middle byzantine

Today’s fun fact:

The term “Byzantine Empire” was coined in the 18th century so that historians could draw a clearer distinction between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Byzantines themselves kept calling their state the Eastern Roman Empire right up to 1453, and the people of mainland Greece were still calling themselves Romans during the First Balkan War in the 20th century.


Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. The settlement became an important stop along the merchant trade routes and reached the height of its glory in the 300s BCE as one of the major maritime and commercial centers of the ancient world. The sight of the fortifications alone, which date from the 500s BCE, evokes the military and economic potential of the city at the time. The amphitheater (pictured in the image gallery) dates from the 200s BCE, and held nearly 1,500 people. Under the rule of the Romans the city was allowed to slowly fall into decay. In the palaeo-Christian period, two basilicas and a baptistry were built. Butrint’s later medieval history was turbulent. The town was involved, first, in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and then the town was dragged int0 the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. Under Ottoman administration, the marshes that had grown around the nearby lake poisoned the city’s underground water supply. Butrint was abandoned, and left for the forests and marsh to cover its ancient and medieval ruins. (Photography credit to Pete Heck and Ko Hon Chiu Vincent)

1038, 1042, 1078

Michael Attaleiates:

The First Byzantine References

Michael Attaleiates was a Byzantine lawyer and historian who rose to high office under the emperors Romanus IV (r. 1067-1071) and Michael VII (r. 1071-1078). His ‘History’, covering the years 1034-1079, is a largely eyewitnessed account of political and military events in the Byzantine Empire. It was during this period that the Byzantine Greeks first took note of the Albanians as a people.

“When the Emperor Michael, who passed away in piety and whose home is known to have been the province of Paphlagonia, took up the sceptre of the Byzantine Empire, the Agarene people in Sicily in the West were defeated by Byzantine naval and land forces. And had not the well-known George Maniakes, who had been entrusted with the general command, been eliminated on the slanderous accusation that he was hungry for power, and had not the military command of the war been transferred to others, that large and renowned island, blessed with large cities knowing no lack of precious goods, would still be under Byzantine control. Now, however, jealousy has destroyed not only the man and his endeavours, but also that enormous undertaking. For when subsequent commanders made base and shameful plans and decisions, not only was the island lost to Byzantium, but also the greater part of the army. Unfortunately, the people who had once been our allies and who possessed the same rights as citizens and the same religion, i.e. the Albanians and the Latins, who live in the Italian regions of our Empire beyond Western Rome, quite suddenly became enemies when Michael Dokenianos insanely directed his command against their leaders… Constantine IX Monomachos proved to be more benevolent on the imperial throne than his predecessor. He conveyed imperial honours and gifts to almost everyone with ambition, and delighted his subjects. Suddenly storm clouds gathered in the West and threatened him with nothing less than destruction and expulsion from the throne. The aforementioned George with the surname Maniakes, thirsting for blood, began an uprising in the Italian part of the Empire with Byzantine and Albanian soldiers there, being offended because the emperor had shown him a lack of respect and fearing the emperor in view of previous hostilities. He caused great turmoil in the rest of the army opposing him and took it over. After having set up his camp at a two days’ march from Thessalonika, he made his attack on the imperial camp in the evening…”

When this had taken place and the usurpers had gradually calmed down, another disaster began to take its course and to spread like a poisonous weed intent on destroying the crops. The danger came from the city of Epidamnus (Durrës). The Protoprohedros Duke Basiliakes, who had been sent there by the emperor, having succeeded in avoiding Bryennius and withdrawing from Adrianopole, took over Durrës and assembled an army there from all the surrounding regions. By soliciting support for his side by means of substantial gifts, he succeeded in having the Franks enter his territory from Italy and attempted to make use of them for his side. By various pretences and means, he collected money from everyone under his order and command, set up a list and used as a pretext for this arms buildup the fact that he intended to attack Bryennius as a renegade. Once he had ensured that he had indeed assembled a large army and forces fit for action, composed of Byzantine Greeks, Bulgarians and Albanians and of his own soldiers, he set off and hastened to Thessalonika…

Painting: "The Resurrection of Lazarus",Byzantine icon painted by Onufri (Onouphrios),16th cent. Museum of Mediaeval Art in Korça

[Extracts from: Michaelis Attaliotae: Historia, Bonn 1853, p. 8, 18, 297. Translated by Robert Elsie. First published in R. Elsie: Early Albania, a Reader of Historical Texts, 11th - 17th Centuries, Wiesbaden 2003, p. 4-5.]

