Children of the Fatherland: Antioch, the Beacon of Civilisation in the East

In these years, when Antioch was the bastion of Christianity in the East, when it stood alone against the heathen tide, holding a single fragile flame against the night – one might have expected it to be a grim fortress, barren stone and marching troops, with all its wealth going to its army. But such was not the case. Not only the finest soldiers, but also the best artists and the most erudite scholars flocked to Antioch, casting their defiance against the barbarian kingdoms of the East – and the West. There was, perhaps, a slightly febrile tone to the discussions, an apocalyptic note to the art; men who gather on the edge of a cliff to light fires and dance threats at powerful foes do not produce calm philosophy or paintings of pastoral landscapes. Nonetheless in these years Antioch became not only Christendom’s bastion, but also its beacon; a lighthouse against the encroaching dark.

Drawing to itself the wealth and sophistication of Greek civilisation, the thematic court of Antioch was filled with luminaries, a near-embarrassment of riches; starting with Arkadios himself, whose brilliance lay in politics and intrigue, but extending down to all the great and many minor offices of the court. The outpouring of art and scholarship found its natural counterpart in diplomatic successes within the Empire, starting with the marriage of Arkadios to the daughter of heirless Emperor Leo. Although younger than Arkadios, the Emperor, disappointed in the deaths of his sons and his inability to stem the disintegration of his realm, seemed like much the older man. Thus his passing of the torch to the younger Komnenos dynasty, in the person of his grandson Thomas, may be deemed a fitting accompaniment to the movement of the center of Greek culture.

Observe the brilliance, the education, the sheer magnificence of my court!

Steward

Spymaster

Although the Marshal, admittedly, would do better to concentrate on Vegetius and not Ovid.

Marshal

Chancellor

Diocese Bishop

Observe also that they learn intrigue early in Antioch, as much as in Byzantium. Young Thomas is getting it with his mother’s milk.

Thomas Komnenos

Some call it a blessing of the True God; but the honest philosophers of Antioch’s court observe that randomness plays favourites, and where some people collect undeserved joys, others get no luck whatsoever. Perhaps there is balance in all things; if so, surely the Bagratuni dynasty is compensating for the rise of the Komnenoi. Zoe Kabakes has died, without getting her revenge – or, at any rate, it has yet to unfold. For in her declining years she forswore all vengeance and publicly forgave Arkadios – who perforce had to deny yet again that there was anything to forgive. Not that the denial did him any good; in the public mind, he is a killer of children, and that is that. What’s more, for her words the Church has canonized Zoe. Not all vengeance is written in fire and blood; it may be, as the centuries pass, that Zoe will have had the best of the contest after all. But that is for the future. In the present day Zoe is dead and her bastard son David will never sit the throne of Georgia.

Zoe Kabakes

David Bagratuni

It is true that he has found a minor countship in inland Anatolia, a hardscrabble fiefdom of sheep and mountains; held, in defiance of Antioch’s barricade, of the Persian throne. David is not the only minor Anatolian lord to have found a Persian sanctuary from the perennial civil war. But he is the only one to have come to the personal attention of Arkadios… and the only one whose title, passing back through his father Giorgi, would come to a Komnenoi scion – specifically, to his nephew Zenobios. And the only one whose son, also named Giorgi, is dead (so the bitter jest runs) of completely natural causes. In particular, what could be more natural than to die, when your heartbeat is all that stands in the way of a Komnenus inheritance? What could be more natural than to die, when someone puts strychnine in your oatmeal, ground glass in your milk, hemlock in your birthday cake? Why, to survive in such circumstances would violate the order of things! So the gallows-joke runs, in barren upland provinces of Anatolia, where no luck ever comes except it is bad.

Family tree of David and Zenobios

Family tree

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