Welcome to another special edition article by the Byzantium Blogger! It has been about 2 years since I published an article on places to travel to in the Byzantine world, but now after 2 years of not travelling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am back again with another article after writing all the alternate history chapters and Byzantine history in general. However, this article will not be focusing on a travel destination in the Byzantine world like Constantinople, Asia Minor, Greece, or Ravenna which I have done before, instead this one will be focusing on the Byzantine Gallery of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Georgetown, Washington DC, USA and what to expect from it. (check out their site here).
Just recently, I got the chance to see the Byzantine collection of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, and in the 1 hour I was there, I spent the entirety of it at the Byzantine collection alone. Now the collection may just be a single room with a bit more outside, but don’t let the size fool you, especially if you are an enthusiast of Byzantine history. You could get carried away looking at the items and their descriptions that you may never want to leave! As Dumbarton Oaks features specialized collections, the Byzantine collection does indeed have some of the best artifacts from the Byzantine world from the 4th to 15th centuries- basically their entire history. It is not really the quantity of their collection that is impressive, but rather its quality as the Dumbarton collection features premium Byzantine items including pieces that belonged to emperors. For this article, I will first give a little overview of the Dumbarton Oaks museum and its history before moving on to the Byzantine collection, then I will also discuss my favorite finds in the entire collection in which I have a lot of. Before beginning the rest of the article, I would also like to remind you all that I will not list the name of every single item found in the collection as it would just go on forever if I did, rather I will stick to talking about the pieces in the collection I find the most interesting and impressive.
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Photos of the collections’ items are taken by myself.
When thinking of the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC, the first thing that would come into everyone’s minds would be its world famous landmarks like the White House, US Capitol, and the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials, or if not these important landmarks in US history, Washington DC would best be remembered for its museums such as the Smithsonian and National Gallery. However in the western part of the city which is the neighborhood of Georgetown, there is another great museum in the form of a historical mansion worth seeing, and this is Dumbarton Oaks. If you wonder about its name “Dumbarton”, this comes from the name of its location as the location this mansion was built in was known as the “Rock of Dumbarton” as it is in an elevated area, and in 1702- when America was still a British colony- this piece of land was granted by Queen Anne of Great Britain to the British army officer Colonel Ninian Beall. Fast-forward to 1801, many years have passed since the USA became a country declaring independence from Great Britain (1776), and here was when the first house which included an orangery was built on this property by William Hammond Dorsey, and between 1822 and 1829, this house became the Washington residence of the US Senator and later the 7th Vice President John Calhoun. In 1846, this small house was bought by Edward Linthicum who then enlarged it and renamed it “The Oaks”, which is possibly a reference to its environment of being full of oak trees, then in 1891 The Oaks was bought by Henry Blount. In 1920, the couple Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss bought the property including The Oaks and in 1933 they renamed it “Dumbarton Oaks” combining its two historic names, and now owning the house they continued to enlarge and restructure the house itself by adding a music room and a Renaissance style room to display their European furniture, tapestries, and other belongings, which would also be used as a space for music performances and scholarly gatherings.
To give a background of the couple, they were both enthusiastic collectors and patrons of scholarships and the arts whereas Robert who was a graduate of the Harvard University pursued a distinguished career as an officer and diplomat in foreign service, while his wife Mildred had the funds to acquire this property after inheriting a fortune from her family’s investment in the patent medicine Fletcher’s Castoria. Part of the items the couple enthusiastically collected were Byzantine artifacts which included entire mosaic floors taken from Syria, and from 1936 to 1940, they invested heavily on collecting Byzantine art and artifacts as in 1940 they opened the house’s Byzantine gallery to the public envisioning it to be one of the world’s greatest collections of Byzantine art. Aside from their interest in Byzantine history and its artifacts, the couple too had an interest in Pre-Columbian America and its art and artifacts, thus in 1963, 2 decades after opening their Byzantine collection, they added another wing to the house to be used as a gallery showcasing their collection of Pre-Columbian American art and artifacts from different parts of the American continent. Though in 1962, just a year before the Pre-Columbian gallery opened to the public, Robert Woods Bliss had died, and in 1969 it was his wife Mildred’s turn to die. However, long before the death of Robert and Mildred, the Dumbarton Oaks collection as well as its research library was already transferred legally to Harvard University, while in 1987 the courtyard gallery of the museum was constructed. Today, the Dumbarton Oaks Museum may best be remembered for its gardens, but if you are a Byzantine, Pre-Columbian American, Medieval European, or Ancient Roman history enthusiast, this place would be a lot more than just the gardens.
When getting into the museum’s room containing the Byzantine collection, the first thing you may notice is a massive display of a map of the Byzantine Empire at its height of territorial extent in 565- marked in purple- the year its most influential emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) had died, wherein the empire stretched west to east from Southern Spain to Syria and north to south from the Crimea (Ukraine) to Egypt. If you look more carefully, this map also shows the greatest extent of the Byzantine Empire in 1180 at the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180)- marked in dotted lines- wherein the empire occupied almost all of the Balkans and east to Central Asia Minor (Turkey). This map however is not just a map to make viewers see how large the Byzantine Empire was in size, but rather it is a display of coins of different Byzantine rulers from different eras of Byzantine history found all across lands once under the Byzantine Empire. These coins are displayed on the specific area on the map that they were found in. In the tour of this wall map of the Byzantine world, we would start at their westernmost province which was Southern Spain, and this map displays a Tremissis or a small gold coin of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) that was found there as it was during his reign when Byzantine control of Southern Spain in which they gained in the 550s under Justinian I was lost. The map then shows 2 coins of Emperor Justinian I with one found at Carthage in North Africa which is the Byzantine standard gold Solidus coin and the other being a copper coin or Follis of Justinian I found in Ravenna, Italy.
As you look below Ravenna on the map, you will then see a Solidus gold coin of Emperor Constantine V of the Isaurian Dynasty (r. 741-775) found in Rome and a half-follis coin of Emperor Constans II of the Heraclian Dynasty (r. 641-668) found in Naples, as in both their reigns the Byzantines were still in control of most of Italy despite their authority over it already greatly challenged by the Germanic Lombards. In the portion of the southern tip of mainland Italy and Sicily on the map, you will then see a Follis of Emperor Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty (r. 976-1025) found there as in his reign Byzantium still had Southern Italy, then over in Sicily you will see two coins of Emperor Maurice of the Justinian Dynasty (r. 582-602) found there both being Dekanoummion coins, which are a variety of copper coins, then also in the Sicily part of the map you would see a gold Nomisma coin of Emperor Theophilos of the Amorian Dynasty (r. 829-842) found in Syracuse, as it was during his reign when Byzantine rule over Sicily began falling to the Arabs of North Africa. Now heading east in the map, we proceed to Thessaloniki, Greece where the map shows a 13th century Hyperpyron coin found there of Theodore Komnenos Doukas Angelos (r. 1215-1230), who was both Despot of Epirus and Emperor of Thessaloniki since 1224 in years when Constantinople had fallen to the 4th Crusade (1204-1261), and Theodore Doukas here was one of the many claimants to the lost Byzantine throne, though he never got his chance to take back Constantinople as he was defeated and blinded by the Bulgarians in 1230.
