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Forum LockedDiscovering Byzantium

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    Posted: 18-Aug-2005 at 23:28

 The Byzantine empire is as we all know nowhere near as well known as the Roman empire of Augustus and known even less in its own right and not simply the surviving half of the old Roman empire.

 With so little information about the empire in common circulation and so few avergae everyday people having the scantest of knowledge about it, the only real way to find out about it is to study Roman history and simply come across it when the story begins with Constantine.

 So I was wondering, when did you first become interested in Byzantium? How did you discover it? and what kept you coming back for more? also anybody who is not interested in Byzantium id be interesting in hearing why.

 For me, I discovered Byzantium by playing computer games, Medieval total war as players of the game will know includes the Byzantine empire as one of the playable factions. This was about 18 months ago I had never heard of Byzantium, my knowledge of Roman history although growing was still in its infancy. I had heard of a city called Constantinople, I had no idea of its location, its history, if it still existed etc. Just a word id picked up from somewhere. I became interested in this particular empire, because in the game in which the empire was present a very vivid picture was painted for me.

 What I saw here was an empire struggling to survive, on the verge of annihilation seemingly all the time, with a proud and long history, an empire that was a champion of learning and the arts when much of europe was more interested in pointless and bloody wars from which there was seldom a winner. An empire that didnt deserve its troubles.

 With characters that appeared invented, Justinian, Heraclius, Basil II, the Comnemi and the last Constantine, it read more like a fantastic fiction and not like it had happened. Justinian a man who first grabbed my attention and its thanks to him that I kept that interest in Byzantium. So many ups and downs, heroes and and tyrants, from the beginning to the devastatingly tragic end. Its a story that couldnt of been better written.

 Having been introduced to this empire in this most unexpected of places, I searched around the internet and found countless sites with endless info on Rome but so few on Byzantium, at this point I was totally unaware of Byzantiums reputation and the damage caused to it by Gibbon and the like. I then searched local book shops and found the same problem, stacks and stacks of books on Rome hundreds of books, but only 1 shelf for Byzantium a dozen different books at most. My interest waned at this lack of info.

 However the internet in the shape of Wikipedia rekindled my interest and after a renewed search, I found the absolute gem that is John Julius Norwichs trilogy on Byzantium which capitivated me from the moment I turned the first page. I also bought (although now regrettably) Gibbons Decline and fall, and also the very good Oxford history of Byzantium.

 After a year of learning from books and the internet what I can about this largely ignored or forgotten empire, my knowledge is growing but is still tiny, and there is a long long way to go before I can even consider myself anything resembling knowledgable on Byzantium. However this civilisation has interested me infinitly more than Rome ever could and so I continue to learn with a permanent vigour and determination to not only become as knowledgable as possible on it but to promote it and attempt in some way to bring it up to the level Rome has achieved, but in its own right and its own merits.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Aug-2005 at 23:53

My interest in Byzantium goes back to my junior and senior years of high school.  I was already quite interested in Roman history and was in the process of reading everything I could on the Empire.  Eventually I picked up a condensed version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Despite his blatantly negative view of Byzantium, this was my first glimpse of it and my curiosity set in.  Like you, Heraclius, I bought Norwich's book (the concise version of the trilogy) and was instantly hooked .  I think what initially attracted me to Byzantine history was the combination of Christianity and the Roman imperial tradition in its civilization.

It is interesting that you mention video games as encouragement to study history.  It was similar with me too; first a World History course I took my sophomore year of high school and second playing Age of Empires II got me really interested in History.

Over the years I have tried to familiarize myself with all the scholarly books and articles on Byzantium, as well as the primary sources.  Continuing with my Latin and learning Greek in college were also a result of my interest in the Empire.  After reading certain authors and studying everything that I could find that they wrote, my interests within the field narrowed to the Late period (1204-1461 roughly), with a focus on the army and the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Finally, here I am studying Byzantium in graduate school!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Raider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Aug-2005 at 04:21

 

Naturally I studied many things about the Byzantine Empire in school. But I became really enquirer after I read a novel, Johannes Angelos by Mika Waltari. From that time I have bought many books about it. (by Ostrogorsky, Moravcsik, Brehier, Obolensky, Meyendorff, Runciman etc.)



