Most Favorite to Least Favorite- Ranking the 12 Centuries of Byzantine History

Posted by Powee Celdran

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Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! As for now, I will be taking a break from the extremely long but informative Byzantine Alternate History series in which I have progressed very far, at this point I have completed the 8th chapter of this 12-part series. To break my consistent streak of Byzantine fan fiction articles now that I am in between chapter VIII and chapter IX of my series, I have decided to come up with another more entertaining special edition article which will mark the end of the 2nd quarter of this year 2021. Previously 3 months ago, I did another special edition article marking the end of the first quarter of this year wherein I asked 5 of my friends to give their own point of views on quotes quoted by Byzantine era people to see what these ancient quotes mean these days. This time, my special edition article to mark the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd quarter of this year is a more personal one which will be a list ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history (4th-15th centuries) from my point of view from 1 being my most to 12 being my least favorite one. Now as may would know, the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire lived on for an exact 1,123 years (330-1453), meaning 12 centuries of stories to tell and within these 12 centuries were a series of ups and downs wherein the empire at some points would be a dominant power then at some points lose it and have to fight to defend its borders and then once again become a power again, and so the cycle goes on. Basically, the Byzantine Empire was the Roman Empire itself continued except being based in the east with Constantinople as its capital throughout its 1,100-year existence- except for a brief period of time between 1204 and 1261 when the capital fell under the rule of the Latin Empire or basically the Crusaders- and throughout these 1,100-year existence there are a lot of stories to be told. Now out of the 12 centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s existence, some really had a lot of exciting moments within them while some had important turning points in world history, but some just had less stories to tell compared to others. For this article, I will rank the 12 centuries from my personal best to worst according to how eventful these centuries were. I will both put a summary of each century but will evaluate them by describing why I find each century more interesting or less interesting based on everything I have learned about Byzantine history in the past 2 years that I have been reading up on it, therefore this article is mostly based on my insights and did not involve heavy research. In my opinion, I find centuries filled with action-packed events as the more interesting, fascinating, and memorable ones compared to those that had less happening, and so here I would place the more eventful centuries on the higher tiers of this ranking and the less eventful ones on the lower ones. In the history of Byzantium however, each of its 12 centuries of existence had a lot of events happening, although some centuries may have just been more eventful than others. Now to find out which centuries I find more fascinating and which ones I find less fascinating, you will have to find out by scrolling down the list, and before beginning, the previous 8 chapters of my alternate history series will be linked to the respective centuries they are set in, except for the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries as I have not yet written any alternate history chapters yet for these 4 mentioned centuries. In addition, each century that will be ranked on this list will be guided by images of important events that took place in these respective centuries, in which most of these images would be Byzantine fan art made by either myself or other Byzantine history fans that do art related to it.

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Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part I (300-1000)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part II (1000-1461)


 

1. The 10th Century           

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Map of the 10th century Byzantine Empire (purple), from Byzantine Tales

My personal favorite out of the 12 centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s existence has to be the 10th century or the century of the Byzantine Renaissance, which is at the same time a very popular era in Byzantine history that is also fascinating to a lot, and there are just so many reasons to say why this century happens to be so popular among Byzantine history fans such as myself. First of all, if there were to be any century in Byzantine history that had so much happening both within the empire and beyond, it is the 10th century which featured Byzantium under the Macedonian Dynasty entering a golden age of military and cultural dominance over the known world while at the same time, this century shows exactly just how complex Byzantium was especially in politics and succession which makes Byzantine history ever more fascinating. The intriguing roller-coaster of the 10th century begins with the reign of Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-912) wherein Byzantium is still fighting to defend itself against various attacks by Arab powers, which is then followed by a complicated succession crisis after Leo VI’s death where his son the young Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos is placed under regents all fighting each other for power all while Byzantium is threatened by their next-door northern neighbor, the Bulgarian Empire ruled by Tsar Simeon the Great. As the 10th century progresses, the complicated situation of Constantine VII’s regency is taken care of in 920 when the ambitious low-born admiral Romanos Lekapenos takes over the throne not to depose but protect young Constantine VII who he actually turns out to sideline, but even though he may seem to be a usurper, Romanos I ruled the empire well as during his 24-year reign (920-944), he was able to end the war with Bulgaria through the diplomacy while the Byzantines too had totally managed to turn the tide of war against their Arab enemies in the east to the offensive but Romanos I unfortunately did not stay in power forever as in 944 he was overthrown by his sons who were then overthrown by the legitimate ruler Constantine VII who then becomes the sole emperor.

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Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos of Byzantium (r. 913-959), art by myself

Constantine VII’s reign as sole emperor (945-959) is also one of my favorite moments in Byzantine history as Constantine VII as emperor had shown a great example that Byzantium at this time was not only a military power but a cultural one which was perfectly demonstrated by the emperor himself being an intellectual who published 4 books himself about the Byzantine Empire’s history, court etiquette, and governance system while at the same time, he was able also able reveal to the world how Byzantium was a superior sophisticated culture by impressing foreign diplomats by sitting on a mechanical throne that lifted itself up while the mechanical lions beside it projected an actual sound of lion and the fake birds on the golden tree next to it sang. Constantine VII after his death in 959 was succeeded by his son Romanos II who despite ruling very quickly (959-963) had a lot of accomplishments in his reign which were although achieved not really by him but by his successful generals such as the brothers Nikephoros and Leo Phokas and their nephew John Tzimiskes who successfully crushed the powerful Arab armies a number of times in Cilicia and Syria while at the same time in 961, Nikephoros Phokas was able to reclaim the entire island of Crete itself from the Arabs after a long and brutal campaign.

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Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969)

The second half of the 10th century gets even more exciting when Nikephoros II Phokas becomes the emperor himself in 963 after marrying the empress Theophano, the wife of the late emperor Romanos II who died earlier that year, and in Nikephoros II’s reign Byzantium expands even more by conquest that a large number of territories they had lost over the past 3 centuries to the Arabs including the region of Cilicia, the island of Cyprus, and the city of Antioch itself are taken back by the Byzantines, thus forever weakening the Arab powers that had threatened Byzantium for the past 3 centuries. Nikephoros II as emperor was a brilliant general and strategist but nothing more as he failed as a politician in terms of pleasing his people and in foreign policy that when failing to negotiate with the Bulgarians, war between them resumed. Due to his harsh taxation policies and growing unpopularity, Nikephoros II in 969 was assassinated in his sleep by his nephew the general John Tzimiskes who then succeeded his uncle as emperor who just like his uncle was more or less a warrior emperor but at least succeeded more as a politician. John I Tzimiskes as emperor (969-976) was successful in fighting wars against the new power of the Kievan Rus’ army that had invaded Bulgaria which he defeated resulting in most the Bulgarian state itself to be absorbed into Byzantium and following this, John I returned to campaigning in the east winning more decisive victories against the Arabs again but before returning to Constantinople in early 976 he suddenly died.

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Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer of Byzantium (r. 976-1025)

John I after his death in 976 was succeeded by the legitimate ruler Basil II, son of the previous emperor Romanos II and Empress Theophano, and would be the last ruler of the 10th century, although his early reign was not really stable as he was challenged by the ambitious rival generals Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas who believed that Basil II was unfit to be emperor due to being raised in the palace. Basil II however proved them wrong and in 989 after making an alliance with the Kievan Rus’ Empire that provided him with an army of 6,000 warriors which would become the Varangian Guard, Basil had defeated Bardas Phokas and 991, Basil II’s rule would be fully secure following the surrender of Bardas Skleros allowing Basil to grow the empire even more that by the time the next century began, the Byzantines had managed to conquer the entire Bulgarian Empire itself. Though the 10th century ended before the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria finished, the Byzantine Empire at the end of the 10th century was a dominant military and cultural power in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe that the entire Kievan Rus’ Empire (consisting of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) fell under Byzantium’s sphere of influence by adopting the Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium, while at the same time, their rival empire which was the Holy Roman Empire in Germany looked up to them in terms of culture, and in the south the Arab powers that once threatened Byzantium were now the ones threatened by Byzantium’s growing power.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry unload in Crete’s shore using ramps, 960

Overall, I would say the 10th century had the complete set of everything that would define the history of Byzantium including epic battles, ambitious yet brilliant generals with unique strategies like Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes, sophisticated and superior technology unheard of in the Middle Ages including the superweapon Greek Fire and mechanical thrones, superior intellectual culture in Constantinople, a decadent imperial court rich in luxury, lots of violence including blinding and assassinations, scheming eunuchs behind the throne, and ambitious women in power such as the empress Zoe Karbonopsina who ruled as regent for her young son Constantine VII in the complicated regency period (913-920) and Empress Theophano who was the wife of two emperors Romanos II and Nikephoros II, both who they say she had killed. It is for all these reasons why I would say it is the century in Byzantine history that fascinates me most, and other than all these reasons that I had mentioned above, what makes this period fascinating too was that there was never any dull moment in this century as every step of the way was action-packed and most of them were all the wars the Byzantines fought as they were not only fighting against one enemy but many including Arabs, Bulgarians, the Rus, and Pechenegs while at the same time there was a lot going on in this century especially in foreign relations as here Byzantium made contact with the various powers of the time including the Holy Roman Empire and a lot more. Now by having so much going on all in one century, I would also say that the 10th century is really the century that defined Byzantium the same way the 15th century or Renaissance was for Italy, the 16th century for Spain, the 17th for the Dutch, 18th for France, and 19th for England, and true enough it is also the 10th century where Byzantium gets a lot of attention in visualized media even centuries ago as the famous illustrated manuscript the Madrid Skylitzes specifically focuses a lot on the events of the 10th century and even up to this day, a lot of Byzantine related media such as the recent graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale is set in this period, and so are some of my Lego films including The Rise of Phokas (2019) and Killing a Byzantine Emperor (2019). 

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Emperor Constantine VII hosting a feast, art by Byzantine Tales
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Nikephoros Phokas enters Constantinople in 963, Madrid Skylitzes
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Byzantine navy using Greek Fire against the Rus’ fleet outside Constantinople’s Walls, 941

To learn more about Byzantium in the 10th century, read Chapter VII of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

2. The 5th Century           

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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red).

For second place, I would put the 5th century which was the second century of the Byzantine Empire’s existence but also a very crucial point in their history as it was in this century when the Eastern Roman Empire was already a concept as a separate empire from the Western Roman Empire based in Constantinople, while the 5th century was also the century when the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium became the sole Roman Empire itself following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Now the story of 5th century Byzantium until 476 is basically told as a story of two parallel empires which are the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople and its twin satellite empire the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna wherein one empire (the east) is strong but still struggling to survive against the massive invasions of barbarian powers while the other one (the west) is weak and dying without any chance to live long anymore unless fully dissolved or absorbed into the eastern empire. The 5th century however happens to be more famous for the story of the Western Roman Empire which is already at a breaking point as when the century begins and progresses, the western empire is ruled by incompetent rulers like Honorius (395-423) and Valentinian III (425-455) while most of the empire is already falling apart being invaded by several barbarian people that have wither settled in it or invaded from beyond including the Visigoths who take over the Western Roman lands of Gaul and Hispania, the Burgundians and Franks that take parts of Gaul, and the Vandals that take over North Africa, while here the Romans completely lose control of Britain at the beginning of the century.

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Battle of Chalons, 451

While several barbarian powers take over territories of the Western Roman Empire, a larger threat is yet to arrive which was Atilla the Hun and his rapidly growing Hunnish Empire which is not only a threat to the Eastern and Western Roman Empires but to these barbarian powers too, thus the Western Romans and some barbarian powers like the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Franks join forces against Atilla’s Huns and together led by the Roman general Aetius they manage to achieve the impossible in defeating Attila’s forces at the Battle of Chalons in 451, and after Atilla’s death in 453 the Huns from being the terror of the world simply vanished as a major threat. Despite the Western Romans’ victory over Atilla, the following years were not as favorable anymore as in 454 they lost their greatest general Aetius who was assassinated by the emperor Valentinian III out of envy and in 455 Valentinian III was assassinated which leads to conflict with the new power of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa under their King Genseric who also in 455 launches an invasion on Rome and sacks it. The 5th century saw two major attacks on Rome itself first by the Visigoth king Alaric I in 410 and in 455 by the Vandals in which both forever weakened the power of Western Rome, although after 455 there were still some emperors that had the ambition to save and revive the weakened Roman Empire and reconquer their lands the barbarians took from them and these emperors included the capable soldier Majorian (457-461) and the Eastern Roman aristocrat Anthemius (467-472) but sadly both never achieved their dreams as they were in fact both puppets of Ricimer, the ambitious barbarian general in Roman imperial service who was responsible too for killing both of these emperors for being too ambitious and not being his intended puppets.

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End of the Western Roman Empire with the surrender of the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus to Odoacer, 476

After Anthemius’ death in 472 it was all downhill for the Western Roman Empire which was now only reduced to Italy, thus it was only a matter of time that the western empire would disappear and just 4 years later in 476, one small event brought the Western Roman Empire to its complete end and this was simply when the barbarian general Odoacer marched into the empire’s capital Ravenna and forced the last Western emperor Romulus Augustus to surrender which he did and so ended the Western Roman Empire which was replaced by Odoacer’s personal Kingdom of Italy. Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire had a much different story in the 5th century which was as I would say more or less not as exciting in the century’s earlier half but more exciting in its second half. The earlier part of the 5th century did not have much happening for the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium except for the rule of the incompetent Arcadius (395-408) where the century begins although he did not really live long enough and following his death in 408 he was succeeded by his young son Theodosius II who later grew up to be a more competent ruler who ruled for a full 42 years (408-450), and in his long reign he was able to achieve a lot as a peace loving palace scholar emperor and his achievements included the construction of Constantinople’s massive land walls named after him even though he did not really have much of a part in building it, but in his reign he also compiled a code of laws for the empire, established universities, and oversaw a major Church Council.

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Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450)

It was also in Theodosius II’s reign when Atilla was expanding his empire but wanting to get away from any major conflict, Theodosius II agreed to pay heavy tribute to Atilla annually, which however only made Atilla’s army stronger that despite their agreement, Atilla still invaded Eastern Roman territory but turned away when failing to besiege Constantinople‘s walls which already proved to be an effective defense system for the Byzantine capital. Theodosius II’s long rule came to an end when he died from a horse-riding accident in 450 and having no sons, he was succeeded by the general Marcian who married Theodosius II’s sister Pulcheria and as emperor, Marcian oversaw the major Church Council of Chalcedon in 451 and when dealing with the major threat of Atilla, he unlike Theodosius responded to it with force by sending armies to invade Atilla’s base in Central Europe itself which then contributed to Atilla’s downfall in 453. After Marcian’s death in 457, he was succeeded by Leo I the Thracian who being only a common soldier was appointed as emperor by Aspar, the powerful barbarian general serving the eastern empire who happened to be the actual power behind Marcian and Theodosius II before him. The story of the 5th century for the eastern empire then gets more exciting during Leo I’s reign (457-474) as Leo was someone who may have seemed unambitious and useless as an emperor being only a commoner by origin but as his rule progressed, he actually turned out to be ambitious yet ruthless with a strong desire to be independent that in 468 he launched a major invasion of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa itself by sending 1,000 ships to punish the Vandals for sacking Rome in 455, though at the end this invasion failed but Leo I still succeeded in making himself an independent ruler with his own dynasty by killing off his power hungry puppet master Aspar in 471. Leo I was later succeeded by his son-in-law and general Zeno after Leo’s death in 474 and for me Zeno is one of the most interesting emperors of Byzantium and he is one of the reasons too why the 5th century makes 2nd place in this list.

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Zeno the Isaurian, Byzantine emperor (r. 474-475/ 476-491), art by myself

As for Zeno, he was originally an outsider as he was an Isaurian chief named Tarasis Kodisa coming from the people of the mountains of Asia Minor that the people of Constantinople saw as primitive and uncivilized and basically because of his origins, Zeno was not accepted by his people that his rule was challenged countless times by ambitious generals that one time between 475 and 476, Zeno was in fact completely overthrown by Leo I’s brother-in-law Basiliscus who Zeno later overthrew himself. In addition, Zeno was also the Eastern Roman emperor in 476, the year the Western Roman Empire was abolished, therefore Zeno became the first emperor to rule the Eastern Roman Empire as the sole Roman Empire and throughout his reign, his position and that of the empire was left very challenged both internally and externally and the biggest threat here happened to be the Ostrogoth Kingdom of the ambitious king Theodoric the Great, although Zeno succeeded in overcoming Theodoric by turning him away from Byzantium and instead having him invade Italy. Zeno at the end at least managed to die in 491 peacefully without being ousted from power again but more importantly he left the eastern empire more stable than how he had founded it, although Zeno with his wife Ariadne had no children so after Zeno’s death Ariadne married the finance minister Anastasius I who as the next emperor was even far more successful especially in the managing the economy. Now, I would put the 5th century as my 2nd place in this list not only for the Eastern Roman Empire’s story but for the combined stories of both Eastern and Western Roman empires as one, as the 5th century was crucial for both and even though the earlier part of the century for the Byzantines is not as interesting for me, the story of their twin western empire was and following the fall of the western empire in 476, it is the story of the east that becomes more exciting, therefore to sum it up this entire century was basically eventful and action-packed, although not the same way the 10th century was in terms of being totally action-packed every step of the way.

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Mosaics of the Galla Placidia Mausoleum in Ravenna, made in the 5th century

For both east and west, the 5th century saw so many memorable events of all kinds take place such as wars, religious debates and Church Councils, interesting emperors, bizarre stories such as men living above columns known as the Stylites, and cultural innovations including lavish construction projects in Constantinople from colorful mosaics to massive city walls. The more important part of the 5th century however was the drastic change of geography of the old Roman Empire into the several barbarian kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, Suebi, Vandals, and more, therefore this century being the transition of the Roman era into the Dark Ages for the west leaving Byzantium as the only Roman power left alive is a very crucial point in world history and thus because of how dramatic things had changed in this century, I consider it my 2nd favorite one out of the 12 centuries of Byzantium’s existence.  

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The 5th century land walls of Constantinople (Theodosian Land Walls), art by myself
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King Gaiseric and his Vandal army sack Rome, 455
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The world map after 476 with the Byzantine Empire (red) as the surviving Roman Empire

To learn more about Byzantium in the 5th century, read Chapter II of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

3. The 6th Century           

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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian in 555 (gold)

If there was one century that everyone will come across when hearing about the Byzantine Empire which always features on general history books when briefly discussing Byzantium, this is the 6th century and this is because of no other than the reign of Byzantium’s most influential emperor Justinian I the Great (527-565) that took place here. The 6th century was then the first full century of the Byzantine Empire being the sole Roman Empire as previously mentioned, the Western Roman Empire came to an end in the previous 5th century, but it also happened that in the 6th century, the Eastern Roman Empire recovered the lands that were once part of the western empire although instead of restoring the old western empire, these lands came under the rule of the eastern empire from Constantinople.

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Emperor Justinian I the Great of Byzantium (r. 527-565)

Now, I would say that no doubt the 6th century is a very fascinating part of Byzantine history especially considering that the reign of Justinian I when all the century’s highlights took place was a long one lasting for a full 37 years. It is basically the reign of Justinian I (originally Flavius Petrus Sabbatius) that puts the 6th century in the top 3 of my list, as in his reign, almost every step of the way had a story to tell from the massive Nika riot in Constantinople that almost overthrew him in 532 which then had to be dealt with such brutality, to ambitious construction projects in Constantinople, loads of reforms, the devastating plague of 542 that wiped out so much of the empire’s including Constantinople’s population wherein Justinian himself was a victim of it but still survived, and so much more. In his reign, Justinian I had two major legacies that still live on up to this day and this includes his Code of Laws or Corpus Juris Civilis that still serves as the basis of most countries’ legal systems up to this day and the other one being no other than the impressive Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople with its massive dome which did in fact only take 5 years (532-537) to build its structure, yet it is still intact up to this day. Another great legacy of Justinian I were his ambitious military campaigns to reconquer the lands that were once part of the Western Roman Empire in order to bring them back to Roman rule and in his reign, Justinian I managed to reconquer all the entire Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, all of Italy from the Ostrogoth Kingdom, and Southern Spain from the Visigoths, and the even more fascinating thing about this was that first Justinian conquered by intervening in their political struggles and that Justinian himself did not have to go himself to any of these campaigns but just stay in the palace. Other than his conquests, Justinian I was also known to have had made contact with parts of the world very distant to the Roman sphere of influence such as Sub-Saharan Africa wherein he had sent Christian missionaries to and China wherein he sent monks to learn the secret of silk making which resulted in the monks smuggling silkworms from China leading to the creation of silks in Byzantium itself.

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Court of Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora

Another thing that made Justinian I’s reign very eventful were the people behind his rule which included his wife Empress Theodora, the finance minister John the Cappadocian who managed to make the empire’s economy a strong and wealthy one, the jurist Tribonian who was responsible for codifying Roman law of the past thus creating the famous code of laws, the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus who were responsible for the building of great structures like the Hagia Sophia, the historian Procopius who gives us a very detailed source of this time, and the generals Belisarius and Narses who were responsible for expanding the empire through war in the years-long conquests of North Africa and Italy. By the time Justinian I died in 565, the Byzantine Empire was a very massive one basically covering the entire Mediterranean stretching west to east from Southern Spain all the way to Syria and north to south from the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine all the way down to Egypt, but with all the wars and plague that had brought too much damage by killing off a large number of people and severely weakening the economy, this massive empire would soon enough prove to be too difficult to manage considering how large it was, therefore making it exposed to future invaders as well.

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Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium and Shah Khosrow I of the Sassanid Empire, by Justinianus

Another thing that makes Justinian’s reign more action-packed therefore putting more story into the 6th century was Byzantium’s chronic war with its traditional enemy in the east which was the Sassanid Persian Empire which during Justinian’s reign was ruled by Shah Khosrow I, an equally ambitious ruler who despite being paid off by Justinian to not attack in order for the Byzantines to focus on their conquests in the west still attacked Byzantine borders from time to time. On the other hand, the 6th century had a lot more than just Justinian I’s reign and these were the events before and after his long reign, although I would say it is only Justinian I’s reign that makes the 6th century a very interesting one for me as the events before and after it were still dramatic ones but do not fascinate me much.

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Anastasius I Dicorus, Byzantine emperor (r. 491-518), art by Amelianvs

Anyway, the events that had taken place before Justinian I came to power in 527 were not as exciting but very important especially in setting the stage for Justinian’s epic projects to expand the empire as first of all, the emperor who ruled at the beginning of the century which was Anastasius I- the successor of Zeno- was responsible for strengthening and enriching the economy with his smart economic policies which later made Justinian’s ambitious projects possible, and though Anastasius I’s empire was already threatened by the Sassanids in the east, the Byzantines were still able to successfully fight them. Anastasius I died in 518 at the age of 87 leaving the empire’s economy strong and rich, but the problem was that he did not have a clear succession plan by having no sons, so instead he was succeeded by the commander of the palace guard Justin I who was Justinian’s uncle and even though Justin I as emperor coming from humble origins was illiterate, he was able to still rule well especially in protecting the Orthodox faith of the empire, therefore gaining the support of the pope in Rome, although behind Justin I’s power was really his nephew Justinian who in 527 succeeded his uncle following his death. On the other hand, the latter part of the 6th century following Justinian I’s death in 565 was for me more or less disappointing especially to see how all the hard work of Justinian to expand his empire disappeared when new barbarian invaders came in such as the Lombards who in 568 just 3 years after Justinian’s death invaded Italy making their own kingdom only just a few years after the Byzantine reconquest of it from the Ostrogoths was completed, while in the Balkans new invaders such as the Slavs and Avars appeared, and in the east the war against the traditional enemy the Sassanid Empire under Shah Khosrow I intensified.

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Imperial court of the mentally insane Justin II (seated) with Empress Sophia (left) and Tiberius II as Caesar (right), by Amelianvs

The more disappointing part however after Justinian I’s death was that his successors were not as capable as he was, and this included his nephew and immediate successor Justin II who without a clear solution but also having a weakened economy decided to stop paying tribute to the empire’s neighbors including the Sassanids which then made things only worse as seen when the Byzantines started losing a lot of lands to them. The mistake at the latter part of the 6th century however happened to be that the empire left behind by Justinian I was so large and defending so many borders proved to be so difficult that Justin II ended up turning insane that in 574 he had to abdicate passing the throne to his palace guard commander who then became Emperor Tiberius II who however proved to be a much more capable emperor than Justin II before him. Although Tiberius II was a competent emperor, he still could not solve all the empire’s problems at the same time so while he was busy continuing the war against the Sassanids in the east, the Balkans were left exposed therefore allowing the Avars and their Slav allies to invade it, while at the same time he too lacked enthusiasm in ruling.

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Maurice, Byzantine emperor (r. 582-602)

After his death in 582, Tiberius II was succeeded by his general and son-in-law Maurice who was a far more competent emperor than his two predecessors, and as emperor Maurice set a new standard for emperors to personally lead the army in battle himself, therefore he spent most of his reign campaigning against the Sassanids in the east and against the Avars and Slavs in the Balkans. Although he was a capable general, Maurice was weak in economic policy but at least he still managed to solve the problem of having provinces very distant from Constantinople which were Italy and North Africa in which he made them semi-independent provinces known as Exarchates where their own rulers somewhat ruled independently except still answering to the emperor in Constantinople. Now, what I would say makes the 6th century a very fascinating one is that it had a lot of exciting moments especially in warfare as the Byzantines at this time were fighting a variety of enemies from the powerful organized armies of the Sassanids, to the barbarian kingdoms of Western Europe, and even the nomadic people of the steppes such as the Avars, Huns, and Bulgars while at the same time they also made contact with distant lands like China, and it was also a century of great cultural innovations especially seen with the ambitious projects of the Hagia Sophia and a lot of structures around the empire including the mosaics of Ravenna in Italy. Although the 6th century had a lot of moments that I find very exciting and dramatic, not all of it was, as this century also had a lot to do with religious controversies especially between the Orthodox, Arian, and Monophysite faiths and a lot about economics as well which I don’t find very fascinating, but overall the 6th century was still one with so much happening and drama which is why I consider it as my 3rd favorite.

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World Map, 555AD, Byzantium under Justinian I (purple)
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Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I with his generals Belisarius and Narses, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
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The Hagia Sophia, built under Justinian I
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Massacre of the 30,000 at the Hippodrome ending the Nika Riot, 532
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The Plague of Justinian hits Constantinople, 542
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The Byzantine Empire in 600 (green) and Sassanid Empire (orange)

To learn more about Byzantium in the 6th century, read Chapter III of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

4. The 13th Century          

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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after its fall to the 4th Crusade in 1204

Despite the 13th century being the century wherein the Byzantine Empire disappeared for half of it (1204-1261), I still count it as one of my favorites for a number of reasons. The 13th century was one of if not the most turbulent time for the empire and also the beginning of its end as when the century began, the terrible 4th Crusade that was aimed at the Byzantine Empire was launched which in 1204 managed to capture Constantinople itself, thus temporarily ending Byzantine rule establishing the new Latin Empire with Constantinople as its capital.