When looking at the Byzantine capital Constantinople at the map there, you would then see two coins found there with one of them being a copper Follis of Justinian I and the other one being a gold Solidus of his nephew and successor Emperor Justin II (r. 565-578), then while heading across the Marmara Sea from Constantinople on the map you will see two other coins of Justin II found there in which both are copper Follis coins with one found at the city of Nicomedia just across the water from Constantinople and the other one at Kyzikos. The map then also shows a coin found in Nicaea and Magnesia in Asia Minor, the one found at Nicaea being a Hyperpyron of the first emperor and founder of the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261) Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1205-1221), and the found at Magnesia being also a Hyperpyron, except this is one of Theodore I’s grandson Emperor Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258). Now moving north up the map to the Byzantine colony of Cherson in the Crimea in Ukraine north of the Black Sea, you would then see a copper Follis of Maurice that was found there, and directly south from there at the city of Trebizond at the northeastern corner of Asia Minor along the Black Sea you will then see a Hyperpyron found there of Manuel I Megas Komnenos (r. 1237-1263) who was an emperor of the Empire of Trebizond, the breakaway Byzantine Empire based there since Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade in 1204. When looking at the regions of Seleukeia and Isauria in Asia Minor on the map you will then see copper Follis coins of Heraclius with one found in Seleukeia and the other in Isauria, then when looking at Cyprus you will also see another copper Follis of the same Heraclius found there as well. Now lastly when proceeding to the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire on the map, when looking at Antioch you will then see a copper Follis coin of Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527) who was the uncle and predecessor of Justinian I found there, then in Jerusalem you will see another copper Follis of Heraclius found there, and lastly at Alexandria in Egypt you will see a copper coin of Justinian I found there.
Aside from the massive map displaying coins found all over the Byzantine world, the collection also displays another portion focusing on the evolution of the images of Byzantine emperors shown on their coins, mainly about the Byzantine imperial uniform known as the Loros which was a 16ft long heavy jewelled scarf wrapped in a cross shape over the emperor’s body and draped over the left arm, which was then introduced as an imperial uniform by the late 7th century. This imperial garment was then something that evolved from the Ancient Roman togas, and in the Late Roman era, the consuls in the Roman/ Byzantine Senate began wearing a robe wrapped around the body like a scarf instead of a large sheet being the toga worn before, and in the 7th century with the office of consul being abolished, the Byzantine emperor who now had the powers of the consul began wearing the consul’s robe, which then became the standard uniform of Byzantine emperors in official ceremonies until the fall of the empire in 1453, although over the centuries the style of the imperial Loros kept evolving. Now the coins at this part of the collection first shows images of Late Roman emperors minted in their respective coins dressed in the consular robe known as the Trabea Triumphalis which was an elaborate toga with a decorative border and sometimes even encrusted with jewels.
The 4 coins here showing the emperors in the Trabea Triumphalis include a copper one of the Roman emperor Numerian (r. 283-284) found in Rome, a double gold Solidus of the second Byzantine emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361) found in Trier in Germany, a gold Solidus of Emperor Julian (r. 361-363) found in Antioch, and a Gold Solidus of Emperor Arcadius (r. 395-408) found in Constantinople. The next set of two coins to the right of these 4 then show the first ones depicting emperors in the early version of the Loros now holding an imperial scepter using the symbol of the Christian cross now replacing the old Roman symbol of the eagle, and these coins include a gold Solidus of Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450) found in Constantinople and the other one being a copper Follis of Emperor Tiberius II Constantine of the Justinian Dynasty (r. 578-582) also found in Constantinople.
To the right of these 2 coins, the next 4 coins you will see show how the coins beginning in the 7th century have evolved into ones having more Christian symbols such as crosses and these include a gold Solidus found in Constantinople of Justinian II during his first reign (685-695) who is said to be the emperor credited for introducing the Loros as the standard uniform for Byzantine emperors, then below his coin is a gold Solidus of Constantine V found in Constantinople. Below the coin of Constantine V is a copper Follis of Emperor Basil I (r. 867-886) who was the peasant turned imperial bodyguard that founded the famous and long reigning Macedonian Dynasty (867-1056) found in Constantinople, and below the coin of Basil I is a very important and rare Byzantine lead seal which is that of Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944) who was the Armenian admiral that took over the throne at that time, in which there are not that many coins that depict him, and this one here shows not only Romanos I but him with his two sons and co-emperors Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos.
The next 7 coins on display to the right of the last 4 ones I mentioned then show coins from the 10th century onward showing how the imperial Loros evolved into becoming more simplified, whereas the design of the coins too have been simplified to the point where the emperor’s image became more and more unrecognizable, whereas as some depict the full body of the emperor and the others just the emperor’s bust. The first of the 7 shown here is a gold Solidus of the same Romanos I mentioned earlier except this one with his co-emperor and son-in-law Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos of the Macedonian Dynasty as a child (r. 913-959) beside him, found in Constantinople. Below this is a gold Solidus of Empress Theodora (r. 1055-1056) who was a sole woman ruler of the empire and the last of the Macedonian Dynasty, while below her gold Solidus is another coin of her, except this one being a gold Histamenon Nomisma which is slightly lighter than the standard gold Solidus, and both these coins of Theodora were found in Constantinople.
The coin seen below the ones of Theodora is a Byzantine Hyperpyron coin which in the reign of Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) replaced the standard gold Solidus that had been devalued in the mid-11th century, and the Hyperpyron seen here is of the first Emperor Nicaea Theodore I Laskaris who had been mentioned earlier, and just like the coin of Theodore I on the map mentioned earlier, the one here was also found in Nicaea which he chose as the base for his exiled Byzantine Empire. The next 3 coins to the right include a Basilikon which was a variation of a silver coin in the late Byzantine Empire in which this one here is of Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) wherein it shows a rather crude full-body image of him next to his son and co-emperor Michael IX Palaiologos (r. 1294-1320) found in Constantinople, then below this is a lead seal with the bust of Emperor Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty, and below this is a full-body lead seal of Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates (r. 1078-1081).
Next to all these coins to the right is a precious Byzantine artifact, which here is a piece of a 10th century ivory triptych, and this piece shows the Roman emperor and first Byzantine emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-330) dressed in the 10th century Byzantine imperial Loros. Above this part of the collection containing the coins is a large marble roundel from the 12th century depicting the Byzantine emperor John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) dressed again in the imperial Loros, however based on certain studies the identity of the emperor on the marble roundel is not clear, meaning that it could not exactly be John II but could possibly be any other 12th century Byzantine emperor, but whoever the emperor on the roundel is, this roundel is something I would like to recreate as part of my artworks recreating Byzantine era images.
The other most noticeable items in the collection include a number of intricately carved marble pillars, arches, niches, and sarcophagi. The one you cannot miss is the marble “Seasons Sarcophagus” which was found in Rome dating back to around 330, the same year Constantinople was founded by Emperor Constantine I, and this piece being from the 4th century still shows some Pagan elements considering that by this time Roman Paganism was still strong despite Christianity already rising to becoming a dominant faith, although it was only by the 380s when Christianity became the empire’s official religion under Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395).
