The Byzantine Journey (2019-2020)- My Personal Story with byzantium, year end post

Posted by Powee Celdran

“In less than 2 years, I came from just thinking of Byzantium as some kind of interesting subject matter to the point that Byzantium has already become a part of me.” -Powee Celdran on Byzantium

The complete journey of my passion for Byzantium, My story as a Byzantine filmmaker, Lessons from Byzantium, What Byzantium means to me, Recommended readings and videos, thanks, and updates for 2021

WARNING: THIS IS AN EXTREMELY LONG ARTICLE !!

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I am now about to tell you all a story. A story of how one empire’s story could have so much of an impact on someone, and of course here I am going to recap not the history of Byzantium but my Byzantine history passion and my journey through it in the past 2 years despite living centuries apart from their time. Now I’ve come to my year-end post for this year 2020 and my belated Christmas gift for you all and instead of doing the usual very scholarly and informative stuff I have done so much of this past year and last year, I’m going to finish off the year with a lighter yet very long more personal post, basically talking about the story of my study journey through the fascinating world of the history of the Byzantine Empire by traveling to places and sitting in front of my computer screen or reading books about it at home. In this article, I just want to share with you all my thoughts on Byzantine history and the empire, how much Byzantium means to me, all my discoveries of the great story of this empire, and my complete journey of getting deeper into Byzantine history in the span of this whole 2-year period including all the materials I read, channels I watched, people I met along the way, and places I travelled to, but also I will use this article to tell you some behind the scenes of my posts and other Byzantine history related media I do such as my Lego Byzantine films in my channel No Budget Films, and also some recommended reading and videos for those who want to get into Byzantium, credits to those who have made my journey in the past 2 years possible, and updates for my Byzantine history posts next year. This article would not include any deep research, analysis, complete storytelling of Byzantium, or a massive load of photos like usual and will also seem to be very messy as it won’t be in any chronological form as the rest of all my articles, instead it’s just going to be me talking about Byzantine history in my own voice without going into so much detail anymore but will also be told using a lot of memes. It is also going to be about my thoughts and observations on the fascinating people, places, and stories in the world of Byzantium. If you’re looking for more information that I wrote on Byzantine history, the links to my other articles will be found as you read along the paragraphs. This article is going to be a very long one because it focuses on my entire journey and there is no way to shorten up Byzantine history since it is just so colorful; anyway it will begin with my story of what got me into Byzantium and how it evolved in me in the past 2 years. Of course, this article will be the article that sums up all my other articles and projects which will be linked here, as this one is basically all about the evolution of my Byzantine history story from when I just started out writing simple posts to the point where I have ended up writing complicated and unique articles going as far as making 60 pages, close to already making an entire book. So basically, to be honest I never actually studied a Byzantine history college course, rather I just first learned about it as part of my high school history subject but just studying a small part of it in school in fact got me so interested in it. Fast-forward to some years later, as I am in college taking up entrepreneurship which is a business course, I find a random Byzantine history book in my house and I start reading it out of curiosity as I started feeling interested in learning the story of Byzantium, and true enough I was so drawn to the book that I actually finished it and from then on, my thirst for knowledge in the world of Byzantium would never end and it still lives on in me almost 2 years after. It’s now almost 2 years since I read that book which is Byzantium; The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin, and after that I have read 5 more Byzantine history books and went non-stop searching online for Byzantine history content and discover a lot of new interesting channels and sites along the way where I would learn a lot more about the subject matter from comprehensive and scholarly podcasts including “The History of Byzantium” and “12 Byzantine Rulers” to fun and entertaining ones like Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History which has now become my favorite Youtube channel aside from my own of course. When starting out my Byzantine history journey in February of 2019, I only knew the basics of it, but in the almost 2-year span of the journey which goes up to this day, I can say I have discovered possibly 5 years’ worth of Byzantine history content and have done countless related projects including the whole genealogy of all the Byzantine emperors from beginning to end, travelled to the world’s top Byzantine destinations like Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ravenna, made 2 full films, a 3-part audio epic, and 3 short films with a Byzantine history setting using Legos. Then came 2020, I started the year deciding to continue with Byzantine history posts and was working on my biggest Byzantine era film War of the Sicilian Vespers, but the COVID-19 pandemic came, but it still did not stop me, in fact this entire year of just staying home has helped me in so many ways to make so much more out of my growing interest in Byzantium like new Byzantine content including more articles on this site and Lego films and I fact I have to thank Byzantium for helping survive these hard times of the pandemic by keeping me moving and not losing myself. Also in these trying times of 2020, I have also rediscovered Ancient Rome, which was my first passion before Byzantium and this way I was able to actually see both empires as the same as most of Byzantium’s systems and culture dates back to the Romans. Despite the hardships of 2020, this year on the positive side made me see how much Ancient Rome and Byzantium means to me and how much they still remain relevant to today’s world as no matter how long ago it was turns out people and situations still remain unchanged, also another positive side of 2020 is that it made my Roman-Byzantine history journey even more meaningful by discovering new content online especially the channel of Dovahhatty, which made me appreciate the history of Rome/ Byzantium even more and just a quick mention, I have some great news that Dovahhatty just released his first episode of his Byzantine Empire sequel series! Now if the COVID-19 pandemic had affected businesses and other industries, I can surely say it has not affected the world of Roman and Byzantine history, in fact I can say it has even made it grow more especially when people being at home would end up discovering new things. Lastly, to sum up my entire almost 2-year Byzantine journey, I went from seeing Byzantium as a mysterious side of history that is not given much attention to, to coming to the point of seeing Byzantium no longer as a myth and legend but already as pop culture material and mainstream history that I can very much relate with and more importantly see where all those stereotypes about Byzantium are wrong and that no matter how corrupt and scheming the Byzantine Empire was in history, they still have a very human side to them and are still relevant to today’s world. Back in early 2019, I barely knew the emperors of Byzantium or their whole history in order, and now at the last days of 2020 I have grown so close to it to the point that I can relate so much to the stories of the Byzantine emperors, get so excited when I hear discussions on Byzantine history, and in fact be so obsessed with it that I cannot even stop talking about it even if the topics being discussed are not even related, you will also get to know more about it as you continue reading. As 2020 comes to an end however, there are still some questions I can’t fully answer, especially how exactly Byzantium is the same old Roman Empire and how to exactly place that question in history, also where to mark the start of Byzantine history, and so much more which I will further discuss as you read along.   

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Byzantine Empire flag
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All my Byzantine reading materials in the past 2 years

Please like and follow my other social media sites:

WordPress travel blog site: Far and Away

Facebook page for Lego Byzantine films: No Budget Films: Making Unknown History Known

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Byzantine content Instagram: ByzantiumTimeTraveller

Watch Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History: Byzantium IThe Eastern Empire here.

Watch this to get an intro to Byzantium through anime (from Hellenic History Series).

The Beginnings of my Byzantine Journey, my Commitment to Byzantium, and Travels in the Byzantine World

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As a kid, I have always been into ancient history especially Ancient Greece and Rome as well as Medieval and Renaissance Europe but I never really fully understood what Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire was, except that I only knew it in name. What first got me interested in Byzantium was playing the Assassin’s Creed Revelations game sometime in 2012 or 2013 and although this game is set in Ottoman era Constantinople between 1511 and 1512, it does show a Byzantine angle featuring some Byzantine characters, although its story more or less depicts the Byzantines as the villains namely the last Byzantine heir Manuel Palaiologos, but nevertheless I saw these mysterious Byzantine people, particularly soldiers shown in the game as interesting especially on their character designs. So basically, it was Assassin’s Creed Revelations which features both assassins Ezio and Altair that first got me interested in Byzantium, although the first thing about Byzantine history that I was interested in was their army including soldier units, armor, and weapons which I first saw when playing this Assassin’s Creed game making me so intrigued. At first I thought all Byzantine military units only looked like those in Assassin’s Creed but the funny thing was that when I searched online back then, there was a lot more to Byzantine soldiers and their armor than those shown in the game and in those shown in the game are not even very much accurate to the real Byzantine armor and weapons. Of course, back then, my other interest aside from playing the Assassin’s Creed games was first Ancient Greek then Ancient Roman history which I got interested in when learning it in history class at high school. Unlike many kids who find their history subjects boring, it was my favorite in high school and in my 2nd year in high school, I took up Roman history and even read the Ancient Roman classics like Livy and Tacitus and at this point in life when in high school, I had gotten so into Ancient Roman history all the way to the point of being so obsessed with it the way I am with Byzantium right now that I even watched the old hit miniseries I, Claudius over and over again, which got me even more fascinated in not just the warfare or basics of Ancient Rome but its culture as well since this miniseries does great in showing Ancient Roman culture in detail. Now here in this part of my high school life, I was so into Ancient Roman culture and history but not entirely as my focus on Ancient Rome back then was quite narrow only to the very much focused era in Roman history which was the rise of the empire from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD while I never really got into the history of Rome after the 2nd century and it was only this year that I did get into it. Then came my 3rd year in high school and my history lesson would change moving onto medieval history and this is where I would finally start learning about Byzantium in school. Byzantine history though would only be a very small fraction of my topics for the history subject as the whole year covered the entire history of the Middle Ages including the Dark Ages, Crusades, Hundred-Years’-War, and a lot of Church history which meant Byzantium had to be a part of it and true enough, the subject matter of Byzantine history was very short but still, it sparked something in me that I just could not resist getting fascinated by it.

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Even though my Byzantine history lessons in high school were very much basic, I still got to learn about Byzantium in a nutshell which was that they were the advanced civilization in the Middle Ages when the rest of Europe was in the dark and just by learning about it for the first time, I was already so amazed especially with its exceptional people like Emperor Justinian I the Great who already interested me so much when first reading about him especially on how he built the world’s greatest cathedral back then being the Hagia Sophia and how he set up a standard code of laws which is still relevant up to this day. Other things I learned in school about Byzantium that got me so drawn to it at first site was the topic of the Byzantine army and their Cataphracts, the elite Nordic Varangian Guard units, Byzantine art such as mosaics and frescoes, and technology you would have not believed existed back then such as a flamethrower known as Greek Fire used in ships. When finishing that year of high school in 2015, I already knew Byzantium would be the kind of history I’d like and want to continue learning more about, and it also happened at the same time in 2015 that I had already founded my Youtube channel No Budget Films and the first Lego film I made though was set in Ancient Rome which back then I still preferred over Byzantium and this first film was based on the episode of I, Claudius entitled Some Justice featuring the character of Claudius who later becomes Roman emperor and his brother Germanicus the war hero but the 2nd film I made which was also in 2015 had a Byzantine angle as I was already getting into Byzantium, though the film I made was a very loose version of the story of the 4th Crusade in 1204 wherein the Byzantine capital, Constantinople was sacked and captured by the Crusaders, although in this film, I told it through the perspective of the defending Byzantine soldiers. By 2015, I had already added Byzantine history to one of my historical interests as back then I was into other European history especially the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but back then it was primarily Byzantine military stuff that was my interest there as it was also then when I did my first sketches of Byzantine military units with weapons as well as when I made my first article on this exact same site you are reading now based on these sketches I made. Time had passed however and more things started to interest me including film and actual pop culture like Star Wars but Assassin’s Creed still remained close to me and so did my interest in Byzantium and Ancient Rome but the strange thing is that between when I first started getting into Byzantium in 2015 and when I actually fully got into it in 2019, I never really bothered to study the history of Byzantium itself and rather just look up Byzantine travel destinations in the Balkans or Turkey and of course Byzantine armies, armor, and weapons as for the longest time I was really into historical arms and armor finding Byzantine arms and armor the most interesting of them all.

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Byzantine soldiers from Assassin’s Creed Revelations

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Greek Fire from AC Revelations

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Constantinople, Byzantine imperial capital
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Map of the Balkans today

As time passed, my interests also do the same going from one topic to another but deep inside, I still would not let go of my love for Ancient Rome and Byzantium even if I still did not know much yet about Byzantine history. Throughout 2016, 2017, and 2018 my interests kept on switching that I can’t even remember what I was actually in to, also this was a very challenging time in life as this was when I was unsure of what to do with my life, as this is when I first entered college (2017) going for a film course where I later did not feel was the right place for me making me shift to entrepreneurship after a year (2018) and this was when I also started seeing the world by travelling in a more realistic way and not as a child anymore, which also meant that I was getting more drawn into the history of these countries I went to. In 2017, before going to college, I had an 11-day trip in the Balkans moving from one city to another each day, sleeping in another location every night but no matter how tiring this trip was, I got to see a very new and undiscovered side of the world that has so much history which made me appreciate Byzantine as well as Ottoman history especially since that part of the world is rich in both Byzantine and Ottoman cultures. From 2017-2018, I had also become very interested in Europe in general, not only its history but geography, countries, cities, food, and languages that in my other blog site called Far and Away for my travel articles as well as my top 10s in travel destinations which although included Byzantine travel destinations too, you should check this site out as well. However in 2018, my long-time interest in Roman history sparked again for some reason which included re-discovering the old series I, Claudius again after 3 years, also the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins and later that year Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had also helped me return to my linking for Ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine angle would come in not so long after. Also in 2018, I went to Constantinople (Istanbul) for a second time (the last time being 2015) and in that 2018 trip though I wasn’t yet very particular in my historical interest that I was still open to see both the more dominant Ottoman side of the city and the hidden Byzantine secrets that are still around, considering that of course Ottoman history was more recent and that Constantinople was the Ottomans’ imperial capital too. Also, considering that Turkish and Greek are my all time favorite cuisines, there’s got to be some reason that I would like its history too since these cuisines have a lot to do with both the Ottomans and Byzantines before them, and although my liking for these kinds of cuisines could have also gotten me interested in the Ottoman world too, I already had a fascination for Byzantium but not so much knowledge of it. It also happened in 2018 that I joined this really informative and interesting Facebook group Roman and Byzantine History especially since it was Ancient Rome that was my one of my favorite subjects back then and Byzantine armies too but it was in this group when I started discovering more of Byzantium than Ancient Rome. Basically, I can thank this awesome Facebook group for first getting me into Byzantium as when I joined it in mid-2018, my knowledge of Byzantine history wasn’t as broad yet and I only came in for the content on Imperial Roman history, and only then did I find out that Byzantine history too was not different but in fact part of the story of the same old Roman Empire. Now going back exactly 2 years from now with 2018 ending, let me just tell you that I did not see it coming that in 3 months I would end up becoming so obsessed with Byzantium despite having already gone to the Balkans and Constantinople, at this point I was so focused on playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as well as with the other Assassins’ Creed games so my interests would keep shifting each day from Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece to the colonial age of the 17th to 18th centuries which a lot of other Assassin’s Creed games are set in too. At the beginning of 2019, my historical interests were still in Ancient Greece and Rome but again thanks to that group, I was starting to get more and more into the history of Byzantium seeing posts about certain emperors from the 6th century emperor Justinian I the Great to the powerful military emperors of the 10th century like Nikephoros II Phokas and Basil II as well as their cool advanced technology like Greek Fire. Now where my whole journey in the Byzantine world actually began wherein my unbroken fascination with Byzantium would begin is in this one February day of 2019. At this point, I have already been getting some new information about Byzantine history from that FB group and it just got me curious to learn about them and at the same time when I keep passing by the hallway of my house, I kept seeing the side of a gold book with the word “Byzantium” and due to all this curiosity on Byzantium being sparked in me due to all the Byzantine content in that FB group, I decided to give that book a try. This gold covered book was entitled Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire written by Judith Herrin and as I picked it up I scanned through all the chapters to see how the book was like, out of all the chapters to give a try reading it, I went for the one about Greek Fire since it was one of the the things that fascinated me about Byzantium ever since first getting into it back in 2015, and this was the extraordinary advanced super-weapon known as Greek Fire which was basically an ancient flamethrower that actually blew out fire operated by a mechanism in which after seeing it in Assassin’s Creed Revelations where you can actually get to operate it in the game got me so intrigued by it.

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Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin

When reading this Greek Fire chapter, there was no more going back as I did not only learn about what this Greek Fire was or how it was operated but this chapter told me more about it especially that this weapon was a well kept state secret so that the Byzantine would remain invincible to its enemies, considering that in their history that had so much foreign enemies. After finishing this chapter, I went back to the book again a few days later, this time to start from the beginning which was the origins of the Byzantine Empire which was of course the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), who founded the imperial capital Constantinople in the year 330. Of course, even before Constantine the Great, Constantinople already existed as the port of Byzantium which was founded all the way back by Greek colonists allegedly by a hero named Byzas in the 7th century BC but in all these centuries, this town had never been so important until Constantine I chose to make it the new Roman capital and it would prove to be the right move since it was built in a strategic location that was in literally in between 2 continents (Asia and Europe) and surrounded by water on 3 sides making it hard for enemies to attack especially since the small piece of land that spans the peninsula of the city could be easily walled and true enough in the early 5th century, the massive Theodosian Wall was built in to defend the land side of the city which was so effective that these massive land walls were never successfully breached until the final siege of the city by the Ottomans which was the actual fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and even till this day, these walls still stand. First, I would think I’d soon enough stop reading this gold book after I read enough of what I wanted but I was wrong, every chapter was so interesting that I just kept reading although skipping some chapters especially those about the religious story of the empire despite it being so vital to Byzantine history as its subject matter seemed too intellectual for someone like who is not a real historian. Prior to reading this book, I already knew the basics of Byzantine history such as that it was the continuation of the Roman Empire, its foundation by Constantine the Great, it’s culture being a mix of Classical Greek and Roman with the Christian religion, its height of power at the reign of Justinian the Great in the 6th century, and of course the army. When reading this book, I would later discover a lot more, so no wonder I just kept reading and reading and from then on it was not only the Byzantine army’s soldiers, weapons, and armor that was my primary fascination with Byzantium but its contributions to our world from the legal code of Justinian I and the spread of Christianity to the people of Europe to smaller things like the introduction of the fork to the world during Byzantium’s golden age in the 10th century which I will talk about more later. This book also opened me up to so many possibilities in history which seemed like they could only be possible in Byzantium such as the mere fact of simple peasants becoming emperors which was the story of no other than Emperor Justinian I the Great and Basil I the Macedonian later on in the 9th century and this together with a lot of others is one of the sure reasons why Byzantine history is so interesting. It was at the end of March 2019 when I finished this book and true enough it had moved me so much especially seeing the story of how the Byzantine Empire evolved over the centuries and how tragic yet dramatic its end was when the Ottomans laid siege to Constantinople in 1453 with Byzantium’s last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos personally leading his men to the end wherein he would die with his empire. This Byzantine history book by Judith Herrin may not be well organized in chronological form so it took me a while to understand the timeline of events and emperors in Byzantine history but this book more or less is a good introduction to the culture of Byzantium like a DK book or encyclopedia except with less pictures, and just to mention there is still no DK book purely about Byzantine history and I hope to see one in the future. Anyway, this book had in fact permanently opened me up to the world of Byzantium that from then on there was no going back so in the process of reading that book, I returned to writing articles on this site you are reading right now and from then it just went on an and on until this day. Prior to reading that book as well, after 2015 I have not written any content on this site since doing those Byzantine military figures sketches back then and in fact I thought I’d never write in this site again and rather only stick to doing travel articles for my other site which although had some Byzantine content in them but after almost 4 years of not updating this site, all of a sudden I returned again as my interest in Byzantium started and in late February of 2019, there was no going back as here I wrote the article 7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium for this site and from then on, I would go on and on writing here about Byzantium. Before rediscovering Byzantium in early 2019, I thought I would never write on this site again after only less than year writing in it (2015), but when this interest in Byzantium sparked in me again, I decided that this blog site would be revived and would only be usually committed to posts on Byzantine history with a few exceptions from time to time as this blog site needed to have some unique content. At this point in time, I have also been having quite a rough time which is too hard to explain so I wanted to look for some balance in life especially being in college with so much work and school pressure and true enough I did find that balance in Byzantine history when discovering this exact book at home. As I returned to write for this site again in early 2019 after almost 4 years, the new me began, I was then no longer the kid who only found Byzantium interesting because of its soldiers, arms, and armor, or the person who wrote about ranking travel destinations even if not actually going to them but a new person who was willing to get deeper and deeper to the history of Byzantium, its emperors, culture, military, and bizarre tales, fully committed to writing about Byzantine history based on newly discovered knowledge from books and online, here began me as the Byzantium Blogger.     

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The Byzantine Empire’s extents in 3 different periods
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1453, the final siege of Constantinople

I was so fascinated with this book “Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire” that I literally brought it with me wherever I went even if it look off but when I finished reading it in March of 2019, my world had completely changed as from then on there was no going back, my mind had been opened to the truly surprising and fascinating yet bloody and tragic story of the Byzantine Empire and once finished reading that book, I proceeded to write another article using the same title of the book which was basically my review on that book and all my learnings and new found discoveries of Byzantium from it and this is when my commitment to spreading the word of Byzantine history began. When reading this book, I saw that Byzantine history was just as fascinating as that of the history of Imperial Rome, England, or France, yet Byzantine history does not receive much attention as others like Ancient Greece and Rome or medieval England and France that I started realizing it especially since in that same FB group, there happened to be more posts on Ancient Rome than on Byzantium and more obviously that that there are no mainstream media or films set in the Byzantine era wherein there are a lot set in Medieval Europe or Ancient Greece or Rome, and lastly I also noticed why Byzantine history seems to be forgotten. Here I started questioning why and I also discovered that it was partly because after the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453, Western Europe emerged as the new powers of England, France, Spain, and Portugal and they would be the ones to write history and these were more or less the same westerners that distrusted the Byzantines centuries ago seeing the Byzantine people as cowards and traitors during the time of the Crusades (11th-13th centuries) so with Byzantium falling and the west who never trusted them rising, Byzantium had become forgotten. Also, later on in the 18th century the great intellectuals of the era like the English historian Edward Gibbon would describe Byzantine history as nothing more but a time of corruption and decadence and the French philosopher Voltaire too had described the history of Byzantium as worthless and disgusting. However today, as we continue discovering more and more about history, Byzantium is actually becoming discovered more and seen for what it actually was and when I started writing my articles in 2019, I already made it my mission to put Byzantine history in the spotlight and hopefully make it seem more relatable than myth and even as mainstream history and pop culture. Anyway, in April of 2019 when already getting deeply into the world of Byzantium and being committed to bring it out into the world, I started out by continuing to do my articles on this site and even for a final project in one subject I had for school, I designed a Byzantine themed board game called Byzantium X which I hope that it gets pitched one day and give some attention to Byzantium. Although I finished reading my first book on Byzantium (the gold one), I still skipped some chapters especially on religion but some months later I got the chance to go back to that book and read some chapters I missed like the one about Byzantine icons and the movement of Iconoclasm in the 8th-9th centuries, an interesting yet dark and controversial period in Byzantine history. Anyway, since I already finished reading my first Byzantine history book in April of 2019, soon enough I got a new book which was a copy of A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by the historian Anthony Kaldellis and I just have to say this book was the most interesting Byzantine reading material I read but also the most easy to read, especially if you are in the mood for a light read but at the same time wanting to get into Byzantium. It was when reading this book that I got particularly into the Byzantine emperors and got to know them in order when reading the back end of the book and based on all the trivia I learned on the emperors, I wrote a new article specifically on all the Emperors of Byzantium and basically all the weird trivia about them and their lives based on that new book I read from the first emperor of Byzantium being Constantine I the Great (306-337) and ending with the last one Constantine XI (1449-1453). As I started again writing for this site over here that you are reading, I already focused on promoting them by sharing my article on the Roman and Byzantine History FB group so that I get more viewers and even more, I went as far as actually having the first Byzantine articles I wrote shared on one of the most complete and informative Byzantine history Facebook pages being Great Eastern Roman Empire, although unfortunately this page had been hacked and possibly deleted later on in 2019, but despite it I still continued on with my articles and sharing them online.