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Seal of the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1261)

Following the fall of Constantinople to the Latin (Western European) army of the 4th Crusade, the geography of what was once the Byzantine Empire totally changed as Constantinople and it surroundings fell under the Latin Empire, Greece fell under various Latin nobles from the west, Crete and a number of islands to the rule of the Republic of Venice, while the Byzantine people as well divided themselves once their capital fell thus creating their own separate states including the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece, the Empire of Nicaea in Western Asia Minor, and the Empire of Trebizond along the Black Sea coast in the far eastern corner of Asia Minor. Among the 3 successor Byzantine states which were the Empires of Nicaea and Trebizond, as well as the Despotate of Epirus, it was the Empire of Nicaea that was the most successful of them, therefore it remained as the legitimate successor state of the Byzantine Empire, so basically the story of Byzantium for half of the 13th century was the story of the successor state of the Empire of Nicaea. What I find very fascinating about the 57-year period of the Byzantine Empire in exile as the Empire of Nicaea in the 13th century was that despite them being so fatally defeated that they even lost their capital to the Crusaders, the Byzantines still had it in them to rise up again and one day direct their attention to reclaim their capital. Even in its earliest days, the Empire of Nicaea under its first ruler Theodore I Laskaris from 1205 to his death in 1221 already came up with a clear plan to put the pieces back together and form a state strong enough to one day make an attempt to reclaim the old capital and doing this required a lot of hard work, alliances, and good timing.

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Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes of Nicaea/ Byzantium (r. 1222-1254)

The real success for the empire of Nicaea however came during the reign of John III Doukas Vatatzes (1222-1254), Theodore I’s successor and son-in-law and as the emperor of Nicaea, John III was able to make the exiled Byzantium as powerful as it was when the Byzantines still held Constantinople by turning the tide of war against Byzantium’s Latin occupiers as true enough the Latin Empire of Constantinople had turned out to be a failed state, also John III gave his people a time of peace and economic growth. John III in fact almost succeeded in recapturing Constantinople in 1235 with assistance from the 2nd Bulgarian Empire’s tsar Ivan Asen II but failed in doing so when mistrust erupted between them but also when seeing that they had no way to break into the walls. The rest of John III’s military campaigns were mostly successful especially against the rival Byzantine power of the Despotate of Epirus that he was able to successfully reclaim the city of Thessaloniki from them, but other than military campaigns John III invested heavily in promoting Greek culture in the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea that his reign would begin what would be the Greek cultural revival of Byzantium as well as the birth of the medieval Greek identity. Though John III ruled somewhat with an iron fist, he was also a well-loved ruler and that when he died in 1254, he was mourned by almost all his subjects, though the sad part about his death was that he was not able to live long enough to see Constantinople back in Byzantine hands. John III’s son and successor Theodore II Laskaris however only ruled for 4 years (1254-1258) and was not as successful as his father, while also did not prioritize the reconquest of Constantinople, although after his sudden death in 1258 the Empire of Nicaea was taken over by the ambitious noble and Theodore II’s greatest rival Michael Palaiologos who made his message clear to everyone which was to take back Constantinople from the Latins. The Empire of Nicaea’s army was then able to successfully recover Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 by surprise when attacking at the dead night, but to their surprise, most of the Latin army was away, therefore the Latin Empire came to an end and the Byzantine Empire was restored as Constantinople was recaptured. Now, again what makes the 13th century a fascinating one for me were the stories of the two strong emperors that dominated this century which were John III Vatatzes who ruled the exiled Empire of Nicaea for a full 32 years and Michael VIII Palaiologos who finally managed to recapture Constantinople in 1261 and restore the Byzantine Empire after 57 years of disappearance, and what both rulers had in common was that they persisted and made Byzantium persist despite the challenging times.

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1261-1282), painting by myself

As for Michael VIII, despite restoring the Byzantine Empire, he faced so many difficulties immediately after taking back Constantinople. In Michael VIII’s 21-year reign (1261-1282), the restored Byzantium was threatened on all sides by various enemies including the Turks and Mongols, as well as the still surviving Latin powers in Greece established back in 1204 following the 4th Crusade and the rival Despotate of Epirus too that still continued to pose a threat to them even if the Empire of Nicaea became the Byzantine Empire again, although the most dangerous threat to Michael VIII’s restored empire was the new ambitious French king of Sicily Charles of Anjou who took over Sicily in 1266 and from there made it his goal to launch another invasion on Byzantium with the ultimate goal to take Constantinople back from the Latins. Now what makes Michael VIII an interesting character was that he was someone that would do all it took to save his empire especially through diplomacy even if there were dirty tactics involved such as turning against his allies and paying off people to rise up in rebellion known as the “Sicilian Vespers” which was in fact how he managed to get the ultimate threat of Charles of Anjou away from him as before Michael’s death in 1282, he paid off the people of Sicily to rebel against their French overlord Charles of Anjou which then succeeded in overthrowing the French overlords who were replaced by the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, an ally of Michael VIII. On the other hand, Michael VIII’s may have ruled with an iron fist too much with very rash decisions such as his attempts to submit Byzantium to the pope in order to be allies with the rest of Western Europe, although this created such unrest among his proud Orthodox subjects which caused Michael to lose so much of his popularity.

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium

Michael VIII however responded with such brutality to all those that opposed his policy to reunite the Byzantine Church with the Latin Catholic Church that he imprisoned and even executed many of his subjects for opposing it, but at the end his intentions were still good which was to save his empire even if this would mean taking the greatest of risks such as submitting to the more powerful Latin Church despite great opposition by his people as he believed that it would be only by joining forces with their enemy being the western world that Byzantium could be saved. Basically for me, it is just John III’s and Michael VIII’s reigns that I find fascinating about the 13th century and the rest not so, though for me, the last years of the 13th century happen to be nothing more but disappointing as Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II Palaiologos who ruled in the last years of the 13th century was a nothing much but a weak and incompetent emperor, although Michael VIII was in fact also to blame for leaving behind to his son such a troubled and bankrupt Byzantium, as in his reign Michael VIII had spent so much on war and bribing other powers to not attack while also by putting too much attention on the west and the Balkans, he neglected Byzantium’s borders in their heartland which was Asia Minor, therefore by the time Andronikos II came to power, he would have to face the consequences of his father’s decisions and over-spending. On the other hand, the 13th century was one of the periods in Byzantine history that I put a lot of attention to that I in fact made two major Lego films set in this era focusing on important events of the century and these films include Summer of 1261 (2019) focusing on the Byzantine reconquest of 1261 and War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020) focusing on the conflict in Sicily which the Byzantines assisted the Sicilians in overthrowing their French overlords in 1282.     

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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins in 1261, art by FaisalHashemi
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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire in 1261 (yellow)
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Rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers, 1282

5. The 11th Century              

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The Byzantine Empire at Basil II’s death in 1025 (white) with new annexed territories by 1055 (red)

The 11th century was no doubt one of the most action-packed centuries in Byzantine Empire which saw it be at its height of power when the century began then all of a sudden drastically fall from it, therefore the Crisis of the 11th Century comes in, although this century again ends with Byzantium strong again, therefore the 11th century is the one century which shows the usual pattern of Byzantium going up then down then up again in terms of power and influence.

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Emperor Basil II the “Bulgar-Slayer” (r. 976-1025)

The 11th century began with the Byzantine Empire under Emperor Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty as the dominant power of Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean in the Middle Ages and following the ultimate Byzantine conquest of the Bulgarian Empire in 1018, Byzantium and its army was feared by all that no one would dare attack Byzantium or else suffer the same fate as Bulgaria. The period of great power and influence Byzantium had held over the world however did not last long as after Basil II’s death in 1025 it would be all downhill from here despite Byzantium still being a massive empire that covered the entire Balkans going east all the way to Armenia while in the west still keeping most of Southern Italy. The downfall of Byzantium following Basil II’s death in 1025 was also due to how large the empire stretched making it already impossible to maintain a large enough army to defend all its borders although things still would have been better even if Byzantium held a large amount of territory if they had better leaders in the 11th century, but unfortunately the Byzantines did not. Most of the emperors that succeeded Basil II were weak rulers that tolerated having a corrupt court run by scheming eunuchs while a number of ambitious generals from powerful military aristocratic families many times rebelled and tried to claim the throne. Now while corruption reigned in mid-11th century Byzantium and so did economic problems that for the first time in their 700 years of history their standard gold coin or the Solidus was devalued, new and unexpected enemies came into contact with the Byzantines and these included the Normans in Italy which were just mercenaries that the Byzantines happened to underestimate as true enough it turned out they were there in Italy to stay and conquer it while in the east, a new power arose which the Byzantines never saw coming and this was the empire of the Seljuk Turks who the Byzantines first battled with in 1048 although still defeating the Seljuks.

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Seljuk Turks ride from the steppes into Asia Minor

In 1056, the long-ruling Macedonian Dynasty came to an end with the death of the last Macedonian ruler Theodora, the niece of Basil II and what followed her death was some political instability until 1057 when the strongman emperor Isaac I Komnenos came to rule the empire promising to return it to its military glory in the time of Basil II, although Isaac I’s reign ended too soon as he abdicated in 1059 due to illness leaving the throne to an unworthy successor which was Constantine X Doukas who made the worst decision ever in disbanding the eastern army to save up on funds right when the Seljuks were threatening Byzantium’s eastern borders. After Constantine X’s death in 1067, his wife Empress Eudokia married the capable general Romanos Diogenes who in 1068 became Emperor Romanos IV right when the Seljuks made constant riads into the Byzantine heartland which was Asia Minor without orders from their leader the sultan Alp Arslan. In 1071, Romanos IV tired of the Seljuks raiding the empire declared war on them even if their sultan Alp Arslan’s intention was never to really fully invade Byzantium but just take a part of it in order to gain access to conquer his ultimate goal which was Egypt.

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Defeat and capture of Romanos IV by the Seljuks, 1071

The forces of Romanos IV and Alp Arslan clashed at the fatal Battle of Manzikert in 1071 in which Romanos IV was defeated and captured although spared but when returning to Constantinople, he was betrayed as the imperial court declared him deposed therefore replacing him with his stepson Michael VII Doukas. Romanos IV was then blinded in 1072 dying shortly after although the next emperor Michael VII proved to be a very incompetent one, and due to his weak leadership, a number of ambitious generals rose up to claim the throne and with all this chaos, Norman mercenaries turned warlords created their own states in Byzantine Asia Minor itself while the Seljuks due to their victory at Manzikert freely raided and occupied lands in Byzantine Asia Minor. Michael VII eventually abdicated in 1078 and was replaced by Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates who was in fact much worse as due to his old age, he could not really do anything to save the empire from deteriorating that almost all of Asia Minor already fell under Seljuk rule, though in 1081 Nikephoros III was ousted from power by the much young and ambitious general Alexios Komnenos, nephew of the previous emperor Isaac I, and as emperor Alexios I promised to restore the empire to its greatness once more.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)

Alexios I began his reign fighting off a Norman invasion finally defeating it by 1085, then in 1091 he defeated a massive Pecheneg invasion. The 11th century ends with Alexios I calling for military assistance from Western Europe to help him reclaim Asia Minor from the Seljuks, but in return he got the First Crusade which was never really loyal to him, though at the end despite the Crusaders claiming for themselves lands in the Middle East, they at least pushed back the Seljuks relieving Alexios I and Byzantium from its ultimate extinction. Now, I would say that the 11th century featured so many events that were not only crucial for Byzantium but for world history in general such as the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria in 1018 and the significant defeat the Byzantine army faced at Manzikert which then turns out to be the most significant turning point of this century, as this defeat exposed that the once feared and all-powerful Byzantine army was in fact vulnerable, but this defeat that also led to the Seljuk occupation of Asia Minor more importantly led to the Crusades to become a thing which would be the major story for the next 2 centuries in world history. It is because this century had such crucial events such as the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 and the Great Schism before that in 1054 which finally separated Byzantium from the west culturally and spiritually that I find this century very fascinating, but also because it featured a lot of epic battles and the famous Varangian Guard consisting of Nordic mercenaries serving in Byzantium protecting its emperor. On the other hand, unlike the 10th century that preceded it, the 11th century was not all action-packed and memorable every step of the way, but instead had a number of exciting yet suspenseful moments such as of course Manzikert and a lot of other battles before it but it also had its share of disappointing moments especially its repetitive cycle of having one incompetent emperor after the other wherein one able emperor comes in between them but does not stay too long, while this century also featured a lot of economics and religious struggles again which makes it have some not so interesting parts for me. The 11th century however was one of the few centuries in Byzantine history that was action-packed from beginning to end despite a few dull and disappointing moments in between, which why I still consider it one of the more purely fascinating ones in Byzantine history but still not one of my plainly most fascinating ones.

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Empresses Zoe (left) and Theodora (right) in the palace, art by Eldr-Fire
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Painting of the fateful Battle of Manzikert between the Byzantines and Seljuks, 1071
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Map of the expansion of the Seljuk Turks and their empire (yellow), in the 11th century
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The First Crusade, 1095-1099
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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, art by Diogos_tales

To learn more about Byzantium in the 11th century, read Chapter VIII of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

 

6. The 4th Century               

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Map of the Roman Empire under Constantine I, 330

The 4th century is considered to be the first century in the history of Byzantium as this was when Constantinople was founded as the Roman Empire’s new capital by the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great, however the real history of the Eastern Roman Empire being the Byzantine Empire only begins in 395 where the 4th century ends, therefore the rest of the 4th century more or less is just the introduction period to the actual main body of Byzantine history that fully begins in the 5th century following it. Although since the 4th century still counts as part of Byzantine history basically because this was when Constantinople was founded and had become the new capital of the Roman Empire, I am putting it on this list. Now the 4th century as I would say was more or less a very eventful one filled with exciting, action-packed, and even dramatic moments which then makes it for me a very fascinating one, although I am only placing it on #6 of this list because as I mentioned earlier it is not really part of the main history of Byzantium and therefore still more or less part of the history of the original Roman Empire before Byzantium, but also because for some reason the history of the 4th century has many gaps as it is only the important events here that are mostly recorded, therefore I cannot appreciate it as much as the other centuries. From beginning to end, the 4th century had a lot of significant moments as when the century began, the Roman Empire was still under the experiment known as the Tetrarchy with 4 divided parts ruled by 4 different emperors which seemed to do well until 305 when this system’s founder Emperor Diocletian retired, therefore creating chaos leading into civil war as a result of the other rulers of this system wanting more land and power.

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Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), founder of Constantinople

The empire was then thrown into chaos until one of the rulers of the Tetrarchy which was the western emperor Constantine I defeated all his rivals over the span of 18 years (306-324), and by 324 after fighting an on-and-off civil war against all his imperial rivals in the western and eastern portions of the empire, he became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire deciding to turn the backwater port town of Byzantium along the Bosporus Sea between Asia and Europe as the Roman Empire’s new capital seeing it as a strategic location, and in only 6 years the small port town was transformed into an imperial capital which was inaugurated in 330. Constantine I known as “the Great” of course had made a lot more of achievements than founding Constantinople and therefore the Byzantine Empire and restructuring the Roman army, and a lot of his major achievements had to do with making Christianity the dominant but not official religion of the Roman Empire as in 313 he issued the Edict of Milan that finally gave toleration to Christians after centuries of persecution, then in 325 Constantine I organized the First Church Council at Nicaea that formally set the official doctrine for Christianity and condemned the teachings of Arianism as heresy, though it was only shortly before his death 337 that Constantine I was baptized as a Christian.

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Council of Nicaea, 325

Although Constantine I ruled the entire Roman Empire alone, after his death the empire was divided among his 3 sons that were basically all at odds with each other and at the end, only the middle son Constantius II ruling from Constantinople survived his two brothers therefore ruling the whole empire alone until his death in 361 and without any son to succeed him, Constantius II passed the throne to his younger cousin Julian despite not trusting him. Julian’s 2-year reign (361-363) was one of the most interesting moments of the 4th century as he was the last Roman emperor willing to return to the glory days of Ancient Pagan Rome that he in fact was a Pagan himself although he did not rule long enough to achieve his goal to return the empire to its glory days of the past as in 363, he was killed in battle against the Sassanid Persian Empire while campaigning in the Sassanid heartland itself.

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Emperor Julian (r. 361-363), art by Amelianvs

The Roman army however survived and returned to empire and in 364, a new emperor came to power establishing a new dynasty which was the soldier Valentinian I who when coming to power split the empire in half with him ruling the western half and his younger brother Valens ruling the eastern half from Constantinople. Valentinian I the Great ruled successfully managing to defeat a number of barbarian tribes invading the western half but in 375 he died from a burst blood vessel caused by his own anger while failing to negotiate with barbarian tribal leaders at the empire’s Danube border. Meanwhile, the eastern half of the Roman Empire ruled by Valens, a sudden massive migration of barbarian Goths poured into the eastern half’s Danube border in 376 which later proved to be too uncontrollable by Roman authorities in the Balkans leading to war against the Goths resulting in the Roman army defeated by the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 wherein Valens himself was killed. The death of Valens and the victory of the Goths put the eastern half of the empire into chaos without any emperor sitting in Constantinople until the next year came when the general Theodosius came to power as the Eastern Roman emperor and in his reign, he focused on containing the pillaging Goths which he succeeded in except that he was only able to take care of the problem only by allowing the Goths to settle within the empire as Foederati or defeated soldiers forced to serve their conquerors in exchange for being kept alive.

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Emperor Theodosius I the Great (r. 379-395)

As emperor, Theodosius I known as “the Great” being a devout Christian prioritized making Christianity the empire’s dominant religion and true enough in 380 he declared Nicene Christianity which was established back in 325 as the official religion of the Roman Empire and began persecuting those who opposed it. Theodosius I too had dealt with two large civil wars in his reign in which he managed to defeat both and after defeating the second one in 394, he became once more the sole ruler of the whole Roman empire except only for a few months as in early 395 he died permanently dividing the empire in half leaving his older son Arcadius to rule the eastern half which was the Byzantine Empire and the younger son Honorius to rule the western half. Now, the 4th century more or less was full of exciting and memorable moments in different fields especially in warfare as it featured important and climactic battles whether in Roman civil wars such as the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 and Frigidus in 394 or in battles against barbarians such as Strasbourg in 357 and Adrianople in 378 while at the same time, it was a very crucial period especially for the history of Christianity as this was when it first became both a dominant faith and an official state religion. Although, the 4th century had a lot of important and exciting moments, it was only known for major moments and nothing much in between which is why I place it as #6 on this list which is in fact not very low, but even though this century may just be one notable for important events, it was still a very crucial one in world history as it saw the transition of what was Classical Ancient Rome into the Byzantine era as well as the era of Christendom, therefore I would say that this century would be most fascinating to Roman history enthusiasts, especially if they want to be introduced to Ancient Rome’s continuation which is Byzantium.

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Constantinople, Eastern Roman Imperial capital, founded in 330
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Constantine I civil war victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, 312
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The Roman Empire divided among Constantine I’s sons Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II following Constantine I’s death, 337
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Emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375, center) with his Palatini legions, art by Amelianvs
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Defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378
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The Roman Empire divided between east (purple) given to Arcadius and west (red) given to Honorius at Theodosius I’s death in 395
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD

To learn more about Byzantium in the 4th century, read Chapter I of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

7. The 12th Century         

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (red) during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180)

The 12th century is often remembered as the century of the Crusades wherein Byzantium did in fact play a major role in it, as true enough before the century began the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested military aid from Western Europe to help him drive away the Seljuk Turk occupiers from the Byzantine heartland Asia Minor but in return what he got was the First Crusade.

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Coat of Arms of Byzantium under the Komnenos Dynasty

The Crusader army that came to aid Byzantium may have not kept their word in returning the lands they conquered to Byzantium and instead claimed these lands as their own but in return the Byzantines simply allow this to pass, therefore the 12th century was another period of Byzantium’s revival while also a challenging time as the empire had to battle different enemies on sides such as the Crusaders, Seljuks, Normans, and Hungarians. Most of the 12th century was then defined by what was the “Komnenian Restoration” which was a period of the Byzantine Empire’s revival in military and cultural power after it had lost most of it in the previous century due to the 11th century crisis and the catastrophic Battle of Manzikert in 1071, and most of the efforts to restore the empire to the old glory it had during the late 10th century and early 11th century were due to the reigns of 3 consecutive long-reigning strong visionary emperors in a straight line of succession which were Alexios I (1081-1118), his son John II (1118-1143), and his son Manuel I (1143-1180). These 3 Komnenos emperors may have had a strong vision to restore the empire, although their policies to revive the empire’s glory were a bit too ambitious, required so much funds, but also involved bullying other nations to submit to the authority of Byzantium as was seen with the new Crusader states in which these emperors demanded a lot from them including forcing them to pay tribute and to recognize Byzantium as their overlords, while the same thing too can be said to how the Komnenos emperors acted towards the Kingdom of Hungary. In the Byzantine Empire itself, the 3 long-reigning Komnenos emperors did in fact do a lot to restore the invincible power of the Byzantine army, strengthen the economy, and reclaim most of Asia Minor which was in the previous century lost to the Seljuks.

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Emperor John II Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1118-1143)

Alexios I’s son and successor John II mostly spent his 25-year reign away from the capital in military campaigns against Hungary in the Balkans and the Seljuks in Asia Minor, although his reign also saw the new age of revival for the empire take shape. John II’s son Manuel I meanwhile did the same ambitious projects as his father and grandfather did before him, except that he was far more ambitious that his constant wars throughout his 37-year reign drained the empire’s funds. Manuel I just like Justinian I in the 6th century put all his attention to restoring the empire and again reconquering the west which they have lost which in his reign was seen with his attempt to reconquer Italy which however failed.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1143-1180)

Manuel I’s over ambitious campaigns and spending would also later on cause the downfall of the empire and therefore the end of the Komnenian restoration and part of the reasons that caused the downfall of his dynasty and of the empire was his decision to have war with their ally Venice which then only made Byzantium and Venice bitter enemies for the next centuries to come, while at the same time Manuel I was also too fascinated with the culture of Western Europe that he even tried introducing it to Byzantine society which at the end did not work out well, therefore only causing division among his people. The most disappointing part however was that in 1176, the Byzantines again suffered a heavy defeat to the Seljuk army in Asia Minor therefore ending this age of restoration, thus Manuel I in 1180 died without seeing his dreams achieved but the worst part that was to come was that his son and successor Alexios II was only a child therefore under the regency of his mother Empress Maria of Antioch who was unpopular due to her western heritage that her regency caused internal conflict in the empire which resulted in the empress and her son the emperor overthrown and executed by Manuel I’s anti-western cousin who became Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos.

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Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1183-1185), art by Skamandros

The new emperor Andronikos I turned out to be nothing but a bloody and paranoid ruler that just ruled out revenge executing, torturing, and exiling everyone who was associated with the previous regime of his cousin Manuel I who he hated, but at the end Andronikos I too had met a bloody end in 1185 being tortured to death by the people that put him in power 3 years earlier as they switched their support to his relative, the young charismatic politician Isaac Angelos who then became emperor following this revolution. The new emperor Isaac II Angelos however was not what his people expected as rather than being the strong ruler promising to save the empire from collapse, he was one ruler that again faced so many difficulties on all sides especially usurping generals that questioned his legitimacy as they too saw he was unfit.

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Emperor Isaac II Angelos of Byzantium (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204)

Isaac II however still had still managed to drive off a large Norman invasion of Byzantine Greece in 1185 but unfortunately this was only one of his few successes as the rest of his reign was filled with disaster and some of it caused by his own inept policies such as the Bulgarian uprising of 1185 that led to the breaking away of Bulgaria from Byzantium once again thus creating the 2nd Bulgarian Empire which was mostly due to Isaac II’s heavy taxation allegedly to pay for his lavish wedding ceremony while he too dealt with the arrival of the 3rd Crusade in Byzantium terribly by being skeptical about letting them through which at the end did not solve anything but instead only led to conflict with the Crusaders. Isaac II however at least knew he was responsible for creating such trouble including the Bulgarians’ declaration of independence that Isaac II in fact made many attempts to take back Bulgaria with force which however failed many times, but when finally launching a massive invasion to finally reclaim Bulgaria in 1195, Isaac II unfortunately did not succeed as he was overthrown and blinded by his jealous older brother who then became the next emperor Alexios III Angelos who proved to be even more incompetent than his brother, thus putting Byzantium down a path that will lead to its temporary collapse in 1204 when Constantinople was captured by the Crusaders. Now, I would say that the 12th century was in fact a very eventful and exciting one though I still do not consider it as one of my top picks as for me it is really a mixed century with equally fascinating but also equally disappointing moments. The part I find interesting and worth talking about for the 12th century is definitely the earlier part of it with the empire undergoing a time of restoration under the rules of the 3 ambitious and competent Komnenos emperors Alexios I, John II, and Manuel I, while the second half for me is nothing more but disappointing especially to see all the greatness of the empire fade away through a series of incompetent rulers including Andronikos I, Isaac II, and Alexios III. It is basically for the reason that this century that was supposed to be defined by the age of the restoration of Byzantium’s imperial glory ended so disappointingly why I don’t count this century as one of my favorites, but since it was one that had a lot of excitement including battles, political intrigues, and most importantly more significant contact made between Byzantium and the western world mostly because of the Crusades, this century is still something that fascinates me a lot when talking about the entire history of Byzantium in general.

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Byzantine defeat to the Seljuks at the Battle of Myriokephalon, 1176
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Isaac II Angelos’ rise to power, 1185

8. The 15th Century          

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Map of the reduced Byzantine Empire in 1450 (purple)

The 15th century being the last century of the Byzantine Empire’s existence is best defined by one event which was the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 with the epic siege of Constantinople, so basically the 15th century story of Byzantium was only half a century as in the second half of it, the Byzantine Empire was already gone. Now, I would say that the 15th century was very exciting and eventful in different parts of the world as by this point the kingdoms of Europe were already much more powerful than they were in the past centuries but for Byzantium it was the other way around as instead of the major power it was when the rest of Europe was still forming, Byzantium was now the one weak and reduced and by the time the 15th century began, Byzantium was basically just Constantinople and its surroundings as well as a few Aegean islands and the region of Southeast Greece known as the Morea.

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century

In the region of where the Byzantine Empire was however, the main story was no longer Byzantium but the rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe that already sent shockwaves to the kingdoms of Western Europe to fight them back considering that the Ottomans from being a small power just a century ago was able to defeat and conquer both Serbian and Bulgarian Empires. The reduced and dying Byzantine Empire meanwhile in the 15th century was just a backwater state entirely surrounded by the Ottomans that it was only going to be a matter of time that the capital Constantinople itself would be captured by the Ottomans therefore finishing off Byzantium for good.

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Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425) with his family

Fortunately the last emperors that ruled Byzantium in the 15th century which were Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) and his son John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) were competent rulers that still managed to keep the Ottomans away and still keep their dying empire alive and a lot of their success in keeping Byzantium alive despite being surrounded by the Ottomans was through diplomacy and true enough both Manuel II and John VIII made several trips to Europe asking for financial aid and alliances from various rulers there. John VIII in 1448 however died without any sons to succeed him and so it was his younger brother that succeeded him as Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos in 1449 who was then the last Byzantine emperor.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453), the last Byzantine emperor

In 1451, just 2 years after Constantine XI came to power, the young Mehmed II came to power as the Ottoman Empire’s sultan and he had the ultimate goal to begin his reign by conquering Constantinople to get it out of the way in order to push through with the complete Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. In 1453, Mehmed II thought of asking Constantine XI to simply surrender Constantinople to him without a fight so that the Ottomans could already take their ultimate prize in exchange for Constantine XI to be spared, but Constantine XI not wanting to shamefully surrender his city refused and so the Ottomans laid siege to Constantinople which lasted for 2 months. The Byzantines and their western allies defending the walls however fought bravely and resisted for 2 months strait but at the end they proved to be outnumbered and the Ottomans having more advanced weapons such as cannons were finally able to break through the 1,000-year-old walls of Constantinople for the first time and on May 29 of 1453, the last Byzantine emperor vanished in battle while the victorious Ottomans took over Constantinople making it their empire’s new capital, thus ending the 1,123-year history of Byzantium.

