to capture. An alliance was reached with the Pannonian Emperor Valentius II, who shrewdly manipulated a marriage between his daughter and Marcellus, intending to rule both Eastern empires through a political alliance. However, it was not to be. In 611, Marcellus disgraced his wife and divorced here, sending her back to Sirmium in chains. Valentius was outraged, and declared war on Nicomedia. Within the year, however, this provided Marcellus with the pretext to crush the city of Ephesus and invade Europe. After conquering most of Thrace, the Nicomedians got as far as Thessalonica. Even here they were not to be stopped. Within a few days the great city, sadly under-garrisoned, had fallen to them. The Nicomedian navy was superior and destroyed the Pannonian fleet in the stormy seas of the Aegean. Valentius, defeated, begged for mercy and offered to pay Marcellus a yearly tribute if he would be allowed to retain sovereignty over Illyricum. Marcellus refused and promptly sacked Corinth. However, there he was killed by a stray arrow while leading his men into the city. Stotzas, the successor of Marcellus, was unable to hold on to his temporary gains for long but fought tenaciously for them. Despite the loss of several battles, however, Valentius was able to push Stotzas and his forces out of Thrace. The last rampaging Nicomedian army in Greece was finally defeated and destroyed the following year.
The civil war of the 600's seriously weakened Roman imperial power in the East. Especially in Asia and Greece, it disillusioned the people, demoralized the military, ruined much of the countryside, and left many towns and fields for the vultures and the weeds.
The losses of Palestine and Syria were proving devastating to the Nicomedian Empire, especially the capture of Jerusalem, their most holy city (Although some Roman rule continued to be preserved around the free Greek city of Philadelphia, it no longer accepted allegiance to the imperial court at Nicomedia). The heretic Churches in that region, however, (particularly in Syria) continued to thrive under Persian rule. Taxation was much lower, and religious tolerance far better than under the Romans. The Nicomedian emperors had been far less tolerant than their ancient Roman predecessors, and the Syrians longed to be free from Roman political and religious influence.
Under the Sassanid Empire, the Shahs at first persecuted the local Christians, but, upon learning of the local Church's schism with Nicomedia, granted it full tolerance rights. In the meantime, however, a large number of easterners from this area fled to either Egypt or Asia Minor to escape the Persian onslaught.
As with other doctrinal issues in the Nicomedian period, the controversy over iconoclasm was not restricted to the clergy, or to arguments from theology. The continuing cultural confrontation with, and military threat from Persia probably had a bearing on the attitudes of both sides. Iconoclasm seems to have been supported by many from the East of the Empire and refugees from provinces taken over by the Persians. Historians have suggested that the easterners' strength in the army at the start of the period, and the growing influence of Anatolian forces in the army (generally considered to lack strong iconoclast feelings) over the period may have been important factors in the beginning of imperial support for iconoclasm.
Iconoclasm was accepted by the Syrian and Egyptian churches with little difficulty, given that they were trying to establish roots in heretic doctrines to distance themselves from Nicomedia. Now, however, it was beginning to spread as a doctrine of it's own into Asia Minor. Although many Romans in that country opposed it, it still gained ground, fed by the growing number of Syrian and Egyptian refugees. The triumph of Iconoclasm began in 632, when the governor of Nicomedian Alexandria, Theodotus II, seized the throne amid a civil war in Nicomedia, proclaiming himself emperor.
The following year, the Iconoclastic campaign began with the removal of images from all churches in the region. The Pope condemned iconoclasm as heretical and excommunicated its promoters, driving a rift between the Nicomedian East and the Catholic nations of the West. This climaxed in 639 when the Churches officially split; the Nicomedian Empire yielded to Coptic Christianity, and the dominance of the Egyptian church as its new faith and religion, integrating into a more pronounced Oriental culture.
The Islamic Empire
At a time when religion and faith was shifting dangerously in the Nicomedian Church, the Arab Muslims, wielded into an aggressive caliphate and inspired by the teachings of their ruler Mohammed, won a series of wars against the Sassanid Persians in the Levant. The reign of Theodotus II was followed by a period of repeated losses and disasters, with a major civil war over the issue of Iconoclasm nearly tearing the empire apart and dooming any aspirations the Nicomedian emperors may have had of restoring Syria or Palestine to Roman control.
By 634, the Arabs had reduced most of Syria and captured Damascus. No Persian resistance was encountered until the Muslims had pressed as far north as Armenia, where they also clashed with Nicomedian frontier garrisons. With Syria as a base, the Islamic Empire facilitated operations against Armenia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The Arabs captured Sinai from the Persians, and pushed into Nicomedian territory. The prospect of losing one of the richest provinces in the empire, and the new center of Faith greatly worried the Nicomedian Emperor Longinus, who in 640 undertook an expedition to save the endangered province.
The expedition was a disaster. Longinus was a gallant man but a poor tactician, and he allowed himself to be routed by a much smaller Arab army, with the emperor himself perishing in the fighting. With this victory the way to Alexandria itself became clear. In 642 the Arab army stood at the gates of Alexandria, echoing the battle cries of Islam. But here at last the Romans were afforded some breathing space; the garrison of Alexandria numbered some 50,000 soldiers and was protected by their Egyptian fleet. The Arab forces numbered only some 20,000 and had no adequate siege equipment.
If the Muslims had put their faith in God, they were doomed to disappointment. Their primitive bombs and hastily-constructed scaling devices made no impression on the thick walls of the second greatest city in the empire, and the Romans repulsed their determined assaults with ease from the walls. By 643 the Arabian forces, seeing the futility of such an operation, withdrew, leaving Roman Alexandria isolated by their incursions but still standing strong.