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis

Now reading this “Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities”, I actually ended up doing several articles throughout 2019 based on selected chapters from the book which I found interesting and after the one on the emperors, I made one based on this book’s chapter on the forgotten but very interesting science and technology of Byzantium sometime in June of 2019 which was followed up by another one I made based on this book’s chapter of Byzantine crimes and punishments as well as medical practice. For me, it was the topic of Byzantine science and technology that truly intrigued me especially with their unique inventions and scientific discoveries and when finding out about all the cool Byzantine inventions such as Greek Fire both the one used in ships and the portable one, flaming grenades, advanced silk manufacturing, ship mills, a systematic beacon communication system and also that the idea of a spherical earth was also discovered by a Byzantine named Symeon Seth in the 11th century and that the basis of our calendar was also based on a model of the 14th century Byzantine scholar Nikephoros Gregoras made me even appreciate Byzantium even more especially since they were so enlightened as people that their inventions could even be admired up to this day. Also, the other chapter in this Cabinet of Curiosities book that interested me a lot was the one about foreign lands and people and how the Byzantines saw them and it was so interesting to see how the Byzantines saw far away lands like India and China so intriguing the same way how I see Byzantium today while this chapter also talked about how some Byzantine writers also had some strange views about other different people including Huns, barbarian Germanic peoples, Scandinavians, Slavs, Arabs, Persians, and in the later centuries western people like the Franks, Normans, Italians, Germans, and even English who the Byzantines saw as unrefined barbarians who don’t know how to live life while in return they saw the Byzantines as nothing more but the stereotypical effeminate schemers. Since I found the topic of foreign lands and people according to the Byzantines based on the chapter from the Cabinet of Curiosities book so interesting, I made 2 articles in July of 2019 on them which will be linked here too; the first one about the people of the east and neighbors according to the Byzantines and the next one about the western people according to the Byzantines. Following these 2 articles, I continued to do another one based on another chapter of this book which was about warfare and tactics in Byzantine history, which was what got me into Byzantium at the very beginning. This article I made which is The Art of War in the Byzantine World and this chapter was another very interesting one in the book especially since it talks about the true nature of the Byzantine Empire when fighting wars in which most of their emperors preferred using diplomacy to fight and used much smarter solutions like bribing their enemies’ neighbors to attack them or using spies to gain information on their enemies, and that when it came to fighting battles the Byzantine army turned out to be very disciplined that it was most important for them to stay in formation at all times. Another very interesting thing to learn about Byzantium was their use of the Theme System in administering their empire which was yet another great innovation of theirs wherein they organized their empire’s geography into smaller military provinces or Themes which actually proved to be effective ever since this system was formed in the 7th century when Byzantium was facing constant threats of the Arab invasions, and this system made it possible for the armies to be more mobile especially since armies were stationed not so far from each other and when one Theme was under attack, the army from the next one could easily come to their aid rather than marching all the way from the other side of the empire, and this Theme system indeed helped make the Byzantine Empire’s army structure a well organized one. In September of 2019, I made a whole article which is A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes on the Themes of the Byzantine Empire including the whole story of Theme System and a list of all the empire’s Themes and even more interesting how these Themes created new Themes over the centuries. I also got a copy of Streams of Gold, River of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis which is a more scholarly work of his compared to his Cabinet of Curiosities, and this book focuses on politics and warfare of the Byzantine Empire during their height of power from the 10th-11th centuries and sudden decline following it due to the rise of new foreign enemies like the Seljuk Turks, Pechenegs, and Normans; however, I never got the chance to fully read this book as it takes a lot of time and patience but hopefully soon I’ll get the chance to read it.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis

As 2019 progressed, I also discovered an older but very informative 18-part Byzantine history podcast which is 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth which although was made 10 years earlier telling the history of Byzantium through 12 different emperors, and in fact I would keep listening to it on and on while in the car during traffic or travelling long hours that it got me so in to the lives and stories of the emperors that ruled Byzantium. Later on in 2019, listening to these podcasts over and over again got me so into the emperors that it made me decide to do an article again on the emperors of Byzantium and more about their personalities and how they reigned and this writing process was so long that I had to divide it into 3 parts which was my blog posts for October of 2019 which all 3 parts will be linked here too; part1- emperors from 330-867, part2- emperors from 867-1180, part3- emperors from 1180-1453. Then following these 3 posts on the reigns and personalities of the Byzantine emperors, I went back to doing another feature on another chapter of Cabinet of Curiosities and this article was on the natural disasters in Byzantine history and it was also good to know that Byzantium suffered many natural disasters including plagues, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fires, and more which makes their story even more inspiring surviving them all. Other than that, I already decided to go a bit more experimental later on in 2019 by doing some unique Byzantine articles like one that had to do with different states that formed out of Byzantium which I surprisingly discovered the Republic of Venice was one of them which began in the 8th century which is rather a long story while other kingdoms too like Serbia and Bulgaria were other states that were culturally built up by Byzantium and on this subject matter I made a 2 part-series on 15 states physically and culturally formed out of the Byzantine Empire; the first part being the 7 of them including the Western Roman Empire, Exarchates of Ravenna and Carthage, Venice, Cilician Armenia, Serbia, Bosnia, and the Bulgarian Empire wherein I also got interested in the story of medieval Serbia and Bulgaria; and the second part being the next 8 being other Byzantine breakaway states including the Crusaders’ Latin Empire based in Constantinople from 1204 to 1261, the temporary Byzantine Empire of Nicaea, the break-away Empire of Trebizond, the rebel Despotate of Epirus, Despotate of the Morea, Montferrat which was a small Italian state that at one point was ruled by a Byzantine imperial family member, the Genoese vassal state of Lesbos, and Moscow which can be considered Byzantium’s spiritual successor. Now when finishing off 2019, I then worte a very long article The 12 Turning Points in Byzantine History all based on what learned over the year about Byzantium and basically this article was my retelling of Byzantine history through 12 different major events in their history and it was here when writing this article that I truly learned what Byzantine history was all about which was that it was a story of continuous ups and downs and for this reason their empire actually lasted for over a thousand years. Not to mention for 2019, in almost all my articles I started by quoting a Byzantine history quote either from the age of Byzantium or what someone from a different time had to say about it, although by 2020 I slowly stopped using this style.

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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after 1204

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Byzantium X board game, my own project

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Warfare in Byzantium

Not to mention, despite 2019 being the year that my Byzantine history passion started, it was also a very special year because all in one year I was able to travel to the greatest Byzantine destinations in the world first Ravenna, Italy and next to Constantinople itself, then I dedicated my film channel to Byzantine films, and my greatest project of the year was making literally the complete genealogy of all the Byzantine emperors from start to finish. In May of 2019, I would finally get my chance to see Ravenna in Italy itself, the capital of the short lived Western Roman Empire from 402 to the fall of Western Rome in 476 and even back in 2015 when I wasn’t so very much into Byzantium, I already knew about Ravenna and was so in awe only seeing pictures of it. Now in May of 2019, when going to Italy, this would be the first time when in travelling that my primary goal is to see Byzantine sites so in Rome instead of going to the main tourist attractions, cause obviously I’ve been to Rome a few other times before already so it was time to see new things so this time in Rome, I chose to go to a number of hidden churches which had hidden gems being the remains of Byzantine era mosaics decorating apses and walls despite these churches having evolved in architecture over the centuries but overall it is very interesting to see these churches in Rome having usually Baroque architecture but still remains of the past Byzantine era mosaics in them which is very thoughtful too of them to preserve their past even if these mosaics though are not entirely Byzantine but rather made by Byzantine artists in the 8th century that fled to Rome to pursue their work as making religious icons in Byzantium had been banned due to the emperors’ Iconoclast policies.

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Byzantine era mosaic found in Rome

Anyway, I have also done an article in my other site about these churches in Rome that feature some of the best Byzantine style mosaics though it would take so much time to remember the names of all these churches, also this article tells my experience seeing the Capitoline museum of Rome and its Ancient Roman finds. The highlight of this trip however was of course the hidden gem of Italy, Ravenna a city that is quite hard to imagine that it was once an imperial capital so many centuries ago especially now that it appears to be a sleepy town compared to so many historical Italian cities like Florence and Bologna as Ravenna’s gems are found inside its landmarks. Ravenna is also the kind of place that is hard to imagine it as an imperial center especially since it is located in an area hard to reach in a marshland but in the year 402 it was strategically moved to this location by the western emperor Honorius who may have screwed up in ruling his empire but at least he thought of this location as some place that could protect the imperial capital and it worked for a long time, although Ravenna was not impregnable as in 476, the Western Roman Empire died in Ravenna too as the barbarian general Odoacer marched through swamps into the city to overthrow the last western emperor Romulus Augustus.

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Ravenna, capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402

As for me, I have actually already been fascinated with and interested in going to Ravenna ever since I first got into Byzantium in 2015 and again when reading the gold Byzantium book which started my Byzantine journey in early 2019, there had indeed been a full chapter on Ravenna and the mosaics which also talks about the history of the city and its time under the Byzantines. It was in the same Italy trip of mine in May 2019 when I finally got my chance to go and see Ravenna and what it actually is and I have to say that it was not easy to get there as Ravenna itself is out of the way not in any main train route or highway in Italy, also no matter how impressive its mosaics are, it at least still seems to be a popular destination but still not as hyped as everything else in Italy around it and basically it is because of it being out of the way as of this day considering that it had been an important city first as the Western Roman Empire’s capital, the capital of Ostrogoth Italy, then the capital of Byzantine Italy’s Exarchate until its fall to the Lombards in the 8th century but it was only back then in the distant past when Ravenna was significant making one of those kind of places that had been something great long ago but had faded away after a certain point in time until it was rediscovered but on the positive, Ravenna losing its significance also helped preserved its gems, otherwise if it still stayed important, its old treasures would have been built over. As of this day, Ravenna is for me one of the world’s most unique places as it is one of the few places on earth that may look ordinary from the outside but so impressive from the inside especially with its ancient mosaics still intact. Now I have to admit that I was truly in awe seeing the mosaics in Ravenna and at first before going there I thought they would all be in one place but turns out there were actually 8 landmarks which are all UNESCO world heritage sites and in the single day I saw the city, I at least saw 6 out of the 8 and all were impressive. One of the most impressive was the mausoleum of the western Empress Galla Placidia which turns out to date back to the 5th century, also this happened to be the exact same place that has the famous blue ceiling mosaics that are one of the first search results when searching for Byzantine art. However, the best highlight of Ravenna was of course the main church itself, the Basilica of San Vitale which has what of course could be the most iconic of Byzantine mosaics, the panel of the 6th century Emperor Justinian I and his generals facing the panel of his wife Empress Theodora and court members, and even better was that the entire walls and even the small narrow spaces in the church were filled with colorful mosaics and though the mosaics may look one-dimensional compared to the lively Renaissance and Baroque paintings, this kind of style makes Byzantine art what it its, the kind of art that is supposed. to draw you in.

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Mosaics of the Galla Placidia Mausoleum

Though I only stayed in Ravenna for less than a day, I was so amazed with how much was actually put into everything and how skilled these people were especially in decorating everything with mosaics including the narrowest spaces and highest areas considering that they did not have the modern technology to do it. On the other hand, I also felt that my visit to Ravenna was not complete as I missed out on seeing the other 2 heritage sites such as the white marble Mausoleum of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric who ruled Ravenna before Justinian I’s eventual reconquest and the Church of Classe which has another iconic mosaic featuring the 7th century Byzantine emperor Constantine IV although this church had happened to be out of the way not in the city center but rather in the middle of a field. However it was more of the Classe Church that I was still more interested to see than King Theodoric’s Mausoleum and even till this day I still feel bad that I wasn’t able to see the Church of Classe and its mosaics but hopefully I do return to Ravenna some day to see it, not to mention I also felt bad that I did not get to see the country of San Marino too which was also so close to Ravenna. On the other hand, this short trip to Ravenna had also taught me as I mentioned earlier that some places may look generic at first site but if you look deeper they have so much more than what you see. Also, I also learned here in this short trip in Ravenna that it sometimes does not always help to get a guide because based on my experience here of having a guide in Ravenna, it could only help you in showing you the way around and telling you what exactly you see like in the mosaics but sometimes having a guide does not really work much especially if you are someone like me who wants to know more and more about the history and the hidden stories and sometimes they may only know the more basic things and I can surely prove my opinion here because it was only long after going to Ravenna when I learned the more interesting stories of the people that lived and ruled from there and all the weird things that happened in it such as the Empress Galla Placidia and her son Valentinian III who had turned out to be a bad ruler that murdered his competent and heroic general Flavius Aetius in Ravenna out of envy when in fact it was Aetius that was saving the empire or the other crazy story of the emperor Honorius prior to that who was relieved when finding out that the city of Rome had been attacked and not his chicken named Rome. Now I learned all these details on the history of Ravenna from other materials later on like history videos online and not from a guide touring me in Ravenna and these are one of the reasons why I wouldn’t really suggesting a guide but of course if you are just an ordinary tourist who is just interested in knowing about the basics of a place, then I would suggest having a guide but for a Byzantine history enthusiast like me, then it would not be very worth it to have a guide otherwise it would also feel awkward especially when a person like me would end up annoyingly non stop questioning the guide and feel like you know your history better than your guide, not to mention sometimes it is not also so reliable to have a guide especially since they could make things up about their city basing all their knowledge on local legends rather than proven historical facts. Now after having visited Ravenna, I can say that it is one place so underrated but worth visiting but why it still remains underrated is as I said because it is out of the way but more significantly because Italy is one country with just so much landmarks, cities, and destinations to see including 2 separate countries within it being the Vatican City and San Marino and Ravenna is only 1% of what’s there to see in Italy and that it would take a lifetime to see everything in Italy but the other thing I can say about Ravenna is that it is a very specialized place for people although for a lot it could just simply put them in awe when seeing the mosaics but for history fans like me, going to a hidden gem like Ravenna is a truly meaningful experience especially since you are actually steeping in the place where all those events in Byzantine history happened and this is possibly the best place to see Byzantine mosaics all the way back from the 6th century and earlier still intact. Lastly, this short one-day trip had indeed have such a huge impact on me that it had changed my way of travelling and seeing the world as from then on my travelling interest had been so narrowed down due to by obsession on Byzantium and the same can be said for my next trip which was to Constantinople itself later in 2019. Prior to my Ravenna trip of 2019, I was more open to see all kinds of historical destinations when travelling but this trip truly turned me around and I could already see it, like for example when I was in Bologna at the same time as my Ravenna trip and there I did not really care much when seeing the historical landmarks of Bologna even if they have a lot of historical value but since my historical interests has already been so narrowed down to Ancient Rome and Byzantium, seeing sites from Medieval or Renaissance Italy did not fascinate me as much unlike me before getting into Byzantium, when all parts of history fascinated me.

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Emperor Justinian I and his men mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
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Empress Theodora and her court mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

Read my article on the Ravenna mosaics here.

Now later on in 2019 I returned for a quick 2-day trip to the imperial capital Constantinople itself, and here my obsession with Byzantium having grown even more made me only want to see the Byzantine attractions of Istanbul despite the Ottoman attractions being obviously more dominant. In this Istanbul trip however, I had long planned it to be more focused on Byzantine era Constantinople and of course this would mean searching deep for them. In this 2-day trip in Istanbul I can say that I achieved what I wanted to do and in such as short time I had been able to see so much including the remains of the ancient palaces in the city center, the Hagia Sophia, and even all the way to the back of the city seeing the remains of the old imperial Blachernae Palace, and even more going as far as seeing the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea, the exact same islands where Byzantine emperors were exiled to. Now previously I said it was not always worth it to have a guide but sometimes there are exceptions and in this case I was wrong as in this trip of mine in Constantinople, this is when I can say it was surely worth it having a guide especially since it helped in getting me actually a VIP entrance to the Hagia Sophia and other locations without falling in line and it surely helped having one especially in getting to know exactly where the old Byzantine landmarks once stood buried beneath this great city and without having a guide I would not know exactly where to located them as Istanbul’s map is a maze while in Ravenna it seems very easy to locate everything. For sure in this short trip of mine in Constantinople the highlight of course was the Hagia Sophia, the world’s largest and most impressive cathedral throughout the whole existence of Byzantium and even till this day 1,500 years after it was built it is still one of the world’s most impressive sites and it is such a surprise on how its still stands intact.

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Byzantine Hagia Sophia layout

When it comes to mosaics and art, I would say that the ones in Ravenna are more impressive to see but the ones in the Hagia Sophia have more story despite being so mixed up but the reason why the Hagia Sophia’s mosaics are like this is because there is so much history to them considering that this church had been through a time when icons had to be erased and afterwards restored, then from 1204 to 1261 was made into a Catholic Church by the Crusaders, and back again to a Byzantine Orthodox Church in 1261 until 1453 when it was converted into a mosque as the Ottomans took over and then centuries later into a museum and now becoming a mosque again. Although my visit to the Hagia Sophia last year wasn’t my first one as when I first went to Istanbul in 2015, I also went to the Hagia Sophia but I wasn’t so into it yet though when I went last year, it was my time to see it now as a Byzantine history enthusiast and not an ordinary tourist and when seeing the inside as a Byzantine enthusiast I spent a lot more time looking at every little detail such as the Byzantine emperors depicted in the mosaics. When being so into Byzantine history and knowing so much about it, it turns out to be such a great experience to actually see your favorite characters in history in the mosaics and know exactly who they are compared to just passing by the landmark and just being so impressed by it without actually knowing what it is you are actually seeing. Now all I can say about going to Constantinople (Istanbul) is that it is such a great experience especially if you are so into Byzantine history even though as of this day, Byzantium remains a distant past in Istanbul especially since it has been the Ottoman imperial capital afterwards for a very long time too but surely it is an interesting place because there has been no other city on earth that stands between two continents making it have such a rich mix in cultures, and no other city has been a capital not just for one but two empires and for all these reasons, Istanbul is surely one of a kind. Now I would also say that Istanbul for a lot would seem more or less like an exotic but very impressive and culturally rich destination that may also look so inconsistent especially since you would see ancient ruins next to Byzantine era church structures, next to Ottoman mosques but this inconsistency makes Istanbul ever more of an interesting place. However, for a Byzantine history lover like me, Istanbul means a lot more than just an interesting exotic and culturally diverse place but a the true great imperial city and for centuries people as far Sub-Saharan Africa and Scandinavia during the Byzantine era were in awe with it. In this trip in November of 2019, I would fully see Istanbul in a totally different light, but of course I have a lot more reasons to like Istanbul especially since Turkish is my favorite cuisine. Not to mention right before passing by Istanbul, I also travelled for one week in Russia which also makes a lot of sense to this story especially since Byzantine culture continued in Russia after 1453, although my journey in Russia would be a story for another time as it would be too long to put it here.

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The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici

Another great highlight of this trip in Istanbul was getting a book which would be one of the best ones I read on Byzantine history and my go to book if want to know the stories of the emperors more, this one is The History of the Byzantine Empire written by the Turkish author Radi Dikici, and this book is actually a are one and of all places, I bought it in the museum shop of the ruins of the Blachernae Palace.

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The Hagia Sophia as a church in the Byzantine era 
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Byzantine era Constantinople

Read my article on Byzantine Constantinople, the Queen of Cities here.

Now again back to my Byzantine journey in 2019, something I still have to mention was this extra special of project of mine I did at home made in August between my trip to Ravenna (May) and Constantinople (November) and this extra special project was the complete Byzantine Imperial Genealogy. After doing some readings in the past months, it was the subject matter of the Byzantine emperors that had interested me a lot so soon enough I wanted to see if all these emperors were all related to each other in one way or another and what came out of it was not just a simple answer but a entire full large piece of paper wherein I actually managed to connect all the dots from the beginning to end of the story of the Byzantine Empire. Surely it was not easy to make all this especially since I went from start to end, from Constantine I to Constantine XI and when doing this complete genealogy, this is when I discovered that succession in the Byzantine Empire was very difficult unlike in other kingdoms like England or France and because of this in Byzantium’s 1,100 years of existing it had 15 different dynasties some only having 3 emperors such as the short-lived dynasty of Emperor Nikephoros I (802-813) and also succession in Byzantium was not as simple as father to son. This work of putting together this genealogy too took a lot of research by putting together all the family genealogies of all Byzantine imperial dynasties found in Wikipedia in which I had to systematically interpret but at the end I also discovered that in one way or another, all the imperial dynasties of Byzantium are actually connected to each other though very indirectly meaning that one dynasty would be related to another one with one family member of a dynasty no matter how far related would happen to be married to someone from the other dynasty. Now making this great project of this Byzantine genealogy would happen to be one of my best memories in my Byzantine journey and it was something so unexpected too. Even more unexpected was all the attention that was given to it when I completed it as I first only posted a picture of the whole genealogy to the Roman and Byzantine history FB group and in only a day it got so much reacts and mostly positive ones and to my surprise it was even posted in the page of Brilliant Byzantine Memes and I even felt like a star for that moment. True enough it was not only in these FB groups and sites where I received so much praise and attention but even among people I know in my college who were actually in awe when finding out I had done something just like that. I would say that this Byzantine genealogy is truly something I would remain proud of and one of the best moments of my Byzantine journey. On the other hand, I also had another special project wherein I painted my bathroom’s walls at home with Byzantine related art including the coat of arms of the imperial families and the my version of the mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.  

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My complete Byzantine imperial genealogy (August 2019)

Read this to know more about my Byzantine Genealogy Project.