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Ottoman sultan Mehmed II captures Constantinople, 1453

On the other hand, Byzantine history did not yet fully end in 1453 as the other parts of the empire still under Byzantine hands resisted but in 1460 Mehmed II was able to capture the last Byzantine holding in Greece which was the Morea held by Constantine XI’s brothers and in 1461 Mehmed II too conquered the last remaining Byzantine break-away state which was the Empire of Trebizond founded back in 1204 in the eastern edge of Asia Minor along the Black Sea, thus this event in 1461 marked the final end of the Byzantine story. Now I would say that the 15th century was a very action-packed one with all the battles with the Ottomans but also a very tragic one considering it was the end of Byzantium and true enough the siege and fall of Constantinople was no doubt this century’s biggest story and one of my all-time favorite moments in Byzantine history as it showed the Byzantine Empire not ending quietly but with a bang. However, it is only the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 that I consider the only major highlight of the century while the rest of the events were not as memorable for me especially seeing how the Byzantine Empire grew to be so insignificant, therefore with nothing else but 1453 being its major highlight, I would not consider the 15th century or more specifically the last century of Byzantium as one of my top picks when ranking all 12 centuries in Byzantine history.

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1453, the final siege of Constantinople
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Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, May 29, 1453

9. The 9th Century           

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Byzantine Empire in the 2nd half of the 9th century (yellow)

If I there was one century in Byzantine history that may have had a lot of important as well as exciting moments but with equally dull and uninteresting moments, it is the 9th century. First of all, I would say the 9th century had a lot of important moments and highlights worth remembering and a lot of them involved Byzantium’s interactions with the rest of the world around them such as the proposed marriage between Byzantium’s empress Irene and the newly crowned Frankish emperor of the west Charlemagne in 802 which never happened, the crushing defeat the Byzantines suffered to their northern neighbor the Bulgarian Empire in 811 at the Battle of Pliska wherein the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros I himself was killed in, the Bulgarian war that followed, the fall of Byzantine Crete and Sicily to the Arabs, continued wars against the Arab Abbasid Caliphate, the first attacks of the Kievan Rus on Byzantium, and the beginnings of the Byzantine Renaissance as well as its cultural and military revival at the latter part of the century. The first half of the 9th century basically saw Byzantium at a low point still in its Dark Ages having to defend itself both against the Arabs in the east and the Bulgarians in the north while within the empire the controversy of Iconoclasm or the breaking of religious icons still lived on.

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Emperor Theophilos, Byzantine emperor (r. 829-842)

It is only as the 9th century progresses when the Byzantine story gets more interesting which is when Michael II becomes emperor in 820 after assassinating his predecessor Leo V thus founding the Amorian Dynasty, while in the reign of his son and successor Theophilos (829-842) the Byzantine cultural Renaissance was already taking shape and despite losing heavily to the invading Arabs in battle, Theophilos invested a lot of money into making Constantinople a cultural and educational center. Things then get even more action-packed in the latter part of the century under Theophilos’ son and successor Michael III (842-867) and even though he was ineffective as an emperor, a lot had happened in his rule such as the final end of the Iconoclast controversy in 843, the mission of St. Cyril and St. Methodius to convert the people of Eastern Europe to Orthodox Christianity which was organized by the Patriarch of Constantinople Photios I, the Kievan Rus’ first attack on Byzantine territory in 860, the conversion of Bulgaria to Orthodoxy, and the rise to power of the unlikely peasant and wrestler Basil the Macedonian who after becoming close to Michael III killed him in 867 and became the new emperor Basil I establishing the long-lived Macedonian Dynasty that survived until the 11th century.

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Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886)

The reign of Basil I (867-886) saw Byzantium once again rise up to become a strong military power as well as a cultural one, therefore laying the foundations for the actual Byzantine golden age in the following century. Now the reason why I am putting the 9th century far down on this list ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantium compared to the 10th century that followed it which is my personal best being #1 on this list is because the 9th century compared to the 10th that followed was definitely not action-packed every step of the way but it had a lot of exciting and memorable moments too. These memorable moments though that the 9th century had to offer mostly had to do with its relations with other powers such as the Bulgarians, Rus, Arabs, and the west and true enough a lot of important moments took place in this century that are worth telling regarded Byzantium’s foreign relations and these included the mission of St. Cyril and Methodius which has a more intriguing angle to it as their mission was not plainly one for spirituality but politics as this was a cold war situation wherein Byzantium competed against the Western Catholic Church to see who would convert the still Pagan people of Eastern Europe first, and at the end the Byzantines won it.

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Sts. Cyril (left) with the Cyrillic Alphabet and St. Methodius (right), Byzantine missionaries sent to convert the Slavs by Patriarch Photios

The battles against the Bulgarians were exciting moments as well as already at the beginning of the century Byzantium was already engaged in war with them while the century also ended with Byzantium again at war with Bulgaria in which Bulgaria was much more powerful under its greatest ruler Tsar Simeon, while also the conflicts between Byzantium and the Arabs had a lot more excitement here as it was in this century when the Byzantines first turned the tide of war against the Arabs to the offensive when for the first time the Byzantine army in the 860s did not just fight to defend its borders from Arab raiders but in fact raided deep into Arab territory. On the other hand, it is only in the external situation that makes the 9th century exciting for me as internally, the Byzantine story was not very much exciting as a lot of the stories here had to do with complicated court politics and religious issues, although the internal issues of this century only gets more exciting in the latter part of century such as Basil I’s rise to power and the questionable parentage of his son the future emperor Leo VI who came to power in 886 as it is still debated whether he is actually Basil I’s son or the previous emperor Michael III’s. For me, the 9th century had more not so exciting if not dull moments compared to its more exciting and dramatic moments which is why I do not consider it as one of my favorite centuries, but other than that I still find the 9th century a period that has a lot of interest for me as the 9th century set the stage for the Byzantine Renaissance including its military and cultural golden age that took place in the following century which is my all-time favorite of the 12 centuries in Byzantine history.

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Aftermath of the Battle of Pliska in 811, Khan Krum of Bulgaria uses Emperor Nikephoros I’s skull as his drinking cup
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Michael III (right, in blue) makes Basil the Macedonian (left, in red) his co-emperor, Madrid Skylitzes

To learn more about Byzantium in the 9th century, read Chapter VI of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

10. The 7th Century          

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange) under Constans II

The 7th century was definitely a major turning point for the Byzantine Empire as this was the end of the old Roman era and the beginning of their Dark Ages, and a lot of this had to do with the final defeat of their traditional eastern enemy the Sassanid Persian Empire and the unexpected rise of a new power which were the Arabs that in such a quick amount of time took over the entire Middle East as well as half of the Byzantine Empire’s territory. The 7th century is often described as a dark time for Byzantium and was already dark right when this century began when in 602 the emperor Maurice was executed by the usurper Phocas thus ending the great Justinian Dynasty and the age of Antiquity in general and beginning what would be the Dark Ages. The execution of Maurice and Phocas seizing the throne led to war breaking out with the Sassanid Empire in the east as its ruler or shah Khosrow II was an ally of Maurice although he also had the ambition to invade Byzantium and using the execution of Maurice as an excuse, Khosrow II declared war on the Byzantines.

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Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641), art by Skamandros

Phocas however was overthrown and executed by Heraclius in 610 who became the emperor and as emperor he turned all his attention to fighting off the Sassanids and finishing them off for good whereas the Sassanids too had gained the upper hand and invaded a large percent of Byzantine territory including Syria, Egypt, and even laying siege to Constantinople in 626 with the help of the Avars and Slavs who at the same time were also invading the Byzantine Balkans. Heraclius at the end managed to defeat the Sassanids in 628 and reclaim all Byzantine territories lost to them but despite his victory, a large percent of the army was destroyed and the imperial treasury emptied out from the war, therefore meaning that another war would mean the end of Byzantium. True enough, just right after the war with the Sassanids came to an end, just some years later a new unexpected power arose and expanded with such speed with nothing to stop it, and these were the Arabs in the form of their first empire which was the Rashidun Caliphate and their invincibility was already shown when defeating the Byzantine army at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 and defeating the Sassanids too that same year. Following the ultimate defeat of the weakened Byzantine army to the Arabs in 636, the Byzantines in the next few years lost all of their territories in the Middle East including the important cities of Antioch and Jerusalem, thus Heraclius died in 641 seeing everything he restored to the empire fall apart due to the Arab conquests.

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Emperor Constans II of Byzantium (r. 641-668), art by myself

Heraclius’ reign was followed by that of his grandson Constans II (641-668) who in his reign saw all of Egypt fully fall to the control of the Arabs as well as the first Arab naval attacks and raids deep into imperial territory in the east. Though coming to power only as a minor, Constans II would later on prove to be a decisive ruler that held the empire together in such a challenging time and he had also created the new Thematic System or Themes thus restructuring the old Byzantine provinces into smaller ones run by the army in order to strengthen its defenses against the constantly raiding Arabs. Constans II although saw that Constantinople was in a dangerous position as it was vulnerable to the naval attacks of the Arabs and so he decided that the capital should be moved to Syracuse in Sicily where he even set himself up from 663 to 668 thinking that if the east would fall, he could rebuild Byzantium in the west but his plans never came to happen as he was assassinated in his bath in Syracuse in 668. Following Constans II’s death, he was succeeded by his son Constantine IV who despite being still young was a successful ruler and from 674 to 678 successfully defended Constantinople from its first siege by the Arab armies with the use of the new superweapon of Greek Fire.

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Emperor Constantine IV (r. 668-685), son and successor of Constans II

It also happened in the late 7th century in 680 wherein the Bulgarians first appeared and settled in Byzantine lands forming their state and Constantine IV despite his success against the Arabs failed to contain the Bulgar raiders. Following Constantine IV’s death in 685 he was succeeded by his son Justinian II who although had the intention to revive the old glory of Byzantium and defeat all its enemies was too ambitious that his constant fighting off wars led to empire being further weakened while he too had a very oppressive ruling style which led to his downfall in 695 where he was overthrown by the senate, army, and people wherein his nose was cut off and therefore sent into exile afterwards. The 7th century then ended terribly for the Byzantines as the overthrow of Justinian II in 695 threw the empire into anarchy which would see a change of emperor 7 times in the course of 22 years and in this time, the Byzantines too suffered the great loss of losing their last territory in North Africa which was Carthage to the Arabs in 698.

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Emperor Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711), art by Amelianvs

Now, it is no doubt that the 7th century was a very crucial turning point in Byzantine history considering the fall of its old enemy being the Sassanids and the rise of a new one which were the Arabs, the creation of the Thematic System, the invention of Greek Fire, and countless wars everywhere which makes it a very eventful and exciting one. The 7th century for me no doubt had a lot of exciting moments worth remembering and a lot of it had to do with wars such as the full-scale Byzantine-Sassanid War from 602 to 628, the conflict with the Arabs, and the sieges of Constantinople first in 626 by the Sassanids with their Avar and Slav allies and from 674 to 678 by the Arabs, therefore this century is something that would interest war enthusiasts. At the same time, the rulers of this century which was mainly the Heraclian Dynasty being the emperors Heraclius (610-641), Constans II (641-668), Constantine IV (668-685), and Justinian II (685-695) were very interesting and colorful characters as well. The downside of this century however was that everything usually seemed so one-sided which was mostly because it had so much wars from beginning to end that the history of this century would in fact go from exciting to becoming already too tiring and repetitive in story. What makes this century less interesting too aside from that it did not have much to tell except wars, and if not wars its other stories had a lot to do with abstract religious debates such as the controversial new Monothelite doctrine that Heraclius and Constans II supported but was finally declared a heresy by Constantine IV. What makes the 7th century a bit too one dimensional as well was that there were no other interesting characters except for its emperors who were all strong military men, therefore no other interesting stories such as cultural innovations and ambitious women except for Heraclius’ wife Empress Martina who however only had a very brief role in this century at the time of Heraclius’ death in 641. If not for the exciting battles and new inventions like Greek Fire and Thematic System, the 7th century story of Byzantium is more or less disappointing considering how much territory they had lost including half of it which fell to the Arabs, most of the Balkans which fell to the Avars and Slavs and later on the Bulgarians, most of Italy to the Lombards, and all of Byzantine Southern Spain to the Visigoth Kingdom. Despite all the disappointing moments and one-dimensional kind of story that defined the 7th century, I still find it fascinating as it was a major turning point in their history but I would consider it as one of my least favorites for the reason that it did not have much stories to tell except of warfare.

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Greatest extent of the Sassanid Empire (orange) under Khosrow II, by 622
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Defeat of the Byzantine forces (left) to the Arabs (right) at the Battle of Yarmouk, 636
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Byzantine and Arab fleets clash with each other at the Battle of the Masts, 655
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Greek Fire used for the first time at the 674-678 Arab Siege of Constantinople

To learn more about Byzantium in the 7th century, read Chapter IV of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

11. The 14th Century

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Byzantium in 1350 (blue)

The 14th century which is the 2nd to the last century of Byzantium’s existence was no doubt one of its most disappointing ones especially considering how reduced and weakened the Byzantine Empire became due to the damage of the 4th Crusade in the previous century and even though the empire was restored in 1261 by Michael VIII Palaiologos, it was already too late for Byzantium to become a world power again. The 14th century is often the overlooked century in Byzantine history which many history books only make a very quick mention of or if not do mention the century as if it did not exist and true enough it is overlooked for many reasons, thus making this century be known as the “forgotten century”.

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Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1282-1328)

First of all, the 14th century already began terribly for Byzantium as during the reign of Andronikos II Palaiologos when the century began, the empire was close to bankruptcy due to the great amounts of money his father Michael VIII spent in his reign (1261-1282), therefore without much funds the army had to be disbanded but it had happened in such a bad time as a new enemy rose up in Asia Minor which were the Ottomans that may have started out only as a small power in Asia Minor but after winning a number of victories in Asia Minor, they soon enough kept expanding. The reign of Andronikos II was also a very disastrous one due to a major mistake of hiring an unruly band of Catalan mercenaries in 1302 to strike back at the Ottomans which only ended in failure when the Catalans turned on the Byzantines due to lack of pay and as a result of it pillaged Byzantine lands in Thrace and Macedonia burning it to the point of turning it into a desert. The incompetence of Andronikos II’s rule would lead to his downfall as in 1321 his grandson also named Andronikos rose up in rebellion and in 1328 succeeded in overthrowing his grandfather following a 7-year civil war.

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Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1328-1341)

In his reign, the new emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341) vowed to revive the Byzantine Empire and make it at least a significant power in the Balkan region again and so he spent most of his reign in military campaigns which however had mixed results as most of Greece including the rebel Byzantine states of Epirus and Thessaly were returned to Byzantium through Andronikos III’s conquests although he failed when battling the new power of the Ottomans in Asia Minor, thus proving that the Ottomans were now growing far too powerful. Andronikos III at least succeeded in making Byzantium a power in the Balkans but he died too soon in 1341 before seeing his dreams fully achieved, therefore it would be all downhill after his death. The following years after 1341 would be the worst for Byzantium as Andronikos III’s lack of a succession plan led to a civil war between the faction of his young son Emperor John V Palaiologos led by his mother the empress Anna of Savoy who was the late emperor’s wife and Andronikos III’s closest friend and advisor the general John Kantakouzenos.

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Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos of Byzantium (r. 1347-1354)

The civil war ended in 1347 with John Kantakouzenos victorious therefore being crowned as Emperor John VI but this civil war was nothing more but devastating that it totally bankrupted the empire while both sides getting foreign alliances only allowed these foreign powers to take over land such as the Serbian Kingdom of King Stefan IV Dusan which as a result of the civil war took over most of Byzantine Greece and became the Serbian Empire while the Ottomans that backed John VI here finally gained their first territories in Europe as a reward for helping John VI win the war. The other tragedy that further struck Byzantium too was the plague of Black Death in 1347 which further weakened the empire and its economy. The rest of the century too featured more civil wars such as the one in 1354 wherein John V came back to power overthrowing John VI and later on in John V’s reign again, he had to fight a civil war against his son Emperor Andronikos IV in 1373.

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Emperor John V Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1341-1391)

A large part of the 14th century saw Byzantium under the rule of John V Palaiologos from 1341 to his death in 1391 but with many gaps between his reign as he was removed from power 3 times and although he was not blind to the difficulties his empire was facing, he was ineffective in solving them. The 14th century then ended with the Byzantine Empire reduced only to Constantinople and its surroundings which were all surrounded by the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire while other the Byzantine territories they still held such as Thessaloniki, the Morea in Southeast Greece, and the Aegean islands were disconnected by land to the capital. Now the Byzantine story of the 14th century is nothing more but disappointing as the more exciting stories of this century had to do more with the other powers that Byzantium either allied with at this time or fought against such as the Ottoman, Serbian, and 2nd Bulgarian Empires, and the Italian naval republics of Venice and Genoa. The 14th century is definitely more or less the story of the Ottomans as it saw the Ottomans go from a small state at the Byzantine border in Asia Minor to an empire that had both Europe and Asia, yet by the end of the 14th century the Ottomans had in fact crushed both the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires that were just previously this century’s dominant powers.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire

When it comes to the Byzantines’ story in the 14th century during its twilight years, it nothing more but disappointing seeing all the wealth and luxury that once defined Byzantium all disappear while its stories feature a lot of defeats and disasters as well as internal conflicts, and although stories of civil wars, political intrigues, blinding, poisoning, and scandals make Byzantine history interesting, this is not the case for the 14th century as here all these mentioned incidents happen to often that it already becomes too tiring to hear, therefore making this century’s story less memorable. On the other hand, having interesting characters such as Andronikos III, Anna of Savoy, John Kantakouzenos, as well as the Serbian king turned emperor Stefan IV Dusan and the Ottoman sultan Orhan give a bit of excitement to the century but other than that, I would say this century is not a very memorable one which is why I am ranking it very low in this list. Additionally, this century has a lot of importance especially in studying what led to the fall of Constantinople and ultimate end of Byzantium in 1453 as this century was really the story of the Ottoman Empire’s rise, therefore I would say that this century telling the story of how Byzantium’s end came to be adds some interesting element.

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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy (art by Powee Celdran)
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Stefan IV Dusan, Emperor of Serbia (r. 1346-1355), previously King of Serbia
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Map of the spread of Black Death (1347-1351)
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Ottomans defeat the Serbians at the Battle of Kosovo, 1389

12. The 8th Century           

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The Byzantine Empire in 717 (purple)

Last on this list of ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst is the 8th century which is no doubt the least interesting century in Byzantine history for me and it is for a lot of reasons. First of all, the 8th century lacked a lot of sources describing the century as well as the reigns of its emperors in detail while most of the sources of this century are one-sided ones that portray most of its emperors as bloodthirsty monsters, therefore it seems to be hard to appreciate this century’s story. The 8th century already begins with Byzantium in a state of anarchy in which I mentioned earlier had a change of emperor 7 times in 22 years and part of this anarchy period from 705 to 711 was the second reign of the deposed Justinian II who ruled his second reign only to have revenge on those who overthrew him before that his reign ended up just becoming a gore fest in which he himself was executed at the end of it in 711. The worst part about this time of anarchy was that the Arabs now in the form of the Umayyad Caliphate used the chaos in Byzantium to their advantage to launch a massive invasion on Constantinople itself.

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Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, aka Konon (r. 717-741)

In 717, the anarchy period ended when the general Konon came to power as Emperor Leo III and here he successfully defended Constantinople from the Arabs afterwards he restored order by creating his own dynasty. Leo III may have been a successful emperor in battle but his policies turned out to be disastrous for Byzantium and this was specifically Iconoclasm or the declaration to destroy religious icons which he thought would save the empire from its setbacks but at the end only created division among his people and even worse, the first schism with the west which led to the separation between the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Catholic Church. This major controversy of Iconoclasm true enough even led to civil wars in Byzantium such as the one following Leo III’s death in 741 which was between Leo III’s son and successor Constantine V who strongly stood for Iconoclasm and his general Artavasdos who was against it, in which Constantine V was victorious at the end of it in 743 thus blinding Artavasdos.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm under Leo III from the 9th century Chludov Psalter

Constantine V in his long reign (743-775) strongly enforced Iconoclasm in the empire believing it will save the empire from falling apart, though at the same time he was a very popular emperor for winning many battles against both enemies of the empire which were the Arabs in the east and Bulgarians in the north. By the time of his death in 775, Constantine V left the empire much stronger than his father founded in 717 while Constantine V too had the legacy of reforming the army and the Thematic System, however his son and successor Leo IV did not really prove to be effective as he only ruled for 5 years until his death in 780. The 8th century gets only more eventful after 780 when the empire was under the regency of Leo IV’s wife Empress Irene ruling for their young son Constantine VI as at this time Iconoclasm comes to its end in 787 and 10 years later in 797 Irene comes out victorious in the conflict against her son who she blinds here, therefore making her the first woman to rule Byzantium alone.

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2nd Council of Nicaea and the end of Iconoclasm in 787, Irene and Constantine VI leading it

Now what I find very one-sided and uninteresting about the 8th century was that most of it was just seen as Byzantium only fighting to defend itself against the Arabs in the east and Bulgarians in the north while everything else just included internal struggles including civil wars, court intrigue, and of course Iconoclasm which was just nothing but a useless and divisive policy that went on for so long without resulting in anything good except for countless of tortures, blinding, exiling, and destruction of valuable art. On the other hand, the 8th century for me still had a few exciting and memorable moments such as the full-scale Arab siege of Constantinople from 717 to 718 wherein the Byzantines managed to defeat the Arabs with the use of Greek Fire, as well as through some help from the Bulgarians in the north, and a brutal winter that destroyed the Arab army as winter was alien to them while the other only exciting part of the 8th century was Irene’s reign as regent and later as sole empress at the end of the century and nothing more. Now if not for these two moments I find memorable about the 8th century, the rest were plainly nothing but a forgettable gore fest as it featured so much violence and infighting which for me makes the 8th century not a period that interests me a lot. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, the 8th century basically lacks sources to tell it in such a colorful way, but if sources mentioning that era were not so biased then possibly, I would appreciate it more but since we only get a one-sided story of the 8th century which for me tells it in such an uninteresting way, I have to put the 8th century in the bottom of this list as my personal worst century in all of Byzantine history.          

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The 6 emperors of the Byzantine 22-year-Anarchy (695-717)- Leontios (top-left, r. 695-698), Tiberius III (top-middle, r. 698-705), Justinian II Rhinotmetos (top-right, r. 705-711), Philippikos Bardanes (bottom-left, r. 711-713), Anastasius II (bottom-middle, r. 713-715), Theodosius III (bottom-right, r. 715-717), art by myself
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Victory for the Byzantines with Bulgarian aid against the Arabs in Constantinople, 718
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Iconoclasm- breaking of religious icons and persecution of monks in the Byzantine Empire under Constantine V (743-775)
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Empress Irene (r. 797-802), art by myself

To learn more about Byzantium in the 8th century, read Chapter V of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

And now I have come to the end of this list, and before I finish off, I have to say that when it comes to ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history, it is quite a difficult job as basically they all had their moments, except some were just more eventful than the others. Those that I have ranked in the highest numbers of this list such as the 10th, 5th, 6th, and 13th centuries were for me the centuries that had a lot of memorable and exciting moments as well as interesting characters from beginning to end while those ranked at the middle had mixed exciting moments but also dull ones while it is only the 14th and 8th centuries that I personally find less interesting although they too till had some interesting moments and characters. Basically, all these centuries show that Byzantine history was one big roller-coaster of ups and downs with many challenges which makes their history nothing more but totally interesting. Now, this article did not really have so much research involved as it just plainly involved my own thoughts and knowledge on the history of Byzantium. This entry is more or less a break from my extensive alternate history series in which I would want to share to you all my thoughts on the different centuries in Byzantine history. Anyway, this is all for this article on ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst, this is Powee Celdran the Byzantium Blogger, thank you all for viewing!

Byzantine History for Everyday People- Reactions to Quotes from Byzantine History by 5 Different People (Special Edition Article)

Posted by Powee Celdran

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Byzantine Time Traveller logo

Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! As for now, I will be taking a break from the overly lengthy and informative Byzantine Alternate History series as I have now completed the 3rd chapter of my 12-part series. To break my streak of consecutive Byzantine fan fictions, I have decided to come up with another special edition article that is basically a fun activity that also involves the history of Byzantium as I for this year, I had also planned on doing interactive articles wherein I get the chance to interview others on their thoughts on Byzantine history, and now looks like I have finally got the chance to do this! In this activity, I had shown my friends who aren’t so familiar with Byzantine history quotes by famous people of Byzantine history or from Byzantine era texts, asking for their own reactions to it in order to know how they see the world of Byzantium, and this article will be exactly just that. Surprisingly, a lot of them seemed like they totally got these quotes even if they were said centuries before our time but it was also no surprise that they did not get or had a very different interpretation of what some of these quotes said by these Byzantine era people centuries ago actually meant. This article will consist of 4 different quotes which is one from the 6th century emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), his wife Empress Theodora, from the military manual Strategikon by the emperor Maurice (r. 582-602), and from the speech of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) in his last moments before the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire itself on May 29, 1453. Now, Byzantium or the Eastern Roman Empire- or basically the Roman Empire itself continued- has a 1,100 year-long rich history full of fascinating and colorful figures, victories and defeats, wars and intrigues, and so much more and it was for these reasons that someone like me got so passionate about it and because of my now 2-year long unending passion for it, it was only fitting for me to ask some of my friends who keep wondering why I am so obsessed with Byzantium to read these quotes from the Byzantine era itself and see how they would react to them. I myself am not a Byzantine history scholar, academic researcher, or historian but only an entrepreneurship student that had suddenly come to the point of becoming so passionate about Byzantium that it became a part of my life and to further enhance my passion for it, I wanted to share it with my friends and a lot of others I know, who aren’t so familiar with it and for these reasons I have made this activity for these friends of mine, just so that they get themselves familiarized with the fascinating history of Byzantium. Now for this article, what I basically did- as you will see below- is that I listed 4 quotes and for each of them, I asked the same 3 questions “What is your understanding of this quote?”, “What message do you think it was trying to convey?”, and “What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?”, then afterwards I had asked all of them 2 bonus questions about what they think about Byzantium.  

The quotes as you will see will appear in this kind of large text font.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

In order to further enhance my passion for Byzantine history and make it know to my friends and the rest of the world, I have created a number of social media accounts for my Byzantine history passion. Follow me, the Byzantium Blogger on social media:           

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Related Articles from my site The Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Series Chapter III- Justinian the Great

A Review, Analysis, and Casting for the Graphic Novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

My Byzantine Journey (2019-2020)

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

The Complete Genealogy of the Emperors of Byzantium


Before I move on to the Byzantine quotes and the discussion on them, I would first like to introduce the 5 friends- together with their ages put in a parenthesis () beside their names in which I have interviewed here. The 5 of them are between the ages 18 and 28. This article will feature the 5 of them and their reactions and understandings to these quotes that will appear below. All of these 5 people that will be interviewed here despite not knowing so much about Byzantium have already had some experience in Byzantine history related media as all 5 of them have had a part in the Byzantine history Lego epic film I had written, produced, and directed last year “War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic” (2020), click the link below to watch it!

