This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources prepared and mounted by Paul Stephenson.



The De Cerimoniis is a work of compilation produced for the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-59), and partially revised or updated under Nikephoros II Phokas (963-9), perhaps under the direction of Basil the Nothos, or Parakoimomenos. It describes ceremonial procedures, often in minute detail, from the perspective of court officals, and addresses other matters insofar as they affected the day-to-day rhythm of life in Constantinople. The treatise has survived in only two manuscripts, the first long known, the second only recently identified in two parts. The Leipzig manuscript (Leip. Univ. Lib. 28), upon which all current editions are based, was produced in the later tenth century, probably during the reign of Nikephoros II. The second manuscript dates from the same period, but in the eleventh century was scraped clean and over-written with a new text. One half of this palimpsest manuscript remained in Constantinople/Istanbul, where it was identified by C. Mango and I. Sevcenko (Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 1960).The second half was identified in the Vatopedi Monastery at Mount Athos by Otto Kresten. A treatise on Imperial Expeditions precedes the text in the Leipzig ms., but should not be considered as part of the De Cerimoniis (nor as an appendix, as in Reiske's edition). It has been edited separately by J. Haldon. We await a new edition and at least two translations and commentaries on the De Cerimoniis proper. An English translation with commentary by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall is to be published in the series Byzantina Australiensia, and a second collaborative effort to edit and translate the text is in progress in Paris. So far, this has resulted in one fascicule of the occasional journal Travaux et mémoires ( vol. 13, 2000). An article by Averil Cameron (1987: 106-36) presents an excellent English introduction to the De Cerimoniis.

Notes on inauguration rituals and promotions

Many chapters of the De Cerimoniis, although presented as prescriptive texts, are in fact descriptions of actual ceremonies and events stripped of specifics. (In the examples of middle Byzantine coronations presented in translation, this stripping is represented by the replacement of the names of the emperor and co-emperor with the non-specific ho deina, "so-and-so"). Divided into two books, Book One contains 97 chapters, while Book Two contains 56. Book One is drawn from historical and documentary sources, of which chapters 1-83 comprise prescriptive accounts of holy day processions (1-37), and secular ceremonies (38-83), including twelve unrevised chapters (84-95) from a sixth-century manual by Peter the Patrician. Chapters 96 and 97 clearly date from the reign of Nikephoros II. Book Two, it is stated, is drawn from oral accounts, but it is clear that the chapters include written historical material (including those relating to promotion ceremonies). Chapters 25-56 appear to have been associated documents copied together with the accounts of ceremonies, but concerning such matters as military mobilization against Crete and Italy (II, 44-5; see now J. Haldon, Travaux et mémoires 13, 2000, 201-352), officials' stipends and precedence, and a diplomatic stylesheet, to which we shall turn shortly. First however, I offer translations of prescribed ceremonies for imperial coronation and secular promotion.

Notes on the diplomatic stylesheet

The attention paid in the De Cerimoniis to foreign affairs in minimal, and to some extent this can be explained by the existence of a distinct treatise devoted to such matters (the De Administrando Imperio, hereafter DAI). However, it most clearly reflects the fact that domestic matters, and particularly affairs in and between the Great Palace and St Sophia dominated imperial thought in the mid-tenth century. Since the retrenchment of the seventh century Constantinople had played an increasingly large role in the articulation of the imperial ideology. D. Olster (1996: 100) has noted that "as the borders ceased to define the extent of Roman authority [from the seventh century], the oikoumene was reduced to a central point from which Romanity radiated," and imperial rhetoric focused largely on the "head," which, so long as it survived, would keep the body alive. Thus pseudo-Methodius asked "what other place could be named the navel of the world except the city where God has set the imperial residence of the Christians, and that he has created by its central location even that it might serve as the intermediary between east and west?"

Foreign affairs, therefore, played a limited role in Byzantine imperial thought and ceremony between the seventh and tenth centuries, and chapters in the De Cerimoniis are devoted to such matters only where they affected life in the city, such as the reception and treatment of ambassadors from various lands in Constantinople. Moreover, much of this tiny percentage of the large compilation is of purely antiquarian interest: for example the four chapters (bk 1, cc. 87-8, 89-90; ed. Reiske: 393-410) devoted to the reception of envoys from Persia and of ambassadors announcing the promotion of an Ostrogothic emperor in Rome copied from Peter the Patrician. Nevertheless, the information on other peoples contained in the De Cerimoniis has been of concern for those seeking to reconstruct the Byzantine world view, for the manuscript has been transmitted with a separate document, incorporated as chapters 46 to 48 of the second book, which lists the correct protocols and forms of address to be observed in receving foreign embassies, and in despatches from the emperor to foreign rulers.

