What separated Byzantium from other nations of the early Middle Ages was its active involvement in manipulating internal events in other countries. Today we take for granted the existence of government agencies which gather and interpret intelligence, cultivate support in foreign circles and perhaps even instigate rebellion. To find such a sophisticated and centralised arrangement as early as the sixth century is truly remarkable.

To aid in dealing with other nations, the Byzantines established an organisation called the ‘Bureau of Barbarians’, which gathered information from every source imaginable (even priests) and kept files on who was influential, who was susceptible to bribery, what a nation’s historical roots were, what was likely to impress them, etc. In many cases, the information gathered by the Bureau was the first written record of these peoples, since barbarian tribes rarely had writing of their own. Armed with this knowledge, Byzantine emperors and diplomats had a complete understanding of the strengths of their allies and the weaknesses of their enemies.