Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Byzantine Art of Persuasion (Part II)

Emperors and shepherds

The first example concerns the Khan of the Hunnish tribe Utigur and his message to Justinian “The Last of the Romans” (527-565), that, in the pages of its history, brings Procopius of Caesarea, and in which the barbarian leader is against the emperor’s insidious policy toward his people. What is this actually about?

Emperor Justinian, guided by the best traditions of Byzantine foreign policy, turned the two Hunnish tribes - Kutrigurs and Utigurs - against each other. Tribes lived in the steppes, one on the west and another on the east side of Don. Wishing to reward newcomers from Asia, the Byzantine emperor allowed two thousand Kutrigurs to settle in Thrace. In this way, supporting one group of Hunnish tribes and neglecting another, he hurt Utigurs feelings. Their Khan, to whose attention Justinian cunning political move didn’t slipped, in the state of resentment sent an envoy to Constantinople.

Hunnish emissary was supposed to file his master's complaint because of emperors fond to rival Kutrigurs. Since the Huns were illiterate, Khans oral complaint was recorded by Byzantine writer Procopius. It is permitted to assume that the historian of Justinian's era performed and her adept stylization. However the case, Khans words, in which the foreground is a simple and a great parable, reveal barbarian clarity and discernment:

"I know a proverb that I heard in my childhood, I haven’t forgotten it. Proverb goes something like this: a wild beast, a wolf, maybe, that’s how they say, can to some extent to change the color of his hair, but his mood does not change, since his nature does not allow him… One more thing I know, the experience taught me that, and it's one of those things that uncouth barbarian needs to learn: the shepherds take the dog while he is still sucking and carefully raise him so the beast is thankful to the one who feed him and it’s always returning them back with constant amiability. The shepherds probably do it for the following reason: when wolves attack the sheep, dogs will stop them, they’ll stand in front of sheep as guardians and saviors. I think this happens everywhere ... even in your empire, where almost all is in abundance, probably impossible things also, there is no denial from this rule... But if these things are by their nature, all permanent, then I think that it is not fair from you to hospitably meet Kutrigurs, make your self bad neighbors, and make a home for people who you until recently could not bear even beyond your borders ...While we barely live on wasted and infertile land, Kutrigurs have corn to spare, they are drunk in their wine cellars and they are managing easily to afford all the sweetness of this world. They certainly have access to bathrooms and they wear gold, and surely they do not miss beautiful embroidered clothes covered in gold."

It is not known what kind of impression these words have caused on Justinian I, known for his ruthlessness and infinite conceit, but they did not significantly affect the foreign policy of the government of Constantinople, which was often two-face harsh to somewhat diplomatically  naive barbarian tribes.

To read "Byzantine Art of Persuasion (Part III)", click HERE.
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