The 7th Century dramatically changed the Middle East

No matter what your beliefs are, studying history reveals that, had the Persian Zoroastrian Sassanian Empire or the Christian Byzantine Empire defeated the Arab Muslim armies back in the 7th century, the Middle East would have looked a whole lot more different right now. 

Persian Zoroastrians vs. Arab Muslims (633-654), also known as the Arab or Muslim conquest of Iran, led to the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Iran.  Conversion to Islam was gradual. In the process, many acts of violence took place, Zoroastrian scriptures were burnt and many priests executed. Once conquered politically, the Persians began to reassert themselves by maintaining Persian language and culture. Regardless, Islam was adopted by many, for political, socio-cultural or spiritual reasons, or simply by persuasion, and became the dominant religion.

Byzantine Christians vs. Arab Muslims (629-11th century), also known as the Arab-Byzantine wars took a much longer period of time. These were a series of wars between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. The Christians initially lost the southern provinces (Syria and Egypt) to the Muslims. Muslim raids reached a peak in the 9th and early 10th centuries, after their conquest of Malta and parts of modern-day Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, with their fleets reaching the coasts of France.

To think, just a single change in these battles could have drastically changed so much about the Middle East today. The “what ifs?” are endless, and the impact of these conquests and wars has shaped many people’s religious beliefs in the 21st century. As I said, no matter what your beliefs are, these are interesting historical facts to ponder upon


The Peasant’s Crusade

In the early Middle Ages, Muslim forces had conquered most of the Middle East, overruning the Holy Land, at the time territory of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire). By the end of the 11th century the Seljuk Turks had conquered Anatolia (Turkey), threatening the heart of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos sent to the West for help hoping that the Pope would send an army of Western Europe’s best to drive back the invaders.  Instead what he got was a mob.

In response to Komnenos' plea, on November 27th, 1095, Pope Urban II gave a speech calling on the nobility of Europe to combine their military forces and march against the Muslims in a great Crusade to reconquer the Holy Land.  As an incentive for the Crusade, Urban offered an absolution of all sins and guaranteed place in Heavan for thosel who answered his call.  In response, Urban raised a 35,000 man international army composed of knights and professional soldiers as intended. What he didn’t expect were the thousands of peasants and commoners who would likewise heed his call.  In 1096 a man named Peter the Hermit began preaching the Crusades to the common people, raising a massive army of over 40,000 people.  These were not knights or professional soldiers, but peasants and commoners including women and children.  Supposedly Peter the Hermit was a priest or monk from Amiens, but there is no evidence that he actually took up Holy Orders. Obviously a charismatic man, he claimed to be in direct communication with God, even carrying a letter written by Jesus Christ himself giving him the authority to organize and lead a Crusade. He was also helped by a meteor shower, a lunar eclipse, the appearance of a comet, and a possible outbreak of ergot poisoning which drove many Crusaders to believe that the apocalypse was nigh.

In April of 1096 the Crusade set out for the Holy Land and promptly became a scourge to all but the Turks and Muslims.  A large band of ill disciplined peasants, the army was more like an unruly mob than a proper army.  As they passed through Central Europe, despite strong condemnation from the Catholic Church, they attacked and murdered thousands of German Jews, committing some of the worst pogroms in history up until the Holocaust. Other victims included people accused of witchcraft, and any other non-christians and non-believers. Often lacking food and supplies, the peasant Crusaders often plundered and raided the lands they traveled through as they made their way to Holy Land.  The worst hit was modern day Serbia.  In late May, the peasant Crusaders arrived in Belgrade.  When a dispute occured over the price of shoes, a riot ensued which led to the pillaging and burning of the city. The Crusaders then clashed with Byzantine forces outside of Nis.

