Front Page Titles (by Subject) 8.: THE THEMES OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE — ( P. 243 , 315 , 320 sqq. ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 9
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8.: THE THEMES OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE — ( P. 243 , 315 , 320 sqq. ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 9 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 9.
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THE THEMES OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE — (P. 243, 315, 320sqq.)
In the tenth century we find the Empire divided into a number of themes, each of which is governed by a stratêgos. Not only the title of the governor, but the word theme (θέμα, a regiment) shows their military origin. These themes existed in the eighth and ninth centuries; they originated in the seventh. In the latter part of the seventh century we find the empire consisting of a number of large military provinces, not yet called themes, but probably known as στρατηγίαι. We have no official list of them; but from literary notices we can reconstruct an approximate list of the provinces c. 700 :1 —
We have to consider first how this system originated, and secondly how it developed into the system of themes which we find two centuries later.
The identification of the stratêgoi of the seventh century with the magistri militum of the sixth century gives the clue to the origin of the thematic system. (This was pointed out in Bury’s Later Roman Empire, ii. 346-8.) The stratêgos of the Armeniacs is the magister militum of Armenia, instituted by Justinian; the stratêgos of the Anatolics is the magister militum per Orientem; the “count” of the Opsikians corresponds to the mag. mil. praesentalis;2 the stratêgos of Thrace is the mag. mil. per Thraciam; the stratêgos of the Helladics is probably the representative of the mag. mil. per Illyricum. The magistri militum of Africa and Italy remain under the title of exarchs. The maritime provinces arose probably, as M. Diehl attractively suggests, from the province of Caria, Cyprus, Rhodes, the Cyclades and Scythia, instituted by Justinian, and placed by him under a quaestor Justinianus.
Thus, what happened was this. In the seventh century the old system of dioceses and provinces was swept away. Its place was taken by the already existing division of the Empire into military provinces — the spheres of the magistri militum; and a new Greek nomenclature was introduced. The cause of the change was the extreme peril of the Empire from the Saracens. The needs of defence suggested a military organisation; when the frontier was reduced and every province was exposed to the attacks of the enemy, there was a natural tendency to unite civil and military power. In the west, the exarch of Africa and the exarch of Italy are the magistri militum who have got into their hands the power of the Praetorian prefects of Africa and Italy respectively; and in the same way in the east, the stratêgoi of Thrace, the Anatolics, the Armeniacs, and the Opsikians have each a parcel of the prerogatives of the Praetorian Prefect of the East.
During the eighth and ninth centuries the provinces came to be generally called themes, and the list was modified in several ways. (1) It was reduced by losses of territory; thus Africa was lost. (2) Some of the large provinces were broken up into a number of smaller. (3) Some small frontier districts, which were called clisurarchies (κλεισον̂ρα, a mountain pass), and had been dependent on one of the large districts, were raised to the dignity of independent themes. Thus the Bucellarian theme was formed in the north of Asia Minor between the Opsikian and the Armeniac themes. Then Paphlagonia was cut out as a separate province. The Thracesian theme was cut off the Anatolic. The Marine theme ultimately became three: the Cibyrrhaeot,3 the theme of Samos, and the Aegean Sea. The Helladic province was divided into three (at least): Hellas, Nicopolis, and the Peloponnesus. The Dalmatian towns were constituted into a separate district; a separate theme seems to have been formed out of Calabria and the Ionian islands; but these islands were subsequently detached and constituted as the theme of Cephallenia. In the east of Asia Minor: Colonea, Lycandos, Sebastea, &c. The Armeniac and Anatolic provinces were abridged by the creation of the themes of Charsianon and Cappadocia.
We can trace in the chronicles some changes of this kind which were carried out between the seventh and the tenth centuries But it is not till the beginning of the tenth century that we get any official list to give us a general view of the divisions of the Empire. The treatise on the themes by the Emperor Constantine (see above, p. 320 sqq.), composed about 934, is generally taken as the basis of investigation, and, when historians feel themselves called upon to give a list of the Byzantine themes, they always quote his. In my opinion this is a mistake. We possess better lists than Constantine’s, of a somewhat earlier date. Emperor though Constantine was, his list is not official; it is a concoction, in which actual facts are blended with unmethodical antiquarian research. His treatise is valuable indeed; but it should be criticised in the light of the official lists which we possess.