The central theme in this document is taxis. Taxis, or correct order, within Byzantine society produced the harmonious hierarchy of institutions that constituted the state. Taxis in human society mirrored that of heaven, and systems of precedence mirrored the divine hierarchy. Thus the Byzantine empire was rigidly structured, and the opposite of the world beyond the empire, the barbarian world where ataxia (disorder) reigned. However, the late antique concept of universality had been reinstituted as a principal component of imperial ideology before the tenth century, and this required that the empire introduce order to other human societies, to correct ataxia. This is evident in chapter 46, which comprises a list of Byzantine court titles which foreigners might be given; and in chapter 47, which lists not only how foreign ambassadors should be greeted, but how (exactly how) they should greet the emperor. In fact, it is most likely to have been the Logothete who delivered the greeting on behalf of the ambassadors, saving them from any potential faux pas consistent with their ataxia.

The extension of order to the non-Byzantine world led to the creation of a what has been dubbed "the hierarchy of states." At the top of the hierarchy, after Byzantium, came the Sassanian Persians, then the Arabs and later the sultan of Egypt, with whom the emperor negotiated on terms of quasi-equality. Next came the khagan of the Khazars, and after this various western potentates, including the king of the Franks. The order of precedence is illustrated in the protocols for letters despatched to the rulers of independent peoples, and also those rulers deemed to be subject to the emperor. Independent rulers received a letter (grammata), subject rulers received a command (keleusis). Each was sealed with a golden sealing, or bull, with a specified value in Byzantine solidi. Thus the 'Emir of the Faithful' received a letter with a golden bull of four solidi, while the 'Pope of Rome' received either a one-solidus or two-solidi bull. The repetition and contradiction in the text, for example in dealing with the pope, reflects the imperfect state of the protocols and their development to reflect prevailing political circumstances.

Protocols are included for addressing numerous peoples to the east and west, and the treatment of several complements information contained in other sources (particularly the DAI). For example, the Pechenegs have no single archon, but several leaders of distinct confederate groups who each receive the same honour. Moreover, each is accorded the status of an independent ruler and receives a letter (grammata) from the emperors. The rulers of the Pechenegs and Magyars are the only independent rulers to be accorded the title archontes. In contrast, and also in accordance with the claims advanced in the DAI -- where it is stated forcefully that the Croats and Serbs have never been subject to the ruler of the Bulgarians -- the archontes of the Croats and the Serbs are considered dependent peoples of the empire, and are issued with imperial commands; so are the rulers of the Slavic regions of Zahumlje, Kanali, Travunija, Duklja and Moravia.

The term archon, which I have translated in the diplomatic stylesheet as Prince, is a title almost always reserved for semi-autonomous Christian rulers who have recognized the higher authority of the Byzantine emperor. (The exceptions are the rulers of the independent and pagan Pechenegs and Magyars.) As we will see below, the relationship usually involved ties of spiritual kinship, with the emperor regarding and styling himself as father, or grandfather. Exceptionally the emperor acknowledged the parity of a spiritual brother (pnematikos adelphos), for example the King (rex) of Francia. At this stage the title archon ceased to be appropriate: for a time the ruler of Bulgaria is addressed as a spiritual brother and an emperor (basileus).

The inclusion of Moravia suggests that the protocols for the empire's northern neighbours, as they have been preserved, date from before the Magyars arrived in the Carpathian Basin in c. 895. Bury (1907: 223), suggests the Isaurian period (i.e. before 802), but the later ninth century seems more likely. Received opinion holds that Moravia fell to the Magyars before c. 906 (although if we believe recent attempts to relocate Moravia we might accept an earlier date). However, the impossibility of identifying the date of the protocol precisely is not a hindrance to our understanding of the De Cerimoniis; rather it reveals to us the essence of the document, for although much of the information it contains is clearly antiquarian, and many of the ceremonies redundant, they are included to bolster the image of continuity and immutability that is central to the notion of taxis, and to impose a framework of idealized relations within the overarching hierarchy which has persisted from antiquity to the present. And in its accumulation of principles and precedents from the pool of Roman and Late Antique ideology, the De Cerimoniis was dynamic because it facilitated the invention of traditions suited to conditions in the mid-tenth century, and gave them solid pseudo-historical roots.


Bury, J. B. (1907) "The ceremonial book of Constantine Porphyrogennetos," English Historical Review 22 : 209-27, 417-39

Cameron, Averil (1987) "The construction of court ritual: the Byzantine Book of Ceremonies," in: D. Cannadine & S. Price, eds, Rituals of Royalty. Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies. Cambridge,  pp. 106-36

Olster, D. (1996) "From periphery to center: the transformation of Late Roman self-definition in the late seventh century," in R. Mathisen & H. Sivan, eds, Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity. Aldershot, pp. 93-101


Copyright: Paul Stephenson, October 1998

Revised January 2012