The Byzantine Journey Continues through 2020

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Now came 2020, and this would be the first time I would be focused on one particular interest for 2 consecutive years which was of course Byzantium, although this year 2020 would be my year of rediscovering my old fascination which was Ancient Rome and expanding more on it in order to see it actually connect to Byzantium. At the beginning of 2020 I just took it easy and haven’t posted anything in this site until February but in January I already had a lot planned in mind, one of them was another ambitious project, the Lego Byzantine epic War of the Sicilian Vespers in which I have been writing its script in January. Another exciting thing that happened very early on this year was that finally there was some Byzantine history related content on Netflix which was the 6 episode documentary drama Rise of Empires: Ottoman and I have to say it was a good series and although its focus was more on the Ottoman story of the sultan Mehmed II and his conquest of Byzantine Constantinople in 1453, this series also did a good job in portraying the last remains of Byzantium and its last emperor Constantine XI, though only a few details of the events of 1453 were missed out on this series.

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Rise of Empires: Ottoman series

Now in February of this year, it would the first time for the year that I would post on this site and my first post was an article again on the emperors but this time more on their ethnic origins and mixes which is another interesting subject matter. As 2020 came in, all I could say is that my knowledge in Byzantium got wider and deeper and so did my articles get more and more insider and unique in topics compared to the previous year and again as 2020 came and my interest in Byzantium went on, Byzantium was now a lot more to me than impressive arms and armor, art, and architecture but its fascinating story and very colorful emperors. As I got to know the stories of Byzantium and its emperors more, I started discovering that almost all these emperors for 1,100 years all had colorful lives and personalities but the other thing that seemed to fascinate me most was that a lot of these Byzantine emperors have a lot of mixed blood or come from interesting parts of the world having different backgrounds as well. In this article I wrote which was the Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors, I had learned so many new things as I wrote it and this includes some new interesting things you would not really know such as that a lot of Byzantine emperors are either of Armenian descent or in its early days including Constantine I and Justinian I came from the Balkans, also I made a lot of new discoveries when making this and the most interest one also being that a lot of other emperors especially in the last years have so much mixed blood especially due to Byzantine emperors marrying royals from all over Europe, which was the interesting thing I learned here thus making Byzantium more of a rich melting pot of cultures. After writing this article, I did another one I also always wanted to write which was one on the many Sieges of Constantinople and after reading that History of the Byzantine Empire book which I got in Istanbul, I got intrigued to write about all the sieges Constantinople underwent especially since that book covering the whole history put a lot of emphasis on the sieges of Constantinople and when doing this article, what really got me so intrigued about the topic was that no matter how many times Constantinople in 1,100 years as the Byzantine imperial capital underwent a siege by a foreign enemy or in a civil war, it still stood and true enough Constantinople was attacked by as many different people as you can imagine from Goths, to Persians, to Arabs, to Bulgars, to Crusaders, to Turks, and even to fellow Byzantines, the city at most times stood unconquered except for that one time in 1204 when the Crusaders captured it but the fact that Constantinople’s walls proved able to withstand any siege for a thousand years until the invention of cannons was truly impressive. As for the rest of February and March, I focused on continuing my Byzantine journey by actually filming the script I wrote on the Sicilian Vespers story that I previously wrote which I will talk more about it later on. Anyway when March came, this is when everything turned around when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and things all went upside-down especially with the lockdowns ongoing, although at first I was very nervous about it but at the same time, the lockdown would give me more time to discover more and more about Byzantine history especially since I would just be at home for the next 2 months. In March with the pandemic already happening, I decided to make an article that will fit well with the current situation so I made one talking about the pandemics in Byzantine history and here again I made another interesting discovery about the Byzantine Empire which was that in its 1,100 year existence it went through 2 major pandemics first was the Plague of Justinian in 542 and the next was the Black Death in 1347 which was the Black Death plague of the 14th century which had been one of the reasons for the collapse of Byzantium but it’s still impressive that the empire still lived on till then.

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The Plague of Justinian in Constantinople,

In addition I also included a mention on the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century in this article thus making it the first time I would include stories of Ancient Rome in my Byzantine articles and here I would start seeing the continuity between empires. Following this article on the pandemics of history, I proceeded to write another one which was more personal and talking about my experience during the lockdown and my thoughts on it relating it to stories in Byzantium and when writing both these articles first about the plagues and next about isolation in the Byzantine era in relation with the current quarantine period; here was when I started seeing how much Byzantine history is still relevant up to this day especially since pandemics like this one right now is nothing new as the Byzantines in their time had it worse by having 5-10,000 deaths a day in Constantinople alone due to the plague and ideas right now like social distancing and isolation was also present back then and interestingly some Byzantine people were masters of social distancing like the stylite saints of the 5th century who spent their whole lives above columns to stay away from everyone to achieve a more spiritual life, also I did this article on my thoughts on quarantine wherein I was greatly bothered by the thought of being confined to a small space which however wasn’t so small but I was also trying to show that I wasn’t alone here and people also back then in the Byzantine era even emperors suffered the same thing especially when they were deposed by their enemies and were forced to be stay in a tight monastery for years sometimes even till death as a punishment being deprived of all the luxuries they had in their time as emperor and so far the most impactful story of these emperors who were forced into isolation for years was that of the young boy ruler John IV Laskaris who in 1261 was blinded and deposed and for an entire 29 years he was locked up in a prison tower alone basically growing up there as he was deposed and imprisoned as a child and was released already fully grown up.

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St. Simeon the Stylite of 5th century Byzantium, champion of social distancing

With quarantine time continuing, I moved on to work on my grand project of the year which was editing the Byzantine era Sicilian Vespers movie and continuing to do more articles too. In the long days of quarantine, I also ended up rediscovering the history of Ancient Rome which happened when I rediscovered books at home about the Roman Empire and started watching more videos online about Roman history and this time around May of 2020 is when I first discovered the channel of Dovahhatty which would then be my favorite channel. At this time, I would end up making 3 long articles comparing everything the Roman Empire and its successor the Byzantine Empire had; the first one about the Roman army structure comparing it to that of the Byzantines after them, the second one about the Roman imperial system and succession and comparing it to that of the Byzantines after them, and the third one about the culture of the Romans and comparing it to the Byzantines after them and it may have seemed to be a bit strange that I was comparing the same empire to itself as Byzantium was in fact the Roman Empire continued.

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires

When doing this 3-part series I also had learned a lot especially that even though the Byzantine Empire was different in name and location from Rome, it was not only the successor of Imperial Rome but Imperial Rome itself evolved as Byzantium basically took on the same structures of the Roman army just changing it over time adapting to the current situations they were in by updating tactics, weapons, and armor, continuing the same system of emperors ruling the empire which had been founded by Augustus Caesar replacing the old Roman Republic except that over the centuries the imperial system kept evolving more and more becoming more and more autocratic at the time of Byzantium, and lastly when it came to culture Byzantium basically just took on almost everything established by Ancient Rome but added Christian elements replacing the old Pagan ones.

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Roman and Byzantine emperors from the Balkans
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Map of the spread of the Black Death across Europe

2020 may have not been a year full of adventure and excitement with no major travel to a place with Byzantine history but it was nevertheless a meaningful one in my Byzantine journey and due to fact of being at home more, 2020 made me discover so many new things about Ancient Rome and Byzantium therefore making me think about it and analyze it even more and for this reason, this made my articles even more scholarly and informative. It was here in 2020 when I had been so drawn to the channel of Dovahhatty even if I only started following it 4 episodes before the finale of the Roman Empire story came out and because of this, my interest in Ancient Rome was revived and to make it more worth it, I decided to make articles which involve it together with Byzantium which I still continued liking. This year I also made 2 lighter articles to read which would now include both Byzantium and Imperial Rome before it and the first of these was one I did last June about Women in Imperial Rome and Byzantium and it was such an interesting topic especially on how women in the imperial families played such a big role in shaping the empire such as when a powerful woman is behind her emperor husband, son, or brother and in July I then did an easier to do article on Cuisine in Ancient Rome and Byzantium which was another interesting topic finding out the food people ate back then. Then came August, and here I decided to do another major project which was an article on the whole history of Byzantium from the 4th to 15th centuries comparing it side by side to the events all over the world. Doing this article was such a great challenge especially since I was going to summarize world history in general wherein I wasn’t so familiar with history of other parts of the world as this article included not just Byzantine or Medieval European history but events in all the centuries between the 4th and 15th everywhere including the Americas and Africa and it was indeed such a challenge that it would be divided into 2 parts, the first part featuring the history Byzantium told side-by-side with events all over the world from the year 300 to 1000 and the second part featuring events in the history of Byzantium side-by-side with those all over the world from 1000 to the fall of Byzantium in 1453.

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Coronation of a Byzantine emperor

When doing this 2-part series last August, I was so impressed when studying Byzantine history from beginning to end side-by-side with events all over the world especially since the Byzantine Empire lived for so long that so many other kingdoms rose and fell throughout Byzantium’s existence. As of 2019 my biggest Byzantine project was doing the complete genealogy of all the emperors and making a full article about while for 2020 it was this article of telling the entire story of Byzantium side-by-side with all the events happening around the world in its entire 1,100 year existence and when finishing it I was so exhausted with all the work and all the information in my head so for the whole of September, I just took it easy and did not post anything new on this site. It was in October when I returned to writing here again and here I would do another 2-part series which would be about something new I had just learned which was that there were many emperors that you did not know about in the whole history of the Roman Empire and Byzantium especially since there were a lot of usurpers and rival emperors in the entire history from the founding of the Roman Empire by Augustus in 27BC to the fall of Byzantium in 1453 so I decided to make an article that will focus on these named of people who could have possibly ruled the Roman and Byzantine Empires and it was again such a long list that I had to divide it into 2 parts again, the first one of the names of possible Roman emperors from the birth of the Roman Empire to the end of the first Byzantine era in the late 7th century, and the second part on the names of possible Byzantine emperors and rival emperors from where I left off in the late 7th century ending with the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Again after doing this great project in October, I took another break from writing and in November I basically took it easy for most of the month until later on in the months when I would do a stand-alone experimental article on the story of the 4 Defenestrations of Prague just for a change of scene and also because this was the exact same new topic that the channel Dovahhatty did a feature on so as a big fan of the channel I wanted to the same in making a stand-alone article about the 4 different Defenestrations of Prague or the throwing of people off a window which happened in Prague 4 times from the 15th to 20th centuries which I thought of as a very interesting topic.

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1618 Defenestration of Prague

Now in December of this year I would go back to doing my usual Roman and Byzantine posts and this one would be the topic I was long planning to do this entire year ever since finally fully understanding Roman history and its connection to Byzantium and this one would be the article where I would be comparing the stories of the decline and fall of Imperial Rome and its successor the Byzantine Empire. For me it was so interesting to see that even though both were the same empire more or less, centuries after the fall of Western Rome the same kind of circumstances and same kinds of emperors happened for Eastern Rome or Byzantium and this truly shows how history does repeat itself. Writing this article too was also such a challenge that needed so much research and so much fact checking that it had to be divided into 2 parts again so how I did it was that I made the first part focus on comparing the similarities and differences between the decline of the old Roman Empire with the 3rd Century Crisis and short revival afterwards together with its emperors compared to the decline of Byzantium in the 11th century and short revival afterwards while the second part was to compare the fall of the Western Roman Empire from the 4th to 5th centuries and its emperors to the fall of Byzantium from the 13th to 15th centuries. At the end, I can say it was such a challenge to write both parts with the second article going up to 60 pages but it was still worth it since I ended the year doing the article I long planned to do no matter how messy it was when I wrote it. Now as 2020 ends, the greatest lesson I learned when writing both about Ancient Rome and Byzantium together was that I now no longer see them as 2 different empires but instead the same which is why I ended up including both the stories of Ancient Rome and Byzantium in my articles.

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Map of the Roman Empire (red) under Claudius II in the 3rd Century Crisis, remains of the Gallic Empire (green) and the Palmyrene Empire (yellow)
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The Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450

Bringing Byzantium into Film

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Ever since I got into Byzantine history in early 2019 as I already mentioned, I was already intent on wanting to introduce all my discoveries about the strange but interesting story of Byzantium out into the world and what better way to do this than through films and I mean videos on Youtube that actually tell a story using Lego characters. This section is now going to be a recap of my journey in making Byzantine era films, although it will be too long to go into so much detail analyzing all my films so I will just briefly mention what these films were and why I chose to do them, if you want to know more details about my films just subscribe to my channel No Budget Films and watch them there. Ever since 2015 I have already been doing Lego films for my Youtube channel and in fact my second film in early 2015 was set in Byzantium covering the story of the 4th Crusade and the attack on Constantinople by the Crusaders in Lego which was a film with same name The 4th Crusade, although back then making Byzantine era films wasn’t my main focus in doing Lego films despite making one all the way back in 2015 and a spin-off story to it in 2017 which was the short narrative style film Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade which tells the story of the 4th Crusade and attack of Constantinople in 1204 through the perspective of the leading Crusader general, the Frenchman Louis de Blois who happened to be the story’s wealth and adventure obsessed villain.

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No Budget Films logo

Although I made 2 Lego films set in the Byzantine era in 2015 and 2017, the Lego films I have been making for my channel from 2015 to 2018 were all either set in 1st century Imperial Rome featuring historical characters I have already made such a strong connection with like Emperor Claudius I, Germanicus, and Agrippina the Elder and their stories or Lego films set in the world of George Orwell’s novel 1984 in which I even expanded on making my own fan-fiction universe to the novel by making it an entire Lego film trilogy plus a spin-off film in 2017 and a prequel 6 episode miniseries in 2018. However in 2018 I had completed the entire story of my fan-fiction 1984 universe and the Roman Empire setting of my films as well so with 2018 over, I did not know what films to produce next so I did not make any new content for my channel until May of 2019 when I had fully gotten into the history of Byzantium. Now since I had fully gotten into the world of Byzantine history in the first half of 2019, I also decided that I wanted to return to doing Lego films and this time focus them on Byzantium. With the 1984 and 1st century Roman Empire story of my films finished, it was time to start all over again but not in a literal way because fortunately as I said I already had some films set in the Byzantine era before but unlike my Roman Empire and 1984 films, those ones that I had set in the Byzantine timeline were left out but since I had just finished telling the story of my Roman Empire and 1984 timelines by 2019, it was about time I finally put some attention to expanding my channel’s Byzantine and Crusades era timeline. Now when returning to doing Lego films in 2019 which would be set in the Byzantine timeline, I chose to now make my upcoming films all set in the Byzantine era thus using the subtitle “A Byzantine Epic” for all these films and in May of 2019 the first Byzantine epic centered on the story of Byzantium however this one was not set in the usual 4th Crusade era as the 2 others I did before in 2015 and 2017, instead this one was to be set almost 3 centuries before it in 10th century Byzantium. Not to mention, when I made my first Byzantine era film in 2015, I created a large Constantinople background and after that film, all my Byzantine era films after that would all use that Constantinople background drawing. This new Lego short film I made was The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic as in that time I was interested in the era of Byzantium’s golden age of military power in the 10th century so here I chose to do a short film on my favorite Byzantine character of that era which was the brilliant general turned emperor Nikephoros II Phokas and this short film featured the story of his rise to power from general to emperor as he wins a decisive victory over the Arabs at Aleppo followed by his coronation as emperor after he rides with great speed to Constantinople to claim the throne in order to protect the young imperial heirs Basil II and Constantine VIII and stop civil war from happening. Although this short film had just happened to be a stand-alone piece except having a quick 1-minute follow up sequel Killing a Byzantine Emperor in July of 2019 which was a quick skit of the death of Nikephoros II in his sleep in 969 assassinated by his own nephew who became the next emperor John I Tzimiskes. However even if I made one film in 10th century Byzantium with a short sequel skit to it, I did not continue with this timeline in Byzantine history but I still went on in expanding my channel’s Byzantine universe but instead of continuing the story of Nikephoros II and the Macedonian Dynasty or doing a more popular time in Byzantine history like the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century or the Arab wars in the 7th and 8th centuries, I chose to go back to where I started doing Byzantine films which was the 4th Crusade setting and my goal was to expand on the story I already made of the 4th Crusade in Lego by coming up with a sequel story to the 4th Crusade which would be another story in the history of Byzantium that truly fascinated me, which was the Byzantine reconquest from the Crusaders in 1261. Before getting fully into Byzantium in 2019, I already knew that when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, it one day returned to Byzantine rule but only when reading the history did I find out that Constantinople was surprisingly taken back by the Byzantine remnant empire of Nicaea in one night in July of 1261, but of course over the 57 years that Byzantium disappeared, the Byzantines at Nicaea expanded more and more to the point that they were able to surround Constantinople and easily take it back from the Latins who never ruled Constantinople effectively anyway. This story had inspired me so much that I did a lot of research and in June to July of 2019 after coming back from that same trip that included Ravenna, I finished writing the script for that movie and began filming an all new Lego film with an all new set of characters including one character I grew so intrigued by that I would end up putting a lot of attention to him and this character was of course the ruler that carried out Constantinople’s 1261 reconquest from the Latins which was Michael VIII Palaiologos. Other than Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas this emperor Michael VIII turned to be more of an interesting figure for me as he was a very complex character who was a strong military man but also a very cunning yet scheming diplomat and politician while Nikephoros II was just the strong soldier emperor although I would get more interested in Michael VIII’s story as I progressed through my Byzantine journey when continuing to do my films. This film I am talking about here which is Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic came out in September of 2019 and this was the first full feature film I did using real historical charatcers in the Byzantine Empire with Michael VIII as the lead character with other real historical supporting characters too like Michael’s top general Alexios Strategopoulos, the last Latin emperor Baldwin II, and the young boy emperor of Nicaea John IV Laskaris, though this film focused this time on Michael VIII’s rise to power but at the same time I also intended this film to be more of an action packed epic and the end result was what is, an action-packed story with less drama and philosophy, although it had a number of historical inaccuracies too. After making this film, I really did know whether I would continue expanding my channel’s Byzantine timeline or just end there but true enough eventually I decided to continue considering that this Summer of 1261 film became one of my more successful films and also because after doing that film, I continued to research more on Michael VIII and he turned out to be such an interesting ruler who was at times a scheming murderous villain and at times just an emperor with a great vision  but was at the same time very troubled and again reading the History of the Byzantine Empire book I bought in Istanbul, it opened me up more to the story of Emperor Michael VIII’s reign making me decide to continue the story by making a very epic sequel film to Summer of 1261 in 2020 which would be War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic set 21 years after it and this happened to be my most ambitious project so far in my history of making Lego films as the end result was a 47-minute long Lego epic with a voice cast having over 28 voice actors and a large cast of characters as true enough this was the concluding chapter to the story of the 13th century’s bitter Byzantine-Latin conflict but for me I would say the most impressive thing about this film was that I actually managed to produce it during the COVID-19 pandemic and succeeded in actually finishing it despite all the obstacles. Unlike its prequel Summer of 1261, the Sicilian Vespers was something more than an action packed Lego epic but rather something with a lot of depth but a lot of action too as this film set in 1282 was for one supposed to show Michael VIII now an old man as a very complex emperor who was not after all evil but rather just conflicted and also supposed to show that Michael VIII as emperor only cared for his empire’s survival and would do anything for it even if it meant giving up the proud Orthodox faith of his people especially since he was faced with an evil and deadly enemy who had a lot of similarities to him, the French king of Sicily Charles of Anjou, while this film was also made to not just show the Byzantines’ side or the side of only the rulers and generals but of the common people too such as the Sicilians’ side as they are rebelling against the oppressive French rule over their land, but at the same time this film also included the classic story arc of a film featuring a young protagonist and his journey to achieve his goal and here it was the story of Michael VIII’s young son and heir Andronikos’ journey in becoming the next emperor. This film though was very much loosely based on historical characters and settings and had a few fictional elements added to it but its plot-line however was to be almost accurate to the real historical story except with more emphasis on battles but its climax was the same as that of the real story in history as also in the film, in the year 1282, Michael VIII indirectly took part in helping the rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers succeed by bribing off local lords to lead a full resistance against their French overlords which was to benefit Byzantium too by getting the French farther away from attacking them. 

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The No Budget Films Byzantine era timeline of its films and other media
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Constantinople background drawing for No Budget Films’ Byzantine films (created 2015)
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No Budget Films’ “Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade” poster (2017)
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No Budget Films’ “The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic” poster (2019)
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No Budget Films’ “Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic” movie poster (2019)
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No Budget Films’ “War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic” movie poster (2020)

Read this to get to know more about my War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic film.

Following the creation of my most ambitious Lego film project War of the Sicilian Vespers, I did a full article too on the behind-the-scenes and historical facts about the movie and indeed even after making this full length film, it was still not over yet that even for a school project for one of my college subjects despite having the class online, I used the same Lego Byzantine characters like Michael VIII for it. The Sicilian Vespers film was true enough not the end but for me it was actually quite a tiring job to produce an actual film where I have to film all the Lego characters in action for several days so to follow up on making more Byzantine era media for my channel, I decided to later on do something else, this time to tell the story through an audio epic with myself narrating the story. After finishing doing Lego films on the 4th Crusade, the Reconquest of Constantinople in 1261, and the final chapter of the Byzantine-Latin conflict of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, there was one part of the story still missing which would be the 57 years between 1204 and 1261 and though making this period a full Lego series was an option I realized it would be too difficult to do especially since I would have to film the entire 57 years thus having to produce possibly 10 or even 15 episodes and not to mention I would have to do the whole long process of getting people to voice over the characters and considering there would be so many characters and locations in this 57 year period to create, it would be too much of a hassle to do so I thought of a better solution. The solution was to just narrate the entire story of this entire period to be accompanied by visuals featuring Lego characters and other Byzantine character drawings from other online artists to represent the characters of this age as I tell the story as the narrator.

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Empire of Nicaea flag (1204-1261)

When doing this audio-visual Byzantine epic story of the years between 1204 and 1261, I have already been introduced to this kind of video making style by Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History of Rome so these videos served as my inspiration for doing this 3-part audio epic. Now in this 3-part audio epic I made beginning in October of this year, my whole purpose for this was to expand my channel’s universe by telling the stories of all the events and people in the time the Byzantine Empire was exiled as the Empire of Nicaea as the Crusaders took over Constantinople from 1204 to 1261 and since the story was so long, I divided it into 3 parts and by selecting the links here you can watch all of them. The first part of the series covers the entire story of the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204 as well as the rebuilding of the Byzantine Empire as the Empire of Nicaea by the emperor Theodore I Laskaris all while the Crusaders’ Latin Empire turned out to fail, the second part covered up the events from 1222 to 1253 covering the resurgence of Byzantine rule through the Empire of Nicaea led by its most successful emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes who managed to defeat and weaken most of his enemies to pave the way for the eventual reconquest of Constantinople, and the third and final part of the series covered up the last 7 years before the eventual Byzantine reconquest of 1261 featuring a bitter rivalry in the successful Empire of Nicaea between John III’s scholarly yet arrogant and opinionated son and successor Emperor Theodore II and his long-time rival the thuggish and scheming general Michael Palaiologos which of course ends with Michael Palaiologos winning, Theodore II poisoned to death, and Constantinople reconquered in 1261 under Michael’s rule.