War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020), Lego Byzantine epic by No Budget Films

Miguel Abarentos (23)- He is a graduate of marketing (2019) and a former schoolmate of mine in college. Currently, he is a live streamer for PC games in his Twitchchannel HybridNinja wherein he does live streaming for PC games every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Miguel has also contributed to my films for my Youtube channel No Budget Films by sending me some footage of battle scenes from League of Legends which I have used for some of my films. He also voiced a number of characters for my Lego films, most notably the fictional Byzantine general Stephanos Raoul for both Lego epics Summer of 1261 (2019) and its War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020) and now continues to support my channel by streaming my films in his weekend live streaming in his Twitch channel. By getting to know me, Miguel has also started to be inclined to get to know more about Byzantium.  

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Hybrid Ninja Twitch channel logo

Felipe Chuidian (28)- He is a graduate of entrepreneurship (2019) and a former schoolmate of mine in college. Felipe is a Play Station and basketball fan but also someone who is interested to know a bit more about Byzantium. Felipe has also contributed to my channel by voicing a number of characters for my Lego Byzantine films last year including War of the Sicilian Vespers and The Imperial Epilogue.

Mario Puyat (22)- He is currently studying film (2nd year) in the same college I study in and is a film and pop culture enthusiast. Mario is a big fan of the Star Wars, Marvel, and DC universes but when getting to know me, he somewhat had developed an interest for Byzantium as well. He also contributed a lot to my channel by being a co-producer for my 2020 Lego Byzantine epic War of the Sicilian Vespers wherein he also voiced its leading character Andronikos II Palaiologos who later became Byzantine emperor succeeding his father Michael VIII Palaiologos- who I voiced- and for the films follow up The Imperial Epilogue, Mario also reprised his role as Andronikos II, this time as an old man. In the future, Mario plans to direct films as well as write novels and movie scripts. (Instagram: @mariopuyatrewreplays)

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Real Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (left) vs Lego version (right), Lego character voiced by Mario Puyat

Geno Roy (21)- He is currently studying psychology (3rd year) though not in the same college as I am, though I have already known him for a much longer time. Geno is a big film and pop culture enthusiast as well as a photographer and has contributed a lot to my channel especially in my Byzantine Lego films by being the behind-the-scenes photographer for the Lego character pictures, while at the same time, he had also been part of the extra voice cast for a lot of my films. You can also see the pictures Geno took for my Lego Byzantine characters side by side with their respective historical characters on Bored Panda. (Instagram: @roy_geno)

Carlos Francisco (18)- He is currently a senior high school student who I have known for a very long time and has been contributing to my channel ever since 2016. Carlos is a very big fan of pop culture especially Marvel, Star Wars, and Cobra Kai but has also started an interest for Byzantium through me. He has made a major impact for my channel for a consecutive 5 years now as a co-producer, videographer, photographer, and set assistant for my Lego films and for my Byzantine films, he is notable for voicing the old monk and scholar character Georgios Doukas for the 2019 Lego Byzantine epic Summer of 1261 and its 2020 sequel War of the Sicilian Vespers. (Instagram: @itscarlosfrancisco)

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Lego Byzantine character Georgios Doukas, voiced by Carlos Francisco

The Quotes

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I.          

The first quote mentioned here is one that came from perhaps Byzantium’s most influential emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) who’s name is synonymous with the Byzantine Empire. Justinian I- who was the main focus of my previous article- is best remembered for his ambitious projects in restoring the Roman Empire by retaking the Western Roman provinces of Italy, North Africa, and Hispania putting them back again under Roman control, from the imperial capital Constantinople.

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Emperor Justinian I the Great of Byzantium (r. 527-565)

Justinian is one of the few Byzantine emperors whose legacy still lives up to this day as seen with the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople still standing today in its 6th century form built under Justinian and in legal matters, Justinian is best remembered for issuing the Corpus Juris Civilis or “Body of Civil Laws” in 529 which was to be the empire’s standard code of laws and it is still used up to this day as the basis for the legal systems of many countries. Justinian the Great ruled a total of 38 years seeing the Byzantine Empire at its greatest extent but his reign was one of constantly fighting against the odds wherein he faced a number of devastating wars, economic crisis, a pandemic known as the “Plague of Justinian” in 542, and several natural disasters but with his wisdom and strong rule, he was able to keep his massive empire together. This quote below is something Justinian the Great would have stood by which is something from his code of laws.

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Quote by Emperor Justinian I

Freedom is the natural ability of everyone to do what he likes, unless it is prohibited by law or by force.

-Emperor Justinian I the Great

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The Hagia Sophia, built under Justinian I
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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian I, 555 (gold)

Q&A

Powee Celdran (PC): What is Your understanding of this quote?

Miguel Abarentos (MA): This quote is a no brainer. It’s basically saying that we all have freedom in nature, and that rules and regulations restrict us from doing a lot of things. Like for example killing a person. Everyone is free to kill but rules say, you kill, you go to jail. Hence freedom is restricted.

Felipe Chuidian (FC): God gave us free will and intelligence. We have freedom to do anything for as long as we are not breaking laws of man and God.

Mario Puyat (MP): Everyone really has freedom to do what he/she wants even to please themselves. But if what they want is too harsh or mean, illegal, or abuses the idea of freedom than there should be some limitations.

Geno Roy (GR): Everyone is free to do what they want unless there are authorities that have the tendency to prohibit it.

Carlos Francisco (CF): You can do anything but there will be consequences or free will isn’t really free.

PC: What message do you think Emperor Justinian I was trying to convey here?

MA: That if you give humans too much freedom, there will be chaos. I can tell by the fact that he said “freedom to do whatever he likes”. Technically that also involves cruel things like killed, forced sex, and etc. with rules and regulations that put that to halt and I agree as of right now, we only have a degree of freedom but not to a full extent like a lion if they kill their kind, they would not be subject to human law.

FC: We enjoy freedom but we must also take into consideration others and most importantly our Creator.

MP: That everyone has freedom to do what they want, but if it will lead to danger or something harming the law then that is a bad form of freedom, or abusing freedom.

GR: Everyone can be free unless there are prohibitions that start.

CF: That people are under a rule.

PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?

MA: Yeah, it does! So easily, remove rules and regulations and give humans full extent of freedom, oh boy!

FC: In today’s world where everyone does what gives pleasure, it is important to realize that we are accountable for every action we do.

MP: It has relevance with maybe speaking out anything political.

GR: The relevance it would have in today’s world would be all citizens can be free to do what they want to do in the country but they have to follow the governments orders.

CF: That there’s still rules to follow.

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Justinian I enters the Hagia Sophia for the first time, 537

Watch Dovahhatty’s episode on Justinian the Great here:


II.         

The next quote here is this time from Emperor Justinian I the Great’s wife Empress Theodora (500-548), originally an actress of low birth who later fell in love with Justinian who was 17 years older than her before he became emperor. Despite having humble origins- and so did Justinian- together with her husband, they were strong and decisive rulers. Theodora’s strong personality by solving a problematic situation by force happened in a fateful event in 532 when the chariot racing political factions of the Byzantine Empire, in the imperial capital Constantinople turned on Justinian for his reforms which seemed unpopular for them becoming what would be known as the Nika Riot as the rioters shouted “Nika!” meaning “conquer” in Greek.

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Empress Theodora (center) with her court ladies

Each day the riots got worse and worse turning into total violence and destruction as the rioters burned their way through the capital destroying several important landmarks. Justinian thought the situation was hopeless as the rioters proclaimed another man named Hypatius as emperor and so he thought that they must flee the palace and possibly retake the capital but Theodora stepped in with a speech encouraging Justinian to send the army to mercilessly kill the rioters in order for the couple to remain in power and at the end, Justinian listened to her and 30,000 rioters were killed, thus the couple was spared and had remained in power. This rather complicated speech by Empress Theodora which these 5 people will react to says, which however only 2 out of the 5 have had something to say about it.  

My lords, the present occasion is too serious to allow me to follow the convention that a woman should not speak in a man’s council. Those whose interests are threatened by extreme danger should think only of the wisest course of action, not of conventions.

In my opinion, flight is not the right course, even if it should bring us to safety. It is impossible for a person, having been born to this world, not to die; but for one who has reigned it is intolerable to be a fugitive. May I never be deprived of this purple robe, and may I never see the day when those who meet me do not call me empress.

If you wish to save yourself, my lord, there is no difficulty. We are rich; over there is the sea, and yonder are the ships. Yet reflect for a moment whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you would not gladly exchange such safety for death. As for me, I agree with the adage that the royal purple is the noblest shroud.

-Empress Theodora, 532

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Theodora convinces Justinian to crush the Nika Riot, 532

Q&A

PC: What is your understanding of this quote?

MA: I actually have no idea what to say about it aside from gender double standards that a woman can’t be in a man’s position and then there is also reference of financial status that the rich should live and the poor should not.

FC: The one speaking is a woman, who in her time is forbidden to speak up. She is not free to express herself but she finds it vital to make a statement especially for those who do not have a voice.

MP: (no answer to this particular quote)

GR: (no answer to this particular quote)

CF: (no answer to this particular quote)

PC: What message do you think Empress Theodora was trying to convey here?

MA: She (Theodora) would rather die as a royal than get dethroned and live because at least you die a high status instead of living as a low status.

FC: She sees the need to fight and not to flee.

MP: (no answer to this particular quote)

GR: (no answer to this particular quote)

CF: (no answer to this particular quote)

PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?

MA: It seems to only be relevant to arrogant rich people. Honestly, at least that’s what it feels like.

FC: In today’s world, we need to take courage and not be afraid even if it costs us our lives.

MP: (no answer to this particular quote)

GR: (no answer to this particular quote)

CF: (no answer to this particular quote)

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Empress Theodora artist’s rendition (art by JaneArts)
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Justinian and Theodora inspect the aftermath of the Nika Riot, 532

III.           

This next quote is from the military manual known as the Strategikon of Maurice, one of the best sources for Byzantine battle tactics and military formations. This military manual was written in around 600, though it is debated whether it was written by the emperor Maurice (r. 582-602) or just attributed to him but considering Maurice being a soldier emperor and in fact the first emperor to actually lead his troops in person in over 200 years since Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), it is most likely Maurice wrote it.

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Maurice, Byzantine emperor (r. 582-602)

The Strategikon was made to codify new battle tactics developed in this era of constant war and emergence of new enemies unknown to the Romans before and it consists of 12 chapters which focus on specific topics relating to war such as formations, ambushes, baggage trains, training drills, strategies for generals, military maxims, instructions for sieges, surprise attacks, and most importantly the characteristics and battle tactics of the enemies the Byzantines fought in the late 6th and early 7th centuries such as the Franks and Goths of the west, Avars and Slavs of the north, and Sassanid Persians of the east. This book makes a point that in order to defeat an enemy, you must know their culture and battle tactics and part of this suggested that it was best to fight the Slavs across the Danube by attacking them during winter, and though this may be a successful tactic in repelling the Slavs, this caused the emperor Maurice his downfall being an unpopular instruction to his soldiers which led to them to rebel in 602 thus deposing and executing Maurice and his sons.

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The Strategikon of Emperor Maurice

The Strategikon may have been successful in helping the Byzantines fight several enemies that raided the highly exposed borders of their massive empire at this time but little did the Byzantines know then that soon enough they would face an unlikely enemy from the desserts of the south, the Arabs which the Strategikon makes no mention of their fighting styles and true enough the Arabs did expand so greatly that they have been a constant pain for the Byzantine for the next 3 centuries almost bringing an end to Byzantium. Though Byzantium was to face the fatal threat of the Arabs, the Strategikon true enough still proved to be an effective manual for battle tactics for the next centuries of the empire’s existence, especially since the Byzantines no doubt had to keep fighting wars without end which they became known for, yet they fought smart thanks to the instructions of the Strategikon. One quote from this manual which is a good glimpse on how the Byzantine armies fought smart, meaning staying in formation and not charging out courageously, in which the 5 of the interviewees will respond to says:

Do not fall back, do not advance ahead of your standard. This is what a brave soldier does. If you leave your standard, you will lose. Do not charge out impetuously, do not break ranks.

-Strategikon of Maurice

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Manuscript of Maurice’s Strategikon

Q&A

PC: What is your understanding of this quote?

MA: As a soldier, don’t push your limit. Don’t play like you’re an experienced general. Always play it safe.

FC: It means soldiers are being advised to stand their grounds.

MP: I guess don’t retreat, don’t go ahead, go at the same pace as your fellow soldiers. Go together.

GR: Always stick to any standard that you have so that you can be more dominant as you go on.

CF: Balance your behavior, or balance is the key.  

PC: What message do you think the Strategikon of Maurice was trying to convey here?

MA: It feels more like you’re being told to know your place in order to live but at the same time, don’t look down on yourself, hence the “do not fall back”.

FC: Simply bravery meaning following orders.

MP: About being and charging together amongst your fellow soldiers and not going alone. Pretty much teamwork.

GR: To always show strength as a soldier.

CF: There is no good or bad.

PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?

MA: It is for people who think they can suddenly surpass an experienced individual.

FC: In today’s word, we are asked not to lower our standard otherwise we lose.

MP: If people want to rebel or fight back like to their government or anyone else, it would be together, not alone.

GR: People should have standards to increase their confidence in today’s world.

CF: It is relevant when it comes to situations like balancing moods.

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Early period Byzantine soldiers in training (art by Amelianvs)

Watch the latest animated documentary on Maurice’s Strategikon by Kings and Generals here.


IV.           

This last quote for this article is an excerpt from the final speech of the Byzantine Empire’s last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) addressing his soldiers on the early morning of May 29, 1453, the day the Byzantine Empire ended as Constantinople fell to the army of the Ottoman Turks led by their sultan Mehmed II.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453), the last Byzantine emperor

The Byzantine Empire survived centuries of wars and new enemies one after the other invading thus weakening their empire and out of all the enemies they faced from the Persians, to the Arabs, Bulgars, Rus, to the Seljuks, and Crusaders, the one that would spell the end for the Byzantines were the Ottoman Turks. In the last years of Byzantium, the Ottomans rapidly grew their empire in Asia Minor before expanding into Europe and true enough they had expanded all the way deep into the Balkans leaving Constantinople alone but still, Constantinople was the ultimate prize and by the 1450s it was definitely possible as the 1,100-year-old capital, Constantinople was already surrounded by Ottoman territory. The young Ottoman sultan Mehmed II came to power in 1451 and was totally driven to begin his reign by taking Constantinople and to do this, he first simply asked the reigning Byzantine emperor Constantine XI if he could easily surrender the city but the emperor refused as knowing the end of Byzantium was inevitable, he would rather end it in a more honorable way by putting up a fight rather than shamefully surrendering thus Mehmed II launched a massive attack on Constantinople’s impregnable walls fating back to the 5th century which here 1453 proved ineffective against the cannons the Ottomans had built.

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Ottoman sultan Mehmed II captures Constantinople, May 29, 1453

Constantine XI with only 7,000 men in which only 2,000 were Byzantines and the rest being Italian and other Western European (Latin) mercenaries strongly resisted the Ottomans for over 2 months but the end was true enough unstoppable. Constantine XI knowing the end was to come, as recorded by his advisor George Sphrantzes, made an encouraging speech thanking all his soldiers, both local and foreign for their support, and reminding them all they are fighting and dying for a noble cause, the great legacy of the 1,100-year Byzantine Empire. This excerpt from this famous speech in which the 5 interviewees will respond to says:

Consider then, my brothers and comrades in arms, how the commemoration of our death, our memory, fame and freedom can be rendered eternal.

-Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, 1453

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Remains of the Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450
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1453, the final siege of Constantinople and fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans

Q&A

PC: What is your understanding of this quote?

MA: Basically, even though their bodies are mortal and will die, their accomplishments are immortal and will be forever recorded in history. I would say “if I will die, I am going to die historic”.

FC: The person (Constantine XI) here is like a soldier telling his comrades that their death will be considered everlasting.

MP: It’s like how his teammates or fellow soldiers in arms when they reach their death, the memory of those soldiers and their fame and freedom that came with them will always be with them. So, when they die, everything they had including their love, memory, fame, and freedom died with them. They weren’t alone.

GR: This quote talks about how people can strengthen their eternity.

CF: When one ends, the other begins.

PC: What message do you think Emperor Constantine XI was trying to convey here?

MA: That our accomplishments will never be forgotten.

FC: I think that when saying it, Constantine XI was ready to die.

MP: They weren’t alone when they died, since they were buried with their love, memory, fame, and freedom.

GR: That it is essential to depend on eternity.

CF: With everything, I (Constantine XI) will have a legacy.

PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?

MA: To motivate people into leaving a mark in the world, so even when they die, they will not be forgotten for what they did

FC: We need not be afraid to die if we have lived well.

MP: If people die or get put in jail for what they did, they did it with honor.

GR: Our freedom can always lead to eternity.

CF: A lot of legends nowadays are gone but their legacy will be honored.

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Last moments of Emperor Constantine XI, May 29, 1453
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The Ottomans capture Constantinople, May 29, 1453

Watch this video from Eastern Roman History to get the full final speech of Constantine XI Palaiologos in 1453.


Bonus Questions

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PC: Would you imagine yourself living centuries ago in the age of the Byzantine Empire? If yes, then how do you think your life will be living in those times?

MA: I am not sure, based on my personality, I don’t think I would be fighting in the olden militaries.

FC: No, because I don’t think I would be able to survive fighting with war and I wouldn’t really go around the world that frequently.  

MP: Not really, I wouldn’t imagine myself in those times.

GR: No.

CF: Nope, I can’t imagine that, sorry.

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Life in Byzantine Constantinople (art by Amelianvs)

PC: Would the 1,100-year history of the Byzantine Empire which includes epic battles, civil wars, political intrigues, interesting emperors and empresses, and fascinating cutting-edge inventions be something of interest to you?

MA: Yes, it would be, if someone were to make a movie put of it, I wouldn’t mind giving it a watch

FC: Yes, it would be something of interest to me. I would also like to know more about these things.

MP: Maybe the Romans with their battles but not the Byzantines even if they are more or less the same.

GR: Yes, if ever I travel to a European country, it would be a pleasure for me to be familiar with them.

CF: Yes, these kinds of things make history more interesting. It gives us new ideas and thoughts of things in life.  

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Byzantine armies- Cataphract cavalry (art by Ana Cagic)
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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy (art by Powee Celdran)

And now as the Q&A section with my 5 friends has come to an end, let me now share you my own thoughts and reactions these said quotes by these famous Byzantine era people. For the first quote said by Justinian I, I surely agree that we all have free will but there must be something like the law control it because our free will can sometimes go out of hand. As for the speech of Theodora, like the rest of my friends, I agree it is a complicated passage but from my understanding I would say that it totally makes sense that when faced with a difficult situation, yet you want to get through with it, you must act on it quick and with force and just like Theodora I agree that it is better to die free or doing what you like or in Theodora’s case die as ruler rather than live in fear or in Theodora’s case live your life in defeat. For that particular quote from Maurice’s Strategikon on staying in formation, I would totally agree that this quote best defines Byzantine military tactics as for them winning battles meant staying in formation and fighting in an orderly and disciplined manner and not by striking first or heroically and sometimes this quote makes sense especially when it comes to teamwork done in group projects. Now with the last quote, I only chose to use one part from Constantine XI’s final speech in which I think is the most touching part of this dramatic speech as in that part, I could see how he sees that even if they are dead, the legacy of their empire will live on and from this particular part of his speech, I can totally relate to it because people even when long gone will be remembered forever like Constantine XI and when saying this speech, he could already see his future long after his death as even though he and the Byzantine Empire are gone, his bravery and sacrifice displayed in the final battle against Ottomans would remain one of the most remembered moments not only in Byzantine but world history as one of history’s most dramatic last stands. On the other hand, I would say that my friends who are not very familiar but starting to get to know something about Byzantium have actually got a good understanding of the gist of these quotes from Byzantine times even if they might have not completely and thoroughly understood the full context of them. As for the bonus questions, they have no relation to the 4 quotes mentioned above, but before finishing off I thought of asking them these questions as a way to test if they surely know the Byzantine history I always talk about and to know if they actually are interested to learn about it. It was quite a surprise to me that these 5 friends even if they have no previous experiences with Byzantine history and rather live in their own worlds that they have some kind of inclination to get into Byzantine history that was I did and so I recommended a few sites to check out online as well as Facebook groups focusing on Byzantine history for them to join as well as videos on Byzantium to watch in my channel No Budget Films as well those from Eastern Roman History, or my favorite one Dovahhatty and also to listen the very well researched and written History of Byzantium Podcasts. These sites include the likes of The Byzantine Legacy, Byzantine Tales, and Byzantine Real History as for the FB groups, these include Roman and Byzantine History and Byzantine Real History (BRH) which they took into consideration as well.        

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Constantinople, Byzantine Imperial capital

And now I have come to the end of this special edition interactive article. When reading this, you could now see that the reason for it was not just to break the streak of the lengthy and expansive short stories featuring the endless universe of Byzantine history but to again reconnect with my friends. For the past 3 months, ever since I started my Byzantine history Instagram account, followed by my Facebook page, then Patreon, then Twitter, life has been very busy nonstop posting Byzantine history content online which includes my blog articles written in the past months in order to grow my online accounts to increase awareness on the forgotten yet fascinating history of Byzantium. Along the way, I have met- only virtually and not personally- many great friends from different countries who also have a fascination with Byzantium but in the process, I also did not want to leave my friends who I’ve known for much longer behind as well as my old interests and hobbies in pop culture prior to my Byzantine interest so the best solution I came up with to both stay on track on my Byzantine journey yet still reconnect with my old friends was to get them a bit involved in Byzantium; hence this activity was created. Again, I have to say that I am surprised that my friends who live in their own worlds actually feel some kind of inspiration to like Byzantine history and I certainly appreciate that. On the other hand, when doing this article, I have also come to discover when reading through these said quotes and my friends’ responses to them that a lot of what has happened in Byzantium and what we have learned from these people back then do still have some relevance in today’s world. The Byzantine Empire may be long gone but its legacy still lives on and this include the wise words said here that we can still take into consideration and true enough what Constantine XI said in his final speech about their legacy living on throughout the centuries, it is truly evident. Now, as the first quarter of 2021 comes to an end, I have also made this article to mark the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second, so this means at every end of a quarter, I would definitely come up with other interactive special edition articles like this featuring interviews with friends or other Byzantine history enthusiasts. Well, this is all for this special edition article and before I finish off, I’d like to thank my 5 friends for handing over some of their time to be interviewed about their thoughts on Byzantium for this article and of course I would like to thank all of you viewers for reading this and I hope you got what my friends were saying here! This is Powee Celdran, the Byzantium Blogger, thank you all for viewing!    

A Byzantine History fan reacts to new Byzantine graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale including a Complete Book Review/ Analysis and fan casting for the novel

Posted by Powee Celdran

Theophano does a great job showing us the unknown side of history in such a fascinating and contemporary way that we can relate to centuries later. It has such an amazing balance of Byzantine easter eggs and stories mixed with modern pop culture elements and truly has the potential to introduce the world of Byzantium into today’s pop culture.” -Powee Celdran, Byzantine history fan and creator of The Byzantium Blogger

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ATICLE AND MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!

If you don’t want any spoilers, please order the book online in Amazon and Comixology.

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Theophano: A Byzantine Tale (2020)

Welcome to the Byzantium Blogger’s first post for 2021! Hello everyone, I am Powee Celdran better known as the “Byzantium Blogger” and I would like to start off my new Byzantine adventure for this year 2021 with a very special article featuring the recently published graphic novel with a Byzantine era setting Theophano: A Byzantine Tale (2020), a Byzantine fan fiction based on real historical events. For almost 2 years now, my life has been all about this history of the Byzantine Empire that I have been making articles on this site non-stop and Lego films with a Byzantine setting on my channel No Budget Films since then but sadly the story of the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire is not very much talked about and neither is it brought into the world of pop culture the way the history of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe is. However last year (2020), when hearing out of the blue that a new graphic novel with a Byzantine era setting has been published, my heart literally jumped out of my chest finding out that Byzantine history sure enough does have a place in the world of pop culture. This graphic novel by the way written by Spyros Theocharis and illustrated by Chrysa Sakel is set in the 10th century golden age of the Byzantine Empire under the Macedonian Dynasty, an intriguing and exciting time in of resurgence in their imperial power as the military and cultural power of Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean but behind all this power and glory in this era was also a time of extreme imperial extravagance, a toxic imperial court run by scheming eunuchs, and powerful generals all eyeing the ultimate prize, the imperial throne. This graphic novel which is divided into 5 chapters tells the story of these complex times yet very fascinating up to this day in the perspective of Theophano, an actual historical figure of this time who was a young woman of humble origins that up marrying the imperial heir and later becoming the empress of the Byzantine Empire herself being the wife of 2 emperors as well as a mother of 2 emperors. Overall, this graphic novel does a truly great job showing us readers in the modern age what the lesser known lifestyle, politics, battles, and fashion was in the interesting time of the 10th century when the Byzantine Empire was at its height and I have to definitely say that I had the great honor of actually getting to interview the creators of this novel by messaging them through Instagram, more particularly with the novel’s illustrator Chrysa Sakel who I have asked a long series of questions to which have proven useful to guide my article/ graphic novel review. It was quite a challenge to actually get the chance of having a private Q&A with the graphic novel’s creators that in fact the whole process took 4 days! At the end it was all worth it as I got to know more about not just the behind-the-scenes of writing this novel but about the background of the story and its littlest details and why in particular Theophano was chosen as the subject of the story and I would like to thank Chrysa very much for giving some of her time to answer all the questions I have come up with when reading the novel in order for me to make this article possible. In addition, I am also going to do something very unique and special for this article which will be a fan casting for the graphic novel as when reading the novel, I had already envisioned a list of actors and actresses who in my opinion could nail playing the characters featured here. Now this article here will be overall how a Byzantine history fan reacts to this amazing new graphic novel. Before I even start, I have to mention that this novel will be featured today at the Edinburgh Byzantine book festival and fortunately I came right in time to complete this article on the book!

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Check out their website byzantinetales.com to get more info on the graphic novel. 

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Follow the novel’s illustrator on Instagram: ChrysaSakel

Watch the trailer to the graphic novel here!

(Photo credits: Byzantine Tales FB page, Madrid Skylitzes, and artworks by Amelianvs and Ediacar)

Last year, it was when listening to the History of Byzantium podcasts by Robin Pierson and the podcast of Byzantium and Friends by the historian Anthony Kaldellis where I learned that this graphic novel existed so I decided to order it online wherein I received the book at the very start of this year so I kick started 2021 reading this 137 page graphic novel and 3 weeks later, I finished reading it in time to ask a number of questions to its creators through Instagram after I shared a story last January 25 that I have complete reading it. Luckily, when I received the book and posted it as my first post in my newly created Byzantium centered Instagram account Byzantine_Time_Traveller, the creators using the novel’s account followed my new account the moment I shared my post and tagged them. Reading this novel sure gave me a really fascinating impression of Byzantium in the 10th century, however I already knew what to expect since for one I am already very familiar with the whole history of Byzantium ever since I have been drawn to it in early 2019 and second I am already familiar with the story of Theophano and 10th century Byzantium and what it is known for as before reading this novel I have a read number of Byzantine history books as well and the best so far- aside from this graphic novel of course- that totally gave me a perfect glimpse of the life of the Byzantine Empire was Anthony Kaldellis’ Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities and The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici in which second one mentioned tells the story of Byzantium through the lives of all its emperors from beginning to end (330-1453). Now I would say this graphic novel would be a good start off for readers who are not very familiar with the history of Byzantium and I would highly recommend it to my friends and cousins who don’t really understand why I am so into Byzantium, and hopefully this novel will show them just why. Basically, why this graphic novel can hopefully make Byzantium relatable to modern people is because this novel tells its story in such a contemporary way through the same kind of modern language we use for its dialogue and very well made drawings that can make us imagine these historical Byzantine figures as real people and no longer as faded stick figures as they have been depicted in their time through manuscripts like the Madrid Skylitzes and Menologion of Basil II.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

Please check out my online sites too!

