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Commandaria and the eponymous Rumney wine). Retsina, wine flavored with pine resin, was also drunk, asit still is in Greece today, producing similar reactions from unfamiliar visitors; "To add to our calamity the Greek wine, onaccount of being mixed with pitch, resin, and plaster was to us undrinkable," complained Liutprand of Cremona, who wasthe ambassador sent to Constantinople in 968 by the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I.The garos fish saucecondiment was also not much appreciated by the unaccustomed; Liutprand of Cremona described being served foodcovered in an "exceedingly bad fish liquor."The Byzantines also used a soy sauce like condiment, murri, a fermentedbarley sauce, which, like soy sauce, provided umami flavoring to their dishes.Byzantines were avid players of tavli (Byzantine Greek: τάβλη), a gameknown in English as backgammon, which is still popular in former Byzantinerealms, and still known by the name tavli in Greece.Byzantine nobleswere devoted to horsemanship, particularly tzykanion, now known as polo.The game came from Sassanid Persia in the early period and a Tzykanisterion(stadium for playing the game) was built by Theodosius II (r. 408–450)inside the Great Palace of Constantinople. Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886)excelled at it; Emperor Alexander (r. 912–913) died from exhaustion whileplaying, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) was injured whileplaying with Tatikios, and John I of Trebizond (r. 1235–1238) died from afatal injury during a game.Aside from Constantinople andTrebizond, other Byzantine cities also featured tzykanisteria, most notablySparta, Ephesus, and Athens, an indication of a thriving urbanaristocracy.The game was introduced to the West by crusaders, whodeveloped a taste for it particularly during the pro-Western reign of emperor Manuel I Komnenos.In the Byzantine state, the emperor was the sole and absolute ruler, and his power was regarded as having divineorigin.The Senate had ceased to have real political and legislative authority but remained as an honorary council withtitular members. By the end of the 8th century, a civil administration focused on the court was formed as part of a large-CuisineRecreationA game of τάβλι(tabula) played byByzantine emperor Zeno in 480 andrecorded by Agathias in c. 530because of a very unlucky dice throwfor Zeno (red), as he threw 2, 5 and 6and was forced to leave eight piecesalone.Government and bureaucracy
scale consolidation of power in the capital (the rise to pre-eminence of the position of sakellariosis related to thischange).The most important administrative reform, which probably started in the mid-7th century, was the creationof themes, where civil and military administration was exercised by one person, the strategos.Despite the occasionally derogatory useof the terms "Byzantine" and"Byzantinism", the Byzantinebureaucracy had a distinct ability forreconstituting itself in accordance withthe Empire's situation. The elaboratesystem of titulature and precedence gavethe court prestige and influence. Officials