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Latin Empire seal, 1204-1261

The episodes of this audio epic were released between October and December of this year but just recently to finish off this year, I produced one last Byzantine era short film being The Imperial Epilogue, which is basically a follow-up ending sequence to this year’s highlight film War of the Sicilian Vespers and this epilogue film was basically just a quick way to explain the end story of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II who was the Sicilian Vespers movie’s hero and in this epilogue film which is set some 38 years after the Sicilian Vespers film, Andronikos II is the main focus of it now showing him as an old man who happened to be a failure as an emperor who has to endure a 7-year civil war against his grandson also named Andronikos who had rebelled against him ending with Andronikos II deposed in 1328 and his grandson taking over vowing to restore the ruins of his empire which is indeed a true story. Now when doing all these Byzantine films and audio epics, I had come to realize that I also had a real purpose in making them which was to shed some light on this mysterious side of history and more particularly shed some light on the lesser known parts of Byzantine history especially the 13th century which was one of the most crucial eras in Byzantine history especially since this was when the decline and fall began due to the conquest of the 4th Crusade but this was also when Byzantium’s awareness as a Greek nation was born which sparked in the time they were exiled as the Empire of Nicaea. Many others who are familiar with Byzantium would have characters like Emperor Justinian the Great or Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer or even Nikephoros II Phokas in mind when thinking of the Byzantine Empire and possible film for it but what I wanted to do was to raise more awareness on the hidden gems of the Byzantine Empire such as the story of the Palaiologos emperors like Michael VIII and for this reason I chose to build up more on his story than that of Nikephoros II but also because I already did a few one set in the 4th Crusade timeline before so I wanted to continue expanding on it and that the stories of Byzantium’s Palaiologos emperors shows a lot more of a human side to the rulers of Byzantium.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 Lego figure

Also when making these Byzantine films and audio epics, my objective is to not make them like the Byzantine history podcasts and documentaries which are just plainly informative but don’t get me wrong too because I surely learned a lot from listening to them and watching them but in my channel I wanted to make something that modern day audiences from young children to grandparents could relate to and this sense make it something like pop culture material so in order to do this kind of style, first of all I used Lego characters to represent these historical figures to make them more human and relatable and also rather than using the old fashioned formal English language and accents that most medieval or other period films use, I chose to make mine instead use the modern English language and words we normally use and have some fun by experimenting on even using modern music and different accents for characters thus making characters like Nikephoros II Phokas talk in an American Southern accent and the general Alexios Strategopoulos have a Scouse English accents even if they seemed far from how these historical figures spoke. Also to make my Byzantine films have this pop culture element, I also put a lot easter eggs in them which could be famous Byzantine artworks or portraits of emperors in their time used for props or even references to the other films I made from before such as those in the 1984 or Roman Empire setting and by doing this, this is also my way of making all my films connect with each other, at same time even adding easter eggs from other pop culture areas like Star Wars as well. Anyway, by making my films have an experimental side to it just for fun is basically how I want to make them entertaining for viewers in order to get it some more attention, and it is for this reason why Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History videos are popular and before I finish this part, I have to say that I am actually surprised that in only just less than 2 years, the Byzantine era films in my channel happen to be even more successful in views than the ones I made before that. Now since I have done my part in bringing Byzantium in a way into pop culture, I really do hope one day that Byzantium does actually get into pop culture and that Hollywood does indeed plan to produce a Byzantine era film or series as I already have an idea on how to cast one which I would do an article of in the future.

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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No Budget Films’ “The Imperial Epilogue: A Byzantine Epic” poster (2020)

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Left: Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341); right: Empress Anna of Savoy, wife of Andronikos III

Lessons and Discoveries from Byzantium and its Emperors

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And now as 2020 finishes I want to share with you all my learnings and discoveries from the story of this great empire that people tend to overlook. First of all the greatest lesson I learned from the story of Byzantium and even from their predecessors, the Roman Empire was that the key to surviving is to adapt and this is definitely true for Byzantium because in their 1,100 year history they saw more war than peace and not just small wars but sometimes full scale invasions that could destroy their empire but the Byzantines did not give up, instead they had to adapt to the current situations to survive and doing this they went as far as reorganizing their political structure from large provinces to smaller ones called Themes to increase military presence for protection when the 7th century came and so did the endless Arab invasions, also when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, they had to adapt by starting from scratch but in the process they ended up reconnecting to their Greek heritage and becoming more aware of it especially since their role as the Roman Empire continued was long gone and they had become practically a nation of Greeks as their empire had been reduced.

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Same can be said with the Roman Empire before them, since in the 3rd century they faced so much difficulties in which their emperors solved by having to adapt to the situation in order to reform their society. Another great discovery I have had on Byzantium in my almost 2-year journey was that they actually played a very significant role in our world’s history that no one really seems to be aware of and by this they were the ones that preserved the knowledge of Classical Greece and Rome and brought it into Europe when their empire fell in 1453 thus starting the Renaissance, it was Byzantium that upheld Christianity as a dominant religion throughout their existence and helped civilize most of Eastern Europe through which included introducing the Cyrillic alphabet to the Slavic people in the 9th century, it was Byzantium that introduced silks to Europe through trade with China and so was the fork introduced to the rest of Europe in the 10th century, Byzantium too played a major role in starting the Crusades as one of the major reasons why the 1st Crusade began in 1095 was because Byzantium was previously almost destroyed by the growing power of a new enemy, the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 so Byzantium needed help from the west to fight them which although led the west to instead make their own states, it was Byzantium that defended the rest of Europe countless times from Islamic and other eastern invasions, and also it was Byzantium that played a major role in the silk route between Europe and China as it was on the way and when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453, this led the new powers of Western Europe like England, France, Spain, and Portugal to look for new routes to get to Asia thus along the way discovering the Americas and more of Africa, therefore getting the whole world connected and for this Byzantium but more particularly its fall can be indirectly thanked for it. No matter how great the Byzantine Empire was being such an educated society with a professional army, extremely impressive although quite one dimensional art in the form of colorful mosaics and frescos, advanced weapons and technology like Greek Fire and aqueducts which seems impossible to achieve for their time, and a very complex yet very effective administrative system, it had so many flaws too and a lot of it had to do with their people’s personality. Byzantium was for a very long time indeed a very multi-cultural empire especially since it once covered so much lands from Southern Spain all the way east to Armenia and from the Black Sea coast of Ukraine all the way south to Egypt meaning it was inhabited by so many races including Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Syrians, Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, Punics, Romans, Illyrians, Thracians, Bulgars, Slavs, Italians, Germanic people, and more so there is no doubt that it was a very complex empire, although as the centuries went by Byzantium had downsized by a lot so it became less multi-cultural that in its last centuries it was more or less the Greek kingdom in the Balkans. Just as how Byzantium was so diverse, it was also so complex that today the word “byzantine” is even used for meaning something so difficult to understand and I find it true about the Byzantine Empire as its history is actually quite confusing for beginners at least but the more and more you read it, the people including emperors that made the Byzantine Empire’s story happen would seem more and more human. It is also quite unfair that the west has stereotyped Byzantium as nothing more but an empire of corruption, betrayals, poisonings, and intrigues and since western thought came to dominate the thought the world, this stereotype remains as well.

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What Byzantium is made of

True enough, betrayal and corruption in the government was the norm in Byzantium but that still makes them very human and relatable to today’s world but the same can be said for the Roman Empire before them because betrayal and corruption was also a standard in Imperial Rome which the Byzantines had inherited from them and it was also this show of betrayals and corruption that led to the fall of their civilization but just like the Romans before them, the Byzantines too had their share of great men such as emperors and generals like Justinian I, Belisarius, Heraclius, Nikpehoros II, Basil II, and Alexios I that fought hard to defend or expand their empire. But despite all the negative stereotypes given to Byzantium by the west, there are still some things admirable about them and mainly this was the Byzantine people’s pride of their culture especially since they were the ones to continue Roman civilization in the Dark Ages and as descendants of the great civilizations of the Greeks and Romans they would never let go of this pride and because of this many emperors worked so hard to keep their empire alive despite all odds, and because of this Byzantium stood for 1,100 years. Another thing too that can be admired about the Byzantines was that they were masters of diplomacy that they would sometimes choose to bribe their enemies to spare them from devastating wars and this has saved them so many times even if the westerners came to think of them as scheming people because of this for choosing to pay off their enemies or pay off their enemies’ enemies rather than fight them face-to-face but on the other hand, the Byzantine people despite resolving to bribes were also courageous that when being forced to battle with an enemy, they would accept and fight for their empire and Byzantine soldiers truly had a lot of patriotism to fight for both their empire and Christian faith. Also, another thing I recently learned about why Byzantium’s decline was not it was not mainly because of too much wars and the Ottomans but because their empire lived for so long and standing in that part of the world between Europe and Asia, they were definitely bound to be attacked by everyone around them and because of so much wars and being in a high risk position for foreign invasions, their empire had a slow decline but at least it lived on for 11 centuries. Another factor for their decline was also military problems and at first I thought the Byzantines caused their own fall because their people grew soft and instead relied on foreign mercenaries that could not be trusted but as I continued learning more and more about Byzantium, it was not really their fault why in their last centuries they could not have a large army anymore but because their empire had been so reduced in size and population and it was a waste to recruit people to their army especially since many of their men would die in battle this way when they were needed to work the fields to keep the economy alive so they had to rely on foreign mercenaries and the same can be said for the decline and fall of Western Rome that fell in 476. Lastly, it is also due to the Byzantines’ inconsistent and complex personality that they caused their downfall because truly the Byzantines getting their philosophical genes from the Ancient Greeks were more creative and intellectual rather than being precise and practical people but this personality of theirs makes them even more interesting therefore showing that the intellectual spirit of the Ancient Greeks still lived on with them.

To understand Byzantium and their character a lot more, te best place to dive into are their emperors which represented their society and the complex personality of the Byzantines can well be explained through their emperors as Byzantium had emperors of different kinds of character. The Byzantine succession system true enough was very complex as it was not the usual system most European kingdoms had where the eldest son succeeds his father as king while in Byzantium, sometimes the eldest son succeeded his father but sometimes a lot of Byzantine emperors had no children, so some were succeeded by their brothers, cousins, son-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nephews, sometimes even father-in-laws, or sometimes even by their friends or generals that were appointed to succeed them as Byzantium had no written law of primogeniture wherein the eldest son has to succeed his father, rather Byzantine emperors had to find ways to make the succession stable which included making their sons co-emperors and even having built a purple room in the imperial palace for their children to be born in to secure their legitimacy. True enough Byzantium was a direct successor of Imperial Rome and got its ruling system from it and the Roman Empire was a republic that had a monarchy inserted into it when Augustus Caesar became its first emperor in 27BC but this monarchy system known as the Principate was not a full monarchy as the emperor was just the highest authority but the senate and army had power too and they were the ones that backed the emperors.

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Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome (r. 27BC-14AD)

Of course things will change over the centuries and with Diocletian as the Roman emperor in 285, the old system of the emperor as the head of the republic changed with the emperor’s authority becoming more divine but even though the power of the Roman emperors and Byzantine emperors after him was never truly divine as Byzantium still had a senate and its generals held a lot of power too. Not to mention, Byzantium had several periods of anarchy wherein an emperor just takes over for a year and is deposed and in fact there was even one 22-year period (695-717) where Byzantium had 7 changes of emperor and even more interesting, the Byzantine Empire which seems like a male dominated power actually had 2 women that ruled as sole emperor which were Empress Irene (r. 797-802) and Empress Theodora (r. 1055-1056). Now when it came to its ruling emperors, Byzantium had every kind of personality for a ruler you can think of. First of all it had great men that were legends larger than life and 2 of them are Byzantine emperors everyone would be familiar with which are the empire’s founder Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) who achieved so much in his reign from making Christianity the faith that would define his empire to founding Constantinople as an imperial city to uniting the entire Roman Empire from years of civil and never losing battle and Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) who was another one larger than life by building the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia that remained the world’s greatest and largest church for a thousand years, introducing the world to its basis for its legal systems, and making Byzantium an actual world power by expanding his empire the way no one before thought they could by actually putting back North Africa, Southern Spain and Italy back under Roman rule which happened to work out for some time.

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Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I the Great (left) and Emperor Constantine I the Great (right) in the Hagia Sophia

Other than these great men, Byzantium too had other greater ones that brought their empire back to greatness after a time of decline and such emperors included the likes of Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), Basil II better known as the Bulgar-Slayer (r. 976-1025) who were all known to revive the greatness of Byzantium by turning the tide of war against foreign enemies, and Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) as well as his son John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) who both resolved the long crisis Byzantium faced before their time and returned their empire again to prosperity and stability. Byzantium too had great rulers but met tragic ends such as the general Belisarius of the 6th century who was disgraced at some points but at least died peacefully but emperors like Maurice (r. 582-602) was one that met a tragic end betrayed and executed by his army due to some misunderstandings even if he was a good emperor, then there was Heraclius (r. 610-641) who ruled his entire reign fighting constant wars against the Sassanid Persians then Arabs to save the empire but died with his hard work failing, Nikephoros I (r. 802-811) who died in battle against the Bulgarians, and Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) who had the drive to restore his dying empire’s glory but died too soon and the same can be said with the great men of Byzantium’s contemporary twin the Western Roman Empire which fell in 476 as it had heroic figures like the generals Stilicho and Aetius and emperor Majorian (r. 457-461) who did their best to keep their weak empire alive and sacrificed themselves for it as they were betrayed . Aside from having such great rulers whether visionaries or tragic heroes, Byzantium had a great share of weak and corrupt emperors who may or may have not caused their empire’s decline and such rulers included the likes of Valens (r. 364-378), Constantine VI (r. 780-797), Empress Irene (r. 797-802), Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028-1034), Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055), Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067), Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078), Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), and Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) and as for the Western Roman Empire that fell in 476 all their rulers except for Majorian and Anthemius (r. 467-472) were all weak and corrupt but Byzantium also had some rulers who may have been weak but had strong men around them and these rulers included Michael III (r. 842-867) and Romanos II (r. 959-963). There are also some rulers of Byzantium that saw themselves as strong emperors but had in fact just used their strength to create further division and destruction in their empire and such rulers were the war fanatic Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711) who is best known for having a mutilated nose in his second reign, Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) who chose to battle the Seljuks at Manzikert without thinking of the consequences, and Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) who brought terror and destruction to the empire leading to the eventual sack of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204. However, there had turned out to be only quite a few Byzantine emperors that had some evil intentions and such rulers were Basiliscus (r. 475-476) and John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) who were willing to betray their empire for their own gain and some others too like usurping emperor Phocas (r. 602-610) who just lusted for power but did not know how to rule properly. On the other hand, Byzantium too had its share of the rare kind of emperors who were mostly neutral and diplomatic rulers yet competent and highly intellectual people at the same time like Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912), Constantine VII (r. 913-959), and Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425). Now the kind of emperors that I actually like in Byzantium are the unlikely people who by chance became emperor and happened to do a good job and these included those who came from low birth and obscurity but by chance were made emperor and happened to flip the script and rule competently like Valentinian I (r. 364-375) who was just at first a soldier but ruled well as emperor despite being in charge of the west and not Constantinople, Marcian (r. 450-457) who was just a common and obscure soldier before being elevated to emperor, his successor Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474) who was just a common soldier of low birth but actually saved the Eastern Empire from suffering the same fate as its western twin by ridding it of barbarian control in the government, and his successor too which was Zeno (r. 474-491) who despite being seen as an outsider by his people originating as a primitive Isaurian tribesman from the mountains of Asia Minor turned out to be a strong ruler who brought some stability to Byzantium. Other unlikely people that ruled Byzantium well in its history were Anastasius I (r. 491-518) who unexpectedly became emperor at an old age and achieved a lot by stabilizing the economy, his successor Justin I (r. 518-527) who originated as a simple peasant but worked his way up through the army and becoming a competent emperor despite being illiterate and it was he as well that made it possible for his nephew Justinian I to come to power, then other unlikely rulers included the Heraclian emperors Constans II (r. 641-668) and his son Constantine IV (r. 668-685) who did their job well in defending Byzantium from the Arabs despite coming to power at so young, also there was Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886) who originated too as just a simple peasant but eventually got the chance to take the throne and as emperor he also did well in promoting Byzantium’s cultural and military supremacy and founding the long reigning and glorious Macedonian Dynasty despite also being illiterate, and there was also Michael IV (r. 1034-1041) the last one to originate as a peasant but end up becoming an emperor. At the same time, in Byzantium’s long history there were some emperors too that may have been judged the wrong way and seen as evil but in fact were just wanted to keep their empire alive and such were the likes of Constantine the Great’s son Constantius II (r. 337-361) who would seem to be at first like a cold hearted and bitter ruler but all he wanted was to make sure his empire remained stable, then there was Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741) who is a controversial figure since he’s the one blamed for destroying Byzantium’s religious stability by issuing Iconoclasm which tore the empire apart but he also saved the empire by defending Constantinople against the Arab siege in 718 that could have ended their empire and in his reign won many victories against the Arabs, and of course there is also my favorite as of now Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) who at first can be seen as an evil monster that brutally killed anyone opposing him and blinded his harmless young co-emperor John IV Laskaris to come to power and ruled in a tyrannical way suppressing his people’s Orthodox faith just so that he could ally with the pope but true enough he had a heart of gold and his intention was just to save his empire from destruction and he would do anything to achieve that. Also as I have studied Byzantine history deeper in this past year and more, I also made some discoveries that broke the stereotypes and first impressions I had on some emperors such as Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204) who at first I saw as an idiot who was responsible for bringing his empire down but when getting to know him more which also involved having a conversation with an actual fan of his online, I started to see that Isaac II did fact care for his empire and fought against his enemies but it cost him and also he ruled the empire at a troubled time and the same can be said for John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391) who at first was just an weak emperor who ruled a long and tragic reign but behind it all the empire he ruled was already so weak but as emperor he still had the motivation to save his empire. Other than that, as I continued studying Byzantine history even more, I have also come to see that some emperors who at first I thought were great rulers but in fact were actually not great ones and had caused the decline of the empire and such was ironically Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) who may have achieved a lot as an energetic emperor but his policies would eventually end up causing the decline of Byzantium as it was him who wasted up all the treasury on campaigns that went nowhere and it was him that started a war with Venice out of arrogance that would permanently be harmful for Byzantium, and it was he who started introducing Western Latin customs in the empire which would outrage his people and create such a permanent cultural divide in Byzantium which shows that it takes the actions of one emperor to bring an empire down, and the same can be said for the last emperor of a united Rome which was Theodosius I (r. 379-395) who for some reason is called “the great” but his rule only created such division among his people due to his policies of religious intolerance favoring Nicene Christianity over everything else making him launch a strong persecution against Pagans and it was he as well that indirectly caused the fall of Western Rome by simply letting the Roman army be run by barbarians and I fist thought of him as a good ruler who saved the empire but even though he was at some points, he turns out to be a hateable person and not to mention it was he who permanently split the Roman Empire among his 2 incompetent sons Arcadius in the east and Honorius in the west. There were some emperors too that when reading through Byzantine history, I had come to actually think of as not worthy of ruling the empire such as Arcadius (r. 395-408) who inherited the east after his father’s death but did not do a single thing as emperor, the short reigning Alexander (r. 912-913) who only just started a war with Bulgaria out of his own arrogance and the lesser known Emperor of Nicaea Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) who ruled a successful empire but had such a high opinion of himself that he was basically an ass who thought he was better than everyone that the empire was better off not having him so luckily he was allegedly poisoned by Michael Palaiologos. Lastly, as I studied the history this whole time, I also found some underrated rulers in Byzantium too which were actually capable ones but are barely known about such as Julian better known as “the Apostate” (r. 361-363) who was an enlightened visionary but died too soon when being killed in battle against the Sassanids and John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) who was one of Byzantium’s greatest rulers despite ruling the empire of Nicaea but he was indeed the only perfect emperor Byzantium had even if he did not rule Constantinople as he died before the 1261 reconquest from Latins but as an emperor he was the only one merciful to his people but brutal to his enemies but he was an overall Renaissance man who was a skilled soldier, scholar, diplomat, economist, politician, and family man and was the one who made his people aware of their Greek heritage and despite suffering chronic epilepsy he was strong ruler and well loved by his subjects which was rare for most Byzantine emperors and for these reasons John III is the kind of ruler people need today and so is Julian because even if Julian may be depicted in the wrong light as an enemy of the Christian faith for returning to old Roman Paganism he was in fact tolerant to both Christians and Pagans wanting them to be equal as people and his rule shows the kind of tolerance great leaders need to have. Now the last emperor I forgot to mention was the last Roman emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) and he is someone I can say who shows a true heroic character as he chose to not shamefully surrender Constantinople to the Ottomans when he could have but instead chose to fight to death when his odds for winning was low and die with his empire and his speech before the final battle in Byzantium’s last day, Tuesday May 29, 1453 shows just how much Byzantium means to the world. Now out of all the emperors, there are some that I find boring like the emperors after Leo III from 741 to 867 and the Doukas Dynasty emperors from 1059 to 1081 but every other emperor aside from them has an interesting story though my top picks are of course Constantine I the Great because without him the east would not become Byzantium and Justinian I the Great because it was he who gave Byzantium’s long lasting cultural legacy, as for the Macedonian emperors like Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Basil II I can truly admire them for their ambition and courage but these 5 emperors that I have mentioned though are those that I can only see as legends larger than life so the Byzantine emperors that I actually can relate a lot to are the Palaiologos emperors from Michael VIII to the last emperor Constantine XI as I can actually see them as real humans that are still relevant to this day as basically the empire they ruled as much smaller in size so they do not seem to be all powerful rulers anymore and as emperors they could no longer do anything they wanted without suffering the consequences so they had to be crafty in ruling which makes them even more interesting people.

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How to describe some of the Byzantine emperors

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9 Byzantine emperors by personality based on the D&D alignment
Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV (652-658) and his retinue
Emperor Constantine IV (r. 668-685) mosaic in Ravenna

Watch this to learn more about the succession system in the Byzantine Empire from (Eastern Roman History).