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On the other hand, as I have mentioned earlier I have been doing Lego fan fiction films using the subtitle of “Byzantine Epic” since 2019 and surprisingly the first one I did with a Byzantine setting was set in the same era of this novel with the emperor Nikephoros II Phokas as its main character who happens to be a major character in this novel. This Lego Byzantine epic I did set in the 10th century was The Rise of Phokas (2019) in which Theophano too had a quick appearance as a Lego character, then this was followed by its short sequel Killing a Byzantine Emperor (2019) focusing plainly on the assassination of Nikephoros II, which (spoiler alert!) also appears at the end of this novel. The surprising part happens to be that the creators started creating this novel in the last quarter of 2019 and finished in the summer of 2020 and ironically enough it was in the last quarter of 2019 that I made my full feature 13th century Byzantine era epic Summer of 1261 while its sequel War of the Sicilian Vespers was released in the summer of 2020. Now when it comes to bringing the hidden history of Byzantium into the world of pop culture, I should say first that even I intend to do that which is why I make Byzantine Lego films that are relatable to today’s viewers and other than myself there is someone I have always been mentioning in my past articles which is my favorite Youtube channel Dovahhatty who has reached great levels of success through his animated 19 episode series the Unbiased History of Rome in which now began its second season with its first episode on Byzantium but between my channel and Dovahhatty, this graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale is what I should say is the one that pretty much nailed it in making Byzantium something worthy of modern pop culture the same way many medieval fantasy series and films like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones does and if you continue reading this, you will know why. Basically, this novel is written in the form a failed fairytale by doing what a Disney fairytale movie does in centering on a young female lead character which in this case is Theophano and why in particular Theophano was chosen according to the creators in my Q&A was because they did not want a really famous character in Byzantine history like Emperor Justinian I of the 6th century or Basil II of the 10th century but someone who’s story is mostly unclear and Empress Theophano was certainly the perfect choice for it as her story could be altered but at the same time she was chosen as the main character because her story was very interesting as she acted as a link between the famous characters of this era including Emperors Constantine VII, Romanos II, Nikephoros II Phokas, and John I Tzimiskes as the main part of the novel covers a span of a complete 20 years in her life (956-976). On the other hand, this novel was also done to show a more human side to the character of Theophano as history usually remembers her as an evil empress that killed 3 emperors which were her father-in-law and 2 husbands out of her own evil ambitions and I have to admit I thought the same way too before but when reading this novel, it made me see a different side to her which was that she was sure enough ambitious but necessarily evil as history shows her as when reading this, I came to realize that Theophano sure enough was doing all these evil things just to protect herself and her children’s succession as basically the world around her was evil with plots left and right. Now before I move on to the rest of my article, I also want to congratulate the creators of this graphic novel as after 6 months of being published it has been quite successful so far that it now has a Greek version coming up and a good number of online reviews and features including this article right here!

Other Reviews and Articles on Theophano: A Byzantine Tale:

From Medievalist.net

From Fan Base Press

From Greek City Times

From Eileen Stephenson

Related Articles from my site The Byzantium Blogger:

My Personal Byzantine Journey (2019-2020)

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Lego Byzantine Epic

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

The Complete Genealogy of Byzantine Emperors

7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium

Reasons Why You Should Buy and Read Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

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Many still think that Roman civilization ended in 476 when the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna was taken over by a barbarian mercenary named Odoacer who deposed the last emperor Romulus Augustus and became King of Italy leaving the rest of Europe to fall into the Dark Ages ruled by barbarian kingdoms. The truth is that in 395, the Roman Empire was split between east and west permanently and when the west fell in 476, the east survived as what we know as the Byzantine Empire which lived throughout the entire middle ages still using the name of the “Roman Empire”. This novel thus shows us that in the 10th century when the rest of Europe (England, France, Germany) went through hard times of constant wars and broken kingdoms, there was one side of the world where things remained as culturally and intellectually advanced as Ancient Rome which was the Byzantine Empire having a very cosmopolitan and technologically advanced capital which was Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) known as “The Queen of Cities”. However, despite Byzantium being a lot more advanced than Western Europe, it was still very far from perfect as in the 10th century Byzantium despite rising above their enemies still fought chronic wars against their neighbors such as the Arab powers and the Bulgarian Empire and it’s imperial court was very unstable as it was filled with ambitious officials and generals all wanting the throne but no matter how unstable politics were, the empire at least had a stable system of government.

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Constantinople, Byzantine imperial capital

Theophano shows us what the word “byzantine” means in this current day meaning “complicated” is as it really shows it in detail how complicated the imperial court worked with scheming eunuchs and ambitious generals all in the quest for power, hence giving birth to the definition of this word. At the same time, it brings the word “byzantine” in a very realistic sense to a fairytale story especially since it is the kind of fairytale story that is not to have a happy climax and ending.

It has done a pretty great job in its illustrations which were created using the software Procreate for the illustrations and Photoshop for its finishing touches. Its illustrator Chrysa Sakel has surely done it with such color, life, and emotion and not only are characters drawn so impressively but backgrounds and scenes too from city life in Constantinople to famous landmarks depicted in its full glory and armies in massive battles. The art of this novel according to friends I have showed it to say it does not look as intricate as those in the Marvel and DC comics but in fairness, this novel was actually Chrysa’s first project as a comic illustrator as said in her profile at the end of the book, although it also says she has been doing traditional art since age 5 and this here is her first project using digital art. Other than that, in my Q&A with Chrysa, she said that its style was intended to look cartoonish because it is actually targeted for younger readers.

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Sample drawing in “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale”

Nevertheless, all these illustrations true enough bring Byzantium to life as the History of Byzantium podcast host Robin Pierson and Professor Anthony Kaldellis have mentioned. Now in my opinion, I’d say the illustrations are able to capture the look and proportions of the landmarks a lot better than it does in showing some realism in the faces of the characters.

You will be invested in the characters despite the cartoonish style of drawing because their faces still show a lot of emotion and so do their dialogues show a lot of drama, and when reading you surely be invested in many characters such as Theophano, Romanos II, Nikephoros II, and John Tzimiskes. When reading it, the story gives you two different feelings, first from Theophano’s perspective, the story seems more like a fairtytale story while on the perspective of Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes it seems like an American Western style film which focuses on the frontier while here, I would say a Byzantine Western style film through the point of view of the army generals.

The novel’s illustrations and story were based on intense research done by its writer Spyros Theocharis who has based the novel on both Byzantine sources of the 10th century as well as Slavic sources like the Primary Chronicle by Nestor the chronicler and as I asked where the evidence of what costumes in the novel actually looked like, it turns out it was very well researched too and not just a wild guess of Byzantine fashion in its 1,100 years of existence, instead it was based on illustrated manuscripts from that era of Theophano more or less such as the well-known Madrid Skylitzes by the 11th century court official John Skylitzes which documents the history of Byzantium from 811 to 1057 through a series of illustrations and the Menologion of Emperor Basil II made in the year 1000, therefore making the costumes you see very accurate to that of the era.

It is a unique work putting Byzantium in pop culture as nowadays, there are many pop culture media set in the medieval world whether they are fictional but based on the real world like The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and The Witcher or historical series such as Vikings and The Last Kingdom but all are based or are set in Western Europe particularly England and France showing the medieval period as dark and gray with only stone castles and farmhouses whereas Byzantium is almost non-existent in medieval pop culture or films except for possibly Greek films and films all the way back in the 1950s when period films were the thing. Theophano gives a different outlook to the middle ages by showing a rich world where things were just as sophisticated and literate as it was in Classical Greece or Rome yet even more extravagant than it. However, LOTR does in fact have some inspiration from Byzantium and here no one really knows that J.R.R. Tolkien based the Kingdom of Gondor on the Byzantine Empire and its civilization which is why they use a communication system of beacons similar to Byzantium in the 10th century. In the world of video games however, it is only Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011) that has a Byzantium angle but they only play a minor role in it while popular history for children series like Horrible Histories has no mention of Byzantium at all!

The 10th century setting of the novel surely makes it sellable because aside from the era of Justinian I in the 6th century, many who are familiar with Byzantium will know this era as well as it was their second golden age wherein they had grown to be Europe’s cultural and military power. On the other hand, this happens to be the best era of Byzantium to do a movie or comic on especially centering on Theophano since all the famous people of that time many are familiar with such as Emperors Constantine VII, Nikephoros II Phokas, and John I Tzimiskes all meet each other and at the same time, it was the time in Byzantine history wherein they had it all from scholarly works, to mechanical thrones, lavish feasts, Greek Fire, the professional Thematic armies including the famous Cataphract cavalry, and richly decorated churches. On the other hand, many would immediately think of Justinian I’s reign when hearing of Byzantium, however in that time they would still associate Byzantium with the Roman Empire of old whereas this 10th century setting of Theophano will show you the authentic medieval Greek Byzantine Empire known for its complex politics and imperial extravagance.  

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Byzantine Cataphract army in the novel

This novel can help familiarize people with Byzantium because it is written in such a way that the complicated life of Byzantium can be easily understood as instead of using such formal language many period films do, the dialogues the characters speak are spoken in the modern casual English we use today. Personally this is something I would love seeing in period films and in fact, in the Lego films I make for No Budget Films, I choose to make my voice actors speak in the modern English language they normally use in real life and not fake it by speaking in a formal old fashioned way so it seems both natural and relatable and I see that this novel tries to do just that.

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires

It also tries to be very authentic despite being relatable to the present day in its dialogue as it uses titles that barely anyone except Byzantinists know like Kouropalates and Spatharios to give the feeling that you are rreally in the medieval Byzantine world. Even though it is set in what we know as the Byzantine Empire, the word “byzantine” is not even used by the characters as the Byzantines in fact never called themselves that, instead they still referred to themselves as the “Romans” and the characters in this novel sure enough do that calling their empire still the “Empire of the Romans” or “Romania” or in Greek Basileia ton Rhomaion. The word “byzantine” referring to the empire was in fact only coined in the 16th century a century after the fall of Byzantium by westerners who did not see Byzantium as Rome’s imperial successor, thus the empire was stuck with that term. However, some of the characters here use their English names instead of Greek ones such as “John” instead of “Ioannes” for consistency reasons.  

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Greek Fire in the Madrid Skylitzes

It shows a different side to Byzantium when many would think of Byzantium for being extremely religious which was mostly true but at least this novel does not go that deep into the religious debates and controversies the history of Byzantium was well known for as doing this could possibly turn off many readers making them think it would be too serious. Rather than focusing on all the endless religious debates that Byzantium made itself famous for, this novel instead focused on the other things Byzantium made itself famous for such as unimaginably impressive art and riches as well as the superior military tactics that proved itself successful in battles countless times including the Cataphract cavalry and Greek Fire.

You will see get to see in detail the most notable sites of Byzantine Constantinople including the world’s largest and most impressive cathedral back then which was the Hagia Sophia, the massive city walls of Constantinople, the Great Palace, Hippodrome, richly decorated mosaics, and a lot more.

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The Hagia Sophia’s details from “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale”

It can be suitable for younger readers as its violent scenes are not too extreme with intense blood and gore and also does not contain sex, rape, or obvious nudity- as is common in a lot of medieval dramas- except for a scenes of the lead character Theophano only showing partial nudity such as when at her bath but they rarely appear. According to Chrysa the illustrator, the comic was actually intended to address younger audiences which is why as mentioned earlier the characters were drawn with a cartoonish feeling in the texture but she says that in the future this would change as she could experiment in doing more mature content. In addition, this era in Byzantine history featured a great number of bloody genocides such as the merciless genocide of the Arabs Chandax by Nikephoros Phokas’ army in 961 when recapturing Crete which was omitted from the novel. Now if this comic were to give readers the full medieval experience, then I would have to say it has to contain extreme violence and sex in which the middle ages was definitely known for.

It is an innovation to have a young female character being Theophano as the lead role for a Byzantine epic as many wouldn’t expect a Byzantine epic centering around a strong woman but rather a strong but unstable emperor or a soldier but Theophano here is presented as a strong woman who acts on her own will and is not useless and submissive as many empresses of strong military emperors in Byzantium were. The part of Theophano as the lead character shows this novel having a Disney princess fairytale angle as Theophano at the start came from humble origins as an innkeepers’ daughter and was unexpectedly chosen as the wife of the future emperor Romanos II. Theophano herself is surely a strong woman as she is not afraid to speak to people above her in rank and social class and as empress she would do all she can so that she survives and stays in power but more importantly so that her sons will be safe and not fall from power as the happenings at that time were so unpredictable that a lot of the people Theophano trusted would end up betraying here and (spoiler alert!) at the end she is ultimately betrayed and exiled but at least like a Disney princess has a happy ending when she is reunited with her children the moment her first born son Basil II who will later be the “Bulgar-Slayer” becomes emperor in 976.

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Empress Theophano book cover

Byzantium however had other powerful women too such as Justinian I’s wife Empress Theodora, Empress Irene of Athens in the late 8th century, and Empress Anna of Savoy in the 14th century, meaning every now and then Byzantium would have a powerful woman, though not in all centuries.

It does justice to the character of Theophano as history usually remembers Theophano as a stereotypically evil woman that poisoned her father-in-law Emperor Constantine VII, first husband Emperor Romanos II, and arranged the assassination of her second husband Emperor Nikephoros II out of pure evil ambition but instead shows her as just a woman who wanted to do what was best for herself and her children while the world around her was cruel, so she had to act cruel to fight it. Now if Dovahhatty in his new Byzantium series would end up reaching the point of doing an episode with Theophano in it, I wonder if he would portray Theophano as evil the way he did with most of his empresses or if he would have read this novel too and portray her like the novel does?

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Anastasia becomes Theophano, chapter I

It has a unique feature starting where it ends in 976 being narrated by an old palace official standing at Constantinople’s sea walls who at the end of the story (spoiler alert!) reveals himself as Theophano’s father Krateros. Chapters II, III, and IV of the novel begins with a flashback scene in Theophano’s life. Other than that, the novel too has some creative features such as characters doing a narration while a montage of events happens, the most notable being (spoiler alert!), the poisoning and death of Romanos II in 963.

Its story is not plain black and white with one side being all good and the other side all evil, rather it shows that everyone no matter how good their intentions were had to do evil things to make them happen and this was the case with Theophano. The novel also shows how power corrupts and can make good hearted people like the emperors Romanos II, Nikephoros II, and John I have a change of heart and turn evil due to how much power they are holding. On the other hand, it also shows that some people are just purely evil like the eunuch Joseph Bringas who (spoiler alert!) is at least defeated and banished at the mid-point of the story although in the second half (spoiler alert!) the emperor Nikephoros II and the other court eunuch Basil Lekapenos who for the most part was seen as good guys turn out to be the new villains. For me a story that is plain black and white is very biased and lacks a lot of meaning.

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Character of General Nikephoros Phokas in the novel

It is truly entertaining as it has a fusion of epic battles, court intrigues, romance, family drama, poisoning, betrayal, visions and ghosts, extravagant settings and palace ceremonies, and Byzantine easter eggs and at the same time will remind you of a Shakespeare play by the way it was written and divided into 5 chapters (like the 5 acts of Shakespearean plays) except of course easier to understand as Shakespeare’s plays use old fashioned formal English. Now since Shakespeare never wrote any plays set in Byzantium, this novel comes close enough to doing a Byzantine setting for a Shakespearean play.

It is a type of fan fiction that tries to remain as historically accurate and realistic as possible that it does not go experimental by blending in dragons, zombies, vampires, magical spells and potions, teleporting, and creatures to a Byzantine setting, neither does it have talking animals like in the Disney princess fairytales considering this is the type of story. Although it would also be a good idea too to have a Byzantine era graphic novel or novel that have elements of fantasy in it. However, no matter how historically accurate the novel tries to be, it still does have a number of inaccuracies which will be mentioned later.

It has a very important moral at the end which teaches you that if you do not belong in the ruling class, aspiring to be in it could mean a lot of consequences as was the case of Theophano, lesson here is to mind your own business especially if it does not concern you. The story also teaches us that power corrupts especially with a government system like Byzantium where the people still have power and more significantly, the army has true power and they can use that power to make or break an emperor, therefore showing that even though it had been centuries since the Roman Empire when things were like this, it still remained this way in Byzantium. To put it short, as Byzantium was the continuation of the original Roman Empire, it kept very much the same imperial system wherein there was no law that the emperor had divine rights meaning that when they lose support from the senate, army, or people, they could be overthrown, therefore it was easy for an emperor to be dethroned and replaced.    

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10th century Byzantine life in the Madrid Skylitzes

Background of the Story

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To understand the story of Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, you must know a bit about the history of Byzantium too. Basically, Byzantium is the continuation of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages though the date to start off Byzantine history still remains debated as you can start it when the Roman Empire was first divided by Emperor Diocletian in 286, with the founding of the new imperial capital of Constantinople in 330 by the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great, with the final division between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395 following the death of the last united Roman emperor Theodosius I, or lastly with the fall of the west in 476 wherein only the east based in Constantinople survived as the only Roman Empire. In the 6th century, the Eastern Roman Empire being Byzantium reached its height of power and territory under its most influential emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565) wherein the empire stretched west to east from Southern Spain to Syria and north to south from the Crimea to Egypt but shortly after disintegrated due to a devastating war with their mortal enemy then, the Sassanid Persian Empire in the early 7th century during the reign of Heraclius (r. 610-641) which was followed by the destruction of the Sassanids not by Byzantium but by the newly born power of the Arab Caliphate which also in the 7th century began posing a major threat to Byzantium taking away all of North Africa from them and even almost ending their empire when laying siege to Constantinople twice (674-678 and 717-718). The Byzantines though managed to survive because they adapted to the current situation by reforming their administrative system into militarized districts known as Themes which were provinces made to increase military presence especially since enemy raids became more frequent and at the same time, they had also invented great innovations such as a secret flamethrower naval weapon known as Greek Fire which protected Constantinople from both of these Arab sieges. In the 9th century, Byzantium came out of these dark times when turning the tide of war against the Arabs by fighting on the offensive as for the past 2 centuries, the Byzantines in their heartland (Asia Minor or Turkey) always fought on the defensive but in the 9th century, they were able to retake the lands lost to the Arabs, however to the north the new Bulgarian posed as a problem at the same time ever since Nomadic Bulgar hordes settled in Byzantine Thrace in the late 7th century. In the year 867, a peasant by origin named Basil plots against and murders the reigning emperor Michael III and establishes the long-lived and successful Macedonian Dynasty, the ruling dynasty in this novel’s setting and the golden age begins here with Basil I (r. 867-886) followed by his son and successor Leo VI (r. 886-912), though at Leo VI’s death he was succeeded by his brother Alexander who put aside Leo’s actual son and heir Constantine VII, the reigning emperor at the beginning of the story. Alexander only ruled for a year and died in 913, and it was here when the young boy Constantine VII came to power but under a troubled regency under his mother and the Patriarch of Constantinople, a total disaster which was only resolved when an admiral of low birth, the Armenian Romanos Lekapenos usurped power making himself emperor in 920 as a way to protect the young Constantine VII from other usurpers. Romanos I’s reign was a successful time in Byzantine history as this was when most of the lands lost to the Arabs centuries earlier were recovered after many battles fought by his armies and in his reign, the story’s protagonist Theophano was born. Though Romanos I reigned successfully, Romanos I appointed 3 of his sons as his co-emperors making the rightful one Constantine VII the least effective one of the 5 co-emperors but the eldest son died and in 944, his 2 sons Stephen and Constantine fell out with Romanos I making them exile him to a monastery and taking the throne for themselves for about a month but a palace coup overthrew them both and sent them to their father in his monastery making Constantine VII no longer a puppet but the sole emperor and by this time he and his wife Helena had a son and heir Romanos II who was destined to succeed his father but to be an emperor, he needed a wife and though he could have clearly chosen a girl from the nobility, he ended up- though being manipulated by his scheming mentor the eunuch Joseph Bringas- marrying a commoner named Anastasia who renamed herself Theophano when being selected as young Romanos II’ wife. At the same, the empire had many powerful generals from the military aristocracy namely Nikephoros Phokas, his brother Leo, and their nephew John Tzimiskes son in order for none of these families gaining the upper hand and usurping the most valuable prize which was the throne, the imperial heir Romanos had to marry Theophano who was a commoner so that none of the noble families would be in conflict with each other. At the setting of this novel beginning in the 950s, the Byzantine Empire pretty much consisted a great amount of land including southern Italy, most of Greece, Thrace, and more than half of Asia Minor.  

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The Roman Empire permanently divided between east (Byzantium) and west, 395
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Byzantium at its greatest extent in Justinian I’s reign, 555
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Map of the Byzantine Empire’s Themes (military districts) in Asia Minor, 10th century
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Map of the 10th century Byzantine Empire (purple) in the novel
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Complete Genealogy of Byzantium’s Macedonian Dynasty (867-1056)

The Characters and the Ideal actors to play them (in my opinion)

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The 2020 graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale features a great number of complex characters that well drawn making them look authentic to the era despite not having very realistic features like well-known comics do. As I read the novel, when looking at the characters, I already had an ideal fan cast in mind for a potential movie of this graphic novel consisting of many talented actors and actresses of different nationalities who in my opinion can nail their respective characters. To say it simply, there has been no mainstream Byzantine era Hollywood film the way there are so many films even up to this day set in Ancient Greece or Rome or in Medieval Europe though if there were to be a Byzantine era film, this novel could be a good basis for a film adaptation as its style was written like an epic movie too. Now, on order for a film adaptation set in the Byzantine era sell, it needs a list of well-known actors as on the other hand just last year, there was true enough a live-action documentary-drama which featured Byzantium which was The Rise of Empires: Ottoman wherein the Byzantines in their last year (1453) had a big part but the thing is, when watching it, you would not seem hooked to the characters as they were played by lesser known actors.

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Rise of Empires: Ottoman series

However, if a Byzantine film such as this novel could use well-known actors many are familiar with from other pop culture media, then this could make a possibility for Byzantium to be introduced into the world of pop culture. Now, let us proceed to the novel’s characters and the actors/ actresses that I think could nail their roles! Helping me in casting some of the characters in this novel was my friend and partner in my channel Carlos who by the way voiced John Tzimiskes in my films- shout out to @itscarlosfrancisco on Instagram! As for you viewers, please feel free to comment if my casting choices are not so much to your liking.

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Leading 9 characters of “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale”

Check out the fan cast list for Theophano I made on IMDB here.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Theophano/ Anastasia– The story’s lead character is a young woman named Anastasia who is renamed Theophano when being selected as the bride of the imperial heir Romanos in 956. When I asked the creators about Theophano’s origin as a commoner whose parents came from Laconia (Southern Greece) while she grew up in Constantinople in her father’s inn was true, I was told by them that no one can really answer that since the sources about her origins are conflicting as she could have possibly come from the Byzantine nobility but not from a known family while her humble origins could just be a theory or a Phokas propaganda as the Phokas family who opposed the ruling emperor Constantine VII by the time Theophano entered the imperial family probably came up with lies about her as they possibly wanted one of their own to marry Romanos. The story however goes for the option of making Theophano a woman of low birth whose origins are from the Southern Greek region of Laconia (where Sparta is today) though she was born in Constantinople as at the beginning of the novel, her parents fled Laconia when Slavic tribes that settled there attacked their village and when arriving in Constantinople, she was born some time in 941.

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Anya Taylor-Joy as Empress Theophano (Anastasia)

Another source I read however said she grew up in Laconia and the future emperor Romanos II met her there. In the novel, Anastasia though despite coming from humble origins grew up quite well-off as her father Krateros was the innkeeper of not just an ordinary inn but the high-end tavern located near the imperial palace which was frequently visited by palace officials including the imperial heir Romanos and in the story, the couple met at this tavern. At the start of the novel however, Anastasia already had fantasies of living in the palace which was very close to her home, and at her first visit to the palace, her whole world turns around when she expressed it out loud that she wanted to live there which alarmed the court eunuch officials Joseph Bringas and Basil Lekapenos thus beginning the plot to lure her in which was achieved when Bringas arranged her to marry the heir Romanos, thus Anastasia was renamed as Theophano though since she not from the nobility many especially the empress Helena Lekapene do not trust her. Theophano gains some of the empress’ trust when she is able to give birth to male heirs but her independent personality in casually talking to important people shocks the court and the empress making Helena attempt to poison Theophano to rid her for good as she had proven to be such an embarrassment. Theophano though was revealed of the plot to poison her so when receiving a cup of wine at a feast, she reluctantly passes it to the emperor Constantine VII who she believes is plotting to kill her resulting in the emperor’s death and the empress falsely accused of doing it and imprisoned, though this paved the way for Theophano to become the next empress or Augusta at only 19 while her husband Romanos II was crowned at only 21 although Romanos II grew more distant from her due to the schemes of his trusted advisor Joseph Bringas who poisoned Romanos to believing Theophano caused his parents’ death which makes Romanos start turning on her. Theophano then knew for sure Joseph Bringas was the true villain who only got her to marry Romanos in order to use her for his own personal gain and now that she has been used, Joseph plans to eliminate her but her father informs her that she must get rid of Joseph to survive but the only way to do it is to poison her husband who is Joseph’s source of authority and puppet. For Theophano it was now a tough choice since she still loved him but since Romanos distanced himself from her now wanting to divorce her and marry someone else, she had to poison him to ensure the safety of her children so that they wouldn’t end up being puppets like their father. With Romanos II dead however, his sons with Theophano were too young to rule alone and although Theophano thought poisoning her husband could get rid of Joseph, it was the complete opposite as Joseph already seized power as the regents for her sons wherein he has Theophano banished but she is saved by a coup led by the general Nikephoros Phokas with his brother Leo and nephew John Tzimiskes as well as the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, her father Krateros and his friend the admiral Theophanes. The coup is successful and Joseph Bringas is banished while Nikephoros Phokas becomes emperor marrying Theophano to secure his legitimacy and Nikephoros as the senior emperor swore to protect Theophano’s sons who were already made co-emperors back when Romanos II was still alive. Nikephoros II Phokas as emperor however turned out to be too ambitious in his military conquests that he also grew distant from Theophano but it was Nikephoros suddenly naming his brother Leo as his successor when Theophano had the last straw and to protect her children, she had to eliminate him. At this time, she was in fact in love with John Tzimiskes who was banished but with the help of the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, John returns to Constantinople where with the help of Basil and Theophano plot to murder Nikephoros. In a cold winter night of December 969, Theophano helps John Tzimiskes and his 3 fellow conspirators into the heavily fortified palace to assassinate Nikephoros in his sleep but killing the emperor had so much consequences, that the mastermind of the plot John Tzimiskes who in fact eyed the throne had to comply the patriarch of Constantinople Polyeuctus and banish Theophano to the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea in order to secure his place as emperor.