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Aug-2005 at 10:36
Originally posted by Raider Raider wrote:

 

Naturally I studied many things about the Byzantine Empire in school. But I became really enquirer after I read a novel, Johannes Angelos by Mika Waltari. From that time I have bought many books about it. (by Ostrogrosky, Moravcsik, Brehier, Obolensky, Meyendorff, Runciman etc.)

What Meyendorff book have you read?  I have his Byzantine Theology book, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, and a book he co-authored with Aristeides Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium (about the Filioque controversy).

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Aug-2005 at 11:36
I 'discovered' Byzantium through reading a lot of ancient Greek history. By my freshman year of high school, I was reading heavily on the diadochi and the end of the Hellenistic world. It was then that I asked myself, "Then what?". Something as inspiring and thought-provoking as Greek history could not have ended so completely. It was then that I discovered the new Greek empire of Byzantium. Not only was it a continuation of Greek history, but was also extremely interesting, almost like a fantasy novel.

I think the first book on Byzantium that I had was the Oxford History of Byzantium.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Raider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 10:12
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor Byzantine Emperor wrote:

Originally posted by Raider Raider wrote:

 

Naturally I studied many things about the Byzantine Empire in school. But I became really enquirer after I read a novel, Johannes Angelos by Mika Waltari. From that time I have bought many books about it. (by Ostrogrosky, Moravcsik, Brehier, Obolensky, Meyendorff, Runciman etc.)

What Meyendorff book have you read?  I have his Byzantine Theology book, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, and a book he co-authored with Aristeides Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium (about the Filioque controversy).

1. Imperial Unity and Christian Division: the Church 450-680

2. The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 co-authored with Aristeides Papadakis.

There is a series of books named Varia Byzantina recently published in Hungary. I usually buy them. The latest was The Day-To-Day Life of the Desert Fathers: In Fourth-Century Egypt by Lucien Regnault 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 14:40

 I'm most interested in the reigns of Justinian the great, Heraclius, Basil II and the Comnemi, so i dont have one period im focused on entirely, its much more stretched out.

 I dont have much interest in the Iconoclasts and post 1261, Justinian is the Emperor i'm most fond of  (despite my username) even though he sometime's comes across as though he doesnt deserve it.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 20:08
Well I began as an avid student of Roman history when I was 12, yet somehow never picked up on Byzantium until I was 14 thanks to my books typically neglecting the later Roman Empire. I was playing a game called Age of Empires II, the Conquerors Expansion. In this you can play as a number of civilizations and I chose Byzantium for 3 reasons. They had the largest technology tree, their unique unit was the cataphract which I liked and also the word Byzantium sounded mystifying and fascinating. From that somewhat obscure place of inspiration I decided I needed to rsearch this civilization, and so the love affair began........
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 20:39

 Yeah the word "Byzantium" has a curious ring to it, similar to Xanadu for me, feels distant and surrounded by magic somehow.

 Books can only take me so far though, I intend to visit Turkey in the near future and see things for myself, when I went to Rome a year ago everything made more sense and I got a feel for the city and the empire it once controlled.

 I need to see *Constantinople* for myself, much of whats left though seems to be in almost total ruin, with the major exceptions of interest of Hagia Sophia and the still standing city walls. The Hippodrome is practically gone, the palaces have little traces, the columns are largely destroyed or ruined, and much else has barely survived.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 21:06
I would love to visit Istanbul/Constantinople one day. The old walls and the Hagia Sophia would be first on my itinerary. I'd also like to visit Athens, for that matter.

Speaking of which, why have no Greek members commented on this thread?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 21:24

 Hopefully ill of visited Istanbul within the next year, but its going to have to blow me away to beat Rome, with so little left its going to be hard.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 22:11
Well I am wondering why the Greek members as a whole take so little interest in Byzantium. Do they not see its history as one of their civilization's most impressive achievements? Has the work of men such as Gibbon really been so powerful that even the Greeks themselves see this era of their history as something to be ignored in favour of the Classical Age of Hellas?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2005 at 22:18

 It does seem Greeks generally are more interested in the time when it was the Greek city states fighting the Persians etc. The only time Greeks seem particularly interested in Byzantium is its fall, when an argument inevitably breaks out between greeks and turks.