Having been drawn to the world of Byzantines for almost 2 years now without ever loosing interest even once, no matter how deep I studied Byzantium and its history over and over again, writing so many articles, and doing so many Byzantine history projects, there are still some historical questions that I still can’t answer and are worth debating. One of these mysteries of Byzantium that I still can’t fully answer now is how exactly Byzantium is not just the Roman Empire’s successor but the Roman Empire itself and surely over 2020 when studying Imperial Rome side-by-side with Byzantium, I have come to see that they are the same empire but I can’t quite put it how they are actually the same mainly because Byzantium evolved over time which at first was Latin speaking and very Roman in traditions but because of their geographical position and population, they eventually became Greek in language and culture. The biggest question for me is still where to mark the start of Byzantine history and till now it still up for debate as if you want to actually say Byzantium is the Roman Empire itself you have start Byzantine history either with the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC or with Augustus’ founding of the empire in 27BC, but if you are just talking about Byzantium as the Eastern Roman Empire you can either start with 286 when the Roman emperor Diocletian formally divided the Roman Empire between east and west, or safer to start with the year 330 when Constantine the Great founded Constantinople after uniting both east and west, or you can go for the year 395 with the death of Theodosius I when the east and west were permanently split in half with the east becoming Byzantium itself, or lastly you can go for 476 when the Western Roman Empire fell and the east was the only remaining Roman Empire.

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However, the story of Byzantium dates all the way back to the 7th century BC founded by the Greek colonist Byzas as the port of Byzantium thus making him the actual unsung hero of the story but if you are talking about where to start the story of Byzantium in the cultural sense as the Greek Empire the best option is the reign of Heraclius (r. 610-641) because under him the empire’s language went from Latin to Greek and take note that when Byzantium was at its height under Justinian I in the 6th century it was at its height as a Roman power but when Byzantium was at its second peak at Basil II’s death in 1025, this was when Byzantium was at its cultural and military peak as a Greek power. The Byzantine Empire’s identity though is very hard to understand especially since it began having a Roman cultural identity fused with a Greek one as well as Constantinople was located in the Greek world but it also had other ethnicities living in it but its dominant cultural identity more or less was Greco-Roman and it was only in the 13th century under John III Vatatzes when Byzantium was in exile in Nicaea when its new cultural identity as a Greek nation was born as they had fully outgrown their Roman past and realized that they were more Greek especially since the Empire of Nicaea was formed by Greek people that fled Constantinople from the Crusaders and it was the same Greek people of Nicaea that reestablished Byzantine rule to Constantinople in 1261. The other big question too is who can be considered as the last Roman emperor and this again does not have one answer as if you are talking about it in a bigger picture it would be Constantine XI in 1453 but if only in the west it was Romulus Augustus in 476 but safer to say that the last Roman emperor in Augustus’ model of the Princeps or first citizen was Alexander Severus (r. 222-235), the last emperor of the old system or Principate was Diocletian (r. 284-305), and the last one to rule a united Roman Empire was Theodosius I in 395, the first Christian one being Constantine the Great (306-337) and the last Pagan being Julian (361-363) while the last Byzantine ruler was actually not Constantine XI but the Emperor of the break-away state of Trebizond David Komnenos who as a Byzantine ruled this place at the Black Sea as his own state until his surrender to the Ottomans in 1461. To put it short, I still can’t answer the question of Byzantium and Rome actually as the same no matter how much I have come to understand it this year and in fact I always make the same mistake in all my articles in showing Byzantium and Rome as different empires and I have gotten a lot of criticism in the form of comments in the FB Byzantine history groups because of that. Another big question about Byzantium is what country today would be its direct descendant like for example for the Roman Empire today it is Italy, for the Ottoman Empire it is Turkey, for the British Empire it is the UK, and for the Russian Empire it is Russia but for Byzantium it is a really big question and the answer could be Greece because Byzantium did speak Greek and was a Greek in identity later on but it doesn’t seem much like it because the empire that Greece descends from more was Alexander the Great’s ancient Macedonian Empire while Byzantium’s presence was stronger in Northern Greece which is Macedonia and Thrace, also you can say Turkey can be Byzantium’s successor country because Asia Minor was the heartland of Byzantium but it still does not fit because Turkey is also the Ottoman Empire’s successor country in so many ways even if the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1453 after conquering Byzantium also called himself the successor to Rome. However, just as how Byzantium is Imperial Rome’s successor, the empire that is considered to be Byzantium’s spiritual successor is Russia because Russia adopted its religion and imperial system from Byzantium so that makes sense and Moscow was in fact even called “the new Constantinople”.

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Byzantine imperial eagle in Russia

Lastly, another question still left unanswered for me is about the religious divide between east and west, Orthodox and Catholic and Byzantium does have a major role in that but what I can’t fully answer is what date the Byzantine Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches actually became separate because even before the final separation of the Churches in 1054, the schism was already a reality although even after 1054, Byzantine emperors including Michael VIII and almost all his successors made attempts to unite both Churches but none of the emperors’ attempts worked as it just led their people to riot because the Byzantines were truly Orthodox at heart and because of the atrocities caused by the Catholic Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantines would rather die than the follow the religion of the people that shamed them and also Orthodoxy was the pride of the Byzantine people which they believe is the one true original Christian faith. Basically, Orthodoxy and Catholicism were the same thing before as they meant the same thing and had the same creed which was the official one, however the eventual differences between both came mainly because Western Europe where the pope in Rome was fell to different barbarian kingdoms as the Western Empire fell while Roman rule remained in the east and as there was an emperor in the east, the pope had to be the protector of Christian people in the west. Anyway, if I want to fully understand Byzantium more I have to definitely understand Church history more as 50% of Byzantine history has to do with the topic of the Christian faith.

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Map of the Roman Empire’s Tetrarchy (286-324), from Diocletian to Constantine I the Great
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The Roman Empire’s final division in 395 by Theodosius I; Arcadius at the east, Honorius at the west
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Byzantium at its greatest extent, 555
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The Byzantine Empire (red) at the death of of Basil II, 1025
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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire in 1261 (yellow) as a medieval Greek power

What Byzantium has Come to Mean for Me

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And now I’ve come to the tail-end at last, and this too is going to be the most touching part as I am about to tell you how much this whole Byzantine journey and the history of Byzantium has meant so much to me after almost 2 years of being so into it. Before I only thought about its interesting armies, soldier units, weapons, and armor as well as its stunning although one-dimensional mosaics and frescos when thinking about Byzantium but ever since getting into its rich history in early 2019 and now that it is the end of 2020, Byzantium has come to mean so much than just the armies and fascinating art I used to know, it has now come to mean to me a rich story of an empire with a great imperial capital that lived on for 1,123 years and 18 days. Byzantium was a great survival story of an empire with battles worth remembering, armies of great power, and colorful characters that went on for 11 centuries and did not allow itself to fall basically because it was not just an empire like many others that just grew and expanded out of nowhere but instead Byzantium was a proud empire carrying the legacy of the Ancient Greeks and Romans of the past and as an empire, the Byzantines saw themselves as those to preserve the meaning of Classical civilization and while Western Europe fell into centuries of the Dark Ages and it was Byzantium too that indirectly brought Medieval Europe back to the Classical past by introducing to the west the Renaissance with the fall of their empire. The warfare, armies, weapons, and armor of the Byzantines though still remained very special to me but in this whole journey, it has been the stories of its people and times that came to mean so much for me. Byzantium was still so much more than what others think as just an empire full of corruption and betrayal, decadence and stupidity, it was one of the most fascinating rare mixed cultures that had spanned over so many lands from Egypt to Syria, to Armenia, to Italy, to Spain, and more and was a hybrid of Classical Greek and Roman ideals and Christian faith, it showed that faith and reason could co-exist. Now if you are an Orthodox and Catholic Christian, Byzantium would surely have a lot of meaning to you since it was the civilization that stood as the defenders of the Christian faith for over a thousand years as in its early centuries it saw itself as the protector of Christians all over the world and from the 7th century onwards, it was Byzantium that stood at the frontline defending the rest of Europe from Islamic invasions that could have completely changed everything about Europe itself if Byzantium had fallen.

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As I progressed through my Byzantine journey up to this day, it has come to mean a lot to me more when finding out Byzantine civilization has contributed so much to even our world today and one of these greatest contributions include Justinian I’s code of laws that would end being the basis for the laws of most countries today and also the Nicene Creed established back in the Council of Nicaea in 325 under Constantine I which has made the Orthodox/ Catholic Church’s official statement of beliefs. Meanwhile, Byzantine history has showed several inspiring stories of so many opportunities and possibilities and one of the most notable is that of emperors like Justinian I the Great who may have started out as nothing originating as a peasant but still did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest emperors of Byzantium that had made so many contributions up to this day. Truly, Byzantine history was not all perfect, it was far from it and this makes it even more interesting to study and relate to, and in Byzantium’s long history there is no dull moment, every part of had a great story, except for me I find the period of Byzantine history between the 8th and mid 9th centuries and the crisis period of the mid 11th centuries not as interesting as the rest but everything else for me is surely so fascinating yet it also starts seeming to feel so sad if you get to know it more especially with its power decreasing and decreasing over the centuries.

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Also, Byzantium showed me that no matter how much things would keep getting worse, there is no giving up and you must always find way to fight back and this can be said with their entire story of losing so much of their territories to enemies but the Byzantines would not give up and do all they can to get their empire back together and they did just that throughout their entire existence. The Byzantine Empire’s end was also truly meaningful as its last emperor Constantine XI’s sacrifice fighting off the Ottomans to the death has brought so much inspiration and shows that the Byzantine Empire unlike Western Rome that died in such a humiliating way in 476 died the way it lived, fighting for their existence. At this present day, we can only learn so much from Byzantium in terms of actually surviving such difficulties as in their 1,100-year history they faced enemies on all sides, countless civil wars, 2 pandemics, and so much more and yet they had their pride of their heritage and stable political system despite having such unstable politics was strong despite having the  that they went on for that long. Just as how the Byzantine Empire persisted and persisted to preserve Classical civilization in the Middle Ages, I tirelessly worked on doing all sorts of Byzantine articles, films, and other projects ever since getting into the history of Byzantium almost 2 years ago and just like how Justinian the Great was remembered as the “emperor that never slept”, I have been the same ever since almost 2 years ago when I started fully committing myself to Byzantium that I have shown so much devotion to it that sometimes I would hardly sleep when writing articles like this or editing my Lego Byzantine films so that it makes a satisfying end result and now that 2020 is ending and as I finishing writing this very long piece, I am just so very exhausted mentally yet in a worthy way because I at least feel that I have done my part in discovering the rich and fascinating history and culture of Byzantium by endless researches, reading, and even travelling to Byzantine destinations. On the other hand, I can say I have also done part in serving the long gone Byzantine Empire by actually bringing the story of Byzantium into media by making countless articles for this site on select topics from Byzantine history and making films for my channel that use Lego characters to represent some real life historical Byzantines but my journey is far from over, and even though I have brought Byzantium into the light online here in this site and in my channel and got to raise awareness of it to my friends, I still have to strive more if I want to achieve the goal in actually bringing Byzantium into pop culture and that now has turned to be one of my goals in life. At the beginning of my Byzantine journey in early 2019, I always thought Byzantium was so obscure that no one seemed to care about it but I just found out how fortunate I am that I got into Byzantium at the right moment when other people too were starting to become aware of it as I started seeing more Byzantine history related content online. As of now, I am happy to see that others too have the same passion for Byzantium the way I do and these include countless channels and sites that also do have the same objective in making Byzantine history known the same my channel’s goal is to make unknown history known and some I have seen have done such an impressive job in putting their passion into work such one channel named Khey Pard who has made an impressive timelapse video map of the whole history Byzantium every month, as well as seeing Byzantium put into anime content, and of course there is Dovahhatty who has now made his first episode of his Unbiased History Byzantium series and I can see that he truly has to potential to actually bring Byzantium into the world of pop culture. And now as 2020 ends, I have come to realize that my passion for Byzantine history has changed me in so many ways that I now can fully relate to Byzantium and no longer see it and its emperors as legends and myths but as real life humans and even more importantly, all the stories of their empire has inspired me so much that I will never forget them through life. On the other hand, this Byzantine passion of mine has grown to be such a strong obsession in me in this almost 2-year journey that by now I can already myself as a Byzantine of their time, every day when walking thoughts of the Byzantine Empire and its emperors always come to my mind, when listening to modern music I end up associating these songs with Byzantium even if they are not related, when a conversation pops up I usually end up sneaking Byzantium into it even if it is hardly related, and occasionally I even have dreams that I am actually in the setting of the Byzantine Empire and this possibly all because I have put so much effort in doing projects such as articles and films. Other than that, Byzantium has also changed the way I look at things such as when I travel, my mind has automatically becomes so focused on Byzantium that when in a place that has Byzantine era attractions like Istanbul, Ravenna, or Rome I always go straight for them  and when I go to place that does not have any Byzantine sites which I did last year being Strasbourg in France and Zurich in Switzerland as part of the same trip in Ravenna, I wasn’t as excited. However, before I got so into Byzantium, I was at least more or less excited to see anything a foreign city has no matter what period in history it was but when my passion for Byzantium grew, my interests in travelling and thoughts have become narrower too which is a bit more of the negative side of getting so into Byzantium but it is also a good thing because at least my interests aren’t so wide which can later end up becoming so confusing. However, this kind of narrower thinking also shows how much I have grown in being so devoted to Byzantine history that when going to places like Istanbul or Ravenna, it would be such an extra special experience for me standing there and as tourist there, I would no longer see it in the eyes of a usual tourist in awe but or in confusion but as a true enthusiast of the great history of Byzantium. My journey as a Byzantine history enthusiast also shows that the story of Byzantium is not only for highly intellectual historians that live their lives studying and analyzing history but it attracts common pleb people too such as myself who has no historian background but rather is only a college student taking up a business course but since the story of Byzantium is so inspiring, it can literally attract anyone. I also have to say that this year 2020 was obviously a tough one and even for me it was with all the uncertainty and highs and lows, but no matter how tough 2020 was, I still survived and I have my passion for Byzantine history here to thank as in moments of fear and uncertainty this year, Byzantium was there to keep me focused, in my moments of depression and anxiety both this year and last, Byzantium was there for me, and as 2020 ends and the great unknown of 2021 approaches, I should also say that Byzantium will still be there for me to keep me going as this Byzantine journey of mine is not yet over, rather I still have a lot more to learn and discover. At the end, I had also discovered, Rome was not just a place, it was an idea and a dream and Byzantium continued that dream and now in this far future from their time, it could seem impossible to relate too since it was so long ago, but if you think about it more, there is quite a chilling truth that even though we live so many centuries away from the Romans and Byzantines having different cultures and technology, we still tend to behave the same way as them.

Recommended Readings and Channels, Thanks, and Updates for 2021

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As my Byzantine journey from 2019-2020 ends, I would like to share with you all the books and other sources such as podcasts and Youtube channels that helped build my passion for Byzantium and what I have to say about them. First of all, the best way to understand the history of something like Byzantium is to read books about them and in this almost 2-year journey I have read a lot of good ones. For starters who want to get to know what Byzantium and its history actually is, the book I recommend is Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin which is the book that started my full passion for Byzantine history and although this book is not written in chronological form, it at least gives you some vital information on the culture and political structure of Byzantium the way an encyclopedia would, and there are also several other books by this same author that focuses on Byzantine history. If you want an easy and concise book that is basically an overview of the story of Byzantium I suggest you read this one called Byzantium: Capital of an Ancient Empire by Giles Morgan which I read very easily and though it does not tell every little story in Byzantine history, it is a good read that gets straight to the point in the important moments of Byzantine history. Now if you want to really know the smaller details of Byzantine history and insider stories of all the emperors the book I suggest is The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici which is another favorite of mine as it tells the whole story of Byzantium through the lives of their emperors and this is the book you should read if you want to know the lives of lesser known emperors like John III Vatatzes and Michael VIII Palaiologos and it may be a long read but it is very much worth it. If you are looking for a heavy read that analyzes Byzantium’s political structure and warfare during its most significant era from the 10th to 11th centuries, then you should read Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 to the 1st Crusade by Anthony Kaldellis which I have but did not have the time to complete reading it. However if you want a light read about Byzantium and to learn all its important or unimportant facts and trivia, you should surely read A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities also by Anthony Kaldellis in which I have done many articles on its chapters that I found interesting. When it comes to the topic of the Byzantine army, there are a lot that you can find but the ones that I read include one featuring military essays on the Byzantine army throughout its entire history by Dimitris Belezos which shows a lot of detailed illustrations of Byzantine army units over their history and another one I have is The Eastern Romans by Rafaelle D’Amato which tells the whole story of Byzantium through the evolution of the army over the centuries. Lastly, if you want to see Byzantium in the form of an illustrated story told as if it were a Disney style story, I suggest you read Theophano: A Byzantine Tale by Spyros Theocharis which is set in 10th century Byzantium and this book also shows that it also has the mission to bring Byzantium into pop culture. Aside from books, I should also recommend the channels and podcasts that helped me understand Byzantium a lot more and for podcasts, the ones I suggest for listening and would also like to thank for helping me understand the story of Byzantium more are surely the long running History of Byzantium podcasts by Robin Pierson which tells the story of Byzantium in such a comprehensive way, then other good and very detailed podcasts include the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcasts by Lars Brownworth that tells the story of Byzantium through 12 different emperors over the centuries, another good podcast too is Byzantium and Friends by the same Anthony Kaldellis, and also Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium which does a good job telling the stories of both Roman and Byzantine emperors in an informative yet detailed way. For Youtube channels on Roman and Byzantine history content there are a lot I have to thank and I can’t name them all as throughout my entire Byzantine journey, I have come across so many channels in which I linked their videos to all my articles but most notable of them is Eastern Roman History which happens to be one of my favorites especially for telling lesser known parts and emperors of Byzantium and giving a lot of insights about it and I sure have to thank them for sharing my film War of the Sicilian Vespers on their FB page, then another one that played a big part making me understand Byzantium a lot more is one of the greatest history channels on Youtube Kings and Generals which does a great job in visualizing historical stories and battles and making them very clear, and other channels too that have historical Roman and Byzantine content I have to thanks for guiding me through my Byzantine journey include the likes of Epimetheus, Invicta, Thersites the Historian, Jabzy, Voices of the Past, Look Back History, Foojer, Fire of Learning, Overly Sarcastic Productions, History Matters, Khey Pard, History Dose, In 5 Minutes, Byzantine Real History, Porphyra, and Malthius which does something like Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History but the one channel I owe a lot too for making me so into Roman and Byzantine history even more because of his unique style of telling it that get can easily get so many into it is no other than my now favorite channel Dovahhatty who does it like no other by making characters in Roman and now Byzantine history so relatable by portraying them as if they were living people of today using memes to portray them.

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Icon of Dovahhatty

Aside from all these Youtube channels I have to also put own channel No Budget Films there because I do want to make it part of this circle of channels featuring Byzantine history content online too but other than the channels that I have to thank for helping me along the way, I also would like to thank a number of online artists making excellent Byzantine era character drawings and other art forms on Deviantart such as the likes of Aemilianvs, VoteDave, Ediacar, Spatharokandidatos, AlexiosI, FaisalHashemi, Ana Cagic, and other media Kibea which did a great job portraying most of the Byzantine emperors, the Roman Emperors Instagram account, and even my own site there Byzantium-blogger55 and I would like to thank all of you here for helping me in my blog articles and audio epics in supplying me with decent drawings of historical figures from the Byzantine era especially since it it sos hard to find art or any portraits of emperors and figures from Byzantium as I know of. In addition, for all the maps I use here, I would like to thank Ian Mladjov for making really detailed maps of different periods of Byzantine history which are rare to find. At the same time, I also have to thank all the history Facebook groups I am part of such as Roman and Byzantine History, Byzantine Army, The Late Roman Group, Byzantine Real History (BRh), Love Letters to Greece, Creatives Supporting Creatives, and The Blue Guard and all its members for supporting me by reacting to my posts every time I share an article or video I made to any of them, and would also like to thank all these groups and its members for posting new content each day that makes me discover Byzantine history more and more. Then I would also like to thank some Facebook pages for showing me more Byzantine history content like Byzantine Real History, Byzantine Military History, Porphyra, Bizarre Byzantine Memes, Byzantine Tales, and History in 3D. Lastly I would like to also thank some people for supporting me a long the way such as Billy Chrissochos who runs the Love Letters to Greece group and the Byzantine rock musical Porphyra and though I had not met him in person yet he has non-stop supported me by sharing all my posts to his FB group ever since I did the complete genealogy, then also another great supporter of my works Fabiana Buono who is the one behind the Italian travel blog page A spasso per l’Europa in which I have never also met in person but had memorable conversations with through messenger about European travel destinations and Byzantine history even and I’d like to thank her for her support by sharing some of my articles and Lego films to her other English travel page Gorgeous Europe, then also I’d like to thank my actual friend Miguel Abarentos who runs the Twitch streaming channel The Masked Ninja Hybrid for supplying me video footage of the online games he plays for my films and for also helping promote my channel while he streams. But more importantly, I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout my entire Byzantine journey and have done all their best to support my passion by voicing for my films, supplying the Lego pieces, and sharing my content in their own timelines but most importantly, I would like to thank all of you viewers for making this journey possible because without you all no will see the work I do but most of all I want to thank all the people in the history of Byzantium because without them, I wouldn’t have any stories to write about.

And now before I end this article and the year 2020, I just want to share with you all what I would do for next year as I continue my Byzantine journey. As 2020 ends, all I have to say is that I am very tired mentally after writing so much articles and films, endless research, and so many sleepless nights all in the name of Byzantium so for the next few weeks as 2021 begins, all I want to do is just to rest but eventually I will continue doing more Byzantine related content again. So basically what I have in mind for 2021 would be that I will surely continue doing my Byzantine history audio epics and this time featuring the entire story of the Palaiologos Dynasty beginning with Michael VIII Palaiologos and if I can I could go all the way to the end of Byzantium in 1453. Another thing I have in mind for early 2021 is to do a live-action Byzantine era film casting of Dovahhatty’s most recent video as well as a commentary on his new Byzantine series. As I said, I have discovered from this Byzantine journey that my mission is to promote and share to the world the mysteries of Byzantium and make it grow to become mainstream media, and I am already starting here with my new Instagram. However, I have come to realize just how long and how extensive my articles have been in this past year thus it could seem tiring to write so for next year, I plan to do something more interesting and more concise and very unique as well which would be fan-fiction and alternate ending stories to some crucial events in Byzantine history in which I already have 6 stories in mind. Anyway, I think it is about time I finish this extremely long but meaningful article and there was no way to make it short because this is my own story and the story of Byzantium too and true indeed, the story of the Byzantine Empire is so fascinating and inspiring that there is no way to simply shorten it. Now I would like to say it’s been a great and very meaningful almost 2-year journey through the world of the Byzantines centuries away from them but it is not yet over, there is still a lot more I have to learn as I continue my story as a Byzantine history enthusiast and next year I do hope to learn and discover more as to put it short, the Byzantine world is a world of endless discoveries as by this point no matter how much I dove into the world of Byzantium, I still have much more to discover. Anyway, I’d like to wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hopefully everything does well in 2021 as I do plan to travel again one day to more travel destinations that were once part of the Byzantine world especially since I still have much to see, and thank you all very much for reading this, it has been such a great experience journeying through the world of Byzantium. This is Powee Celdran signing off.                    