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10th century Empress Theophano (in real life)

Theophano was thus betrayed and stripped off her title and it was revealed that it was Basil Lekapenos that was behind the plot and was backing John Tzimiskes, however John was reluctant to send Theophano away but still had to do it to comply with the patriarch. For the next 7 years, Theophano was banished to the Princes’ Islands though her sons at least remained co-emperors while John I Tzimiskes was the senior emperor though in 976, John I suddenly died making the new senior emperor being Theophano and Romanos II’s son Basil II arrange to have her brought back, thus her story ends happy as she is reunited with her children. The story’s epilogue then says Theophano lived out the rest of her days in Constantinople’s palace regaining the title of Augusta but after learning from all the consequences of her actions in the past, she never again actively participated in the administration. The story though does not mention the year of her death while real history also does not mention it so I had to ask the creators to give an estimated year of death for her and they answered me saying that the last time Theophano was mentioned in the sources was when she took the responsibility to negotiate with the Georgians for a potential alliance with her son Basil II and this had happened definitely before the 990s, therefore they estimated her death to be some time in the 990s while her son Basil II reigned long before his ultimate conquest of the Bulgarian Empire. Basically the novel shows Theophano as a brave and independent woman who to great extent did not know how behave herself seeing powerful people as equals and refused to not act submissive to anyone and would do anything to protect herself and her children even if it meant killing those who posed a threat to her but true enough despite committing such evil acts, the novel shows that her intentions were not purely evil as true enough the world around her was cruel so she had to act that way in order to survive and at the end she at least met a happy ending as the empress again. Like most of the characters in the novel, Theophano’s personality has undergone a lot of changes coming from an idealistic young woman who dreams of being an empress seeing it as fantasy where she gets everything her way but as time progressed, it turned out to be the complete opposite as the world literally went against her seeing the actual reality of being an empress in the Byzantine Empire though at the end she learned from her mistakes and ambitions which is why she had ended up remaining less active and more of an advisor to her son Basil II.

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Theophano character recreation

Not to mention, Theophano too has the great honor of being a wife of 2 emperors, mother of 2 emperors (Basil II and Constantine VIII), and mother-in-law of the Grand Prince of Kiev Vladimir the Great. Though Theophano, is the lead character of the story in which it is based on her perspective, the story seems like the plot revolves around her and not her moving the story which is similar to the case of Jyn Erso, the protagonist of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in which the plot revolves around her and not her changing the story’s plotline. Now ever since I started reading the novel as this year began, I already envisioned Anya Taylor-Joy (@anyataylorjoy) playing Theophano; Anya Taylor-Joy is a young American-Argentine-British actress known for playing Beth Harmon in the 2020 Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and her performance there as an independent young woman with complex emotions makes her perfectly fit the role of Theophano. In addition, Theophano was known for her striking beauty with dark hair and green eyes as she appears in the novel and although the actress has brown eyes, she could still do well portraying Theophano as the character in the novel has a similar look and figure with the actress, not to mention Joy’s age as of now is more or less similar to the age of Theophano in the story and though Theophano’s adult character goes through a span of 20 years in the main section of the story, it should be possible that Anya Taylor-Joy can play the character throughout the entire 20 years with just some makeup and prosthetics to appear as if she had ages. The novel too features Theophano as a child at the beginning of chapter III, though I have no possible choice for an actress who could play the child Theophano. When mentioning my ideal casting in the comments section in their Instagram post of the novel’s characters, I commented too that Anya Taylor-Joy would play a good Theophano, though the novel’s illustrator Chrysa Sakel agrees Anya Taylor-Joy is a great actress but in her opinion sees British actress Kaya Scodelario (@kayascods) as her choice for Theophano who’s appearance also has a lot of similarities with the character. For me, another choice for an actress to play Theophano is the star of Netflix’s Haunting of By Manor and You Victoria Pedretti who’s face is perfect for a Byzantine role in my opinion although she does not look very much like Theophano except her deeply emotional style of acting as seen in Bly Manor makes her a possible choice to play Theophano, however if not for Theophano, she could also play another minor role in this story as a cameo character.

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Lego Nikephoros II Phokas (left) and Theophano (right) in Lego by No Budget Films 

Keanu Reeves as KraterosThough the story is told in the perspective of Theophano, it also seems like it is being narrated by someone as the novel opens when an old man appearing to be a palace official in the year 976 stands in at the palace walls telling a story to the guards, this old man happens to be Krateros who has served for many years in the court and happens to tell the story of his daughter Theophano. Krateros’ story begins in 940 where he was nothing more but a simple citizen from the region of Laconia in Southern Greece coming from Sparta where he and his wife escape in a ship headed for Constantinople helped by a naval officer named Theophanes as a band of raiding Slavic people that settled in their area attack their homes. When arriving in Constantinople, Krateros joins the navy to fight off an invading fleet of the Kievan Rus’ (Varangians) in the Bosporus Sea using the secret weapon known as Greek Fire which together with a surprise attack by the Byzantine Cataphract cavalry destroys the Rus’ invasion.

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Keanu Reeves as Krateros

When settling in Constantinople, Krateros opened up an inn near the palace wherein he became rich while his inn grew to become a high-end tavern as high ranking palace officials often dined and drank there. Krateros basically raised Theophano (Anastasia) himself as his wife died giving birth to her in 941, and it can be hinted that Theophano’s independent character was due to her upbringing by him. Before Theophano married Romanos, Krateros was advised by his best friend Theophanes and eunuch Joseph Bringas to close his tavern to become a court official with the title of Spatharios so that Theophano can be legitimized as part of the imperial family, though Krateros at first objected, he accepted the position anyway and closed his tavern. During the time Theophano was part of the imperial family, Krateros enjoyed the privileges of being a court official together with his best friend Theophanes but when Romanos II becomes emperor in 959 following the death of his father Constantine VII, Romanos forced Krateros to join the expedition of Nikephoros Phokas to recapture Crete as Romanos was manipulated to do so by Joseph Bringas who saw Krateros and his friends Theophanes and Basil Lekapenos as threats so sending them there would mean sending them to their deaths for it was going to be a perilous mission. While at the expedition, Krateros however was just in charge of logistics but this was very vital since it kept the expedition operating instead of retreating due to lack of supplies and historically, Nikephoros’ expedition of Crete succeeded because supplies were sent to the army in Crete by ship. It was here however where Krateros sends word to Theophano to poison Romanos in order to get rid of Joseph who he felt was getting too powerful. Krateros later reunites with his daughter and helps in Nikephoros’ coup to overthrow Joseph Bringas in 963 following the poisoning of Romanos, though in the process Theophanes was killed. During the reign of Theophano’s new husband Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas, Krateros barely appears in the story but he still remains alive except now much older, though he appears only a few times conversing with Basil Lekapenos who still remained a court official under Nikephoros II. In the story’s climax, after Nikephoros is assassinated in his sleep in 969, Krateros returns again and here Basil Lekapenos reveals he was behind the plot to lead Nikephoros to his downfall and have Theophano banished and here Basil who turns out to be the secret villain even goes as far as threatening to beat the old Krateros if he pleads for Theophano to be spared but fearing for his life, Krateros has to allow his daughter to be banished. Other than Theophano and Basil Lekapenos, Krateros is one of the only 3 lead characters that live till the very end of the story. Now Krateros is historically Theophano’s father but history does not record anything else about him so the novel goes deeper by building up Krateros’ character being Theophano’s father and ultimate supporter till the very end and he is surely one person that has gone a long way from a common folk in Laconia to a court official witnessing the countless intrigues of this golden age of Byzantium. When looking for an actor to play Krateros, I had a hard time finding one who has a strong presence especially in narrating the story but luckily my friend Carlos when seeing the appearance of Krateros chose no other than Keanu Reeves to play the character and I agree since the movie would be a hit with someone as legendary and talented as him starting off the film by narrating it and I can tell he is one actor that can play a wide variety of roles, even Byzantines; on the other hand, I also thought of casting Keanu Reeves as Nikephoros Phokas though late I came to think Pedro Pascal who will be mentioned next would be a better choice.

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Theophano’s parents with Admiral Theophanes arrive in Constantinople, 941

Pedro Pascal as Nikephoros II PhokasNikephoros II Phokas is a real historical figure and one of Byzantium’s most renowned military emperors who married Theophano in 963 following the death of Emperor Romanos II until his own death in 969. Nikephoros Phokas was from the prominent Phokas clan of Cappadocia born in 912, the son of the general Bardas Phokas the Elder and older brother of Leo Phokas and Nikephoros’ entire life was basically all about military service and fighting the Arab enemies in the east and his constant wars against the Arabs ever since a young age shaped him to have an intense anger towards the Arabs and Islam itself making him something like a “crusader” as his purpose in his fighting his wars was not only for territorial expansion but to fight in the name of Orthodox Christianity.

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Pedro Pascal as Nikephoros II Phokas

In the story, Nikephoros is first introduced in chapter I in 956 before Theophano marries Romanos and here, Nikephoros is seen as a loyal general who is given the high ranking military position of Domestikos ton Scholon or “Domestic of the Schools” by the emperor Constantine VII wherein he was approached by Theophano to be made the godfather of her first son Basil and afterwards, he spent most of the time campaigning against the Arabs in the empire’s eastern borders achieving a lot of success but hearing of Constantine VII’s death in 959, Nikephoros had to return to Constantinople to pledge loyalty to the new emperor Romanos II who charges Nikephoros with leading the long awaited naval expedition to retake Crete from the Arab Emirate established there back in the 820s. In 961, Nikephoros led the successful expedition in retaking Crete which he finally completed and back in Constantinople a triumph was celebrated for him where their Arab prisoners including the last Emir of Crete thus Nikephoros was nicknamed the “Pale Death of the Saracens”. Though Nikephoros won a great victory in Crete, he was sent back to the east where the Arab threat grew again. After the death of Romanos II in 963 though, Theophano and John Tzimiskes asked the help of Nikephoros and his army to march into Constantinople and overthrow Joseph Bringas and moths later, Nikephoros arrived in Constantinople with an army defeating the forces of Joseph Bringas who surrendered after losing in a fight to Nikephoros thus Joseph was banished and Nikephoros was now crowned the senior emperor and guardian to the rightful young emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII while Theophano was re-crowned as empress afterwards marrying Nikephoros though Theophano did not truly love Nikephoros as he was not only 30 years older than her but had also thought of himself as an ascetic monk-warrior who preferred to distance himself from women ever since his first wife and son died.

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Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969)

As emperor however, Nikephoros’ personality had a great change but nevertheless he was still the tough no-nonsense military man he was but the downside of him as emperor was that he was too ambitious and living too much in the past that he also had the dream of making the Mediterranean a “Roman Lake” again as it was back in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I forgetting that they were no longer living in a time when these kinds of conquests were still possible. Nikephoros turned out to be hated by his people for his brutal taxation policies to fund his wars, though they were also content with the empire they had and did not care about expanding too much anymore. Nikephoros II true enough was nothing more but a general and not a politician and man of the people which caused his downfall especially since he tolerated dirty means of taxations such as torturing taxpayers to pay up and even going as far as taxing the Church and forcing the patriarch to consecrate every Byzantine soldier that was killed by a Muslim. As his reign progressed, Nikephoros II grew more and more tyrannical and abusive even to his wife Theophano and when celebrating another triumph, the people instead of cheering for him protested and stoned him while in terms of foreign policy, Nikephoros II was a failure leading to renewed war with Bulgaria in the north, an invasion by the Kievan Rus, and a total defeat in Sicily to the Arabs. As Nikephoros grew more and more unpopular for his taxations and unrealistic conquests, he grew more and more paranoid that he had the imperial palace heavily guarded and even turned into a military fortress and at one point he tried to please the people but since he did this by having his Cataphract cavalry form into formations, the people took this the wrong way and panicked causing a lot of them to die in a stampede.

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Nikephoros II Phokas character recreation

Theophano meanwhile could no longer handle Nikephoros’ abusive rule and finding out Nikephoros betrayed her by naming his younger brother Leo his heir instead of her sons, this was the last straw for her and this was when she reunited with her actual lover John Tzimiskes and the eunuch Basil Lekapenos to plot and kill Nikephoros. In chapter V, John Tzimiskes and his 3 conspirators are led into the palace by Theophano as an inside job where they kill Nikephoros himself who was sleeping on the floor on midnight of December 11, 969. The dead emperor’s head was shown to the palace guards in order to stop Leo Phokas from taking the throne, instead Leo was banished while John I Tzimiskes, Nikephoros’ and Leo’s nephew was crowned emperor. Personally, Nikephoros II is one of my favorite emperors as he has achieved a lot in terms of military victories but lacked the skills as a politician, though I think this novel also exaggerates his abusiveness as an emperor, but overall I see Nikephoros II as a badass emperor and one who was never really afraid to fight, though at the start he had a good nature that as a general he refused to usurp power but as emperor he was prone to be corrupted by power drastically turning him into a bloodthirsty people hating tyrant, therefore he remains one of Byzantium’s most notable hero to zero stories and 3 centuries later, Nikephoros’ story repeats itself with the emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) who at first was the hero that took back Constantinople from the Crusaders in 1261 but due to his diplomatic policies in submitting Byzantium to the pope’s authority and his harsh treatment to those who opposed it, he was hated by his people. As a fun fact, Nikephoros was said to be a vegetarian, was actually married and had son before though both his wife and son died, and though he and Theophano were a couple, their looks contrasted each other as Theophano was young and beautiful and Nikephoros was 30 years older than her and unattractive. The actor I see that could nail the performance of Nikephoros is Pedro Pascal (@pascalispunk), the Chilean-American actor who has been playing major roles in series like Narcos, Game of Thrones, and The Mandalorian wherein he played the lead character Din Djarin himself and his performance as Din Djarin as a tough and cold warrior surely shows that he can play the role of the tough and cold Emperor Nikephoros II, also his appearance in the novels very much resembles that of Pedro Pascal.

Alexander Dreymon as John I TzimiskesJohn Kourkouas Tzimiskes is Nikephoros Phokas’ nephew and a Byzantine general of Armenian descent born in 925; his nickname Tzimiskes is the Greek word for the Armenian word for either “red boot” or “short stature” and as the second meaning of his nickname suggests, he was described by contemporary sources as short in stature but well-built with reddish hair and blue eyes that made him attractive to women and true enough the novel depicts him this way except not entirely being entirely short in stature, fun fact he was said to have been a skilled archer and according to the contemporary historian in his time, John Tzimiskes could jump from one horse to another in full speed, strike an arrow into a small ring, and strike a leather ball into a cup without damaging it even when riding in full speed.

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Alexander Dreymon as John Tzimiskes

In the novel, John Tzimiskes is first introduced in chapter I set in 956 as a young and talented general, although the opening of chapter IV set in 963 starts by going back to 956 where apparently Theophano before being introduced as Romanos’ bride first met John and both fall in love with each other on first sight. In the earlier part of the novel, John mostly serves as his uncle Nikephoros’ sidekick but when Nikephoros returns to Constantinople in 959 to swear loyalty to the new emperor Romanos II, John stays behind in Eastern Asia Minor with his other uncle Leo Phokas to guard the frontier against the Arabs and while Nikephoros successfully reclaimed Crete in 961, John helped his uncle Leo manage to defeat an Arab invasion in Cappadocia. John Tzimiskes returns to the picture in 963 after the poisoning of Romanos II and Theophano’s banishment by the eunuch Joseph Bringas where John comes to her rescue and it is John that keeps Theophano safe before the arrival of Nikephoros who was still at the east. It was also John that informed his uncle’s troops of Bringas’ plot so John encouraged them to acclaim Nikephoros as emperor by raising him on a shield as was tradition, and this here is one of the most touching scenes in the novel for me. The following scene happens to be one of my best and most exciting ones too wherein Nikephoros Phokas stages his midnight coup taking over Constantinople and overthrowing Joseph Bringas wherein John Tzimiskes helps out too and so does their eunuch ally Basil Lekapenos. Before Nikephoros II was crowned emperor, Theophano not being married to Nikephoros yet had to reside away from the palace in what is today’s Fener district of Istanbul where her affair with John begins. During the reign of Nikephoros II, John still continued being a successful general stationed in the east but it soon revealed that he too wanted the throne, now I find this part showing a lack of character development to John as for most of the story he was a loyal general with no such ambitions, unless he has been hiding it all this time. It is soon revealed to Nikephoros that John was interested in the empress and wants to replace his uncle which leads to John being banished. For the rest of the part focusing on Nikephoros II as emperor, John does not appear until one of the emperor’s disgraced generals Michael Bourtzes conspires with Basil Lekapenos and Theophano to get John back from exile in some place in Asia Minor and back to Constantinople, John who had always been loyal to his uncle before was now intent on betraying him together with Theophano. The plot to kill Nikephoros meanwhile was already orchestrated and John Tzimiskes together with conspirators including Bourtzes, Anemas, and Bardas Skleros cross the Bosporus at night in a small boat, gets lifted up the walls of the Boukoleon Palace by a basket assisted by Theophano and later quietly storms the emperor’s room. When killing Nikephoros, John planned to do it in a quiet and organized way but Bourtzes shouts and immediately kills Nikephoros in his sleep leaving John to give the killing blow. Following Nikephoros II’s death, the throne was vacant and before the empire could fall into anarchy, John Tzimiskes complied with Patriarch Polyeuctus to banish Theophano to the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea in order to be emperor to save the empire.

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Silk tapestry of John I Tzimiskes

At the end, even if John I Tzimiskes betrayed Theophano to become emperor, he did not primarily intend to do that but only had to because of the patriarch’s terms and more importantly to save the empire from anarchy and true enough near the end of the story, John as the emperor visits Theophano in the Princes’ Islands once but nothing much is said anymore, therefore John is one of the only few characters here that somewhat resisted being corrupted by power unlike Nikephoros II and Romanos II- who will be up next. The reign of John I though is omitted in this novel as it could be something made for a follow up to the novel but his reign was just as eventful as that of his uncle’s except John I possessed better looks and charm and his good looks make him a perfect match for Theophano’s beauty. Where the story ends in 976, John I had already died passing the empire to Basil II who was now no longer a co-emperor but the senior one. Now the actor I chose for John Tzimiskes is Alexander Dreymon (@alexander.dreymon), the German actor who is the star of the Netflix series The Last Kingdom set in Anglo-Saxon England, apparently a century before this story’s setting and here he plays the protagonist Uthred of Babenberg and his portrayal of Uthred makes him fit for the role of John Tzimiskes as both are warrior roles and the way John appears in the novel looks similar to Alexander Dreymon’s Uthred in my opinion. 

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Banishment of Theophano by John I Tzimiskes in 969 featuring Theophano, Basil Lekapenos, John I, Basil II, and Constantine VIII by Amelianvs

 

Tanner Buchanan as Romanos IITheophano’s first husband, the emperor Romanos II in this novel is portrayed as an energetic, playful, and hedonistic young man as he is in real history who at the beginning is the only son and heir of the reigning emperor Constantine VII. Romanos Porphyrogennetos was born in 938 and was named after his maternal grandfather Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos, the senior emperor at his birth and when growing up was well trained by his father in civil and military administration but when grown up, Romanos decided to forget everything his father taught him and even forget all the struggles his father went through so that he could gain the throne, instead he just focused on indulging himself in all kinds of pleasures.

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Tanner Buchanan as Romanos II

When Romanos is introduced he is already a pleasure loving young man who bumps into Theophano at her father’s high-end tavern where the eunuch and Romanos’ mentor Joseph Bringas arranges for their marriage and when it is time for him to choose his bride, he chooses that same commoner he met named Anastasia who is renamed Theophano. Romanos’ choice of Theophano as his wife greatly bothered his mother Empress Helena and father Emperor Constantine VII, though they still married anyway. While his mother grew more and more suspicious of Theophano, Romanos did not feel the same way and following Constantine VII’s sudden poisoning, Romanos succeeded him as the sole emperor at only 21 but as emperor he was pretty much quite useless and like he usually does, kept indulging in pleasures like drinking, hunting, playing polo (Tzykanion) and womanizing but at least he was able to have 3 children with Theophano. As the emperor, Romanos II supervised his parents’ burial and had the luck of being the ruler when Crete was retaken by Nikephoros Phokas and his army but he was too dependent on his eunuch mentor Joseph Bringas who poisoned his mind making him believe Theophano caused his parents’ deaths making them more and more distant with each other despite her still loving him.

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Romanos II and Theophano crowned as emperor and empress with Joseph Bringas (left) and young Basil II (right), 959

Romanos despite having a good heart in the earlier part of the story has a turn to the dark side when becoming emperor being so reliant on Joseph who was in fact evil and his marriage with Theophano which began out so romantically began failing in his reign when he started getting more and more irritated with her and being fed with lies about her by Joseph and an old general named Marianos Argyros, Romanos had plans to divorce her and marry someone of nobility being Argyros’ daughter though Theophano soon enough knew that Joseph’s power was growing stronger and as advised by her father, she had to do the tough choice and poison Romanos in order to get rid of Bringas so that her children will not remain puppets. The death scene of Romanos was only one of my favorite parts as it appears to be in a form of montage wherein Theophano tells the story of Romanos to her son Basil ironically while Romanos is slowly poisoned when drinking his wine, and here I can imagine some slow piano music in the background. Now the actor I chose for the role of Romanos II is the American actor Tanner Buchanan (@tannerbuchananoffcial) who appeared in the series Designated Survivor and is better known for playing Robby Keene in Netflix’s hit series Cobra Kai when reading the novel, when I saw Romanos’ character I was immediately reminded of Robby from Cobra Kai as both look very much alike and true enough the actor’s age now is the age Romanos was when he became emperor. In Cobra Kai, I can tell that out the young cast, Tanner Buchanan has the potential to play a Byzantine role as his acting is very natural and varied that he could play someone who is both playful, emotional, and angry like Romanos II and (spoiler alert!) for those who haven’t seen Cobra Kai’s season3, Robby has a character arc of turning bad and he could do the same thing with Romanos who also had this kind of arc in turning bad the moment he comes to power in which reading the novel also reminds me of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.    

Danny DeVito as Joseph BringasThe primary villain of the first half novel is the manipulative and unapologetic court eunuch and senior palace official or Praepositus Joseph Bringas, a native of Paphlagonia who began his service to the imperial court under Constantine VII, though when the novel opens, Joseph is already quite old and has been the one that educated the imperial heir Romanos. Joseph and a younger court eunuch named Basil Lekapenos are first to notice Theophano (Anastasia) when she visits the palace overhearing her saying she wants to live there and be an empress which leads Joseph to hatch a plot in getting Theophano to be the heir’s wife as he manipulates Romanos to marrying her.

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Danny DeVito as Joseph Bringas

Though most of the imperial court opposes Romanos marrying Theophano who is a commoner, Joseph convinced them that it is a better choice since marrying someone from the nobility could create tension among the nobles, however Joseph really intended to just use Theophano as a means to get himself more power. At the earlier part of the novel, you can already see how powerful Joseph was that he could appoint a patriarch but could not take the throne for himself due to the fact that he was castrated and made into a eunuch though the empress Helena and Basil Lekapenos are suspicious of him thinking he wants throne though Romanos is oblivious to it thinking that Joseph at his older age would not have such ambitions. However, Joseph truly did have ambitions and would orchestrate his plot from behind the scenes doing just that as when hearing of a plot by the empress to poison Theophano, he revealed the plot to Theophano to use her in poisoning the emperor Constantine VII and as the emperor fell on the ground and died, Joseph already carried out his plan and falsely accused Empress Helena for doing that thus sending her to prison where she poisoned herself. With Romanos II as the new emperor, Joseph Bringas was now literally the power behind him being his puppet master and now since he had used Theophano to get himself into power, he now considers her useless and makes Romanos believe that Theophano caused his parent’s death which further ruins their marriage. When Romanos II was emperor, he spent most of his time indulging in pleasures while Joseph as a skilled statesman ran the administration but what was not mentioned in the novel was that Joseph was in fact a naval commander under Constantine VII. Following Romanos II’s poisoning by Theophano in March of 963, Joseph already seizes power as the regent for Theophano’s sons already knowing Theophano poisoned her husband which he has her thrown out of the palace for doing that but soon enough, she is rescued by John Tzimiskes who helps her stage a coup to overthrow Joseph and acclaim Nikephoros Phokas as emperor. The coup of Nikephoros seized Constantinople where Argyros was killed by Nikephoros and Joseph himself lost in a duel to Nikephoros and since he had lost, Joseph was thus banished to his homeland of Paphlagonia never to return again. With Joseph gone, Theophano gained her place back while her sons were released from Joseph’s control and now placed under the regency of Nikephoros; in the second half of the novel, Joseph no longer appears. When making my fan casting for this novel, it was a quite a challenge for me to cast Joseph Bringas although my friend Carlos said when seeing Joseph’s appearance that Danny DeVito could do well playing the role. Now Danny DeVito is an American actor who has had many years of acting experience, although despite being in his 70s whereas Joseph’s character was only in his 50s, DeVito could still nail the role of Joseph as Joseph’s appearance as bald and stocky man of short stature somewhat resembles DeVito’s appearance and based on DeVito’s performance as the villain in Batman Returns (1992) which was the Penguin, he can surely do the part of the villain Joseph Bringas well who in my opinion appears more to the type of villain that is vocal with a high voice and is highly manipulative and at most points creepy, and now if this novel were made into a film, DeVito could be doing a guest starring role the same way Keanu Reeves would do for Krateros.

Thure Lindhardt as Basil Lekapenos- Other than Joseph Bringas, the other lead eunuch of the story and secret antagonist in the second half is Basil Lekapenos, the illegitimate son of the former emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944) who was castrated and made into a eunuch. In contrast to Joseph Bringas’ vocal personality, Basil Lekapenos is more reserved and but true enough knows how to get things his way and in his case he does not care which side he’s on as long as it’s the side of the victor so he can continue staying in power.

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Thure Lindhardt as Basil Lekapenos

At the beginning of the novel, Basil together with Joseph first encounter Theophano (Anastasia) when she first visits the palace but when Theophano had already been married to Romanos, Basil together with his half-sister the empress Helena, his closest ally is suspicious of Joseph that he even advises Theophano not to trust Joseph. It is unknown when Basil began working at the imperial court but under his brother-in-law Constantine VII, he was the imperial chamberlain and as said in the contemporary chronicle of Theophanes Continuatus, he was dedicated and loyal to his emperor, true enough the novel depicts him such only because that was his way of retaining his position. At the time Constantine VII was poisoned in 959, Basil Lekapenos accompanied Queen Olga of the Kievan Rus’ who visited Constantinople back to her homeland but rushed back when hearing Romanos II was crowned as the new emperor. However, since Joseph Bringas accused Empress Helena of murdering her husband, he also ordered that Basil be banned from the palace for being an ally of the late empress. Since Romanos II favored Joseph Bringas over his uncle Basil, Basil was sidelined in Romanos II’s reign but in the novel appears to have joined Nikephoros Phokas’ expedition to reclaim Crete from the Arabs and since he and Joseph had become bitter he rivals, he uses the campaign to include Theophano’s father Krateros and the admiral Theophanes to join him in plotting to overthrow Joseph. When the expedition was over and victorious, Basil at least stayed in Constantinople but away from the palace and only after Romanos II was poisoned in 963 did Basil come back to the picture helping arrange the coup to overthrow Joseph Bringas, crown Nikephoros Phokas as emperor, and reinstate Theophano as empress. It is in second half of the novel where Basil Lekapenos has a bigger role wherein he was appointed by Emperor Nikephoros as the head of the Byzantine senate, equivalent to today’s Senate President. Basil later on however together with Theophano and John Tzimiskes are disillusioned with Nikephoros’ abusive rule so he too joins the plot to eliminate him and replace him with John. After Nikephoros’ assassination, it is now revealed that the true villain of the novel’s second half was not Nikephoros but Basil who was behind all the disorder in the city such as the rioting in the harbor and the stampede at the Hippodrome wherein he bribed the people convincing them Nikephoros planned to kill them all in order to make Nikephoros completely lose his popularity and now since John had won and was crowned emperor by Patriarch Polyeuctus in exchange for banishing Theophano, Basil taking the side of the victor betrayed Theophano too instead of pleading to let her stay causing an enraged Theophano to punch him in the face which actually happened in real history. Basil Lekapenos though is one of the novel’s few characters that survives all the way till the very end when Theophano returns to the palace and during the reign of Basil II, he still played an important role in the imperial court until he was banished in 985. Now Basil Lekapenos, here is seen as a very interesting person who did well in keeping his villainy concealed by playing out the entire time as a loyal official but deep inside he only wanted to be in power and would do anything he could to stay in it even if it meant betraying people he was close to like Nikephoros II and Theophano and what was interesting too about him was that he was also a patron of the arts.