The peasant Crusaders arrived in Constantinople in August of 1096, and Emperor Alexios Komnenos was shocked to find an army not of professional knights and soldiers, but a mob of poorly armed and equipped peasants driven to religious zealotry.  After recieving word of the destruction wrought by the Crusaders on their journey to Constantinople, Comnenos refused to allow them in the city and ordered that they be sent on their way as quickly as possible. He ordered the Crusaders shipped across the Bosphorus to Turkey, most likely knowing that he was sending them off to their doom. The “army” marched to Nicea, the provincial capital of the region, plundering and pillaging the local towns and villages on the way. By then the army was reduced to half its size, with 20,000 peasant Crusaders dying of disease, hunger, and from the many clashes on their journey so far. On the way to Nicea, they were ambushed by the Turks near a town called Dracon.  Against the well trained and heavily armed Turkish soldiers, the peasant Crusaders didn’t stand a chance, and after a single volley of Turkish arrows the army was disbursed in a panicked rout.  Most of the Crusaders were cut down by Tukish cavalry as they fled in terror.  Three thousand were able to take refuge in an abandoned castle where they remained under siege until they were rescued by a Byzantine Army.  Of the 40,000 peasant Crusaders who set off from Europe, only around 2,000 survived.


Kassia: Byzantine hymns of the first female composer of the Occident

composed by Kassia (805/810-before 865)
performed by VocaMe:
- Natalia Lincoln (alto)
- Elisabeth Pawelke, Sigrid Hausen (mezzo-sopranos)
- Gerlinde Sämann, Sabine Lutzenberger, Sarah M. Newman (sopranos)
recorded in 2009

about Kassia, see x


This isn’t as much a serious delve into alternate history, instead more trying out a technique involving both GIMP and Inkscape. Tell me what you all think! I’m hoping it’ll be a nice way to use both methods of mapmaking, and with some inspiration from 1Blomma’s Photoshop maps.

The basic idea of the map is that, rather than the Palaiologoi dynasty taking over the rule of the Roman Empire (or, as it was later known, the Byzantine Empire), the Komnenos Doukas dynasty from the Despotate of Epirus under Theodore Komnenos Doukas succeeded in reuniting the Roman Empire and taking back Constantinople decades earlier than the Palaiologoi. With this earlier success comes a greater age following the retaking of Constantinople for the Romans. Theodore and his successors managed to not just retake the empire but expand its borders, driving deep into the vulnerable Bulgarians and driving out all the Latin Empire holdouts. Even Trezibond is brought back into the imperial fold.

This map depicts the Roman Empire at its maximum extent while ruled by the dynasty, specifically under Michael III Komnenos Doukas, who pushed back both Iconium and Servia, the former with a little help by the Ilkhanate who is still set on extending its rule over all Muslims in the Middle East. Under Michael III, the Roman Empire has become a powerful force in the region once again, showing off the muscle that once ruled most of the European continent.

However, misfortune strikes the Komnenos Doukas dynasty shortly after Michael III’s death, as both his sons had died and rule is passed to a young nephew who, after a short rain of 1307-1311, abdicates in favor of a new family: the Palaiologoi. Though in our history they lost their empire, the Palaiologoi of this world come into power at the helm of a much stronger Roman Empire, one flush with trade and business and blessed with a strong military. However, both Iconium and the Ilkhanate border on the edge of collapse, which could spill chaos across the whole of Asia Minor. Even by 1311, Trebizond is ruled only in theory by Constantinople. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Golden Horde is a major threat to the east, while the Hungarians and Holy Roman Empire, as well as the rise of Venice and Genoa, threaten Roman sovereignty.

Only time will tell whether the Roman Empire will whether this crisis as they have before, perhaps even growing stronger by taking advantage of their enemies, or whether, as in our world, the Palaiologoi will be the last rulers of Rome.