1. Birth – Family

Karbeas was born on Byzantine land in the early 9th century. His father, perhaps his entire family too, belonged to the Paulician community and was executed during the persecutions against them launched by the Byzantine Empress Theodora around 843-844. Karbeas possibly had a sister married to a zealous Paulician that later played a leading part in the struggle against the Byzantines. His nephew Chrysocheir was born into this marriage.1 Karbeas had at least one daughter, whom he gave in marriage to his nephew, but probably had no sons given that Chrysocheir was appointed his successor after he died.

2. Upbringing – Education

Little is known about the upbringing and education of Karbeas. In all probability he was introduced to the Paulician doctrine by his father and the rest of his family. The education he received must have been quite higher than the usual general ("enkyklios") education, as indicated by the fact that he made a career as a Byzantine officer.

3. Activity

3.1. Karbeas at the Service of the Emir of Melitene

Karbeas first appears in historical sources in 843-8442 while serving as protomandator of Theodotos Melissenos, strategos of the theme of Anatolikon. When he learned that his father had been executed (by crucifixion or impalement), during the persecutions launched against the Paulicians by Empress Theodora, Karbeas deserted the Byzantine territories and fled along with another 5000 persecuted Paulicians to the land of the emir of Melitene Amr al-Aqta, where he joined other Paulicians who had escaped there in the 810s under Sergios Tychikos, the seventh teacher of the community. Together with other important Paulicians he left Melitene and got to Baghdad to meet the Arab Caliph.

Before long the alliance of the Paulicians with the Arabs came to fruition. Around 844 Karbeas, who had already become the Paulician leader,3 defeated the Byzantine forces and arrested Kallistos, the dux of Colonea and a fanatical Paulician persecutor. Karbeas gave Kallistos to the Arabs, who killed him a few years later.

The Paulicians continued their raids against the Byzantine Empire while they were settled in the cities of Argaoun and Amara in the territory controlled by the Arabs of Melitene. These raids were staged in cooperation with the Arabs of the emirates of Melitene and Tarsus. According to the sources, between 851 and 853, Karbeas would raid the Byzantine regions of Asia Minor every year helped by the emir of Tarsus Alī ibn Yahya al-Armanī.

3.2. Head of State

Problems started to appear when the Paulicians settled in the Arab emirate of Melitene. Therefore, between 844 and 856 Karbeas decided to found a new capital for his state. The new city was named Tephrike and was situated to the northeast of Sebasteia and southwest of Melitene, quite far from the latter so that it could be independent. It occupied a strategic position near the Byzantine border so that it could serve as a Paulician base during the Paulician attacks against the Byzantine regions of Asia Minor (mainly the theme of Armeniakon) and a refuge of the persecuted Paulicians.

The Byzantines became well aware of the strategic importance of Melitene. In 856 strategos Petronas, who was serving as domestikos ton scholon, raided against Tephrike and plundered its suburbs, though he failed to capture the city. In this way, Karbeas and his Paulicians became even more powerful.

In the spring of 859, Karbeas hasted to help the Arabs of Samosata, who were suffering from a Byzantine attack under Emperor Michael III (842-867) and his uncle Bardas, Petronas’ brother. Taking advantage of the loose safety measures on the Byzantine side, the Arabs sallied out of the besieged city. In the ensuing battle, the Arabs shattered the imperial forces and Karbeas fought really bravely capturing a large number of Byzantine soldiers and officers.

In 860, Karbeas launched a new attack against the Byzantine regions of the Pontos, possibly in cooperation with the Arabs of Melitene, under Emir Amr al-Aqta, and those of Tarsus, under Emir Alī ibn Yahya. The Paulicians returned to their land with a loot of 5000 animals.

4. Death

Karbeas died of natural death (illness, according to sources) in Tephrike in 863.4 His nephew Chrysocheir became the next Paulician leader

5. Evaluation

Nothing is reported in the sources about the opinion the Paulicians had about Karbeas.5 It may be supposed that his contemporary Paulicians were satisfied with his leadership, which nobody ever challenged, since no internal disputes are reported with the former students of Sergios Tychikos.

As expected, the Byzantines held a strongly negative opinion about Karbeas, for he was the first Paulician leader that seriously threatened the Byzantine state with his army. Even his decision to found Tephrike is attributed to base motives. On the other hand, the Byzantine sources seem to somehow admire his bravery and fighting qualities. According to some Arab sources, the Christians used to depict Karbeas the Paulician (Karneas Beїlakani) in wall paintings together with other brave men. Even though the picture was a representation of an enemy attack against the Byzantine territories rather than the expression of admiration for Karbeas, the fact that he appears in the acritic epic (as Karoes, the uncle of Basil Digenes) indicates the great impression the deeds of the Paulician leader made on the Byzantines.

1. Runciman, S., The Medieval Manichee. A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (Cambridge 1947, reprint. 1955), pp. 41-42, identifies Chrysocheir with the Byzantine official John Chrysocheris, who received three letters from Patriarch Photios. Lemerle, P., “L'histoire des Pauliciens d'Asie Mineure d'après les sources grecques”, Travaux et Mémoires 5 (1973), pp. 40-42, considers the assumption rather vague.

2. Garsoïan, N., The Paulician Heresy (The Hague – Paris 1967), pp. 126-127, believes that Karbeas left in 843 or 844 and disputes the opinions of earlier researchers, who dated the event to before 842.

3. It is unknown whether he exercised absolute power or he had to share it with Michael, Kanakaris, Ioannes Aoratos, Theodotos, Basil and Zosimos, former students and associates of Sergios Tychikos.

4. Runciman, S., The Medieval Manichee. A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (Cambridge 1947, reprint. 1955), p. 41, and Garsoïan, N., The Paulician Heresy (The Hague – Paris 1967), p. 128, are carried away by some Byzantine sources assuming that Karbeas followed the emir of Melitene to his raid against Asia Minor in 863. As a result, the two researchers believe that Karbeas was killed on September 3 of the same year, when the Arabs were heavily defeated by the Byzantines on the Lalakaon River. Lemerle, P., “L'histoire des Pauliciens d'Asie Mineure d'après les sources grecques”, Travaux et Mémoires 5 (1973), pp. 39-40, adopts the most reliable Arab sources and Peter of Sicily, who clearly report that Karbeas died of illness in Tephrike in 863.

5. The major sources providing information about Karbeas are Peter of Sicily, Patriarch Photios and the major sources for the 9th century, namely Theophanes Continuatus and John Skylitzes. According to Grégoire, H., “Sur l'histoire des Pauliciens”, Académie royale de Belgique. Bulletin de la Classe des Lettres et des Sciences morales et politiques 22 (1936), pp. 224-226, and Loos, M., “Deux contributions à l'histoire des Pauliciens I: A propos des sources grecques reflétant des Pauliciens”, Byzantinoslavica 17 (1956), pp. 19-57, Peter of Sicily is identified with Peter the Abbot, the writer of a work on the Paulicians, which is quite similar to the text of Peter of Sicily. According to Grégoire, the historical text of Peter the Abbot on the Paulicians is a summary of the Iστορία των Παυλικιανών (History of the Paulicians) by Peter of Sicily, although this opinion is not accepted by Loos, who thinks that the historical text of Peter the Abbot was written before the History of the Paulicians.