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Byzantium movie (2012)

Now the actor I chose to cast for the role of Basil Lekapenos is the Danish actor Thure Lindhardt (@thurelindhardtactor), one of the bigger names in the Danish film industry who had played a large variety of roles in Danish and English language films which included a wide variety of period films and other popular ones including Angels and Demons, Fast and Furious 6, and ironically he was also in a 2012 vampire film called Byzantium, which however has nothing to do with the Byzantine Empire. For me, Thure Lindhardt is surely a great actor who can do a great job playing a villain, especially a more reserved one like Basil and Basil’s appearance in the novel as a tall and thin with long blonde hair- considering that Basil was said to be half Slavic- very much resembles that of the actor. Basil too ages as the novel progresses as he has been in it from beginning to end and even lives all the way deep into the reign of Theophano’s son Basil II.

Mark Hamill as Constantine VII PorphyrogennetosThe reigning emperor when the story begins is Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, whose title means “born in the purple” which was in fact the title all Byzantine emperors who were born imperial heirs when their fathers were emperor used though he is the only one in history to officially use this title. When Constantine VII is introduced, he appears to be an all-powerful, well respected, and wise emperor in his 50s though behind his regal appearance is tragic back story.

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Mark Hamill as Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos

Constantine VII was born in 905 as a son of an illegal marriage between his father Emperor Leo VI the Wise and his 4th wife Zoe and Leo back in the day failed to produce sons in his 3 marriages and only in the 4th was he able to but it raised such controversy especially since he broke a law that he made which was to forbid multiple marriages. Leo VI died in 912 and was immediately succeeded by his younger brother Alexander who sidelined young Constantine though when Alexander died childless the following year, Constantine came to power as a young boy under a troubled regency shared between his mother and the patriarch which almost led to civil war tearing the empire apart if not for the Armenian admiral Romanos Lekapenos to step up and usurp power in 920 as a means to protect the young emperor. For 24 years, Constantine VII though marrying the usurper’s daughter Helena stayed behind in the shadows while his ambitious father-in-law Romanos I ruled as senior emperor making his 3 sons his co-emperors leaving Constantine as the least powerful of the 5 rulers despite him being the legitimate one but Romanos I’s luck did not last long as his eldest son died, and in 944 his 2 other sons overthrew and banished him but soon enough they too were banished in a coup led by Romanos I’s daughter Helena and sons Theophylact and Basil to make Constantine VII finally step in as the sole ruler in early 945. Constantine VII was a very interesting figure as he was not only a wise ruler but was someone particularly fixated with lavish court ceremonies as a way to assert the dominance of the Byzantine Empire to all other powers around the world that ambassadors who came to his court were all in awe seeing him in a throne that was elevated up into the air by a mechanism, a golden tree beside him with singing birds, and golden lions that flanked him that produced a roar.

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Emperor Constantine VII of Byzantium (r. 913-959)

Though he appeared so powerful, he was not particularly interested in state administration and military campaigns as he was able to delegate them to his wife Helena, court eunuch officials Joseph Bringas and Basil Lekapenos, and generals like Nikephoros Phokas and his brother Leo Phokas. Constantine VII was not particularly interested in this because of his traumatic experiences as child undergoing the court intrigues that almost cost him his life if not for overthrowing his father-in-law and brother-in-laws being overthrown giving some kind of PTSD but despite this, his experiences with this kind of politics gave him vast knowledge of the complexities of the Byzantine court and its government system that he wrote 3 books about it for his son and heir Romanos II which remain valuable sources of Byzantine court administration up to this day. When Romanos II chose the commoner Theophano (Anastasia) as his wife, Constantine was unhappy with his son’s decision reminding him that he did marry Empress Helena out of love but to secure an alliance. Constantine still remained alive to see Theophano as his daughter-in-law and give birth to grandsons but in one night in 959, he was reluctantly poisoned by Theophano who gave him a poisoned wine glass thinking he was trying to poison her as revealed to her by Joseph Bringas and right after Constantine’s death, Joseph got his way and accused Empress Helena for poisoning him. A fun fact is that Constantine VII was a true Renaissance man as not only was he a ruler but a writer, painter, sculptor, and diplomat who was skilled in receiving foreign guests and certainly he is one of my favorite Byzantine emperors as he is a rare type for being a true neutral cool headed wise ruler rather than the usually energetic and hot tempered or cowardly Byzantine emperors.

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Constantine VII on his elevated throne in the novel

Another interesting topic for debate here is that Constantine VII and his descendants including Romanos II and his son Basil II could possibly be not from the Macedonian Dynasty but the previous Amorian Dynasty since Constantine’s father Leo VI was rumored to have been not the son of the Macedonian Dynasty’s founder Basil I the Macedonian but the illegitimate son of Michael III, the emperor Basil I killed, though Constantine still believed Basil I was his grandfather, though Leo did not think so. The actor I see portraying Constantine VII is no other than Mark Hamill himself (@hamillhimself) who is best remembered for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies and his portrayal of Luke in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) and quick appearance in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) gave me a clear image on how Constantine should be portrayed like as Luke in these movies appeared as an old man full of trauma from past events the way Constantine is seen in this novel however Constantine appears to be friendly and warm rather than Luke who seemed mostly cold but nevertheless I think Mark Hamill can do a great job playing an emperor even though his age now is something like 10 years older than Constantine who was only in his 50s in the novel despite looking a bit older, though this could possibly suggest that the hardships he faced made him age quicker. Constantine’s appearance in the novel too kind of resembles Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in the sequel trilogy.

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Emperor Constantine VII hosting a feast in the palace, chapter II

Emily Watson as Helena LekapeneThe empress or Augusta when the story opens is Helena Lekapene, the wife of Emperor Constantine VII and daughter of the former emperor Romanos I Lekapenos and when she is introduced, it is her that is more active in running the state administration together with her younger half-brother the eunuch Basil Lekapenos as Constantine remains too busy in scholarly pursuits making Helena mock him for that believing he is better off as a monk.

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Emily Watson as Empress Helena Lekapene

The moment Theophano (Anastasia) is introduced to the court, Helena already starts feeling suspicious of her especially since Theophano is a commoner in origin though Helena pretends to act at least tolerant towards Theophano despite showing no respect for her privacy that she even goes as har as touching Theophano’s body roughly as she is bathing. What concerns Helena most about Theophano is her untamable behavior in acting so casual in talking with people above her rank though when Theophano gives birth to 2 sons, she at least tries to give Theophano a chance but when Theophano exhibits her natural independent behavior again when trying to talk casually with the Queen of the Kievan Rus’ Olga, this was the last straw for Helena who now attempts to get rid of Theophano who on the other hand was revealed of the plot causing her to reluctantly poison Constantine VII during a feast wherein afterwards, Joseph Bringas accuses Helena of the poisoning and has her thrown in prison where she is forced to commit suicide by drinking poison, later she and her husband Constantine appear as ghosts haunting Theophano. Now the novel depicts Empress Helena Lekapene as uptight, cold hearted, and tough towards her husband, son, and daughter-in-law though the historical sources do not really mention much about her personality except that she was a strong woman running the administration, though the History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici mentions that Helena was good in nature and got along well with her husband ever since they were married as children. Though Helena seems most of the time unlikeable when reading the novel, you would later at least feel bad for her when she was falsely accused and put in prison- which here was an old bathhouse. Casting Helena meanwhile was difficult task as I had a hard time finding an actress who like the character is in her 50s but still attractive so eventually, the option I chose was the English actress Emily Watson who fits the character’s description and true enough she is a talented actress who has appeared several times in stage and films and has great experience in period films such as War Horse (2011) and Anna Karenina (2012).

  

Henry Thomas as TheophanesOne of the first characters introduced in the novel is the naval officer Theophanes who later becomes an admiral and best friend of Theophano’s father Krateros and a father figure to Theophano (Anastasia) who in facts accompanies her in her first visit to the Great Palace where she is discovered. For most of the story’s first half, Theophanes served as a high-ranking court official as well as an admiral and remained always close to Krateros.

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Henry Thomas as Theophanes

After Constantine VII was poisoned in 959, Theophanes despite being suspicious of the powerful eunuch Joseph Bringas acted loyal to him and forbade Joseph’s eunuch rival Basil Lekapenos from entering the palace and in 961, Romanos II as the emperor was manipulated by Joseph to send Theophanes as well as Krateros and Basil to the perilous expedition of Crete as a way to send them to their deaths as Joseph feared their growing influence too though Theophanes helped lead the troops to victory in Crete. Theophanes appears again during the coup of Nikephoros in 963 where joins the skirmish against Joseph’s troops but is killed in the fighting by a spear and apparently, at the end of the story, Basil Lekapenos who turns out to be traitor reveals he let Theophanes die in the skirmish.

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Theophanes in the Madrid Skylitzes

When reading the novel, I always came to question that if whether Theophanes was a historical character or fictional and when asking the creators, I was informed that Theophanes was actually a real person who was a naval commander and possibly a eunuch during the reign of Romanos I Lekapenos in which the story opens in and during Romanos I’s reign in one of the story’s first scenes, Theophanes fighting the Kievan Rus’ fleet was real although after this battle in 941, Theophanes disappears from the historical record as he must have been exiled after Romanos I was deposed by his sons in 944. The creators though chose to make Theophanes have a bigger role by making him live longer and be close to Theophano which was purely fictional. Since Theophanes plays quite a major role in the first half of the story, I chose to cast him with quite a well-known actor but not someone too famous so I chose the American actor Henry Thomas (@hjthomasjr) best known for playing Elliot in E.T. (1982) to play him since he looks similar to Theophanes’ character in the novel and due to his performance lately in the 2020 Haunting of Bly Manor series as uncle Henry playing a British character, he looks like he can do a good job playing Theophanes who like uncle Henry is a father figure. 

    

Diego Luna as Leo PhokasAccompanying Nikephoros Phokas for the most part of the story was his younger brother and sidekick Leo Phokas the Younger who in reality is either 3-8 years younger than Nikephoros though the novel depicts him looking a full 12-15 years younger though just like his older brother, Leo was a skilled general who had scored a number victories against the Arabs in the east since the reign of Constantine VII (945-959).

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Diego Luna as Leo Phokas

Leo’s first appearance is in chapter II is when campaigning in the east against the Arabs with his brother Nikephoros and nephew John Tzimiskes after Constantine VII’s death in 959 and during the entire reign of Romanos II (959-963), Leo was seen still campaigning against the Arabs in the east where he destroyed an Arab army by throwing stones at them from above a ridge and later is rejoined by Nikephoros after the latter’s conquest of Crete in 961. Together with John Tzimiskes, Leo has the army acclaim Nikephoros as emperor in 963 and takes part in his brother’s successful coup. When Nikephoros II is crowned emperor, Leo still remained always with his brother as his top general but also appointed as the minister of the treasury and Kouropalates or top manager of the palace. Unlike Nikephoros who was a man of big personality, Leo was the quieter version of his older brother though in my opinion, the novel did not do that well in showing his character development as when Leo was introduced he did not tolerate corruption in the government but in his brother’s reign he seemed to be fine with all the harsh taxation policies, and also he starts out as a quiet character and all of a sudden at the second half when his brother is the emperor, he instantly turns into a hot-headed and arrogant bully especially towards Theophano that he even openly expresses castrating her children in front of her, but I could also see that his personality drastically changed since Nikephoros named him his heir making him ever more arrogant. At the climax when Nikephoros is killed, Leo rushes to protect him but instead finds out his brother is dead; thus, Leo was banished by the new emperor John I Tzimiskes though historically, Leo rebelled against John in 970 and again in 971 where he failed and was blinded. My casting choice for Leo is the Mexican actor Diego Luna (@diegoluna) who is remembered for playing Cassian Andor in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and I think he could do a great job in playing Pedro Pascal’s Nikephoros Phokas’ younger brother as both somewhat look alike while Diego Luna is someone I think that can play a variety of roles with such emotion.

Lars Mikkelsen as Patriarch PolyeuctusOne of the only characters in the story to have such strong morals in this immoral time was the Patriarch of Constantinople Polyeuctus who was appointed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 956 as replacing the former patriarch Theophylact Lekapenos who died from a riding accident and as the head of the Church, Polyeuctus was a simple but pious monk but a no-nonsense Church leader in contrast to his predecessor who ignored his religious duties and indulged in pleasures.

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Lars Mikkelsen as Patriarch Polyeuctus of Constantinople

Polyeuctus was appointed to the Patriarchate by Joseph Bringas and was patriarch throughout the entire story in the reigns of Constantine VII, Romanos II, Nikephoros II, and John I and throughout the entire story he distrusts Theophano seeing her beauty as sinful and her independent behavior as unthinkable, yet he could speak about her low birth without getting punished as he was the head of the Church. Polyectus here was shown as the one who baptized Queen Olga of the Kievan Rus and sent missionaries to convert the people there, afterwards he presided over the funeral of Constantine VII and Empress Helena and later in 963 over the funeral of Romanos II where he orders that Theophano should only mourn for her husband when she asks him to help her plot against Joseph Bringas. In Nikephoros’ coup, Polyeuctus remained neutral but had later been the one to marry Nikephoros and Theophano and crown Nikephoros as emperor but as Nikephoros’ reign progressed, Polyeuctus too began opposing Nikephoros believing the latter lost his mind and did the unthinkable demanding that the Church be stripped of their tax exemption privileges and that every soldier slain by a Muslim must be made a saint. Polyeuctus however did not approve of deposing Nikephoros by murdering him making him refuse to crown John Tzimiskes unless John made up for his murder by banishing Theophano as Polyeuctus knew Theophano who he always distrusted had a part in it; this scene then is his last appearance though in real history, he died shortly after in 970. The actor I chose to play Patriarch Polyeuctus is the Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen, older brother of the famous Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as his serious appearance very much resembles that of the patriarch as he is depicted in the novel.   

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Patriarch Polyeuctus in the Madrid Skylitzes

Thomas Ian Griffith as Marianos ArgyrosOne of Byzantium’s most famous generals of the 10th century is Marianos Argyros who appears briefly in the novel during the reign of Romanos II (959-963) as a strong supporter of his and Joseph Bringas.

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Thomas Ian Griffith as Marianos Argyros

Argyros had been serving as a general since Constantine VII became sole emperor in 945 and since then fought campaigned in the Balkans and in Italy. In the novel, Romanos considered marrying Argyros’ daughter and divorcing Theophano and after Romanos’ death in 963, Argyros took part with Joseph Bringas in defending Constantinople against Nikephoros’ coup but at the end was killed by Nikephoros’ blade. The actor to play the old general Marianos Argyros was someone who isn’t that well-known so I chose the American actor Thomas Ian Griffith who is best remembered for playing the villain Terry Silver in The Karate Kid III (1989) and could possibly return for season4 of Cobra Kai, even if he hasn’t been acting for years.

Kristina Klebe as Queen Olga of KievOne of the notable historical characters that made a cameo appearance in the novel was Queen Olga of the Kievan Rus- the powerful nation north of Byzantium at that time which consisted of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus- who had visited Constantinople in 957 according to the Russian sources to be baptized, however other sources say she visited Constantinople before the novel’s setting though the novel went for the option of including Olga in the story when Theophano was already introduced.

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Kristina Klebe as Queen Olga of Kiev

Olga appears quickly in chapter II where she meets Theophano herself, is baptized by Patriarch Polyeuctus and given the Christian name Helena after the empress and like in real history, she was rumored to have had an affair with Constantine VII as she overstayed in Constantinople, but she returns to her homeland to convert her people to Christianity. Ironically despite being canonized as a saint for converting her people, Olga has done terrible things as a ruler before which included setting the entire city of Korosten hled by their enemy Slavic tribe of the Drevlians in Ukraine on fire by tying Sulphur into birds to set fire to city from above out of revenge for them killing her husband Prince Igor I of Kiev, though later in life she redeemed herself by converting to Christianity. Sources are conflicting on Olga’s date of birth as it could be any year between 890 and 925 so in the comments of the novel’s Instagram post on Olga, I asked the creators if Olga was supposed to be an older woman or a younger woman, and they said that they chose the option of placing her birthdate at 925 which is why she is seen as a younger woman. Interestingly, in the novel Olga did not speak Greek (in the novel’s case English) and needed an interpreter as back then there was no universal language of diplomacy but the strange thing was that she was seen conversing with Theophano. Though Olga’s appearance was quick, I still have a casting choice in mind for her and I chose the German-American actress Kristina Klebe (@kristinaklebe) to play her since her age fits well with the character if Olga were to be in her 40s as the actress who is in her 40s still looks much younger and attractive for her age and Olga in the novel has blonde hair and Nordic features as she was of Varangian (Swedish) origin, coincidentally the actress looks the same way too. Coincidentally again, Kristina Klebe appeared in the 2019 film Sinister Seduction with Tanner Buchanan who I chose to play Romanos II so here they would reunite even though both characters were never seen side-by-side with each other in the novel.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin as Prince Sviatoslav of KievIn chapter IV of the novel, Olga’s son and the new prince of the Kievan Rus’ Sviatoslav makes a cameo appearance as in Nikephoros II’s reign (963-969), Sviatoslav invaded Bulgaria which came into war with Byzantium so the emperor Nikephoros II asked the Prince of the Rus Sviatoslav to attack Bulgaria for the Byzantines but instead Sviatoslav continued raiding into Byzantine Thrace and only after Nikephoros II’s death was peace settled with Sviatoslav by John I Tzimiskes in 971.

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“Stone Cold” Steve Austin as Sviatoslav

Sviatoslav appears as a large man with no hair except for a thin long stand on his scalp so to cast him, I had to choose someone large and intimidating in appearance who does not really need speaking lines, so as Carlos suggested, I went for American actor, WWE superstar and podcast host “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (@steveaustinbsr).

Guillaume Canet as Michael BourtzesOne of the prominent Byzantine generals of the era that appears in the novel is Michael Bourtzes, a native of Eastern Asia Minor who served under Nikephoros II in his reign but was secretly loyal to John Tzimiskes as he tells Theophano while she joins Nikephoros in his trip in Cappadocia where Bourtzes is first introduced.

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Guillaume Canet as Michael Bourtzes

Later in 969, like in real history, Bourtzes retook the city of Antioch from the Arabs by persuading a traitor in the city to surrender one of the walls’ towers which he did making Bourtzes use it to defend against the attackers inside the walls and after 3 days taking back the city, though the emperor Nikephoros was enraged because Bourtzes disobeyed orders and set fire to the city so he was whipped and dismissed from command even if he won a victory so this led Bourtzes to conspire with Theophano and Basil Lekapenos to bring back John Tzimiskes and kill Nikephoros. Michael Bourtzes was one of the 3 conspirators that joined John Tzimiskes in killing Nikephoros II and it was Bourtzes who stuck Nikephoros first out of revenge. In John I’s reign, Bourtzes again served as a general and again in the reign of Basil II. Though Michael Bourtzes has a minor role in the story, I still decided to cast him and randomly I went for the French actor Guillaume Canet (@guillaumecanetofficiel).

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Michael Bourtzes captures Antioch, 969

Rodolfo Sancho as Bardas SklerosIn chapter V, at the story’s climax, one of the 3 conspirators that joined John Tzimiskes is the general Bardas Skleros, a powerful ally of John who took part in killing Nikephoros II in his sleep. Afterwards, Skleros would be one of John I’s trusted generals in his reign together with Bourtzes and later would be the same general that rebelled against Basil II. Just as I did for casting Bourtzes, I did the same and randomly went for casting the Spanish actor Rodolfo Sancho (@rodolfo_sancho) to play Bardas Skleros who does not appear to have any speaking lines.

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Rodolfo Sancho (top left) as Bardas Skleros (far right) and Jonathan Roumie (bottom left) as Anemas (near right)

Jonathan Roumie as AnemasOne of the 3 conspirators that joins John Tzimiskes in killing Nikephoros II at the climax in chapter V is the Arab Al-Numan who was renamed Anemas when converting to Christianity. Anemas was the son of the last emir of Crete who was deposed when Nikephoros Phokas captured the island in 961 and was taken to Constantinople as a prisoner and as seen in the novel, Anemas had his reasons to kill Nikephoros since it was Nikephoros that dethroned his father; afterwards Anemas would serve as one of John I’s generals. Like I did for casting Bourtzes and Skleros, I did the same and randomly went for casting Jonathan Roumie (@jonathanroumieofficial), an American actor of Middle Eastern descent to play Anemas who is an Arab by ethnicity. 

James Scully as Patriarch Theophylact LekapenosAnother historical character that makes a cameo appearance is the Patriarch of Constantinople Theophylact Lekapenos who as patriarch was more or less a joke as he was appointed to the position at age 16 by his father Emperor Romanos I in 933 and as patriarch, he cared more about his horses and spent more time in his stables rather than in his religious duties and once he did not show up in an important liturgical event in the Hagia Sophia as his favorite horse was giving birth.

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James Scully as Theophylact Lekapenos

Ironically, Theophylact died falling off a horse in 956 and as seen in the novel, he died in an accident by hitting his face in a rock when playing polo with the imperial heir and his nephew Romanos II, which for me was actually one of the more comedic scenes in the novel. Here, both Theophanes and Krateros who are observing the polo game are shocked especially seeing the head of their Church being where he shouldn’t be. The actor I chose to have a cameo role playing Theophylact is the American actor James Scully (@scullynjames) from the series Heathers and You, who with his young age and playful looking appearance looks like he can fit the role of the neglectful polo player patriarch.

Gianni DeCenzo as Basil II, Noah Schnapp as Constantine VIII, and Jenna Ortega as Anna PorphyrogenitaThe 3 children of Romanos II and Theophano have quick appearances in the novel, though for most of the story the sons who would be the future emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII appear as young boys so I have no idea on who to cast for them. The first son Basil was born in 958 and the second one Constantine in 960 while their daughter Anna was born in 963 2 days before her father’s death though Anna’s birth is not shown or mentioned in the novel. At the story’s epilogue, when Theophano returns to the palace in 976, her 3 children all standing next to each other are now all teenagers and 18-year-old Basil II is now the senior emperor with 16-year-old Constantine VIII as his co-emperor. Basil II, one of Byzantium’s most famous emperors here however is not depicted in the way we usually know him to look like which is short and round with dark hair, instead here he has light hair and is tall and thin.

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Top left: Gianni DeCenzo, Middle left: Noah Schanpp, Bottom left: Jenna Ortega as Basil II, Constantine VIII, and Anna Porphyrogenita respectively

For the 18-year-old Basil II, I chose to cast Gianni DeCenzo (@gianni_decenzo) who is best known for playing Demetri in Cobra Kai as his age and appearance matches that of the novel’s Basil II and strangely, Gianni here would be playing the son of Tanner Buchanan’s character Romanos II’s son and both actors appeared in Cobra Kai and are almost the same age with Tanner being only 3 years older, however in 976, Tanner’s character is already long dead and Basil II here is almost the same age as his father was when he became emperor in 959. The actor I chose for Basil II’s younger brother Constantine VIII as a teenager is Noah Schnapp (@noahschnapp) who plays Will Byers in the series Stranger Things who would appear here as a cameo role, and their younger sister Anna in my opinion who looks like a young Theophano could be played by 18-year-old American actress Jenna Ortega (@jennaortega) from the series Jane the Virgin and You. Basil II would from here on rule for almost 50 years later becoming known as the “Bulgar-Slayer” with Constantine VIII as his co-emperor and later successor after Basil’s death in 1025 while their sister Anna in 988 married the Kievan Rus’ Prince Vladimir the Great.

Clotilde Hesme as Theophano’s motherAt the flashback where chapter II opens, Theophano’s unnamed mother is seen giving birth to her but dies shortly after leaving Theophano (Anastasia) to be raised by her single father Krateros.

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Clotilde Hesme as Theophano’s mother

Theophano’s birth scene happens to be a flashback she receives when it is her time to give birth to her first son Basil II. Though Theophano’s mother appears so quickly, I still chose to cast her and the actress I chose was French actress Clotilde Hesme from the most recent Netflix series Lupin.

Victoria Pedretti as Argyros’ daughter and Vanessa Rubio as Joseph’s handmaidenLastly, I still got to cast the characters with the smallest appearances and these include the daughter of the general Marianos Argyros who Romanos II thought of marrying and for her I’d cast American actress Victoria Pedretti (@then0t0ri0usvip) from the series Haunting of Bly Manor and You who I also considered for another option in playing Theophano as I mentioned earlier although I think Anya Taylor-Joy would do better as the lead protagonist. However, I see Victoria Pedretti as someone who could perfectly play a Byzantine character so I chose to keep her in my casting list to play a cameo role. Meanwhile, another female character that appears to have a role that is more than a glimpse is the handmaiden of Joseph Bringas who holds the poisoned win intended for Theophano which Theophano uses to poison Constantine VII and the actress I chose for this cameo role is Colombian American actress Vanessa Rubio (@veryvness) who in Cobra Kai played Carmen, the mother of Miguel, the protagonist.

Lastly, I would also like to see the creators of the novel Spyros Theocharis and Chrysa Sakel have cameo roles too but also be the films’ producers though one person I’d also like to see as a cameo role and a producer of the film as well is no other than my favorite Youtube creator Dovahhatty. For the movie’s other producers, I have no idea on who can do the part but one possible option could be Elena Andreicheva, producer of last year’s Oscar winning documentary/ short film Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl). For the movie’s director, I could not choose one myself so when asking the creators, I asked who they could see as their choice of director if their graphic novel was made into a movie, and for them they said it is either a tie between Ridley Scott and Zack Snyder and both surely have experience in doing dramatic and action packed films, but it would be their first time doing a Byzantine epic. For the film’s musical scoring, I could imagine the composers Jepser Kyd and Lorne Balfe who as I know have done the soundtrack of Assassin’s Creed Revelations which too had a setting in Constantinople and tis soundtrack surely having a Byzantine feel to it, therefore they could do the same again in giving a Byzantine feel to the soundtrack to a possible film adaptation to this novel. In my opinion, it would be a great experience to have the Icelandic hit rock band Of Monsters and Men (@ofmonstersandmen) also have a part in the movie’s scoring too!

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Bardas Skleros, John Tzimiskes, Constantine VII, Romanos II, Theophano, and Basil II visualized as modern day characters by Amelianvs

Byzantine Historical Easter Eggs

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Since Theophano: A Byzantine Tale is a graphic novel with hundreds of images, it does show a lot of Easter Eggs and references to Byzantine history especially of their time and these not only include buildings of the era or costumes but things people who know Byzantine history would be familiar with such as Byzantine Polo, Greek Fire, the imperial palace, the Cataphract Cavalry, and much more. For instance, the book cover shows the story’s lead character Empress Theophano dressed in full imperial attire and at her hands are mosaic tiles or Tesserae which is a reference to the mosaics that decorate the interiors of several Byzantine era churches while behind her flanking her left and right are images of emperors with erased faces.