Another piece similar to this sarcophagus that you will find in the collection is a 6th-7th century fragment of a marble Byzantine chancel barrier showing that this piece could have been much larger than how you see back in its day. Something similar to the chancel barrier that you will also find is a 5th-6th century marble reliquary box designed to look like a miniature sarcophagus which was found in Syria. Another of the more notable large sized sculptures from the collection that you will see is an 11th century marble slab known as the Hagiosoritissa depicting the Mother of God and suggesting that it could have been part of a larger relief part of a pillar from a church with an identical one opposite it, except with a sculpture depicting St. John the Baptist, however its twin slab is missing, though this piece is definitely a rare one that shows some evidence of Byzantine sculpture art from the 11th century.
In another of the smaller vertical display cases is a set of 3 items in which I consider it to be some of my finest pieces in the whole collection and this includes a 10th century ivory slab with a cross, and at the center of it a bust of a Byzantine emperor, while the borders of this ivory slab show some sockets suggesting that they were once used for placing jewels to border it. Next to this slab is a fragment of another ivory slab which just like this has an arched top, except this one has a sculpture of St. Gabriel the Archangel dressed in the Byzantine imperial Loros, and below it is a small but very intricately carved ivory round box known as a pyxis.
Now one of the larger pieces in the entire collection I find very interesting is the 6th century consular diptych of the consul Philoxenus as it shows inscriptions in both Latin as seen at the center showing the name of the consul, and in Greek as seen in the 4 circles surrounding it, thus showing the transition of Latin to Greek in language which already began taking place in the 6th century where Greek had already slowly been becoming used as an official language in the government, rather than just the everyday language. Additionally, 3 other impressive ivory pieces include a late 10th century triptych of the Virgin Mary and the child Christ at the center with 3 saints on each of the 2 sides flanking it making it have a total of 6 saints, another one being a late 10th century ivory sculpture of the Virgin Hodegetria (mother and child icon), and one made from between the 7th-8th centuries depicting the Nativity. When it comes to the famous Byzantine boxes and caskets, Dumbarton Oaks too features some of the finest examples of it such as the very intricate and symmetrical rosette casket with carvings of warriors and animals which is made of wood and clad with bone plaques, it dates back to either the 10th or 11th centuries and is a lockable piece intended to store valuables such as spices, perfumes, and coins. Another intricate rosette casket you will find in the collection is a long rectangular one made also of wood with bone plaques dating back to the late 10th century, and this one here has religious images carved into it.
Now when it comes to Byzantine jewellery, the collection features a wide variety of it spanning across the different centuries of Byzantine history, thus you can see the evolution in the designs Byzantine jewellery had over the centuries. In the jewellery collection, one of the most noticeable is something known as the “Marriage Belt” dating back to either the 5th or 6th centuries featuring 23 golden medallions forming a circle which features both Christian and Pagan symbols minted on the golden medallions showing that the ancient Pagan faith and its traces were not yet totally wiped out by then.
One of the impressive pieces of jewellery also includes an early 10th century golden ring surrounded by a circle of pearls, which still looks very much intact even up to this day. Aside from this ring, the same case as the ring and marriage belt also features an early 10th century pair of earrings made of gold with pearls as well, two golden marriage rings from the early 7th century, and a series of golden necklaces and earrings with gemstones dating all the way back to the early 5th century too. However, the item from this case that I find the most interesting is the early 7th century golden necklace with the image of the Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite at its pendant, thus showing that even up until the 7th century when Orthodox Christianity was not only already the official faith of the empire but one that already dominated over society, their Pagan Greek roots were still not yet forgotten.
Additionally, this necklace’s pendant does in fact stay true to how art was like in Ancient Greece showing the golden sculpture Ancient Greek goddess in her full beauty exposing most of her body’s physique with only her lower part covered, while the blue lapis lazuli background is meant to represent the sea, while the necklace itself features an alternating pattern of gold and lapis lazuli pieces. As part of the golden necklaces, one of them that I really found interesting was a large one with the bust of Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518) at its pendant while the two clasps of this necklace feature two coins with one of Anastasius I and the other one of his predecessor Emperor Zeno the Isaurian (r. 474-491), and next to this necklace are two golden coins with the image of Emperor Justinian I used as a clasp for either a belt or necklace. One thing that you will notice here that has a very interesting appearance is a set of 2 golden medallion bracelets dating back to the 6th century but still looking very intact except for the top-left corner of the left medallion chipped off while the rest of it still looks very much of good quality after all these centuries.
Next to these 2 golden medallions would then be another interesting piece being another golden bracelet as well, except this one still has 4 out of 9 jewels still in place, and the more impressive part is that this bracelet being from the 4th century is 2 centuries older than the previous one I mentioned yet looks even more intact than the former. Another interesting and very intact piece you would also see in this part of the collection is a pair of 2 early 7th century bracelets worn by certain Byzantine governor generals in which this one contains not only the image of one emperor but 3, which include emperors Maurice, Heraclius, and the emperor between them which was Phocas (r. 602-610) who was the emperor that overthrew Maurice and was overthrown by Heraclius.
In this part of the collection, you will also see one of the oldest pieces in the Byzantine collection, which is in fact something that even predates the founding of the Byzantine Empire (330), and this is an Ancient Roman pendant known as a cameo dating back to the year 300 made of chalcedony and gold depicting the busts of the emperors Galerius (r. 293-311) and Constantius I (r. 293-306) when they were Caesars or junior emperors of the Roman Tetrarchy- when the Roman Empire was divided into 4 parts- with the latter one (Constantius I) being the father of Byzantium’s founder Constantine I.
Other than this cameo, the collection does in fact feature even earlier pieces such as gold pendants with the coins of Roman emperors Caracalla (r. 211-217) and Elagabalus (r. 218-222) of the Severan Dynasty and a coin of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Something else here that would be of great interest is a pair of 2 pendants of Constantine I from the 4th century, with one being circular and its pair a hexagonal one, and here Constantine I is depicted as the Roman god Apollo as he true enough went back-and-forth in his images from Christian to Pagan.
Another impressive collection at Dumbarton Oaks are the crosses from the Byzantine era which were used as reliquaries or cases to store holy relics, and apparently these containers used to store pieces of the True Cross came in the form of crosses, and considering the importance of the relic of True Cross, the containers holding them too had to be of high quality with very impressive and intricate art on them. The case containing the collection of reliquary crosses then shows a large number of them coming in different forms and designs together with 2 other reliquary items and 4 different rings.
In this collection of reliquary crosses, the one that I find the most impressive is the gold and Coisonne enamel one made from the late 12th to early 13th centuries that is still fully intact as it not only has its cross but the gold box in the shape of a cross underneath it, and to display both items still intact, this piece is seen with the golden box turned over beneath the painted cross above it. Another piece here that is very impressive is although now seen in 3 fragments coming from the 11th century made of silver, niello, and gilding showing that they once belonged to one piece, although these surviving fragments are pieces coming exactly from 3 edges of this cross- except for the bottom one- wherein the fragment of the upper edge shows the emperor Constantine I the Great in the Byzantine imperial Loros with Pope St. Sylvester, the one on the left edge shows the archangel St. Michael at the location of Chonae in Asia Minor, and the one on the right showing the Old Testament figure Joshua- although only half of him is seen- prostrating himself before an Archangel.