(1) The earliest list is one included in the Cletorologion of Philotheus (see above, p. 383): Const. Porph. De Cer. Bk. ii. c. 52, p. 713-14 and 727-8. The stratêgoi of the themes are enumerated with other officials in their order of precedence. The list used by Philotheus must date from the first years of the tenth century; it does not mention the themes of Langobardia and Sebastea, which existed before the death of Leo VI., but Cephallenia, which he created, appears in the enumeration.4
(2) The second list is a table of the salaries of the governors of themes and clisurae, in the reign of Leo VI., and is included in c. 50 of the Second Book of the De Cerimoniis. But its editor lived in the reign of Romanus I. For he speaks of the governors of Sebastea, Lycandos, Seleucia, Leontocomis, as having been at that time, that is in Leo’s reign, clisurarchs (ὡς ὣν τότε κλεισουράρχης). In other words, a list was used in which these four districts appeared as clisurarchies. Subsequently they were made themes (strategiai) and the editor brought them up to date. But the list on which he worked seems to be later than the list used by Philotheus, for it includes the theme of Langobardia.
(3) Incomplete enumerations of the themes, in the reign of Romanus I., are given by some Arabic writers, especially by Ibn Khordadbeh (see M. Rambaud, L’empire grec, p. 182).
(4) The Treatise on the Themes. We must criticise Constantine for including Sicily and Cyprus, which did not belong to the Empire, and at the same time omitting Dalmatia, where there was the semblance of a province. Constantine raises the Optimaton to the dignity of a theme, but apologises for doing so; it is only a quasi-theme. In this he was justified; for, though the Optimaton was not governed by a stratêgos but by a domesticus, and was not in a line with the other themes, it was a geographical province.
But the most serious matter that calls for criticism is Constantine’s inconsistency in stating definitely that Charsianon and Cappadocia are themes, and yet not enumerating them in his list. He discusses them under the heading of the Armeniac theme, but they should have headings of their own. This unaccountable procedure has led to the supposition that these two themes were temporarily merged in the Armeniac, out of which they had originally been evolved.
(5) A number of notices in the treatise de Administratione supply material for reconstructing a list of the themes c. 950-2.
(6) To these sources must be added, the seals of the various military and civil officers of the themes. M. Gustave Schlumberger’s important work, Sigillographie byzantine (1884), illustrates the lists.
Sardinia passed away from the empire in the 9th century, but it seems to have never formed a regular theme. We have however traces of its East-Roman governors in the 9th cent. A seal of Theodotus, who was “hypatos and dux of Sardinia,” has been preserved; and also seals of archons of Cagliari, with the curious style ΑΡΧΟΝΤΙ ΜΕΡΕΙΑΣ ΚΑΛΑΡΕΟΣ.
[Rambaud, L’empire grec au dixième siècle, p. 175 sqq.; Bury, Later Roman Empire, vol. ii. p. 339 sqq.; Diehl, L’origine du régime des thèmes dans l’empire byzantin (in Etudes d’histoire du moyen âge, dédiées à Gabriel Monod, 1896); Schlumberger, Sigillographie byzantine, passim (1884). All studies on the Byzantine themes are now susperseded by Professor H. Gelzer’s memoir, Die Genesis der byzantinischen Themenverfassung (in vol. xviii. of the Abhandlungen of the Kon. Sächsische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften), 1899.]
[1 ]Diehl, L’origine des Thèmes, p. 9; Bury, Later Roman Empire, ii. p. 345.
[2 ]Diehl, ib. p. 15. M. Diehl has developed this explanation more fully.
[3 ]The Cibyrrhaeot Theme was not promoted to thematic dignity till the latter part of the eighth century. This is proved by the seal of “Theophilus, Imperial spathar and turmarch of the Cibyrrhaeots,” see Schlumberger, Sigillographie byzantine, p 261.
[4 ]Rambaud, L’empire grec, p. 176.