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Byzantine chi-rho symbol

In my interview with the creators through Instagram message, I asked what was up with the defaced emperors as I thought it was a reference to the Byzantine Iconoclasm a century before Theophano’s time wherein faces were erased though they said it was allegorical and these erased faces represent the two emperors Theophano killed which could be Constantine VII and Romanos II, Romanos II and Nikephoros II, or Constantine VII and Nikephoros II while also flanking Theophano if you look closely are two Chi-Rho symbols, one of Byzantium’s imperial symbols that dates all the way back to the times of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Now since this novel was inspired by historical events, it has to include references to the time it was set in to make it look authentic (spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the book yet!). Luckily, the novel ends with a list of notes on historical facts which I am mostly basing this section of my article on.  

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Diagram of Byzantine Constantinople featuring the Hagia Sophia, Imperial Palace Complex, Hippodrome, and Polo Field

Chapter I- Ambition

  • The novel’s opening scene in 940 features Slavic tribes that had settled in the Peloponnese revolting and attacking what is medieval Sparta wherein Theophano’s parents with her mother pregnant with her are escaping from and true enough it was during the reign of Romanos I (920-944) when they revolted though the year is not exactly stated.  
  • The secret superweapon of Byzantium Greek Fire makes a signifact appearance and so was the victory against the invading Kievan Rus’ fleet in Bosporus and the land battle against them where the Byzantine Thematic army defeated them.
  • When Theophano first visits the palace, as she enters you see a large mosaic of Christ above the palace gate, this here was a real location being the Chalke Gate of the imperial palace. The two soldiers you see guarding the gate are part of the emperor’s elite army or the Tagmata.
  • When Emperor Constantine VII is introduced, you see him seated in the elevated throne that he was said to have been sitting on as well as the mechanical roaring lions that flanked him and the golden tree of singing birds. This here is a reference to the Italian bishop and diplomat Liutprand of Cremona’s encounter with Constantine VII in 949, although here the foreign ambassador meeting him is probably someone else as the main part of the story opens in 956.
  • The bride show set up for the imperial heir Romanos II wherein he chose Theophano as his wife was true enough a tradition in this period of Byzantine history wherein the imperial heir would choose his wife out many young noble women from all over the empire. In Byzantine history, emperors like Leo IV (r. 775-780), Constantine VI (r. 780-797), Staurakios (r. 811), Theophilos (r. 829-842), and Leo VI (. 886-912) chose their spouses this way.
  • The Church of the Virgin of Pharos where the marriage between Romanos II and Theophano took place was a real location and this a chapel exclusive to only the imperial family and court located within the Imperial Palace complex.
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Byzantine navy uses Greek Fire in battle

Chapter II- Intrigue

  • At the start of chapter II in the year 958 setting, a cat is seen sitting on the foot of Krateros who is already a palace official. Now this detail requires you to pay a lot of attention to notice it but apparently a friend of mine and fellow Byzantine history fan (@anacagic) who I met online commented on the novel’s Instagram post of this exact image that she noticed the cat and apparently the creators said in response to her comment that the cat here was a reference to the many cats you see in today’s Istanbul.
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Krateros and the hidden cat, chapter II
  • When Theophano gives birth to her first child Basil II in 958, she does it in a purple room, which however in the novel doesn’t appear to be purple. This was a true fact in Byzantine history since imperial heirs to ensure their legitimacy were born in a room line with purple stone or Porphyry hence came the title Porphyrogennetos for all imperial children born in that room, though only Constantine VII as emperor uses it in his title. Since there were no laws of divine rights in Byzantium and the Roman Empire before them, emperors had to come up with creative solutions to ensure succession among their children and one of them was for their children to be born in this one and only purple room, if not then this could create generals to find a good reason to usurp power.
  • Today Polo is better known as a sport for the rich and powerful and even back in Byzantine times it was wherein it was a game borrowed from Persia called Tzykanion wherein players ride on a horse and hit a ball with a netted stick, and in the novel you see the young Patriarch of Constantinople Theophylact Lekapenos playing it wherein he dies out of an accident. The polo field or Tzykanisterion seen here which is the one found at the Great Palace Complex near today’s Topkapi Palace was built in the reign of Theodosius II (r. 408-450) who excelled at the game and so did other emperors like Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886) and his son Alexander (r. 912-913) who died after a game of it; Theophano’s son Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) and Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) played the game too.   
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Tzykanion, Byzantine polo played in the Tzykanisterion of the Imperial Palace
  • The ivory box of Empress Helena which seen when she is conversing with Joseph Bringas is a reference to the art form of ivory carving, a popular Byzantine art form that was used for several book covers and portraits of emperors.
  • The palace right next to the sea where Queen Olga of Kiev first arrives in is the Bukoleon Palace, one of the more notable palaces in Constantinople’s Imperial Palace Complex. The interior of the Hagia Sophia meanwhile features the entrance to the building that is still used today.
  • Before Olga leaves, you now know Theophano did not speak Olga’s language since whatever Olga says to Theophano is translated by an interpreter and what is spoken in Olga’s thought bubble in the Cyrillic alphabet is actually the Russian translation for what the interpreter was saying and here I asked the creators about this Russian text and apart from telling me it meant exactly what the interpreter was saying, they said they had no knowledge of Russian so they just used Google Translate for it- what I usually do when I use foreign language dialogue in my Lego films- though they also said that a historian told them that Ukrainian was a better option as it was closer to the Kievan Rus’ language but it was too late to change that.
  • The prison Empress Helena was put in was once the Baths of Zeuxippus, a popular bath site in Constantinople back in the 6th century and the earlier days.
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Empress Helena imprisoned at the ruins of the Baths of Zeuxippus, chapter II

Chapter III- Sovereignty

  • The church where Emperor Constantine VII and Empress Helena were buried in was the Church of the Holy Apostles, the burial site of many Byzantine emperors which is now the Fatih Mosque of Istanbul. Since it is unclear what the here in the novel shows it looking similar to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice in which the architecture was based on the Holy Apostles church. The purple sarcophagus of Constantine VII as will see is based on the surviving porphyry sarcophagus of the Byzantine emperors which you will see in Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum. In addition, Romanos II and Theophano are seen wearing white, which is the Byzantine color of mourning, although there is no evidence of this in the 10th century as sources that mention white as a mourning color only come in the 14th century.
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Byzantine imperial porphyry sarcophagus in the novel, chapter III
  • In Nikephoros Phokas’ expedition in Crete, one panel depicts the Cataphract cavalry unloading in the beach through ramps coming out from ships similar to the D-Day landings in World War II (1944), it turns out that the Byzantines used this kind of tactic when invading enemy territory from sea. The scene of the walls of Crete’s capital Chandax collapsing by mining beneath it was actually how Nikephoros’ army in 961 captured the city from the Arabs.
  • The single column seen next to Romanos II and Joseph Bringas in the middle of field is the Column of the Goths, one of the oldest structures in Constantinople and could even date back to its founding by Constantine the Great in 330, today it still stands in Istanbul’s Gulhane Park near Topkapi Palace.
  • The scene of Nikephoros Phokas acclaimed by his troops by standing on a shield shows the Roman and Byzantine tradition wherein an emperor acclaimed by his troops was lifted on a shield.
  • The part of John Tzimiskes firing an arrow is a reference to him as a highly skilled archer as documented by his contemporary historian Leo the Deacon.
  • The house of the eunuch Basil Lekapenos shown here happened to be the house of the 5th century Byzantine general of Gothic origin Aspar, the puppet master of Emperor Leo I (r. 457-474) who in fact killed Aspar. Being a high-ranking court official, Basil Lekapenos gained so much wealth over the years that he commissioned a highly valuable golden reliquary which still exists today known as the Limburg Staurotheke, which can be seen in the background of the part where Basil and John Tzimiskes are talking.
  • The ceiling mosaics in the scene Theophano walks in as empress in my opinion looks like it was patterned after the dark blue and gold ceiling mosaics of the 5th century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.

 Chapter IV- Disorder

  • The street seen where the coronation procession of Nikephoros II is Constantinople’s main artery known as the Mese which connects all the city’s forums ending in the Hippodrome.
  • Before Nikephoros II’s coronation in 963, the house Theophano was staying in wherein John Tzimiskes came to visit her was in today’s Fener district of Istanbul. The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici’s chapter mentioning Theophano also mentions that she had to be placed in a house outside the city center before her wedding to Nikephoros II as custom dictated.
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Map of Byzantine era Constantinople including its main street, the Mese
  • The red imperial robes and crown Nikephoros II Phokas is seen wearing as emperor looks similar to the exact robes and crown he wears in his existing portrait wherein he is carrying a Paramerion or curved sword.
  • The Byzantine senate too makes a quick cameo appearance but it is also mentioned here that they did not have a powerful role in society anymore as they did in the age of the Roman Empire, instead the senate only remained as a board of rich and powerful old men serving as advisors for the emperor. The Senate of Constantinople meanwhile was founded by all the way back in 330 by Constantine the Great who moved some noble families from Rome east and according to tradition, some of the important Byzantine families such as Doukas and Palaiologos were originally Roman patrician families moved to the east by Constantine the Great.
  • The region of Cappadocia, which was also a Theme of the empire back then and the homeland of Nikephoros II and growing up there which was then a wild frontier constantly attacked by Arabs shaped him into a tough general determined to kill his Arab enemies. Apparently, the trip Nikephoros with Theophano and her sons took to Cappadocia between 964 and 965 did indeed happen and seen here in the novel is a church with frescos of Nikephoros and Theophano themselves and today these can be found in a rock carved church in what is today the village of Cavusin. When asking the novel’s creators if this trip to Cappadocia actually happened, I was also informed by them that Nikephoros even briefly left the army for a time to spend time with Theophano, and now here’s something new I learned from the creators which was not even seen in the book itself.
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Church fresco of Nikephoros II and Theophano in Cappadocia in the novel
  • The rioting scene in the harbor has a quick appearance of the “powww!” text when a man punches a soldier, a reference to the action scenes in old comic books. The Hippodrome scene meanwhile shows a bird’s eye view of the famous Statue of the 4 Horses which are now in Venice after being taken by the 4th Crusade in 1204, this is seen when Nikephoros’ cavalry marches into the Hippodrome, the most common gathering location in Constantinople. In addition, the 70m tall Column of Justinian I can be seen in the background of the Hippodrome, this was taken down after the Ottomans took over Constantinople in 1453.
  • I had also asked the creators if the stampede was true event, and it certainly was as they had answered me. It also did happen in history that Nikephoros II built another wall to protect the palace as he feared a prophecy of him being assassinated but it was exaggerated here that the palace became a military camp.
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Imperial Palace turned into a military camp under Nikephoros II
  • In the scene where Nikephoros II angrily insults a cardinal sent by the Holy Roman emperor Otto I, this cardinal happens to be the same Bishop Liutprand of Cremona who visited Constantinople in 949 meeting Constantine VII but his encounter with Nikephoros II was the complete opposite of his encounter with Constantine VII. When meeting Nikephoros, Liutprand was insulted being seated at a remote part of the dining hall and being served a smelly fish sauce as punishment for calling Nikephoros only as “Emperor of the Greeks” and not “Roman emperor”; to retaliate as well, Nikephoros refused to call Otto I “emperor” but instead “king” and when returning to Italy, Liutprand’s purple silks were confiscated as he insulted the emperor. The novel however omitted the whole part of Liutprand meeting Nikephoros, instead only showing one scene of it as part of a montage sequence, though it would add some comedy to the story when putting in this scene.
  • The church structure behind Patriarch Polyeuctus when he is talking with Basil Lekapenos and Theophano is the Hagia Eirene or Church of Holy Peace which still exists today part of the Topkapi Palace Complex of Istanbul.

Watch this. to learn more about Nikephoros II’s encounter with Liutprand of Cremona (from Voices of the Past).

Chapter V- Betrayal

  • When seeing the prayer object Nikephoros II was holding, I first thought it was a Rosary but when asking the creators what it was, they replied saying it is a prayer rope known as a Komboskini, as the Byzantine Orthodox Christians do not have rosaries in their tradition.
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Komboskini, Byzantine prayer rope
  • When Nikephoros II is assassinated in his sleep, he is seen wearing monk’s robes and on the floor. The monk’s robe he is wearing a reference to his preference to live the life of an ascetic monk ever since his wife and son died years ago which is why he chose to distance himself from women even when marrying Theophano. As mentioned in the historical records, Nikephoros slept on the floor when he was killed, though when I made my short film on this subject matter back in 2019, I missed out this detail and I only knew about it when someone later on commented that he slept on the floor that night. The decapitated head of Nikephoros meanwhile was meant to show proof that he was dead.
  • It actually happened that Theophano sought refuge in the Hagia Sophia when Basil Lekpaneos betrayed her and it was actually true that she punched him out of anger when hearing he had betrayed her.
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Coin of Empress Theophano
  • The location where Theophano departs the palace and later comes back to in 976 is the same seaside Bukoleon Palace. The end page meanwhile shows a coin from Theophano’s time in the 10th century with her image on it which shows proof of what she looks like even if the coin is faded so it is hard to know what she actually looked like.
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Great Palace Complex with the Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome by Ediacar

Historical Errors and Missing Items

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Though this novel was well written and well-illustrated giving readers a clear image of what life in 10th century Byzantium was, there are quite a few historical errors and though some of them I can tell were done intentionally just to exaggerate the tory a bit more to make it have some fantasy elements. As a Byzantine history fan, I was able to pay attention to the details and point out some loopholes. Here is a list of them as seen per chapter.

Chapter I- Ambition

  • The novel mentions that the trip Theophano’s parents and Theophanes took from Laconia in Southern Greece to Constantinople by sea took months though historically speaking, back then sea trips took long but since Laconia and Constantinople were not too far from each other, the trip could have just taken about a week as a sea trip to from Italy to Constantinople was something like 3 weeks unless the ship stopped at many places along the way which was mentioned here.
  • As mentioned earlier, sources of Theophano’s origins can be conflicting that she could have even came from the nobility but from an unknown family though the creators of the novel went for the option of Theophano’s humble origins showing that she grew up in Constantinople while her father grew rich over time as he owned not an ordinary inn but a high-end one visited by court officials from the palace.
  • Before Romanos II and Theophano met and married in 956, Romanos was married as a child to Bertha of Italy who died in 949 and in fact there is an ivory carving which is said to depict Romanos II and Bertha.

Chapter II- Intrigue

  • In the novel, Patriarch Theophylact Lekapenos died in 958 as Basil II was already born before the accidental death of Theophylact, although it is accurate that Theophylact died ironically in riding accident as he was fond of horses but historically, he died in 956 and was not accidentally kicked to a rock by Romanos as shown here. This scene however could be in 956 as the birthdate of Basil in this novel could have been placed earlier.
  • There is a major inaccuracy here in the novel on the birth years of Basil II and Constantine VIII, although for Basil it was more or less accurate because he was born in 958 when his grandfather Constantine VII still ruled as emperor though the second son Constantine VIII was born in 960 when his father Romanos II was already the sole emperor whereas the novel says that Theophano gave birth to Constantine VIII while his grandfather who he was named after was still alive. It is also unclear if Theophano asked Nikephoros Phokas to be the godfather of her son Basil as shown here.
  • When Queen Olga of Kiev visited Constantinople, it is unclear whether Theophano was already around or not as Olga’s visit could have been before 956 but other sources place it at 957 which means she would have most likely met Theophano.
  • It is remains unlikely if Empress Helena who distrusted Theophano planned to poison and it is also unclear if Joseph Bringas actually revealed the plot to Theophano. At the same time, it is only rumored that Theophano poisoned Constantine VII in 959 as his death could have also been due to natural causes as weeks before his death, he was already bedridden.
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Romanos II banishes his mother and sisters in 959, Madrid Skylitzes
  • In reality, Empress Helena was not betrayed and imprisoned by Joseph Bringas wherein she was forced to commit suicide by poisoning herself, instead according to the choronicler at that time Theophanes Continuatus, when her son Romanos II became emperor in 959, she was banished with her 5 other daughters to a convent as Theophano convinced Romanos to do that while at the same time Romanos too purged the court of those disloyal to him and Joseph such as Basil Lekapenos. Helena after her husband’s death in 959 retired while she died in that convent in 961.

Chapter III- Sovereignty

  • Instead of accompanying Queen Olga to the lands of the Rus at the time of Constantine VII’s death in 959, Basil Lekapenos was joining the general John Tzimiskes in his campaigns against the Arabs in the eastern frontier.
  • The merciless genocide of the citizens of Crete in 961 as well as the sacking and massacre of the citizens of Aleppo in 962 both committed by Nikephoros Phokas were omitted from the novel and so were the battles against the Emir of Aleppo Sayf Al-Dawla in the east.
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Byzantines capture Aleppo from Sayf Al-Dawla, 962
  • Though the novel depicts Romanos II growing more and more distant from Theophano and their children, in reality they were still close that Romanos made his young son Basil his co-emperor in 960 and Constantine in 962, though Romanos indulging himself in all kinds of pleasures was known to have been a playboy. The proposed marriage between the general Marianos Argyros’ daughter and Romanos shown here is purely fictional as said by the creators in my interview with them.
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Anna Porphyrogenita, daughter of Romanos II and Theophano, born 2 days before Romanos II’s death (March 15, 963)
  • The death of Romanos II in 963 again was rumored to be done by Theophano but it is also possible that it was caused after returning from a long and tiring hunting expedition though it is highly possible too that it was caused by poisoning since Romanos was only 25 at his death and still healthy. In addition, Romanos and Theophano’s 3rd child Anna was born just 2 days (March 13) before Romanos’ death (March 15).  
  • The old general Marianos Argyros in fact tried to get John Tzimiskes to plot against the latter’s uncle Nikephoros Phokas but John refused. Instead of being killed by Nikephoros’ blade as seen in the novel, Marianos was killed by a platter thrown at him by a woman but also in the same coup of 963.
  • During Nikephoros’ coup of 963, his old father Bardas Phokas the Elder was still alive and possibly around 80 as Nikephoros was 51 when becoming emperor and it was Bardas that hid the young co-emperors Basil and Constantine in the Hagia Sophia when Joseph Bringas attempted to kill them but were spared through Basil Lekapenos’ mediation. Bardas however was omitted from the novel and had no appearance nor mention even.

Chapters IV- Disorder & V- Betrayal

  • In Nikephoros II’s reign, it is unclear if he gifted Theophano with exotic animals like a peacock but it is also clear that Nikephoros did not care for any other class of society but the army and that he even taxed the Church for his military campaigns but at the same time he was a pious Christian who with his friend Athanasios of Trebizond helped establish the Great Lavra Monastery of Mt. Athos in Greece by funding their construction, though Athanasios and Mt. Athos too were omitted from the novel. Despite Nikephoros’ brutality in battle and as an emperor, he is actually venerated as as saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church for defending Orthodoxy in war, his feast day is his day of death which is December 11. Instead of imposing heavy taxes particularly on poor farmers, Nikephoros also imposed them on rich landowners.
  • In the novel, the conspirators that joined John Tzimiskes in killing Nikephoros II were all real historical figures which included the disgraced general Michael Bourtzes, and the other generals Bardas Skleros and Anemas but in reality the 3 other conspirators were assassins hired by John and here in the novel the fellow conspirators were spared whereas in real history, John complied with Patriarch Polyeuctus’ terms and executed his fellow conspirators as well as banishing Theophano. To be legitimized as an emperor, John Tzimiskes married Romanos II’s sister Theodora and though John died in 976, it is not said when she died.

Suggestions, Sequel, and Conclusion    

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Though I would say this again that this graphic novel has done a great job in visualizing and making the forgotten history of Byzantium very relatable, there are still a few things that I noticed were missing and things that could have been improved on. First of all, the flaw I noticed most was when it came to character development and here I noticed that some characters like Romanos II, Leo Phokas, and even Nikephoros II Phokas did not have much character development and they went from seeming surely like the good guys to all of a sudden turning into power hungry villains in just a blink of an eye. Other than that, the drawings in my opinion were done pretty well in capturing emotion even though people I showed the comic to don’t really agree saying this style looks quite too cartoonish and unrealistic though this could be due to the fact the people I know are more used to the more detailed style of comics as seen with Marvel or DC. I also noticed that there were some interesting and important Byzantine history items and easter eggs left out such as locations in Constantinople such as the central square or the Forum of Constantine, the cisterns, aqueducts, the massive Theodosian land walls, as well as the the Byzantine beacon system of communication between the Themes of the empire and the forks which were commonly used in 10th century Byzantium when it came to eating and it also was in the 10th century when the Byzantines introduced the fork to the rest of Europe. Another thing too I’d like to suggest which could have improved the novel was to give more background to the Byzantine setting such as what the Themes or military provinces of the empire were being their version of what the Feudal system was to Western Europe, that it should also show a more realistic angle to history by showing the brutally real events such as Nikephoros Phokas’ massacre and sacking of Crete in 961 and Aleppo in 962 to give the story a true medieval feeling, and that it should have made more references to Byzantine emperors and events of the past such as Justinian I and his conquests or even better that it made some hints to the future of the Byzantine Empire like there could have been someone predicting the future of the empire such as it expanding even more under Basil II or someone foreseeing their eventual defeat to the Turks at Manzikert in 1071. However, at least there was one mention of great Byzantines of the past and this was seen in the part where Theophano gave birth to Basil II telling him that one day he will be as great as the past emperors Justinian I and Heraclius and true enough what she was saying was to be a foretelling of his future as Basil II would indeed be one of Byzantium’s greatest emperors. Also, I asked the creators about the beacon system which is one thing I also knew well about this era of Byzantium and why it was not included and here they replied saying they wished they included it but the novel was only 137 pages so there was no way to put it in especially since it was told through a woman being Theophano’s perspective. However, they said that they could include these missing items like the beacon system if they were to do a sequel of it. On the other hand, one scene that I was surprised to see appear in the novel was the Cappadocia trip showing the character of young Basil II growing up by practicing with a sword to be trained to be a warrior, which in fact is something Byzantine history fans like myself never got to see. Another thing I have to mention that I noticed in the novel was that it put too much attention to the Russian relationship with Byzantium more than it does with Byzantium’s relationship with the rest of Europe and the novel surely shows the Russian angle by focusing more on the Kievan Rus’ parallel story to Byzantium at this time rather than with let’s say showing parallels with Italy or France or the Holy Roman Empire but I would also think that the Russian angle was focused on more as a way to show that the Russian world was Byzantium’s spiritual successor after the empire’s fall in 1453. Now back to the 10th century setting, I would say it is a very interesting time not just for Byzantium but for the rest of the world too as this time also saw the birth of new kingdoms including the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval Kingdom of France and many other powers.

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Map of the Byzantine Empire’s beacons across Asia Minor (black and orange dots)

        

Now speaking about a sequel graphic novel to Theophano, I also asked the creators what they have in mind if they were to do one and they replied to me saying that the most possible sequel to it would be one set directly after this one focusing on the reign of John I Tzimiskes following Theophano’s exile in 969 and continuing up to the early reign of Basil II beginning 976, though this one as I could see would overlap a bit with this story except the creators said that if they were to do a sequel, they would tell it from someone else’s point of view and no longer Theophano’s so probably through the perspective of John I or Basil II and in fact it is already hinted in this novel that the story could continue with Basil II especially since it features his childhood and his path in growing up to become an emperor which we never really get so see when reading Byzantine history. For me, I’d think a graphic novel on Basil II would be an interesting spin especially since he is one of Byzantium’s greatest emperors and his reign was one of the most eventful being almost 50 years.

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Emperor Basil II of Byzantium (r. 976-1025)

Now if the sequel were to be set directly after this novel, then there is a good chance that the beacon system and the forks would appear especially since it happened in the reign of John I Tzimiskes when his relative also named Theophano married the future Holy Roman emperor Otto II and introduced the fork to the rest of Europe, and possibkly this other Theophano could make a cameo appearance in the sequel. In addition to asking about a possible sequel, I also asked the creators if they interested to do the same kind of graphic novel but this time featuring some of the emperors of Byzantium which I find to be the most interesting and conflicting characters like Julian (r. 361-363), Zeno (r. 474-491), Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711), Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195), John III Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254), and Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282), they said that it would be quite difficult as there would be a need for a lot of research for these people, though they said Alexios I is a favorite of theirs too and a possible option for a graphic novel, and this could possibly even by a graphic novel of his life as told by his daughter Anna Komnene in her book The Alexiad.

Watch this to see the life and reign of Basil II (from Kings and Generals).

Anyway, I have now come to very end of this article which I thought would just be a quick review but at the end turned out to be a complete analysis of the whole graphic novel! For me, it was such a great experience reading and seeing the world of Byzantium come into color with such lively illustrations instead of just usually seeing these people as barely visible images in documents like the Madrid Skylitzes and not to mention the book was very well printed with very good quality pages and a very excellently designed book cover. When reading this novel, finally there was something that shows all these Byzantine characters I am familiar with and have grown fascinated with such as Constantine VII, Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Theophano come to life and on the other hand, this novel had also done a great job in showing a lighter and more human side to someone history sees as an evil woman which is Theophano. Though I said the characters do not show much development, I still have to say you would still get invested in them but what I would say is the main highlight of the novel is how it brings scenes of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire itself to life. Of course, the whole story isn’t overall perfect as it is in fact the first novel these creators made and true enough, they have done a pretty great job for their first novel in which now has a Greek version of it in the making! As for myself being a true Byzantine history fan, this book was surely a dream come true and even more, it was such a great honor to interview its creators who turn out to have a lot in common with me being both Byzantine history fans who have also taken a lot of inspiration from Kaldellis’ Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities. Among both creators, it was really the illustrator Chrysa Sakel that I have had the great honor of getting to interview especially since she had set aside some time to answer my endless questions for 4 days and turns out that she had also taken a lot of inspiration from travelling to Constantinople (Istanbul) itself and she is surely someone who has had a fascination with Byzantine history especially when learning it all the way back in 5th grade which she said had been building up in her since then as I asked her if she had been into Byzantine history ever since she was young. Now it was quite a challenge to get to ask the creators some questions and required a lot of anticipation especially since when in the process of asking questions, there seemed to be no end for me as new questions kept popping up in my head and what was even more challenging was the wait for an answer thinking whether they would reply or not but at the end, I could say that I was able to do my part and ask everything I needed to and I would like to thank them for using some of their time for me and for giving me the chance as well for publishing this article of mine on their page and overall it was still a great experience to chat with the creators of the novel! Another challenging but exciting experience too was casting all the characters in the novel as it was actually really fun when reading the novel wherein I was already thinking of which actor or actress can be seen as this particular role but after doing this Byzantine casting, I have to say that since it was actually such a fun experience that I plan to do the same again in doing fan casting for other people in Byzantine history. Now back to the creators of the novel, I wish them luck for their future projects as I too would continue to do more projects as well whether they would be articles or films. Now for 2021, my biggest project as a Byzantine history blogger and fan is to do a 12-part series of what ifs in Byzantine history which will be a rewrite of events in Byzantine history wherein I would alter one story of a particular event per century beginning with the 4th century in which I will post very soon! Now this is all for this extremely long and special article on this very special and intriguing graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale in which I would like to say before finishing off that it gave me a good reason to kickstart the year well. Anyway, thank you all for reading and I hope you have taken a lot from this!   

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 a