One of the other crosses you will easily notice is the bronze one from either the 11th or 12th centuries which is still highly intact that it even still has its base hanging from it, and not to mention you will also see crosses from as early as the 6th and 7th centuries here still mostly intact with one being a necklace with a cross pendant from the 7th century and another one being a series of 4 small pendant crosses made as early as the 6th century. Aside from the reliquary crosses and cross pendant necklaces, this same case that contains them also contains 3 small, but very intricate Byzantine rings and the most impressive of these 3 rings happens not be the most detailed and colorful one but the simplest of the 3 from the 11th century as this ring is a rare one of great value belonging to an important historical figure of that time which was the historian Michael Attaleiates (1021-1080).
Now as icons have played such a major role in the history of Byzantium, the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine collection does in fact feature a few valuable and very stunning icons, and the one here that I find the most impressive is the one of the late 4th and early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople St. John Chrysostom made in around 1325, and this piece is not just a hand-painted icon but a miniature mosaic made of several tiny tesserae or painted tiles assembled to form the image of the saint in a very realistic way as if it were a hand-painted icon.
Other than the miniature mosaic icon of St. John Chrysostom, this collection also features another impressive miniature mosaic in which the other one here also made in the 14th century depicts not one character but 40! The 40 figures in this miniature mosaic are the 40 Martyrs of Sebasteia, which were Christian Roman soldiers from the 4th century who were sentenced to death by the Roman authorities during the early 4th century Christian persecutions by being forced to march to death in the dead of winter with their clothes stripped off. The collection too features another icon of the same subject being the 40 Martyrs of Sebasteia, although the second one with the same subject is a post-Byzantine era piece made in the 17th century using tempera and gilding on wood, and this one here is a triptych icon with the central panel showing the same 40 martyrs except this one with one of them finding a warm bathhouse as the legend about them says, while the panels left and right of the central one show different saints painted on them.
Another thing you will find here is a golden icon frame from the mid-11th century containing 8 Cloisonne medallions around it depicting religious images. The largest one and perhaps the most noticeable of the icons in the collection happens to be the 14th century icon of St. Peter made of tempera and gilding on a large wooden slab which shows him with such strong emotion and depth, in which became the style of icons in the late Byzantine era, compared to the more emotionless way saints were depicted in earlier Byzantine eras. Other than icons, you will also find Byzantine era illuminated manuscripts made on sheets of vellum, and here you will see one displayed on a page of an opened book and 2 others as hanging sheets.
Of course, the collection not only features larger than life treasures from the Byzantine world belonging to larger-than-life figures like emperors or items that depict them, but rather the collection also features several objects of everyday life in Byzantium including plates, utensils, chalices, and a lot more.
Although no matter how ordinary these items may seem, a lot of them are of great historical value with some even having a story to tell, and this could be said about the silver plate from the 5th century depicting a hunting scene here which shows that hunting had a major role in Byzantine society especially among the elites, while the same too can be said with a large silver chalice you will see which actually belonged to the important Ardaburius family of 5th century Constantinople.
Now one thing you cannot miss in the collection is the display of Byzantine era utensils as here among the several serving spoons, you will see an actual Byzantine era fork, and when looking at it, it may at first seem very ordinary to see a simple silver fork, but if you know the history of Byzantium you will know it is a very important object as the fork was in fact an item the Byzantines had developed as a utensil for eating in which they have introduced to the Western world, and at this day we have the Byzantines to thank for introducing it to us. Among the other silver housewares in the collection, you will find a series of silver plates, chalices, incense burners, candlesticks, ewers, intricate bronze lampstands, small oil lamps in the form of animals, and even trading instruments such a weight for a scale in the form of the bust of a 5th century Byzantine empress.
Outside the room of the collection, you will then find a large pot made of the purple stone porphyry, in which the Byzantines used in order to make the room the imperial heirs were born in purple to legitimize their claim to the throne. Other than that, you will also find a series of tiled mosaics found in floors from different parts of the Byzantine era like Asia Minor and Syria wherein one shows an interesting green one with red and white lines and another one looking like a maze of different patterns made of green and red porphyry stones laid into marble, this piece is thus an amazing geometric mix of a tiled mosaic and a checkerboard which was found in a church in Southern Italy.
That’s about it for my article on the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine collection. To sum it up, the collection does feature very valuable treasures, though not very large, its size does not really matter as you would in fact spend endless minutes staring at these valuable items. Prepare to be immersed in the fascinating history and culture of Byzantium. The Dumbarton Oaks collection has some of the rarest and most well-preserved Byzantine treasures as well as the most important ones that are not only treasures found all over the Byzantine world but those that belonged to important people in the Byzantine era. This is what makes this collection very special, and it was such a great pleasure for me to see this collection. Of course, the entire Dumbarton Oaks museum has a lot more to show than its Byzantine collection, but since my site only features the history of Byzantium, I only chose to cover it. Also, if you all noticed I did not mention every item you would see since if I did, then I would go forever with this article, so for the sake of making this post short and simple, I chose to just stick with my best finds in the collection. Anyway, this is all for now on this special edition article on the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine collection, this is Powee Celdran the Byzantine Time Traveler… thank you all for reading!
Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! It’s now been over 2 weeks since I finished the final chapter of my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series that had been going on for almost 8 months! Now since I have just finished the finale (chapter XII) of my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, I thought that it would be a great idea to do an extra special edition article to share my thoughts on the entire series I made (beginning in February and finishing in September of this year), how it taught me more about the very fascinating history of Byzantium and enriched the passion I had for it for over 2 years now. If you have been following my site, then perhaps you would recall that almost a year ago I came up with a similar special article like this when finishing off 2020 (read it here) wherein I discussed my personal story with Byzantine history and what it meant to me, as well as my learnings from it wherein I also announced that I would be doing an alternate history series for Byzantium for 2021. Now, this article will be something similar to that, except this one would be simply limited to my journey in writing the 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, and since I am very much tired as of now considering that I completed writing all chapters, this article itself will not be as articulate in words as the chapters of the series, basically this article you will read is just me talking regularly. On the other hand, as we also finish off another quarter of this year 2021, I decided once again to do it with another special edition article, whereas this year I have already come up with two previous end of quarter articles, the first one being an interview with 5 friends on their thoughts on quotes from the Byzantine era despite them not being really familiar with it, and the next one being my own personal ranking of the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my own personal best to least. This special edition article would then be as I said a reflection on all the 12 chapters I have previously written which covered the 12 centuries of Byzantium’s history with one chapter per century from the 4th to the 15th. By having over 1,100 years of history, the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) surely had gone through so much ups and downs, colorful characters that defined it, encountering all sorts of people from beyond, and so many changes both in territory and culture that would make it look like their empire’s history had gone such a long way that with about a thousand years going by, its history a thousand years earlier may have in fact seemed like that of a totally different country’s history altogether! Just as the Byzantine Empire and its history kept on evolving over these 12 centuries, the same can be said with my journey through these 12 centuries when putting all of them into 12 different stories over the months. From February to September of this year, I have gone through a very amazing yet challenging journey of writing 12 different alternate history scenarios for each of the 12 centuries of Byzantine history, and throughout these months I have somewhat gone through the same kind of ups and downs the Byzantines had gone through in their history, and in my case of writing this 12 part series, I have simultaneously been doing a social media campaign to spread awareness on the history of Byzantium where I have come across many groups on Facebook to share and gain new knowledge on Byzantine history, posted numerous posts on my Instagram to share some bits and pieces of Byzantine history, and as I always did since before create some videos in which I have shared on my Youtube channel No Budget Films. At the same time as I have written my 12-part series, I have created several artworks on historical figures and locations from the Byzantine era, and additionally throughout these past months that I have been sharing new information on Byzantium through Instagram and creating my alternate history series, I have also come across many channels and podcasts that made me learn more about the rich history and met so many interesting people along the way through social media who share similar interests as I do, especially in the very rich and complex history of Byzantium. As this article will be something to do about discussing the great legacy of the very colorful Byzantine Empire that still lives on up to this day, I will be interviewing 3 different people that I have come across over the past months on their thoughts about Byzantine history and how they can still see its legacy up to this day by asking each of them the same 3 questions, although each of them will be asked a separate 4th question after answering the 3. Much like the post I made several months ago wherein I interviewed different people on the history of Byzantium, this post would be something similar, although unlike the last one wherein I was asking people their thoughts on Byzantium despite knowing very little of it, for this one I will be interviewing those who are not only very familiar with it but passionate about it the way I am, thus the questions I will ask will be quite complex ones that only those who know Byzantine history very well can answer. This article will then begin off with my interviews on these 3 different Byzantine history enthusiasts and their thoughts about Byzantium’s history and legacy, then I will move on to my own personal journey throughout the time I wrote my 12-part series wherein I would like to share a behind-the scenes story of writing the 12 chapters including all the ups and downs I went through while immersing myself deeper into Byzantium’s history together with a bit about what other things I have been up to as I wrote my 12-part series, as well as the Byzantine themed artworks I made throughout the months. Afterwards, I would then move on to the lessons I learned from both the 12 centuries of Byzantine history and from my personal journey in creating content on Byzantium which for me was a very new experience as even though I have been into Byzantine history for the past 2 years and have posted articles about it, it was only this year when I began making myself public in sharing the history of Byzantium through social media. Lastly, this article will also have my thoughts on how I see the legacy of Byzantium living on up to this day, and then some updates on what I would do next now that I have completed my 12-part series, as after all my Byzantine journey is still continuing to go on.
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First of all, I shall introduce the 3 different interesting individuals that will be interviewed for this article, and although they may come from different parts of the world with their own different stories and world-views especially on how they see and want to share this rich history, they share a common passion for Byzantine history. The first of the interviewees is Flavian the Historian, a young Byzantine history enthusiast, artist, and influencer who had sharing and promoting knowledge on Byzantine history through his Instagram account (follow him on Instagram @flavianthehistorian) for more than a year now, and earlier on this year when I just started out with my own Byzantine history account similar to his, he was one of the first ones I followed and in return followed me due to having similar ideas, and on the other hand other he also shares engaging Q&As on his stories while he too has a number of interesting artworks on Byzantine historical figures which includes his drawing of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in which I included in chapter XII, the grand finale of my series.
The second of the interviewees is Akitku (follow him on Instagram @akitku), another artist who does a lot of medieval era including Byzantine themed artworks and has also published the Crusades era fan fiction comic book Brothers’ Keepers’, and for many months I have also followed him on Instagram as he never fails to come up with interesting artwork whether medieval Western European or Byzantine, while I have also included some of his artworks in chapters III, VII, and VIII of my series such as his illustration of Constantinople’s Hippodrome and the chariot racing factions, his Emperor Justinian I the Great illustration, and General Bardas Phokas illustration.
The 3rd and final of the interviewees is no other than the illustrator of both the recent Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale and 1821: The Beginning of a RevolutionChrysavgi Sakel (follow her on Instagram @chrysasakel). Although she says she isn’t very much knowledgeable about Byzantine history, she comes from a country where the Byzantine legacy is very strong which is Greece, while she has also done many Byzantine themed illustrations both for her graphic novels and for the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History.
Now, as for how the interviews will work, I will post each question separately and below them will be each of their own responses to the respective 3 questions, and once these 3 questions and each of their answers are done, I will move on to the bonus question in which each of the 3 interviewees will be given their own different question.
1) In our present day, where can you still see the influence of the Byzantine Empire?
Flavian: In our present day we can still see the influence of the Byzantine Empire on the territories that it once ruled over, and especially in the region of Southeastern Europe. With the castles, the great walls around cities like Constantinople or Thessaloniki, and also the Byzantine churches and monasteries. These are the direct material heritage from the Byzantine Empire, but we have also immaterial heritage like the famous Byzantine chants that are still sung in the Orthodox Church. There is also the Byzantine art that is preserved by the Orthodox. There are a lot of things that are coming from the Byzantine Empire and I can’t cite all of them. The Byzantine Empire conserved and passed on the rich Greco-Roman culture, which had a very important influence on the Western civilization. Indeed, with the fall of the empire, the savants fearing the Ottomans fled to the west with the knowledge that the Byzantines had preserved and thus they participated to the Renaissance. As the Empire of Christ, Byzantium evangelized the Slavs, who are indebted to it for the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, and the Orthodox faith is still present today. In Italy, Ravenna owes to Byzantium its famous basilicas with their sparkling mosaics, while Genoa and Venice have inherited Byzantium’s diplomatic genius.
Akitku: To me, the Byzantine influence can be seen in historic architecture in many countries around the Mediterranean: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Southern Italy, Israel, and Syria. Byzantine architecture also influenced the art and architecture of other cultures. The Cyrillic alphabet is another Byzantine legacy and is still used in much of Eastern Europe. Also, many public institutions such as state-funded public hospitals, universities, bureaucratic records, and attempts at legal transparency took place in Byzantium earlier than they did in Europe, and I think they might have been a strong influence for Western states, which is completely unknown or ignored.
Chrysa:It can be seen almost everywhere around me since I live in a country with a heavy “Byzantine” legacy. The vernacular Romaic written in the Epic poem “Digenes Akrites” isn’t much different from the modern Greek spoken today in my country. Most of the religious celebrations like Easter are celebrated in the same manner as centuries ago. Our traditional Greek dances and music have a lot of influences from the “Byzantine” period. Many traditional Greek recipes come from that time too.
2) Do you think the history of Byzantium deserves more attention and awareness all over the world such as in being made into popular movies or series?
Flavian: I think that yes, the Byzantine Empire deserves way more attention, because of its big role and influence on the Western civilization. Now, making movies and series about it, I am not opposed, I would really like to see a movie about Justinian, or Basil II for example! But now, I’m fearing that there could be some derivatives where they are historical inaccuracies, or that the movie will be objectively bad and thus making a bad advertising on Byzantium. But I hope that something like that will not happen, and I would really like to see a good series about this topic!