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic- Everything about the film

A VERY SPECIAL EDITION ARTICLE

WARNING THIS IS AN EXTREMELY LONG ARTICLE BUT ENJOY!!

In the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020, independent home-based film studio and Youtube channel No Budget Films released its longest Lego film so far with a running time of 47 minutes, the highly action-packed Lego Byzantine era epic War of the Sicilian Vespers which has a voice cast of over 28 voice actors, a wide variety of settings and historical and fictional characters of the 13th century. If you haven’t watched the film yet, please watch the movie first before you get spoilers by reading this article!

Watch No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers here.

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No Budget Films studio logo (Byzantine flag background)

Also, please like No Budget Films: Making Unknown History known on Facebook.

Now, welcome again to an article from the Byzantium Blogger and this one will be a special feature article on a Byzantine Lego film! This film is set in the turbulent 13th century in the year 1282, 21 years after the movie’s 2019 prequel Summer of 1261 (watch it here) where the Byzantines retook their capital Constantinople from the Latin Crusaders, now the Latins from the west are at it again to take back and end the once proud Byzantine Empire, the remnant of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages once and for all. This 2020 Lego film War of the Sicilian Vespers was produced by independent home-based film studio No Budget Films, directed by Powee Celdran who had directed all 9 No Budget Films Lego epics prior to this ever since the channel’s founding in 2015. No Budget Films now has produced 10 full Lego films, 7 Lego one-shot or short films, and 2 Lego miniseries. Among the 10 Lego No Budget films movies, 3 are set in the Byzantine era: first being 1204: The 4th Crusade (2015) set in the 4th Crusade of 1204 that took Constantinople, the next being Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic featuring the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins (Crusaders) in 1261, and the last being this most recent one War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic being No Budget Films’ 10th feature film set 21 years after the reconquest of 1261 and at the same time too would be No Budget Films’ final Byzantine epic. No Budget Films’ other productions include 4 Roman Empire era one-shot films and 1 feature film set in it too as well as a fan fiction trilogy of George Orwell’s 1984 which includes a fan fiction spin-off film to it and a prequel miniseries, and 2 other films set in the present day. To watch the other films, please select this to get access to No Budget Films’ channel and please do subscribe to it. Of course, this article will mainly focus on No Budget Films’ Byzantine era epics in which most are set in the turbulent 13th century, one of world history’s most eventful centuries in which this exact film is set in featuring the most complex personalities of this age including 2 equally ambitious European rulers, the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) and the French king of Sicily Charles I of Anjou (r. 1266-1285) as well as courageous Byzantine soldiers, intellectual imperial family members, warlike and bloodthirsty Latins, foreigners from all across the known world dragged into the scene, and strong willed freedom fighting Sicilians. This Lego film itself focuses on the violent and crucial event of the Sicilian Vespers taking place in the fateful year of 1282 with the French, Sicilians, Byzantines, and Aragonese coming in to the scene of Sicily in which is ruled by the oppressive Angevin French causing its local population to rebel seeking financial and military assistance from the newly restored Byzantine Empire of Michael VIII Palaiologos who also calls on to the new emerging kingdom of Aragon in Spain to help in the fight of the Sicilians against the French. As the fight against French rule in Sicily rages, the Byzantine Empire too is plagued with so much difficulty as not only do the French want to invade Byzantium and restore Latin rule ever since the Latins lost it in 1261 but at the east, Byzantine borders begin to collapse as the invasions of the Turks begin while the empire itself is growing weaker financially while its strong ruling emperor Michael VIII begins to face not only a troubled empire but battling his own guilt for his evil actions in the past. The story of this film overall covers many themes such as war, diplomacy, politics, religion, family drama, and the true meaning of being a Byzantine, which is to continue to fight for the strong legacy of an empire they have.  This film would be the final epic in No Budget Films’ Byzantine story as its own story concludes the 13th century Byzantine story in a time when the Byzantine Empire could have almost ended, yet this is the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire and at the same time the end of the age of the Crusades. Now this article will be a very long one but will be divided into sections covering the movie’s story background, where it is factual and historically inaccurate as this movie is literally a historical fan fiction and not a documentary, characters and their backgrounds, set locations, a scene to scene analysis with its hidden Easter Eggs, and behind the scenes facts especially since this movie was edited and completed in the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic released on May 27, 2020 and has now been online for 2 months, though at the end showing a true example of a masterpiece that can be produced in such challenging times. This Lego film War of the Sicilian Vespers was directed, produced and written by Powee Celdran, co-produced by Carlos Francisco and Mario Puyat, and stars Powee Celdran, Mario Puyat, Santiago Roxas, Jon Cabrera, Pat Claudio, Nuni Celdran, Carlos Francisco, Angelo Lacson, Alej Consing, Monica David, Miguel Abarentos, and RJ Celdran as the main voice cast, the full background of all this movie’s characters will be discussed separately in a PDF file, as you will see later on.

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No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers main poster

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War of the Sicilian Vespers pandemic edition poster

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Complete No budget Films timeline (War of the Sicilian Vespers in red)

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Byzantine imperial flag

Watch No Budget Films’ other Byzantine era films here:

1204: The 4th Crusade part1, and part2 (2015)

Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade (2017)

The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

Killing a Byzantine Emperor (2019)

Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

Summer of 1261 deleted scenes (2019)

War of the Sicilian Vespers deleted scenes (2020)

 

Related Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:

The Story of 3 Plagues Across Centuries- Byzantium/ Covid-19 related

Thoughts on quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing- Byzantium/ Covid-19 related

The Sieges of Constantinople

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors

7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium

The Complete Genealogy of Byzantine Emperors

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Byzantines Emperors and their Personalities Part3

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

The Ravenna Mosaics and What to Expect

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part1- Armies

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part2- Imperial System

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part3- Culture

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

Roman and Byzantine Food and Dining

 

An Intro to the Byzantine Empire and No Budget Films’ involvement in it

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The Byzantine Empire (330-1453AD) in fact lasted longer than that as it was actually the successor of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages though very distant from the original Rome because it did not have Rome as it capital and did not speak Latin, also it did control the exact amount of territory Rome did for most of its existence except in its first years. The Byzantine Empire then would rather be better known as the “Eastern Roman Empire” and its capital was Constantinople also known as the “New Rome” or Nova Roma getting its name from its founder the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337) who would be the first Byzantine emperor too after founding the city in the year 330. After the death of the last full Roman emperor, Theodosius I in 395, the complete Roman Empire was formally divided east and the west, the east to be ruled by Theodosius I’s older son Arcadius (395-408) from Constantinople and the west by the younger son Honorius (395-423) from Ravenna.

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The Roman Empire fully divided east and west, 395

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Map of the Byzantine Empire in 3 different eras, largest in 565

The Western Roman Empire did not even last a century but the east lived on in fact for another thousand years, at one point during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great (527-565), the Eastern Empire or Byzantium went close to reaching the vastness of territorial extent the original Roman Empire did by controlling Italy, Spain, and North Africa but of course this Byzantine Empire had to live through centuries of constant foreign and civil wars making them not hold on to such massive amounts of territory for long. Since its founding by Constantine the Great in 330, Byzantium was ruled by 15 different dynasties, Michael Palaiologos, the main character of this film was the founder of the last ruling dynasty of Byzantium, known as the Palaiologos dynasty, that ruled the empire from 1261 until its end in 1453 with Constantine XI, the last Roman emperor.

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Constantinople “Nova Roma”, Caput Mundi of the new Roman World

The imperial capital, Constantinople (today Istanbul) proved to be an effective capital for centuries because of its position in a peninsula surrounded by sea on 3 sides that made it hard to attack and easy to defend, in the 5th century the triple layered land walls of Emperor Theodosius II were built. For about 900 years several armies tried to attack it including Goths, Persians, Arabs, Bulgarians, and Norsemen known as the Rus to besiege the Byzantine capital and all failed as it was too hard to breach into these walls. Only in 1204 were the armies of the 4th Crusade able to breach into the city’s walls although they did it the easy way scaling the lower sea walls from the beach below it.

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1204- The 4th Crusade, Crusaders attack and capture Constantinople

Only with the invention of the cannon and gunpowder were the powerful land walls of Constantinople able to be breached, this was in 1453 when Constantinople and the empire finally fell to the Ottomans, though this is a story for another time. The Byzantine Empire itself in its who history was at constant war if not with external enemies with themselves therefore it had never really seen a long period of lasting peace. Among all foreign enemies, the greatest threats were the Sassanid Persians (4th to 7th centuries), Arabs (7th to 12th centuries), Bulgars (7th to 11th centuries/ 12th to 14th centuries), and Turks (11th to 15th centuries) while the Latins also known as the Western Europeans were at times a problem and sometimes a useful ally to the Byzantines ever since the 1st Crusade (1095). The name of the Byzantine Empire could really be confusing because in its time it wasn’t at all called that, instead the Byzantine people and emperors including Michael Palaiologos from this film referred to themselves as the Romans, which he even says in one of his dialogues in the movie. However, it is known to us today as the Byzantine Empire because Constantinople was built over the Greek settlement of Byzantium and cannot be called the Roman Empire because it was not based in Rome and was centered more in the east. Well, the Byzantine emperor was also still called Augustus and Emperor of the Romans even if the empire’s language became Greek and no longer Latin. The empire’s name “Byzantine” named after Constantinople’s original name as the Greek settlement of Byzantium was only given by western historians in the 16th century to distinguish it from the original Roman Empire where Byzantium came from. Now in the 1,100-year history of Byzantium, No Budget Films’ media takes place on different periods in its ling history. First of all, in 2019 No Budget Films released two one-shot Lego films (short films) in the 10th century military golden age of Byzantium the first being The Rise of Phokas and the next being a short sequel to it entitled Killing a Byzantine Emperor which are set only 6 years apart from each other, the former being in the year 963 and the latter in 969 centralizing on the successful reign of the Byzantine soldier emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969) in the era of Byzantium’s Macedonian Dynasty when the Byzantines were successfully winning wars against their long time enemy, the Arabs.

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No Budget Films’ Rise of Phokas (2019) poster

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Lego cast of the Rise of Phokas, 10th century Byzantium

The first of these one-shot films show the story of the middle-aged general Nikephoros Phokas who with his military genius and brute force conquers the city of Aleppo from the Arabs for the empire only to find out that the current emperor Romanos II (r. 959-963) mysteriously died so he has to rush back to Constantinople to take the throne before a power struggle breaks out and once in the capital the general beats a rival to the throne in a fistfight and is crowned Emperor Nikephoros II after marrying the late emperor’s widow Theophano. Its sequel “Killing a Byzantine Emperor” takes place 6 years after Nikephoros II becomes emperor and as emperor he successfully campaigned against the Arabs but grows paranoid as conspiracies rise up intending to kill him including one by his own nephew the exiled general John Tzimiskes who has an affair with the empress Theophano and work together to assassinate the old emperor and in one December night as the emperor Nikephoros II sleeps in the palace, John Tzimiskes and his assassins break in and kill the emperor in his sleep allowing John Tzimiskes to rise to power and become the new emperor himself. This very quick one-shot only 2 minutes long is only set in that one night of December 11, 969 when Nikephoros II was killed with the one soundtrack playing, a eerie version of the Christmas carol, Carol of the Bells.

Both these No Budget Films Byzantine era one-shots appear rather more factual to real Byzantine history and to the events of these characters like Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes with the only historically inaccurate most likely only being Nikephoros’ character using an American Southern accent and not a Greek one, however this is part of No Budget Films’ treatment in doing historical epics and unlike mainstream media that uses formal language and English accents for historical epics, No budget Films likes to experiment in using modern language and different accents in historical epics. Though if No Budget Films were to be even more historically accurate, it would have to make its Byzantine movies in the Greek language and not in English. The No Budget Films Byzantine history timeline after the 10th century however does not continue until the beginning of the 13th century, the century in which most No Budget Films Byzantine epics are set in including this particular film “War of the Sicilian Vespers: that this article is covering. The 13th century Byzantium timeline of NBF goes all the way back to its beginning with the 4th Crusade of 1204 with one full film about it back in 2015 entitled 1204: the 4th Crusade and a 2017 spin-off one-shot film Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusades; the former being a more of a historical fan fiction than a historically accurate one which tells the story of the 4th Crusade with the Byzantines defending Constantinople as the heroes and the Crusader army particularly the French led by the Crusader general Louis Philippe de Blois as the villains in which most scenes especially

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No Budget Films 4th Crusade movie poster (2015)

the battles are historically inaccurate while the latter film mentioned is a spin-off to the former which is a biopic on the movie’s villain Louis de Blois in his perspective as the Count of Blois France narrating his story as he is called to lead the French in the 4th Crusade organized by the Venetians and a Byzantine ally to be installed as the puppet emperor Alexios IV Angelos, although all turns out differently when the Crusaders storm Constantinople in 1204, burn, loot, and kill the population leaving the city in ruins and the Byzantine Empire destroyed with the Latin Empire now established, although a year later in 1205 Louis de Blois himself is killed in battle as the Latins battle the Bulgarians, a new power that rose in the north rebelling against Byzantium and declaring their independence in 1185 for the simple reason of the Byzantine emperor back then Isaac II Angelos raising the taxes to pay for his own wedding. For many centuries, the Byzantine Empire went through many periods of victory and defeat but in 1204, the armies of the 4th Crusade taking over Constantinople would be one defeat the Byzantines would never again

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No Budget Films’ Louis de Blois film poster (2017)

recover from making it the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire but the loss of Constantinople to the Crusaders did not yet put an end to Byzantium as the Byzantines themselves established 3 separate states in this period of exile, the first being in the remote southeast corner of the Black Sea becoming the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond, the next being the exiled Empire of Nicaea in Asia Minor not too far away from Constantinople, and the last being nothing more but a rebel state though still Byzantine in identity known as the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece. Among these 3 separate Byzantine states, the Empire of Nicaea after 57 years took Constantinople back by surprise in the year 1261 which is the main story of the previous film Summer of 1261. The 2 other states of Trebizond and Epirus meanwhile still remained separate and did not unit with the restored Byzantium, though Byzantium back in Constantinople would only go as far as being a regional power in the Balkans at the level of their neighbors Serbia and Bulgaria but never the same Mediterranean or European power they once were but at least in lived for 200 more years.

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Map of the aftermath of Byzantium after 1204 with Constantinople under the Latin Empire, the Byzantines at Nicaea

 

Recap of No Budget Films’ Summer of 1261 (2019)

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Before we move on to the most recent movie War of the Sicilian Vespers, let’s do a recap of the previous film Summer of 1261 together with where it was factual and historically inaccurate. This 2019 Byzantine epic was announced also in the same year after No Budget Films completed the Rise of Phokas one-shot and was filmed at the same time as the Killing a Byzantine Emperor one-shot but released almost 2 months after it. After doing two 10th century Byzantine one-shots, No Budget Films decided to return to its original 13th century Byzantine story by continuing where the 4th Crusade story from the previous years left off. To continue the 13th century Byzantine story, No Budget Films decided to fast-forward 57 years after Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade which would be in 1261 and at this point the Latin Empire that rules Constantinople had been weakened so much that the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea was already strong enough to retake the lost capital, however the only challenge was knowing how to retake the old capital and finding the right moment especially since it had been 57 years and generations of Byzantines living in exile at the Nicaean Empire have not even seen the old capital. The movie though opens showing the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204, the French general Louis de Blois proclaiming to his army that they have the city, and a young boy running for his life as the Crusaders try to kill him until he is buried beneath rubble caused by flying debris from a catapult, although the boy happens to be alive when a Byzantine rescues him who then brings the boy over to Nicaea where a Byzantine leader named Theodore Laskaris would establish an empire that would last 57 years. The movies then goes fast-forward 57 years later to 1261 and a small Byzantine strike team led by the young but confused general Alexios Strategopoulos wipes out the last Latin garrison in Asia Minor to clear the path to retake Constantinople. In the Byzantine exiled capital of Nicaea, the boy emperor John IV Laskaris rules but the power behind his rule is the general and his co-emperor Michael Palaiologos who’s only intention is to take back Constantinople. However, Constantinople which was under the Latins was in a state of ruin, the damage caused by the 4th Crusade have never been repaired with 57-year-old rubble still in the streets and its current emperor Baldwin II runs a very broke and beaten empire that he even had to sell of relics like the Crown of Thorns from Constantinople to France and even sell off his son Philippe to their financial and naval ally Venice (although this is not shown in the movie). Knowing the time is right, Michael sends Alexios and the same small army to gather some information on how to exactly take back the city since a year earlier Michael himself led an army to take it back but failed since there was no possible way to break into the walls. Alexios and his men however at a port across the Marmara (in the European side of Turkey) discover from an old monk Georgios Doukas who was the boy that survived the attack in 1204 that the Latins have sent most of their army and fleet out of Constantinople to raid an island belonging to Nicaea in the Black Sea so Alexios decides to use this moment to his advantage by catching the Latins by surprise. Old Georgios leads Alexios and his men through the city’s sewers and arrive in Constantinople in the middle of the night taking down the gate guards and opening the gate to let the rest of Byzantine army in. While the small strike team rests in a monastery, Michael himself arrives with more troops mostly foreign Armenian and Cuman mercenaries and with all complete, the Byzantines surprise attack the remaining Latin forces in the streets and set fire to the Venetian shipyards. All in one night, the small Byzantine army under Michael and Alexios send the Latin army into a panic fleeing the city and falling to the Byzantines but as morning comes, the Latin emperor Baldwin II tries to make his escape but is confronted by Michael’s men. Alexios challenges Baldwin’s general Valentin to a duel in which Alexios wins while Michael defeats Baldwin in another sword duel but before killing off Baldwin, Alexios persuades Michael that hurting him would be better instead so Michael stabs Baldwin’s foot to send Western Europe a message that Byzantium has returned and that’s what would happen if they get in the way of the Byzantines. Baldwin II and the rest of the Latins then evacuate the city and Michael restores it to Byzantine rule becoming crowned Emperor Michael VIII weeks later but in Nicaea the boy emperor still rules so to eliminate him and secure the new dynasty, Michael surprises John Laskaris by blinding and imprisoning him. The movie ends with John Laskaris blinded, Michael becoming the restored Byzantine emperor, and Alexios assigned to a new mission to fight the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor where the movie ends with a cliffhanger as Alexios says “nothing ever really ends”. The No Budget Films Summer of 1261 film meanwhile was supposed to show the story of Byzantium as well as that of the short-lived Latin Empire and their allies the Venetians but was overall a war epic. This film was also directed by Powee Celdran while Santiago Roxas, Powee Celdran, Carlos Francisco, Anton Diño, Igi Rollan, Alina R. Co, and Gen Maramba star as the main voice cast.

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No Budget Films’ Summer of 1261 poster

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Reconquest of Constantinople by the Byzantines, Summer of 1261

 

Of course the Summer of 1261 Lego film as a historical fan-fiction has a number of historical inaccuracies although the story itself is accurate as it took place in 1261 and Constantinople was taken back very quickly in the night of July 24-25; the primary source of the movie then came from the Byzantine historian of that time George Akropolites (1217-1282) in which the movie’s old monk character Georgios Doukas is loosely based on. The inaccuracies however are mostly the battle scenes and the use of magic and visions as No Budget Films intended in making the movie more of a historical fantasy epic than an accurate period film. Other inaccuracies would mostly be on the movie’s characters and the specific dates but on the other hand many characters in the movie are fictional or based on other historical characters of that time. Now here are some inaccurate parts of this previous movie:

 

The movie’s lead protagonist character Alexios Komnenos Strategopoulos was a young general in his 30s, was confused in his identity, and had an ability to see events of the past especially in Byzantine history. Alexios though is a real historical character who was the same general who took back Constantinople in 1261 and given the title of Caesar by Michael Palaiologos except the real Alexios was much older than Michael as Alexios is said to be an old man in 1261 possibly around 60 but history doesn’t really say much

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Alexios Strategopoulos, Byzantine general from Nicaea

details about his life other than being the general that took back Constantinople and that being his only major accomplishment, everything else he failed at doing that he was captured by the enemy twice. Though like in real history, this film shows Alexios and his small army retaking Constantinople by sneaking into the capital at midnight, stealth killing the guards and opening the gate.

 

 

 

The character of Michael Palaiologos was accurately portrayed here in terms of facial features and his role in masterminding the attempt to take back Constantinople but in real history, Michael masterminded the whole mission from his military camp somewhere in Asia Minor and was not present in the night of the reconquest like in the movie wherein he came in the middle of the night to lead his troops, instead Alexios led 800 men including Armenians and Cumans in that night while Michael received the

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Lego figure of Michael VIII Palaiologos

news the following day that the city was taken back although he thought of it at first as a joke until the messenger gave him the crown and sword of the deposed Latin emperor Baldwin II who fled the city. Michael then for the first time in his life entered Constantinople in August wherein he was crowned emperor.

 

The character of Baldwin II Courtenay, the last Latin emperor of the 57 year Latin Empire like in real history was Latin emperor from 1228 to 1261 when Constantinople was taken back by the Byzantines and like in real history, the movie shows Baldwin II sleeping while the Byzantines were battling his men in streets until he is woken up by his wife. In real history, Baldwin II safely evacuated the city with his wife with the help of

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Real life Latin Emperor Baldwin II Courtenay (r. 1228-1261, left) and Lego Baldwin II (right)

the Venetian fleet while in the movie, Baldwin’s wife was killed in battle while Michael himself confronted Baldwin in a duel wherein Michael won and stabbed Baldwin’s foot instead of killing him.The real Baldwin did manage to get back to Western Europe by passing through Greece first while the deleted scenes of the movie shows that Baldwin who was left injured and abandoned at the docks of Constantinople was rescued by the surviving soldiers and transported to the Black Sea where they would go back to France through the long way having to pass the Black Sea and up the Danube River. Because he left the Latin Empire is such bankruptcy and ended up being defeated by the Byzantines, he became known as “Baldwin the Broke”.