 Its strange an Englishman, an Australian, a Filipino (sp?) an American and an Hungarian all replied to this thread as either passive fans of Byzantium or major students of it yet not one Greek. Infact apply that to almost all Byzantine related threads on this forum  very odd.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 13:15
Originally posted by Raider Raider wrote:

2. The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 co-authored with Aristeides Papadakis.

I actually mistyped something in my previous post.  This is the book that I meant (I have the paperback edtition with the green cover).  Crisis in Byzantium is by Papadakis, but there is no co-author.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote BlindOne Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 16:37

Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

Well I am wondering why the Greek members as a whole take so little interest in Byzantium. Do they not see its history as one of their civilization's most impressive achievements? Has the work of men such as Gibbon really been so powerful that even the Greeks themselves see this era of their history as something to be ignored in favour of the Classical Age of Hellas?

Greetings

Constantine you can't imagine how negative is the opinion that most of the greeks have about Byzantium. First in school we learn almost nothing about it. We learn that it was a theocratical state with almost no interest in any part of life there, hehe when i finish school i believed that Byzantines was just religius fanatics and nothing else.

 Constantine i read your post for a long time and the first time i belived that you was a professor in Byzantine studies.

 All the intellactual people here in greece are Gibbon funs.

Sorry for bad english .

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 16:42

 Some people like Gibbon!  that pompous twit is a joke and I dont think he deserves one ounce of the credit he gets.

 The Greeks should be proud of Byzantium and knowledgable about it, Byzantium is one of Greeces greatest triumphs and enduring legacies.

 Im stunned, rejected by the world for the last few hundred years and now rejected by its own people  is there some kind of conspiracy to down Byzantium or something?

 It seems to me the only interest Greece has in Byzantium is as a focal point to have a bash at the Turks, every single time WITHOUT fail on here that Byzantium is brought up and Greeks and Turks post on it there is an argument about which side is worse, which one killed more people yadda yadda yadda. Its sad Greeks have so little real interest in Byzantium.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote BlindOne Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 16:52

Heraclius here in greece we favor our ascient history over anything (and that's our greatest fault). When in our schools we learn that the Byzantines destoyed the ascient culture and momuments. Do you know that in the newspapper with the most sales there was a comment says that the byzantines destroyed the ascient temples, burned ascient books (well even if the first books was created in byzantine times ) and throw heretics into fire?

 How can we be pride when we learn such thinks about that time?

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Komnenos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 16:57
At least I have a Greek name.

I landed in Byzantium, coming from Bosnia. Somehow, I've always been interested in Early Christian and Medieval heresies, and when I heard of the Bogomils and saw some of there artefacts in Bosnia, I read more and then retraced their steps backwards into the Byzantine Empire and got stuck there.
I think the fascination comes from the fact that the Byzantine Empire is a complex but at the same time very straightforward history, it has an almost definite beginning, and a very definite ending, but is in the middle a story incredibly rich of narrative lines of religion, art, social and political culture, military and diplomatic history, and when you read about one aspect, you never know where that might lead to next.
It's also a story of a long, sad and very melancholic decline, of outstanding achievements and heroics, and of equally unbelievable follies and blunders.
Just like real life.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 17:02

 Take it upon yourself to learn other than what school teaches you, the Byzantines valued ancient Greek culture. Ignore idiots like Gibbon, read the work of people who know what the hell they are on about and arent biased. If nobody Greek studies Byzantium then the Greek perception will never change, its important that atleast some people know the true Byzantium.

 I mean the ancient Greeks were FAR from perfect, they spent much of their time fighting each other in pointless endless wars that showed no signs of ceasing. Im sick to death of Byzantium being ignored.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Imperator Invictus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 20:30
I first "discovered" Byzantium in a children's encyclopedia book, the ones with big illustrations and little text. There was enough information, however, for a full entry on the Byzantine Empire and that's when I first found out what the Byzantine Empire was. Eventually, Age of Kings was released and the Byzantines were one of the civs in the game. There and in Heavengame's history forum I learned enough about its history to appreciate the civilization. What facinated me was that it did not resemble ordinary medieval civilizations, and nor Muslim and Near eastern ones. It was not a new medieval civilization, and it was not quite regarded as Classical. These unique characteristics made Byzantium quite interesting to me.

Quote Yeah the word "Byzantium" has a curious ring to it, similar to Xanadu for me, feels distant and surrounded by magic somehow.


Yes it does! If you've ever read Stephen Lawhead's novel Byzantium, even the characters in it admit that Constantinople's old name had an effect of grandeur to it.
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