Akitku: I think it would be great if people learned more about the Byzantine Empire, especially about its developments and culture, not just its start and fall.
Chrysa:Definitely. I think right now Byzantium is on a steady path towards getting more and more historical attention. It’s very important to communicate the idea of the Roman legacy. To make a wider audience understand that the Romans actually survived and have a long medieval history that ends in the 15th century. This could make Byzantine history more catchy to a wider audience. Maybe then, we’ll be able to watch some really exceptional movies and series set in the medieval Roman era.
3) What are the greatest life lessons you have learned from the history of Byzantium?
Flavian: In the history of Byzantium, we can find all the different lessons in life. Because of course of its long history, and so there is a big variety of life lessons. Now, if I have to cite some of them when I think specifically about Byzantium, I would say that you must know how to combine strength and spirit. The mastery of letters with the mastery of weapons. You must have one same coin with two faces. The one face is the material domain, and the other the spiritual domain. You can’t have the one without the other, unless you want to become a monk, where you have to be entirely devoted to the spiritual domain. But on a greater scale, you can see that those two characteristics are present, especially on the Byzantine Empire! And I think that’s one of the reasons for its great longevity.
Akitku: I think one of the main lessons from Byzantium is that internal divisions and corruption can lead to the destruction of great and culturally advanced communities. I think that it also shows that an advanced culture provides protection and help to its weakest members (the poor, orphans, etc.), in many ways I think this made the Byzantine Empire rather unique.
Chrysa:I wouldn’t say I am knowledgeable of Byzantine history. But one thing that comes to mind about the history of Byzantium is that whenever a person wants to achieve something, it doesn’t matter who they are, they will achieve it. Someone may say that the political system allowed it but still we have seen peasants becoming emperors, eunuchs controlling the empire, and women taking charge of a male dominated empire. So in our much evolved today’s society I believe it’s up to everyone to legally follow their dreams and make them true.
How do you feel about young people such as yourself being fascinated with and promoting the history of Byzantium?
Flavian: I am very glad to see that the Byzantine Empire is still fascinating those young people, and that we are not alone! Especially on our times, where sadly the majority of young people pass their time to do things that are useless, that doesn’t improve them culturally and intellectually. That’s why I’m very proud of those young historians who are being fascinated with the Eastern Roman Empire and are promoting it! They are transmitting this rich and precious knowledge to others, and in this way, they are keeping the flame of the Byzantine Empire burning, as if it had not been extinguished since the fall of Constantinople on the tragic day of May 29, 1453.
If the Byzantine Empire survived up to this day, how would things be like?
Akitku: This is something I wonder about quite a lot. I think it sort of depends on how it would survive, for example how much of it would survive in terms of geography. But overall, I think it would maintain its character as a blend of East/ West. I assume that Orthodox religion would still play an important role in its identity though I don’t think it would be a religious state. More like modern Greece, I think it would be a secular state in which the Orthodox Church would still be significant culturally. I imagine it would be advanced but also quite classical in terms of art and education.
If there was one thing you would want to change in Byzantine history, what would it be?
Chrysa:I would probably try to stop the beginning of the Iconoclasm. So many invaluable works of art were lost during that time just like after the 4th Crusade. I think if Iconoclasm did not happen, everything that came later would be totally different, including the Crusades.
Behind the Chapters- My Personal Journey Writing the 12-Part Series
Since early 2019 I have already been writing Byzantine era articles for my own site which is this one, however I have never come across writing an alternate history story relating to Byzantine history the entire time I have been doing blogs on Byzantine history. From 2019 to 2020 I have written numerous articles on Byzantine emperors, culture, society, warfare, fashion, travel destinations such as Constantinople and Ravenna, and even cuisine, however it was when I came across writing all these said topics when I began thinking of doing something different, thus I thought of coming up with what if kinds of stories for Byzantine history. Now, even before I have started becoming passionate about Byzantine history in 2019, I have already been fascinated with what if kinds of stories especially if it had to do with history like Roman history, as before getting into the history of Byzantium, I was very much interested in its predecessor the Roman Empire. Additionally, in 2020 I have discovered the Youtube channel Dovahhattyand his series the Unbiased History of Rome, in which its name is very misleading and it is true enough a very biased but still very fun series of Roman history from Rome’s founding in 753BC up to the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century told through memes and animation, and it was through this series that I was soon enough inspired to write an alternate history series for the history of Byzantium.
It was in December of 2020 when the idea first came into my head to do an entire alternate history series, though not for the history of Rome, but for the history of its successor the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, although it was particularly one of Dovahhatty’s videos which was Episode XVII- Imperial Wrath of his Unbiased History of Rome that got me inspired to do a kind of alternate history fan fiction. This particular episode was set in the 4th century history of the Roman Empire, which I would already consider part of Byzantine history, as I would mark the history of Byzantium’s beginning with the establishment of Constantinople by Roman emperor Constantine I the Great in 330, while this video took place after Constantine I’s death in 337 thus focusing on the following events with its climax being the death of the Western Roman emperor Valentinian I in 375 from a stroke caused by his own anger followed by a massive migration of the Goths from the north resulting in war with the Romans leading to a catastrophic Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople in 378.
When carefully watching this video over and over again, it made me come to think that if the emperor Valentinian I in 375 did not die out of his own anger, then perhaps he would have been around to defeat the Gothic invasion of the Roman Empire that happened after his death in reality, as true enough Valentinian I was a strong and capable warrior emperor who would have enough experience in fighting barbarians in order to fully beat the Gothic invasion unlike his brother Emperor Valens who in real history tried to crush the Goth’s invasion but failed dying at the Battle of Adrianople. After thinking of this particular what if scenario, I eventually came to think that there would be a lot of others in the following centuries after the 4th that I could do what if stories on, thus I eventually came to conceptualize two other what if kinds of stories in Byzantine history with one being in the 5th right after the first story, and the other in the 13th century.
In addition, from October to December of 2020, I have also been doing a 3-part Byzantine history audio epic for my Youtube channel No Budget Films which was the 57 Years: Byzantium in Exile set in the 13th century during the 57 years (1204-1261) when the Byzantine Empire temporarily vanished as the 4th Crusade took over Constantinople, and when doing this audio epic series (watch episodes here), I also came to conceptualize an alternate history scenario taking place in that era. Before 2020 came to an end, I then finally came to decide that for 2021 I would do a series wherein each of the 15 centuries of Byzantine history gets its own alternate history story, and since there are 12 centuries in Byzantine history (4th to 15th), I had decided to come up with 12 different stories, as after all I came to realize that the best way to tell the story of Byzantium is to tell it per century, while each century in Byzantine history too is a story of a different ruling dynasty. It was then in January of this year when I finally decided what each of the 12 stories would be including the what if scenario, and in addition it was also right when this year began when I launched my Byzantine history Instagram account Byzantine Time Traveler wherein I was at first reluctant to start one, but when starting it I got the hang of it to the point of already putting my life into it, and though I had quite a steady although hopeful start with quite a small following and a lot to expect in the next months to come, I just began with posting old photos of different Byzantine era travel destinations that I have been to including Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ravenna with very short and simple captions. However, the moment I launched my Byzantine history Instagram and began writing for the first chapter for my new series, everything changed, and thus there was no going back as for the next 8 months, I would experience a very interesting and meaningful although very challenging journey especially when it came to promoting my Byzantine history content online and trying to get the people I am close to be aware of it. On the other hand, from January of this year onwards I would also come across many things I would call external elements beyond the chapters I wrote and this would include movies and series I have watched, places I have travelled to, people I met whether physically or online, and so much more which added to the inspiration in writing the 12 chapters of my series. Not to mention, as I was in the process of writing my 12-part alternate history series, I was also doing an additional project which was the continuation of my Youtube audio epic from last year, in which this year’s continuation series The Last Roman Dynasty would also cover Byzantine history from the 13th to 15th centuries although not told as an alternate history story, but still it was also quite a challenge as my mind would be on two different eras of Byzantine history at the same time until my alternate history series which I worked on much faster would catch up with the era my audio epics were set in.
