Byzantium – NEW

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Biweekly, Friday, 12-2, Week 2     Room 5     Space Available

Despite the move from Rome to Constantinople, they called themselves Roman, spoke Latin and followed the Roman legal system. Their borders fluctuated, flowing from the Nile to the Danube to the Tigris, and at times included Cordoba, Milan, and the Balkans. They fought off Rus, Slavs, Arabs, Vandals, and Goths, not to mention for and against the Crusades. This lesser-known Christian empire lasted more than 1,000 years until overrun by the Ottomans in 1453. In that time Constantinople saw over 80 Emperors, including Justinian and Heraclitus along with a few Empresses, including Theodora. Participants are expected to prepare one 20-minute presentation and to do some reading from the sources mentioned.


Brian O’Leary ( has facilitated a range of workshops, including The Spanish Civil War, World Theatre, Television, History of Spain, Shakespeare Live, and About Rome.

Facilitator Notes:


Most intriguing is how little we know. This semi-ignorance may be a result of the 4th crusade or it might be the work of the Holy Roman Church, I’m not sure. But though there are hundreds of books available at the Reference Library, this slice of our world is rarely part of our history.

This leads to some interesting presentation choices, and yes, you must make a presentation.

You may choose a safe topic such as Byzantine Art, though you could challenge yourself – the reason we join this Academy – and explore unknown territory such as Empress Theodora or even deeper, one of the religious disputes – which seem unending over these 1000 years. After all, unlike Republican Rome with its myriad shrines, within the changing borders of Byzantium most were of one faith – Orthodox Catholic – though the Emperor still called the shots.

Some of the topics below deal with a specific person or period of time, while others survey the full spectrum. The first (Constantine) and last (the Aftermath) are unavailable, but you could still bravely choose Monophysitism.(??)

As is the habit, First come, First Gets – decided by the time on your e-mail.

And when you get around to it, please stay within the 20 to 30 minute range, as we do like to discuss. One other advice, if using A/V equipment, get your material on a USB stick.

See ya soon!


Topics (topics in bold are available)

Date Topic Roughly When Who
Sept 21 Emperor Constantine 324 – 337 Adele
Sept 21 Religion 101 – Monophysitism? 451 on Bob
Oct 5 The Roman Empire lives on Joe
Oct 5 Emperor Justinian 527 – 565 Nancy
Oct 19 Initial Arab Offensives 674 – 718  Raj
Oct 19 Tajid Emperor Constantine V 741 – 775 Jenny
Nov 2 Abbasid V, Umayyads, Coroba v, Baghdad Oliver
Nov 2 Religion 202 – Iconophiles v Iconoclasts 754 – 843  Michael
Nov 16 Empress Theodora & Empress Irene Janet
Nov 16 Macedonian Dynasty Peter
Nov 30 Venice – Friend & Foe 992 + Claire
Nov 30 Empresses Zoe & Theodora 1028 – 1056 Judith
Jan 18 Religion 303 – R.C. v Orthodox – unite Harvey
Jan 18 Byzantium Defences – fire, walls, Cable, etc.  Matthew
Feb 1 Crusades 1,2, & 3 1096 – 1192 Kate
Feb 1 More Crises – Normans, Turks, etc Liz
Feb 15 Eunuchs  Sheila J.
Feb 15 Religion 404 – Mt Athos – hermits, monasteries  Linda S.
Mar 1 Byzantium architecture, medicine, astrology Lynda L.
Mar 1 Fourth Crusade Gillian
Mar 15 Ottomans approach, quake, Tamburlaine 1354 ++  Andre
Mar 15 Byzantine Art Bill
Mar 29 The end – history 1453  Susan L.
Mar 29 The end – aftermath 2019  All

Books I’ve read

  • The Byzantine Empire – D Stathakopoulos – A short 190 pp. history replete with infrastructure, environmental changes, and a look at the aftermath and overview of historical opponents.
  • The Lost World of Byzantium – Jonathan Harris – 242 pp. concise, easily digested history of the 1000 years with a chronology
  • Byzantium – Judith Herrin – 336 pp. easy to read, less a history, each chapter deals completely with a subject ‘Greek Fire’, ‘Mount Athos”, ‘Eunuchs’. Includes a chronology and a list of the Emperors or most of the 90.


N.B. All three have further reading lists


Books I’ve skimmed

  • History of the Byzantine State – George Ostrogorsky
  • Byzantium – John Julius Norwich  (3 heavy fact-filled volumes)
  • Biz’m Church, Society and Civilization – F K Geanakapolos (title tells all)
  • Justinian and Theodoro – Robert Browning. (one interesting emperor)
  • Rome and Byzantium – Clive Foss (short, lots of pictures)
  • Oxford History of Byzantium – edited by Cyril Mango (not terribly deep)


Books I’ve noted

  • Daily Life in the Byz’m Empire – Marcus Rautman
  • Encyclopedia of the Byzantine Empire – Jennifer Lawlor
  • The Byzantine Wars – John Haldon
    The Emperor Maurice – Theophylact Simocatta