 

The movie also shows Baldwin II’s younger wife Marie of Brienne who in the movie is called “Svenja” who was in fact secretly plotting to get rid of her husband with his general Valentin Clovis the same way Empress Theophano and the general John Tzimiskes killed Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas in 969. Svenja though turned out to be a strong warrior who forces her husband to wake up and leave and leads the knights and Valentin to defend the palace in which Alexios stormed and confronts Alexios in a full set of armor, although Svenja convinces Alexios to join her, kill Baldwin, be married, and the rule the empire together but Alexios refuses and defeats Svenja but it is the ghost of the 10th century emperor Nikephoros II that intervenes and kills Svenja making a come-back. The real Svenja or Marie of Brienne though was not so much younger than her

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Lego Marie “Svenja” of Brienne, wife of Baldwin II

husband and was married to him because she was the daughter of his regent John of Brienne and was certainly not killed in the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople in 1261 and there definitely was no evidence of Nikephoros II’s ghost appearing, rather Marie escaped together with Baldwin back to France and in around 1266 settled in Italy with their only son Philippe as they found an ally in the ambitious king of Sicily Charles of Anjou who would help them take back their empire though Baldwin died in 1273 while she died 2 years later.

 

One of the biggest historical mistakes No Budget Films had in the Summer of 1261 movie was showing the empress Elena Asenina of Bulgaria, mother of the boy emperor of Nicaea John IV Laskaris still alive as in real history she was already dead by 1261. In the movie however, the empress mother Elena is a bit of a reclusive character only staying in her bedchambers but acts as an unofficial regent for her son which causes a strong rivalry between her and her son’s official regent Michael Palaiologos but after a long argument, Michael accuses her of not helping them and hoarding relics making him banish her and exile her for life never to be seen again. In real history however, Elena Asenina is so insignificant that her date of death is not even mentioned, although it only says she was the daughter of the Bulgarian king Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241) and was married off to the Nicaean emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes’ (r. 1222-1254) son

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Lego figure of Elena Asenina of Bulgaria, daughter of Ivan II and wife of Theodore II

Theodore when both were young to seal an alliance though she was originally supposed to be married to the Latin emperor Baldwin II. Nothing much else is said about Elena and she probably died in around in 1255 while her husband Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) was emperor though when married, it said Theodore and Elena were like “soulmates”. Even without her date of death mentioned, it is very much possible that by 1261 she was already dead since when her husband Theodore II died in 1258, he appointed his friend the commoner George Mouzalon the regent to his young son John IV and if Elena was still alive, she would be made the regent. However, the nobles led by Michael Palaiologos only a few days later murdered Mouzalon allowing Michael to make himself the boy’s regent for his own ambitions but the deleted scenes of Summer of 1261 still shows Elena at the funeral of Theodore II where Mouzalon was killed and the flashbacks of War of the Sicilian Vespers shows Elena present at her husband’s death. Before making the Summer of 1261 movie, the No Budget Films team was unaware of Elena’s historical character and decided to make her part of the movie even if she wasn’t around at that time, but since it is just a historical fan fiction, it was fine that she was present in the story.

 

Just to add some more fun to Byzantine history, No Budget Films included magical items and relics in the Summer of 1261 movie like the sword and shield of Nikephoros Phokas and the armor worn by Svenja and later taken by Alexios which could even resist Greek Fire; this armor appeared earlier on but in the modern age in No Budget Films’ 1984 Part3: End of Empire worn by Supreme Leader of Oceania Winston Smith having the power to deflect bullets and resist fire. The scenes of the old monk Georgios Doukas

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Indian mercenary Ranchoddas (left) and Chinese mercenary Lu Xun (right)

fighting in battle is also another fantasy element since it was very rare for a Byzantine monk to fight unlike Latin monks who did fight in wars. Also, to make the characters more multi-national, No Budget Films added the Chinese assassin mercenary Lu Xun and Indian archer mercenary Ranchoddas to the Byzantine army of Alexios although both Lu Xun and Ranchoddas die in battle against the Latins and it is definitely not possible that a Chinese and Indian fought alongside Byzantine troops.

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Lego figure of Georgios Doukas in 1261, Byzantine monk and survivor of the 1204 4th Crusade

 

To add in some more Byzantine history references, No Budget Films added a vision of the 6th century emperor Justinian I the Great at the end of the movie Summer of 1261 while visions and flashbacks show other Byzantine era characters from previous No Budget Films media like the Crusader general Louis de Blois, the 95-year-old Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo, the “last” Byzantine emperor Alexios V (r. 1204), and other past Roman characters from No Budget Films media mostly 1st century people like Roman emperor Claudius I, the general Germanicus and his wife Agrippina the Elder; the characters of the 10th century emperors Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes were added too. Meanwhile, the same background drawing of Constantinople was also used in this movie which had been used in every No Budget Films Byzantine Lego film since 2015 and had again returned for 2020’s War of the Sicilian Vespers.

 

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Lego Byzantine Epic (2020)

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War of the Sicilian Vespers is a direct successor to 2019’s Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic, it was although never planned that Summer of 1261 would have a sequel, but of course as the last line of that movie said by the character of Alexios “nothing ever really ends”, a sequel so happened to be planned and of course this is based on real history, so there is bound to be a sequel. The Sicilian Vespers movie is supposed to be the final chapter of No Budget Films’ Byzantine story taking place 21 years later in 1282 and was chosen as the sequel to “Summer of 1261” because not only was it 21 years after it with most of the characters form 1261 including the emperor Michael VIII still alive, but

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War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic simplified Lego movie poster

because the story of the Sicilian Vespers in Sicily was a war against French occupation that involved the restored Byzantine Empire in it, who were allies to the Sicilian rebels and yet it was the next crucial event in 13th century Byzantine history after 1261 and was the conclusion to the century’s bloody conflict between the Latins and Byzantines. The movie’s title comes from the name of the same conflict in Sicily that took place in 1282 and as a fun fact, the story of the rebellion Sicilian Vespers is quite well known because it is the main story of the famous 5-act French opera Les Vêpres Siciliennes written by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), first performed in Paris in 1855. Today this opera is performed in both French and in its original Italian language in which in Italian is called I Vespri Siciliani, which is also the Italian name used by No Budget Films for this movie. Both the No Budget Films 2020 film and the opera share the same story of the 1282 Sicilian Vespers rebellion against French occupation but No Budget Films’ story is however not based on the opera and while the opera only focuses on the story of the Sicilians in 1282 in their fight against their French occupiers with no mention of the Byzantines’ involvement in it, No Budget Films using this story to continue the Byzantine epic shows both the story of the Sicilians but as well as the Byzantines’ involvement in it. The No Budget Films version of the Sicilian Vespers story aimed to elaborate the bigger picture of the Sicilian Vespers rebellion by showing how the Byzantine Empire helped fund it and gave them military assistance with the help of the new emerging kingdom of Aragon in Spain but also aimed to show the politics of this time in both the Byzantine Empire and the

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War of the Sicilian Vespers movie poster in Italian

Angevin French court of Sicily ruled by Charles I of Anjou. Unlike Summer of 1261, its sequel War of the Sicilian Vespers did not only focus on a Byzantine Empire setting but rather depicted the conflict of  the wider world showing the conflict in Sicily as well with half of the setting in the restored Byzantium and the other half in Sicily showing both the struggles of the rebels and the stories of the French being the superpower of European politics of this time occupying the island as well as parts of Southern Italy and the Balkans further growing their empire. While the Summer of 1261 movie focused almost entirely on the story of the kings and generals of this period, War of the Sicilian Vespers did the movie treatment differently by focusing too on the lives and struggles of the ordinary people and not just the rulers but at the same time joining the ordinary people and important historical figures in some scenes. War of the Sicilian Vespers is then actually the 3rd part of No Budget Films’ 13th century Lego epics, the first being “The 4th Crusade” back in 2015 and the 2nd being “Summer of 1261”. No Budget Films focuses highly on the 13th century setting, well this is because it was one of history’s most eventful centuries all over the world which features for Byzantium it’s fall to the 4th Crusade in 1204 and its restoration in 1261, the rise of the France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, the Italian States, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and even the Ottomans, the conclusion of the age of the Crusades, the Reconquista in Spain, and biggest threat of the century not only to Europe but to Asia was the rise of the Mongol Empire which was at its rise and peak in this century. Meanwhile this was also an eventful century for the island of Sicily south of Italy seeing the rise and fall of French rule there. The island of Sicily may be known to many as a vacation destination in the Mediterranean, the volcano of Mt. Etna, oranges, and the Mafia but it has had a long history of foreign occupations and cultural exchanges; it had in the ancient days been home to several Carthaginian and Greek colonies, was under the Roman Empire for the longest time and after the Romans it had passed on to Eastern Roman or Byzantine rule that in fact in the 660s, the Byzantine emperor Constans II thought of moving the Byzantine capital from Constantinople to Syracuse in Sicily fearing the constant Arab invasions but was assassinated in his bath there in 668 before he could move the capital.

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Map of Sicily

In the 9th century, Sicily however did fall to Arab rule being its own Arab Emirate with Palermo being its capital until 1071 when the rest of Sicily as well as Southern Italy fell to Norman rule and would be under the Normans until the Norman dynasty died out and in 1194, Sicily was passed on to the Hohenstaufen Dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire who in fact had ties with Byzantium but in 1266, the French royal Charles of Anjou defeated the German Hohenstaufen family and claimed Sicily as his in order to make it his base to take back the Byzantine Empire for the Latins. However, before Charles could invade Byzantium, the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII struck back in 1282 paying off the Sicilians to rebel and allying himself with Aragon and with the help of the army of Aragon, the Sicilians drove away their French occupiers and welcomed the Aragonese as their new rulers adding Sicily to Aragonese territory. Now the question here would be that if the Byzantines helped drive away the French from Sicily, they could have at least

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Arch-enemy rulers of Europe Charles I of Anjou (left) and Michael VIII Palaiologos (right)

claimed it back since it was theirs before and the Sicilians would be even happier to be under the Byzantines since most of them are Byzantine Greeks in blood but this was for the Byzantines out of the question because they promised their Aragonese allies it was for Aragon and the Byzantine Empire was already so weakened at that time that they couldn’t afford a colony as far as Sicily. At this time the Byzantine Empire was no longer a major player in politics and no longer the European or Mediterranean power they were before 1204, instead by the late 13th century, the restored Byzantium was only a regional power in the Balkans having to protect itself from the threats of its neighbors.

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The restored Byzantine Empire (yellow) after 1261

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The Kingdom of Sicily under the Angevin French (blue), 1266-1282, Byzantium to the east (red)

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The Rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers in Palermo, 1282

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Rulers of the Sicilian Vespers conflict, left to right: Emperor Michael VIII of Byzantium, King Charles I of Sicily (of Anjou), King Peter III of Aragon

 

The story of No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers though does not open directly in its main setting in 1282 but in the year 1270 to show the whole background of the story and here in August of 1270, the long ruling king of France Louis IX (r. 1226-1270) ends the failed 8th Crusade in Tunis (today in Tunisia, North Africa) declaring the Crusades over and a failure even if it was his life’s mission to rescue Christians in the Levant and North Africa from Muslim rule. Louis IX and his army are struck by a plague outbreak and from it he dies revealing he had been protecting the restored Byzantine Empire all this time since its restoration in 1261 and being the most powerful king in Europe made sure that any Western Catholic kingdom would not harm it not even his younger brother ruling Angevin French Sicily since 1266. Now with Louis IX also known as St. Louis dead, his younger brother Charles of Anjou ruling Sicily now has the moment he needs and since he is free from his older brother’s control, he now begins his plans to take back Byzantium. The story then goes fast-forward to the year 1282 and it is here where the well-known conflict of the Sicilian Vespers begins once the evening Vespers prayer finishes in a church in Palermo (called Panormos) in the movie, the people exit the church and the French soldiers in their usual drunk state harass the Sicilian people with one grabbing a woman in which her husband kills that soldier but is killed by another soldier causing conflict to break out with the Sicilian locals readying their small weapons beginning to kill the rest of the soldiers who in return kill some of the locals and as the chaos erupts, a small Byzantine army sent there to spy on the Sicilian issue by their emperor Michael VIII led by the emperor’s most trusted general Alexios Strategopoulos of the 1261 reconquest of Constantinople intervenes and attacks the French but is overpowered and killed by Charles’ general Hugh Sully who then escapes while the remaining Byzantines now having uncovered what the Sicilians are up to rush back to Constantinople with a local Sicilian doctor and diplomat Giovanni Procida to report to the emperor Michael VIII himself. In Constantinople, Michael VIII has ruled the restored empire for 21 years now but has grown from an optimistic leader to a tired old man brought down by years of stress in ruling an empire way to large for him. Michael is distraught and enraged hearing the death of his most trusted general Alexios but when he hears of an opportunity to help the Sicilian rebels by paying them off through Dr. Giovanni, Michael agrees mainly because the Sicilians have strong Byzantine heritage which is a good reason to help them. Before the same Byzantine strike team also consisting of former veterans from 1261 leave Constantinople for Sicily again, Michael has his eldest son and heir Andronikos join them to test his ability as an emperor but Andronikos is reluctant to join the mission since as co-emperor with his father he does not think he needs to be involved in conflict while at the same time he hates war and travelling and rather chooses the academic life and the arts but his father tells him straight that this would be a sign of him being a weak ruler so instead he listens to his father and leaves for Sicily with the rest of the team. Michael meanwhile in Constantinople has his own problems to face as his people and even his own family had come to hate him even if he was the hero who took back Constantinople in 1261 and what caused them to turn on him was mainly because he betrayed Byzantium’s beliefs that he swore to return in 1261 by signing a Church Union with the pope to unite the Byzantine Orthodox and Latin Catholic Churches in which the Byzantines would now answer to the pope, though Michael thought this would save the empire which from its near destruction from enemies on all sides and would work in creating peace between Byzantium and Charles of Anjou but instead it made Michael very unpopular since the Byzantine people would rather die than give up their Orthodox faith and yet Charles of Anjou in Sicily would never agree to such peace terms with Byzantium while the pope at that time Martin IV was a Frenchman and a supporter of Charles. Michael while facing problems of Byzantine borders in Asia Minor collapsing to Turkish raids too has become very much guilty from his evil actions in the past especially his blinding of the boy emperor John Laskaris in 1261 in which the vision of the blinded boy continues to haunt Michael. In the middle of the film’s story, a very old Georgios Doukas, the old monk that survived the 4th Crusade of 1204 who served as Michael and Alexios’ mentor figure back in 1261 reappears and tries to bring Michael back to senses wherein at the same time, Michael’s own older sister Irene shows herself revealing she who had taken care of Michael when young and brought him had come to hate him as well especially for the Church Union, also it is revealed that Irene was behind her younger brother’s schemes including having John Laskaris blinded. Meanwhile in Sicily, Charles of Anjou and his ruling council including the late Latin emperor Baldwin II’s son Philippe meet at the castle in Messina, Sicily making it their top priority to crush the local Sicilian uprisings and set sail east to retake Constantinople, end Byzantium once and for all and restore the Latin Empire that would rule both east and west like the Roman Empire of old wherein the west would be under Charles and the east under Philippe who became Charles’ son-in-law, although Philippe would serve as a puppet ruler to Charles. Meanwhile in Charles’ court, with Philippe having the legitimate claim to Constantinople as the former Latin emperor’s son, Charles’ secretary Jean Clovis son of Baldwin II’s general Valentin is not satisfied with it and having his own imperial ambitions, Jean says he has the rightful claim to Constantinople and not Philippe which leads to a violent fistfight between Jean and Philippe but is broken up by Charles who sends Philippe to quell an uprising in Panormos. As uprisings against French rule spread across Sicily mainly because of the French’s oppressive taxes and torturing, the Byzantine ship arrives in the port of Messina in Sicily to give military and financial aid to the Sicilian rebellion in which the local lord in Sicily Count Tomaso accepts the bribe from Michael VIII, meanwhile the woman named Giulia who was grabbed earlier by the French soldier happens to return in the scene now fighting for the Sicilians’ rebellion. When arriving in Sicily, Andronikos takes it upon himself to stop Charles of Anjou by storming into Charles castle only accompanied by the Byzantine 1261 veterans in which all were foreign in blood which were the full-blooded Latin Stephanos, the Varangian Sviatoslav, and the Armenian Haran who is only in it for the money. Andronikos then challenges Charles to a duel but is defeated and knocked unconscious as Charles checks on the growing uprising in Messina itself while Stephanos and Haran flee the scene and Sviatoslav imprisoned by the French. Feeling defeated, Andronikos escapes Messina with the help of Jean Clovis, as an act of sabotaging Philippe to frame him as a traitor but when Charles returns he surely knew it was all Jean’s plan to let Andronikos escape just to make an excuse to sabotage Philippe knowing that Philippe will never betray them and in fact the ship was not even Philippe’s but Jean, Charles then immediately punishes Jean by blinding and killing him and then has his knight general Sully dispose Jean’s body then ride for Byzantium and assassinate Michael VIII himself together with Andronikos and the former deposed John IV Laskaris. The rebellions in Sicily however end up in failure as Charles sends out his brave and loyal 6 Norman knights to quell the rebellion in Messina and thousands of Sicilians are massacred including most of Panormos’ population which were all punished by a brutal massacre for rebelling against Charles’ rule while Charles decides to invade Byzantium without giving any warning while the rebel leaders including Dr. Giovanni, Count Tomaso, and  Giulia together with Stephanos and Haran abandon the mission and flee to the farms in Sicily to give up. Meanwhile, Andronikos after escaping found his way back to Byzantium stopping at the abandoned former capital of Nicaea where he was born intending to quit his life, tear the city down, and strand himself there but is visited by Alexios’ ghost who encourages him to continue the fight against the French or everything the Byzantines fought hard for in 1261 will be wasted. Alexios too relieves Andronikos who was for long distressed by his father’s blinding of John Laskaris by telling him Andronikos’ father Michael blinded John Laskaris so that Andronikos’ succession is secured, Alexios’ ghost too shows Andronikos the most sacred relics of Byzantium, the bones of the empire’s founders St. Constantine and St. Helena kept secured in the vaults of the Nicaea imperial palace all this time in which Alexios said this will give full inspiration for the Byzantines to fight back again. Michael then decides to leave Constantinople as the mobs intend to kill him but his wife Theodora tries to stop him since his bad health would make it worse for him to travel but Michael still insists on leaving or the people would hack him to death, meanwhile before leaving by boat, Michael now reconciles with his sister as long as he would cancel that Church Union and she would rescue John Laskaris. Michael having regretted what he did to John Laskaris years ago has his sister Irene  release John Laskaris from prison in a castle tower along the Marmara and relocate him to a monastery in Nicomedia and while Irene relocates the now blind and fat adult John Laskaris, Michael having grown partially insane leaves Constantinople first by boat deciding to ride to France possibly to kill Charles but at a farm in Thrace, Hugh Sully confronts Michael in a duel but Michael confidently says he has won as he had paid off the Sicilians to rise up against the French to stop Charles’ invasion but Sully tells Michael the whole truth that the rebellions had failed and Byzantium is doomed and out of anger Michael wins the duel and kills Sully but dies shortly after from exhaustion dying in front of a farmer who had no idea Michael was his emperor. Michael at least died before his son and John Laskaris would be killed therefore redeeming himself saving the very same boy he blinded years ago and afterwards, Andronikos returns from Nicaea and orders that his father be buried in an unmarked grave where they are, which is the port of Selymbria in Thrace away from Constantinople or else the people would desecrate his tomb and name as he died still unpopular. Andronikos now confidently accepts his claim to the Byzantine throne and when becoming emperor, he chooses to cancel his father’s infamous Church union and continue the fight in Sicily against the French. Back in Sicily, the remaining defeated Sicilian rebels and veteran Byzantine soldiers finally receive aid from King Peter III of Aragon and his army who had promised Michael military assistance and with the help of Aragon return to action then at the beginning of 1283, the Sicilians with the combined forces of the Byzantines, Aragonese, and North African Moors march into Panormos and defeat the French forces first killing Philippe but are soon overpowered by the French knights though the allied Byzantines, Sicilians, and Aragonese miraculously gain back their strength and the Varangian Sviatoslav kills Charles of Anjou in battle who is killed in return, the defeated French then flee the battle. As the movie ends, Sicily passes on to Aragon in which the Sicilians happily accept and cheer for Peter III and the new Byzantine emperor Andronikos II as their heroes; Andronikos who returns to Sicily then gives Byzantium’s most sacred relics to Sicily and asks the Sicilians to remember how the Byzantines helped them in their fight against French oppression as he comes to sense that the Byzantine Empire does not have much time anymore to exist.

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Complete Lego cast pic of No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers with the Constantinople background

 

Since No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers is a historical fan-fiction, it does not really follow the exact historical story of the 1282 Sicilian Vespers to the exact detail, rather the movie’s story is based on these historical events and characters from that era. The movie’s story though was written to be consistent with the story of its prequel Summer of 1261 so a lot of details may not be accurate to the real historical story. The largest difference between the Lego film and real history are basically the dates of the events and the participation of some characters in it. However, the movie’s background is very much accurate as the opening text says “The age of the crusades are over. In 1261, the exiled Byzantines reclaimed their capital, Constantinople from the Latin Crusaders forcing them back to Western Europe. Now in 1270, the king of France Louis IX’s crusade operation in North Africa fails as his army is affected by a plague while his ambitious brother, Charles of Anjou who rules Sicily is one step closer to reclaiming the Byzantine Empire for the Latins”. True indeed in 1261, the Byzantines took back Constantinople and in 1270 King Louis IX’s 8th Crusade fails and in North Africa he dies of a plague and true enough Charles of Anjou who was Louis IX’s youngest brother conquered Sicily in 1266 after winning the Battle of Benevento against the Hohenstaufen rulers making Sicily his Angevin French Kingdom- Angevin coming from “Anjou”- and it was his

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Battle of Benevento, 1266- French vs Hohenstaufen Sicily

brother’s death that Charles had longed for so that he would be free to take back Byzantium by launching the 9th Crusade without anyone stopping him, though Charles already gained parts of Greece and the Balkans (Albania), it would take him years to actually invade Byzantium; though in real history Charles never did invade Byzantium and at many times was stopped by the Byzantine army of Michael VIII in the Balkans. Now here are a few of the historical inaccuracies and historical facts behind the movie:

 

First of all behind the whole violent Sicilian Vespers conflict was an even larger political struggle for domination of Italy and one of the biggest rivalries in medieval politics, this was long time war between two factions the Guelphs who were in support of the Papacy and the Ghibellines who were in support of the Holy Roman Empire and the Sicilian Vespers conflict of 1282 was part of this; the Sicilian rebels who were loyal to the former Hohenstaufen rulers were part of the Ghibellines as the Hohenstaufen rulers were of the Holy Roman Empire while Charles of Anjou on the other hand had the support of the

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Conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, medieval Italy

pope Martin IV who was also a Frenchman like him making them part of the Guelph faction. The Guelph vs Ghibelline faction war was a long lasting one beginning in 1125 and persisting all the way to the early 15th century resulting in Italy’s unity dissolving with new states forming and rule by either the French or Holy Roman Empire dissolving. The Byzantine Empire meanwhile was in neither side of the conflict as Italy though once part of their empire was already too distant from them and the Byzantines only got involved in 1282 in order to keep the French threat away. Even with Byzantium back in Constantinople by 1282, their own regional problems were too much to face especially since their time in exile while the Latins ruled Constantinople from 1204 to 1261 gave time for the neighbor kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria to rise. 