For my 12-part alternate history series, I thought it would be the best choice to write it in chronological form meaning that it would begin with the origins of Byzantium’s history in the 4th century and end with its fall in the 15th, thus I would chronologically go over 12 centuries in a span of 7 months. Now although the first chapter of my 12-part series was published on February 11 this year, the conceptualizing and writing process for it began about a month prior to that in January, however I still waited for an entire month to publish it as even though I fully wrote the story itself, I was still thinking of how to systemize the rest of my alternate history series while at the same time I was also busy laying the foundations for my Byzantine history account which was progressing quite slowly only reaching 100 followers by the end of January, then at the beginning of February I also created my own Facebook page for my Byzantine history Instagram account.
On the other hand, for the first 3 weeks of this year I was reading the new Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale(2020) that I was so excited about, which was true enough a very fascinating read that I even made a review on for my site (read it here) which included my own fan casting for the novel’s characters, and luckily for me the creators even shared it on their Instagram and Facebook page. The article that I made reviewing the graphic novel was then the very first one I published for this year, even before publishing the first chapter of my alternate history series, and at the same time I also created my first Byzantine history themed artwork by the end of January which was a chart of the structure of the late Roman military from the late 3rd to 6th centuries, which was surprisingly a very great hit on the Facebook groups I shared it to that it in fact got hundreds of shares which I only discovered months after I first shared it, and true enough this drawing of mine is one of the first results you see on Google images when searching “Late Roman Military Structure”. This drawing would then also be used as a guiding illustration for the first 3 chapters of my alternate history series as these first 3 chapters prominently featured the late Roman army which is the drawing’s main subject. What then took long for me to publish the first chapter happened to be the system of my alternate history series, but at the end I still finalized how the system would be like wherein each story has its own alternate history scenario wherein they do not continue to the next chapter, but rather each chapter begins with events that took place in real history and will only be altered as the story progresses.
The first chapter would then already begin the system I would use for the next 12 ones wherein each chapter and its sections begin with the Byzantine Empire’s chi-rho symbol, a disclaimer at the beginning, optionally a quote from the era the respective chapter is set in, the Byzantine Empire’s flag and maps at the intro section, links to my social media accounts and other related articles, related videos, and images wrapped into the texts of the paragraphs as well as features of artworks relating to the respective century the chapter was set in by various online artists in which already began in chapter I. Another thing I have done for my series’ first chapter that would then be a standard for the next 11 chapters would be my own illustrations of the leading characters for each story- in which I was inspired by the Theophano graphic novel which begins the story with illustrations of the story’s leading characters- though the one for the first chapter featured a total of 27 character illustrations as true enough the story featured so many characters including Western and Eastern Romans and Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths wherein the characters’ background colors depended on the country/ empire they came from.
As for the first chapter’s story, I would say it was quite simple to write it as most of it basically just featured battle sequences while its setting being the 4th century was not a really complicated one considering that the century’s story basically only focuses on the Roman Empire and its neighbors in which they never really had much of except for the powerful Sassanid Persian Empire to its east and the Germanic tribes such as the Goths in the north which here were being chased west into migrating into the Roman Empire’s borders by the westward expansion of a new mysterious enemy, the Huns. When writing the first chapter, I also set a standard for my series which was in giving a background and context to the story’s setting, although for the first chapter I wrote the background in a very simple way just to mention Constantinople’s and therefore the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire’s establishment by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330, the aftermath of his death in 337, the origins of the Goths in Central Europe and the spread of the Arian Christian faith from the Roman Empire to the land of the Goths, and the rise to power of the general Valentinian in 364 who then became emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire appointing his brother Valens as the emperor of the eastern half based in Constantinople.
Now the main premise for the first chapter’s story wherein I was inspired by Dovahhatty’s video was to have the western emperor Valentinian I who in real history died in 375 from a stroke caused by his own anger escape death and live long enough to see the massive Gothic migration into the Roman Empire in the following year (376) in which he was not alive to see happen and possibly stop it and save the empire from breaking apart. True enough for the story’s climax I had Valentinian survive 375 although only meet up with his brother and eastern co-emperor Valens in 378 when the war between the Roman Empire and the invading Goths was already in full-scale. For chapter I however, the main highlight I really put a lot of attention to in writing was really the action scenes wherein I wrote its climax being the 378 Battle of Adrianople as a massive epic battle in this story with both brothers Emperors Valentinian and Valens teaming up together with their respective Eastern and Western Roman armies against the hordes of the Gothic king Fritigern and his toughest warriors. At the same time, I also included as many named characters as I could for this chapter’s epic battle and these included notable Romans of this time including Arbogast, Stilicho, and Theodosius despite them not yet rising to prominence by the time of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, while another thing I did here for experimenting was in blending in an entirely fictional character into the historical setting which here was the female Gothic warrior Valdis.
Although chapter I was more or less plainly an action epic story without much depth, I also thought of adding a few elements of drama and betrayal such as an entirely fictional scenario of the future Roman emperor Theodosius I- who in real history came to power in 379- betray Rome and join forces with the Goths feeling he would gain greater power with the Goths, while also since I began writing this chapter shortly after season 3 of the Netflix series Cobra Kai was released, I put in a few references to the show in the story considering that both had the same kind of action epic genre in common. Now for the endings, I always end each chapter with the side of the Romans (Byzantines) winning despite them losing in real history, thus chapter I ended with a Roman victory at the Battle of Adrianople, although I ended the story discussing possible outcomes from this Roman victory in which I just chose to keep the question hanging. When the entire article was finished and published on February 11, I immediately shared it on social media considering that this era where the story was set in which is the Late Roman era is a popular one more so compared to later centuries in Byzantine history, thus it received quite positive feedback especially in the Late Roman Groupon Facebook where one commented saying the idea of Valentinian surviving and living up to 378 to beat the Goths was a good and interesting idea no one has ever thought of considering that Valentinian was a strong warrior emperor that rarely lost battles against barbarians, however chapter I also got some mixed feedback as when I shared it in the comments of the channel Eastern Roman History in his video about the Valentinian Dynasty, someone commented saying that in a way my article was not professional enough as it quoted the rather comedic parody historian Dovahhatty, which was quite hilarious. With the first chapter completed, I then felt that there was no more going back and so the rest of my Byzantine journey continued, both in social media and my blogs.