 

The 1282 War of the Sicilian Vespers true enough did begin one Sunday, March 30, 1282 when the people openly began to rebel against their Angevin French rulers by and that small event after the evening Vespers prayer did shake the whole of Sicily triggering revolts all over the island. In that evening, the French soldiers in Palermo were drunk and the people taking advantage of the moment began to kill off all the French soldiers like what the Byzantine soldiers of Alexios did in 1261 taking advantage of the moment while the Latins were asleep and most of their army gone in order to sneak into Constantinople in the middle of the night catching the Latins by surprise and ending up winning. In the movie however, the rebellions and war lasted from March of 1282 till January of 1283, however in real history the War of the Sicilian Vespers true enough started by a popular uprising in the capital, Palermo in March and was concluded only by September of 1282 when King Peter III of Aragon arrived in Sicily by invitation of the Sicilian local lords together with a payment of 60,000 gold from Michael VIII though

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Beginning of the Sicilian Vespers rebellion in 1282, painting by Francesco Hayez

Peter III only stopped at Sicily and did not proceed to conquer Charles’ other territories in Southern Italy. Although in reality, the Sicilian Vespers conflict actually lasted longer than 1282 and lasted all the way until 1302 when the Peace of Caltabellota was signed which divided Sicily in half between Aragon and Charles’ successors of the Angevin line unlike in the movie wherein the Angevin French were completely defeated in 1283 and Aragon took over the entire Sicily.

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Kingdom of Sicily (yellow) under Aragon, after 1282, Angevin French continue ruling Southern Italy

 

In the movie, it may seem that the rebellion of the Sicilians was all mostly uprisings in the streets with people attacking the French soldiers when in reality it was more than a popular uprising but rather a large violent movement wherein the local Sicilians did not only attack and kill French soldiers but massacre entire French communities and families all over Sicily including men, women, and children in order to fight for a Sicily for Sicilians. These Sicilian rebels when nearly defeating the French decided to elect their own leaders and rule as their own independent communes but the pope did not agree to it so the Sicilian rebels thought they would be better being under Aragon,

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Sicilian Vespers rebels massacre French soldiers in Sicily

although these Sicilian freedom fighters were barely armored except for black clothing, and fought using guerrilla tactics. However in the movie, since the Sicilian rebels were the heroes No Budget Films decided to only show the Sicilian rebel population killing off French soldiers and not portray the Sicilians as extremists they were committing genocide on French civilians, except a scene in the latter part when the French army massacres the whole population of Panormos could hint that the Sicilians of Panormos did in fact kill off French civilians there in order for the French to commit such brutal genocide on the Sicilians going as far as using a Sicilian child for archery target practice, beheading everyone, and firing a ballista with a man strapped to it.

 

Since the Angevin French of the Capetian Dynasty ruling Sicily were the main villains of the movie, No Budget Films stuck to portraying the French as arrogant, racist, and condescending to the Sicilian people and do this, quick scenes were slipped in to the film like where a French soldier demands one small fish from a Sicilian fisherman who refuses to give it making the soldier punch the fisherman to unconsciousness and right after this, another French soldier is seen torturing an old Sicilian man in public. The French had acted this way basically because at the late 13th century where this movie was set in, they were the main player of politics in Europe and as the European superpower by being the power in Europe that launched most of the Crusades, many popes in fact at that time were French too including Pope Martin IV who was Charles’ ally although as Charles was ruling Sicily as a French kingdom, his nephew Philippe III, son of Louis IX ruling the main kingdom of France then was not as ambitious as Charles but still gave support to his uncle in fighting Aragon and Byzantium.  As for Charles of Anjou being the main villain, he can surely show how the French are being condescending as in dialogue, Charles belittles the Byzantines saying they deserved the genocide of the 4th Crusade and would wish to do it again when he takes back Byzantium.

 

The involvement of the restored Byzantium and Emperor Michael VIII was indeed factual but in real history Michael VIII and the Byzantines only acted on the Sicilian Vespers very minimally from behind the scenes whereas Michael simply used the money to pay off Peter III and the Sicilian local lords to rise up but the rebellions did not last as long as it did in the movie as in the movie Michael VIII who like in real history died in December 11, 1282 while the war in Sicily hadn’t concluded yet unlike in reality Michael died seeing the conflict in Sicily over but Charles of Anjou still alive. Michael VIII in real history had also signed the Church Union at the Council of Lyon in 1273 to submit to the

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2nd Council of Lyon, 1272-1274

pope in order to be allies and true enough his own people came to hate him for giving up their religious beliefs, however Michael VIII in real history died not in communion with both Orthodox and Catholic Churches since he was excommunicated by the Orthodox Patriarch for submitting to the pope and excommunicated by the pope also in 1282 for helping the pope’s enemy Peter III of Aragon. The involvement of Byzantium in Sicilian Vespers meanwhile was rather put more attention too by No Budget Films since the subject matter of these No Budget Films movies are on the history of the Byzantine Empire. The real Michael VIII meanwhile died leaving his son and successor Andronikos II secure on the throne with the Sicilian issue already taken care of but similar to real history, Michael VIII after death was not

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Michael VIII Palaiologos, the restored Byzantine emperor (r. 1261-1282)

permitted a proper Christian burial in Constantinople by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople since the Union with the pope hadn’t fully taken effect yet so his son Andronikos keeps his father’s burial safe and secret burying him outside the city in an unmarked grave or else his tomb would be desecrated and in real history, Andronikos did in fact bury his father Michael VIII away from the capital though the location not exact whereas in the movie it was in the port town of Selymbria outside Constantinople where Michael was buried in. I think it’s rather sad how Michael VIII ended his life going from hero to zero and even if he restored Constantinople to Byzantine rule, his unpopularity forced him to not be even be permitted to be buried in the capital he took back. On the other hand, Michael VIII in his autobiography certainly claims that he was very vital in giving the Sicilians their independence saying “Should I dare to claim that I was God’s instrument to bring freedom to the Sicilians, then I should only be stating the truth”. Now in the Byzantine angle of this film, the Byzantines at this time (13th century) had become very much accepting of themselves being a Greek Empire in terms of culture and language but in name, Byzantium was still the Roman Empire continued no matter how many centuries had gone by, although to make it clear that the Byzantines here were Byzantines, the film refers to them as “Byzantines” and not “Romans” when historically speaking, the Byzantines in their time usually referred to themselves as Romans but the westerners to belittle them called them “Greeks” while “Byzantine” would only be used after Byzantium’s existence. Basically speaking, the movie referring to the Byzantine people as “Byzantines” is one of its biggest inaccuracies, otherwise these 13th century people like Michael VIII o Charles of Anjou wouldn’t even know what a “Byzantine” is. 

 

Charles of Anjou in the movie true enough was the younger brother of King Louis IX of France and a member of the royal French Capetian Dynasty and like in real history, Charles of Anjou in the movie was certainly ambitious and did want to restore an empire that would be as large or even larger than the original Roman Empire. However, what was not factual about Charles of Anjou in the movie was that he was in Sicily the whole time the war was happening as in real history he was mostly at his base in Naples in which he was in control of too, and in the movie he was the only Angevin ruler of Sicily dying in the final battle in 1283 where his forces were defeated by the allied Byzantines, Aragonese, and Sicilians whereas in reality, Charles of Anjou died later on in early 1285 in Foggia, Italy while making preparations to take back Sicily from Aragon, though Charles’ successors would continue being at war with Aragon for control of Sicily.

 

In the War of the Sicilian Vespers film, Alexios Strategopoulos the Byzantine general who took back Constantinople in 1261 makes a return but dies when the rebellion first breaks out in Panormos, however in real history the general Alexios had already been dead since 1275 as he was already old back in 1261, although No Budget Film wanted to add more character to Alexios deciding that the protagonist of the previous film couldn’t

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Alexios in the 1282 setting of War of the Sicilian Vespers

simply just die so he was given a comeback in the Sicilian Vespers film but rather than making him the main protagonist again, he was imply killed off in the beginning and later returning as a ghost in order to make Michael’s son and heir Andronikos the new main protagonist.

 

Another great historical inaccuracy this movie has which is very much obvious especially to those who know Byzantine history is the fact that Michael VIII’s son and heir Andronikos II journeyed to Sicily and confronted Charles of Anjou himself, was defeated, fled back to Byzantium, wandered off for a bit when loosing himself, and returned alone to be crowned emperor, then returning to Sicily again when the Aragonese took the island. Now the exciting story of Andronikos here was done to simply show a classic example of character development in the movie as well as to give the imperial heir a big role whereas the real Andronikos II would only appear in the history books was when he became Byzantine emperor in 1282 following his father’s death and from here on he would rule for 46 years. History though does not mention his early life except that his father made him co-emperor in 1261 so it is highly unlikely that he went to Sicily to prove his worth as the next emperor, rather as co-emperor all he possibly did was attend his father’s meetings with generals and diplomats to get the sense of being emperor rather than risking himself going to a foreign land

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Lego Andronikos Palaiologos (center) and the Byzantine strike team of Sicily

fighting in battle with very little protection; in the movie he returned again after he became emperor to seal the alliance with Aragon, though because of Byzantium’s partnership with Aragon in 1282, Byzantium and Aragon did become allies for a time that in 1302 Aragonese soldiers (The Grand Catalan Company) travelled to Andronikos II’s Byzantium to help him fight the rising Ottomans, but at the end the Aragonese turned against the Byzantines for delayed payment now becoming enemies with each other. In the movie’s setting of 1282, Andronikos who a young man was actually already married to the Hungarian princess Anna and had at least one son Michael named after his grandfather. Though in the real Sicilian Vespers story, there is no record of the imperial heir Andronikos travelling to Sicily and confronting Charles of Anjou neither does Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers opera mention Andronikos in the story or the role of Byzantium in it at all.

 

The story of the 1282 Sicilian Vespers though would still be remembered throughout the ages for its violence and strong historical impact it had on Sicily that the incident of the Sicilian Vespers uprising is even hinted in the Italian national anthem, was painted in a series of paintings by the Italian painter Francesco Hayez in 1821, its story made into an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, and more importantly in modern history the origins of the Sicilian Mafia is said to have even dated back to the Sicilian Vespers of 1282, although the in the 13th century Sicily hadn’t yet been part of a united Italy and only with a unified Italy in 1862 was the Mafia in Sicily first mentioned being those who want to rule Sicily seeing the Piedmont Italians that rule Italy as a foreign oppressor the same way the French were in the 13th century. The word “mafia” though is said to be an acronym of the Italian word “Morte alla Francia Italia Anelia” meaning “Death to the French is Italy’s cry!” which dates back to the Sicilian Vespers and in fact in the movie, the Sicilian crowds in their uprisings continuously shout “Morte per i Francesi!”  or “A morte il Francesi!” meaning “Death to the French!” in Italian.

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War of the Sicilian Vespers painting by Francesco Hayez

 

No Budget Films’ 2020 Vespers movie though may be another fiction loosely based on the crucial and violent moment in Sicilian history but different from many takes of this historical moment, the No Budget Films perspective of the Sicilian Vespers story is from the Byzantines’ point of view showing the Sicilian Vespers conflict as the continuation of the Reconquest of 1261 story wherein the Byzantines had fought so hard to restore their

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Steven Runciman, British historian (1903-2000)

empire and must act on the issue in Sicily and help the Sicilians drive away their French rulers to save Byzantium from another Latin reconquest. Historical records of the Sicilian Vespers in the 13th century though are very fragmented and different sources say different things, therefore our main and most detailed source for the events of the Sicilians Vespers today are from the 20th century medievalist British historian Steven Runciman who had put together the sources on the Sicilian Vespers, his historical works focus on Byzantium as well.

 

Of course there is always bound to be some historical inaccuracies any No Budget Films movie and if this film were to be so accurate then its spoken language would be in Greek for the Byzantine characters and French for the French ones with parts in Latin as well. Now the rest of the movie’s historical mistakes in terms of settings and characters will be discussed as you continue reading on the movie’s characters and locations.

 

Characters in No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers

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The No Budget Films 2020 Lego Byzantine epic film War of the Sicilian Vespers has over 28 voice actors, some voicing one role others voicing several. The cast of characters in the movie number more than 40 but some including soldiers or civilians have no speaking lines or rather only speak in crowd scenes with different voices combined while other parts do have voices but have no physical characters. 9 characters from the previous movie Summer of 1261 reprise their roles in this movie while the rest are newly introduced here, though other characters from the previous and other previous No Budget Films Roman and Byzantine movies appear in flashback scenes here. Now here is the list of characters in this movie including the main cast of 12, minor characters, and smaller roles including characters from flashbacks and additional voices together with the names and quick backgrounds of the voice actors behind them though no pictures of the voice actors included mainly for privacy reasons. This article though will mention a brief background of all the movie characters while a PDF article linked here will discuss the major characters of the film with their stories and behind-the-scenes concepts in more detail.

Link to the PDF on the movie’s 12 major characters’ backstories and conceptualization below:

Sicilian Vespers characters

Select this to see concept arts for the War of the Sicilian Vespers characters on DeviantArt.

The Main Cast of 12:

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War of the Sicilian Vespers main cast of 12

 

Michael VIII Palaiologos- (voiced by Powee Celdran), the anti-hero main protagonist of the movie and the current Byzantine emperor in 1282 obviously based on the real-life Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282), founder of the Palaiologos dynasty that ruled Byzantium after ending the Latin Empire and restoring Byzantine rule to Constantinople in 1261 to the end of the empire in 1453; Michael VIII originally a member of the Byzantine military aristocracy (Dynatoi) in Asia Minor and Byzantium’s first police general or Megas Konostaulos came to power after blinding the young boy emperor of Nicaea John IV Laskaris after taking back Constantinople in the Summer of 1261 and according to this movie, Michael also poisoned John IV’s father the previous emperor Theodore II Laskaris, also became at first John IV’s co-emperor and acting power behind him after having the boy’s first regent George Mouzalon killed back in 1258. Michael VIII then ruled the restored Byzantine Empire for 21 years with a strong iron rule, he was though highly respected by his troops but eventually hated by his people for signing the

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) Lego figure, age 59

controversial Church Union at the Council of Lyon in 1273 to submit the Byzantine Orthodox Church to the Latin Catholic Church which the people saw as Michael’s ultimate betrayal ironically because he took back the city from the Latin Catholics only to be submissive to them, although Michael thought surrendering to the pope would be a sure way to gain protection as the Byzantine Empire he ruled was dying and besieged on all sides, by the Charles of Anjou’s French in the west, Serbia and Bulgaria in the north, the Turks in the east; meanwhile Serbia, Bulgaria, and Venice even took sides with Charles of Anjou against Michael but the most deadly enemy of all was distant but very imminent, the Mongols and it was sure they would bring total destruction, so only surrendering to the west’s protection would help. As emperor, Michael’s attention had focused too much on Europe as well that Byzantine borders in Asia Minor once the heartland of the empire slowly began to collapse due to Turkish raids. The restored Byzantine Empire proved to be so much difficult for Michael to handle as he didn’t expect running the empire from Constantinople would be as simple as running Nicaea before, therefore that years of stress turned him from his old optimistic self in the previous movie to a tired old man distant from his own people and family going from hero to zero. However, the rebellion of the Sicilians against the French in Sicily gave Michael the opportunity to save his empire, this meant bribing off local Sicilian lords to rise up in order to keep the French out of Sicily which also meant keeping them one step away from taking back Byzantium for good. In this film, Michael VIII dies travelling in the Thracian countryside after confronting a Latin assassin knight sent to kill him which he kills, though historically speaking Michael VIII just peacefully died while at a farm in Thrace on December 11, 1282 though due to betraying the Orthodox faith and surrendering to Catholicism, Michael VIII was denied a proper burial in the capital. In the film at least, Michael died redeeming himself for his past actions when killing Sully int hat way indirectly saving John Laskaris, the boy Michael blinded who Sully was sent by Charles to kill. Powee Celdran who is the movie’s director, writer, and producer voices Michael in a hybrid European accent with a mix of Greek, German, and Scandinavian also having the longest screen time and most number of speaking lines in the film- having over 27- he too voiced Michael’s phrases spoken in Greek, Italian, and French apparently which the emperor knew for diplomatic purposes; as a returning character from the previous Summer of 1261 film, in this film Michael appears older by 21 years being around 58-59 with his brown hair turning gray, meanwhile Celdran describes his character as a very complex person who was a tough talking emperor but at the same time a visionary and highly skilled politician, diplomat, and soldier who was very intelligent despite bing not so educated, he could have seemed like a villain but at the end his intentions were not evil. In the movie Michael mentions and takes pride in the glory of the Byzantine Empire and the history of his family the Palaiologi which he claims originates in Imperial Rome from the city of Viterbo near Rome and moved to Constantinople in the 4th century when Roman emperor Constantine I the Great moved the capital there, although the Palaiologos family only appears in history in the 11th century as local lords in Asia Minor who entered the service of the emperor at that time Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) in his army afterwards becoming part of Byzantium’s military aristocracy. Michael’s Byzantine Greek name is Mikhael while his last name Palaiologos is Greek for “old word”; out of all the 8 Michael’s that ruled the Byzantine Empire, he at the end would be the most remembered one and would be remembered as the kind of emperor who tried to put his empire back together in the hardest of times without having much resources to do so. 

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Coronation of Michael VIII Palaiologos as emperor and son Andronikos II as co-emperor (left with his mother Theodora) in the Hagia Sophia, 1261

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Lego Michael VIII Palaiologos (left) next to real Michael VIII (right)

Watch this to learn more about the story of the real Michael VIII Palaiologos (from Schwerpunkt).

 

Andronikos II Palaiologos- (voiced by Mario Puyat), the son and heir of the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII obviously based but more loosely on Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II (r. 1282-1328), born in 1259 as Michael VIII and Theodora’s eldest son and crowned his father’s co-emperor right after the reconquest of 1261. Andronikos grew up in the imperial palace of Constantinople highly educated and a lover of the arts, music, and everything

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Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328), son and successor of Michael VIII, Lego figure

intellectual making him the polar opposite of his father who was a tough soldier emperor and politician and at the current 1282 setting, Andronikos has grown very distant from his father believing Byzantium is now a dying empire and that his father is nothing more than an idiot with imperial ambitions wanting to return Byzantium to its old glory, though Andronikos is sent to Sicily with the Byzantine strike team by his father to prove his worth as the next emperor, which Andronikos does against his will. Andronikos in person was certainly not the type who was game for an adventure and not at all as forceful as his father, instead he was soft and intellectual like his mother Theodora, though what made him very much distant from his father was that Andronikos was a true Orthodox Christian and saw his father’s Church Union as a shameful act, although he had to obey by it as he was forced to do so. In addition Andronikos followed his father’s wishes and journeyed to Sicily to prove his worth but when defeated, Andronikos escapes and makes his way back to Byzantium thinking of quitting life and disappearing but is encouraged by the ghost of the late Byzantine general Alexios to return and fight back or everything Byzantium fought for in 1261 will all be wasted. As his father dies at the end of 1282, Andronikos returns to Constantinople and succeeds to the throne of Byzantium and as emperor, he cancels his father’s infamous Church Union and orders his men stuck in Sicily to strike back against the French in which they win in the end defeating the French. As the new Byzantine emperor, Andronikos travels to Sicily to congratulate his allies and acknowledge the rule of Aragon there also believing Byzantium has done its part but has not much longer to live. In the movie, Andronikos is a young man being the same age he is in real history and is voiced by Mario Puyat in an English accent, next to his father Michael VIII, Andronikos has the second most amount of lines and screen time. Andronikos was named after his grandfather, Michael VIII’s father the general Andronikos Palaiologos as it was the practice of the Byzantines dating back to Ancient Greece that the eldest son be named after his paternal grandfather. In fact, little is known that in this movie’s 1282 setting, Andronikos was already married and had a young son named Michael, obviously named after Andronikos’ father.

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Lego Andronikos II (left) next to real Andronikos II (right)

 

Alexios Strategopoulos- (voiced by Santiago Roxas), a returning character from the previous Summer of 1261 movie, in which in the Sicilian Vespers movie set in 1282, the Byzantine grand general or Megas Domestikos Alexios Komnenos Strategopoulos Caesar appears much older than in the previous movie and due to age and years of absence from the battlefield together with a leg injury from back in 1261, he has grown slower in battle that in the opening battle scene in Panormos, Sicily when confronting the new French general Hugh Sully,

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Megas Domestikos Alexios Strategopoulos Caesar (1228-1282), Lego figure in the 1282 setting

Alexios is overpowered and easily killed. Though dying very early on in the film, Alexios appears midway through the film encouraging the defeated new hero Andronikos to continue the fight or waste everything the Byzantines fought for in 1261, it is also revealed Alexios all this time knew the location of Byzantium’s most sacred relics stored in Nicaea which Michael back in 1261 was so obsessed in finding, Alexios’ ghost also tells Andronikos the reason Michael blinded John Laskaris was to secure Andronikos’ succession. Being the main protagonist of the previous film, Alexios was chosen to not be killed off like in real history but return briefly in the sequel not anymore as the main young protagonist character but as the older Jedi master like mentor for the young Andronikos, although Alexios being in the form of a ghost when encountering Andronikos. By his death in 1282, Alexios was Byzantium’s grand general with the imperial title of Caesar in which he received from Michael right after taking back Constantinople in 1261; in both this film and the previous one where Alexios both appears in, he is voiced by Santiago Roxas, former NBF producer in a Scouse English accent, the accent of Liverpool, England in which this shows the No Budget Films version of Alexios being a half-blood, born to an English mother who was a daughter of an English Crusader soldier in 1204 and Byzantine general father with the last name Komnenos hinting he is related to the former Byzantine imperial family; Alexios’ other name Strategopoulos is actually Greek for “son of a general”. In real history though, Alexios who was much older than in the No Budget Films story had already died in around 1275 but No Budget Films decided he return in the 1282 setting so that his character doesn’t just simply disappear from history.