Right when conceptualizing chapter I’s story, I was already conceptualizing what I would write for chapter II, and even before writing the series I already knew what story the 2nd chapter would feature, again thanks to Dovahhatty. Chapter II’s what if scenario was then inspired by Dovahhatty’s finale The Fall of Romewhich was Episode XIX of his Unbiased History of Rome series, which was a rather unknown scenario in the 5th century history of Rome regarding a secret letter which in real history was discovered thus leading to the death of the dying Western Roman Empire’s last strong and competent emperor Anthemius in 472, and afterwards leading to the collapse of Western Rome just 4 years later (476), an event everyone who basically does not know about Byzantium remembers as the fall of Rome. Although between the completion of chapter I and the beginning of writing chapter II, I had another Byzantine history project ongoing which was the first video for my new 2021 series The Last Roman Dynasty for my Youtube channel, thus the challenge here was shifting my mind between the 5th century where the 2nd chapter of my alternate history series was set in and the late 13th century where this video (Part I: Michael Palaiologos’ Imperial Restoration) was set in, although luckily I have already written the script for this video back in January before even writing the first chapter, and thus between publishing chapter I and II, I uploaded this 43-minute video being the first for this audio epic series which is still ongoing up to now.
When writing the second chapter, true enough I wrote its background and most of the story’s main part with such great speed as I already knew the history of the 5th century Roman Empire very well due to both taking notes in advance based on other videos of this era including time-lapse videos on the fall of Western Rome in the 5th century and of course memorizing it after watching Dovahhatty’s Fall of Rome over and over again. It was also here when doing Chapter II wherein I first came across the history related Youtube channel Thersites the Historianwhich I would then use as a reference for the rest of the entire series up to the end, as his videos do indeed explain the complicated parts of history including the reigns of each and every Byzantine emperor up to the 11th century in complete detail, thus for chapter II it proved to be such a great help.
For chapter II, it was also easier as I just used the same formula I used for chapter I, while I again did the individual character illustrations for the story’s main characters, although unlike in chapter I wherein I did a complete set of 27 character illustrations, for chapter II I only did 20 which was still a lot, as unlike in the previous chapter, chapter II did not have all these characters all have a big role at the same time but rather in different time settings, as chapter I’s story basically just focused on a time setting from 375 to 378, whereas chapter II covered the entire 5th century up to the 460s in its background section to establish the rise of the Germanic barbarians and the rapid decay of the Roman Empire due to the barbarian migrations and invasions, the permanent split of the Western and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires in 395 after the death of Theodosius I who was the last emperor of a united Roman Empire, political instability in the Western empire, the apocalypse being the invasion of Attila the Hun and how it just faded away, and the last days of Western Rome wherein the Germanic barbarians basically just won and sought to destroy the empire both from within and beyond. On the other hand, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire was at relative peace for most of the 5th century that they managed to survive the threat of Attila; thus, the Byzantines do not have much of an exciting story until the latter part of the 5th century. For me, I personally find the 5th century one of the most interesting in Byzantine history which is why I ranked it as 2nd place in my article of ranking the centuries- with the 10th century as first place- and due to my strong interest in this century which is however not a very much popular one in Byzantine history, I put a lot of attention into writing chapter II.
Chapter II was then another action-packed epic story where its main part then took place beginning the 460s when both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires are controlled by powerful barbarian generals acting as kingmakers wherein the emperors are just puppets to them whereas the east is practically ruled by the Gothic general Aspar who was the power behind the 3 consecutive eastern emperors Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Marcian (450-457), and Leo I (457-474) while the west is ruled by the Gothic general Ricimer, the undefeatable puppet-master. However, in the east, Aspar’s puppet Leo I turns out to have no desire of being a puppet and while he sent his friend and once rival, the Eastern Roman Anthemius to the west to rule it as his puppet emperor, Anthemius still falls under the influence of the powerful Ricimer in which both become each other’s enemy. This chapter too features the unexpected rise of the Germanic Vandals from a small tribe to the masters of the Mediterranean in only a few decades under their king Genseric that they were in fact able to seize the Roman fleet, sack Rome in 455, control most of the Mediterranean, and defeat the combined fleet of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires numbering up to 1,000 in 468.
At this very chaotic time, the Vandal king Genseric also acts as a kingmaker to the failed state of the Western Roman Empire, and as Genseric pressures Leo I of the east to recognize his own Roman puppet Olybrius as Western emperor, as the Eastern emperor had the power to make a Western emperor being his puppet a legitimate one, Leo soon enough breaks free from Aspar’s influence and kills Aspar finally becoming an independent emperor and thus saving the Eastern Roman Empire from falling to barbarian influence and allowing it to survive, while he also encouraged his Western puppet Anthemius to do the same, thus Leo pretends to accept Genseric’s demands to make Olybrius the western emperor, though in fact Leo had happened to send a secret letter to kill both Olybrius and Ricimer and thus save Anthemius and the Western Roman Empire. In real history, Ricimer intercepts the letter in advance, proclaims Olybrius as his new puppet emperor, and murders Anthemius who he began to believe was too independent and could not be controlled. In this alternate history story however, Anthemius gets the letter in advance and kills both Ricimer and Olybrius, thus the Western Roman Empire continues to live on but at a cost, as my alternate history story would discuss a possibility of a world war before it was even a thing to erupt between the Eastern and Western Romans against a united coalition of barbarian tribes considering that the 5th century was the era of the rise of the barbarian powers.
Chapter II did also feature interesting characters of this era including the Isaurian general Zeno who was Leo I’s successor who may have been unpopular due to his heritage of coming from a mountain tribe in Asia Minor but at the end in real history saves the Eastern Empire from falling to barbarians like the west did in 476, while in the alternate history version Zeno too succeeds Leo and takes part in the fictitious world war all while the Western Roman Empire too lives beyond 476 in the story. Now I also have to admit that it was chapter II that I enjoyed writing a lot that when writing it, I got so immersed into the world of the Late Roman Empire, although on the negative side the era this chapter was set in barely had online images relating to it making this chapter be the one in the entire series with the least images, however this made me immerse more into the time setting as without the images, I basically had to imagine life back then, while also the what if I chose was a very obscure one compared to maybe writing an alternate history story in this era wherein Rome does not get sacked by the Vandals in 455, however the more obscure what if story made me enjoy writing it even more. Chapter II was then completed and published on February 28 and shared on social media 2 days later, and the most memorable part was that I completed and shared this chapter not at home or nearby but while I was on a road trip at a very remote place which then lasted for more than a week, and because of finishing this chapter while on a trip, my mind throughout the trip was still in the 5th century setting.
For chapter III of Byzantine Alternate History, I then had a completely different approach as this was the first story to be written in collaboration with another Byzantine history fan, and this was Justinianus the Great (follow her on Instagram @justinianusthegreat) who I have known since the very first weeks of doing my Byzantine history Instagram, and not too long after we got to know each other, we already chatted a lot about Byzantine history to the point of doing a role playing wherein we travelled back in time and played different Byzantine era characters.
Although the 3rd chapter of the alternate history series was published on March 22, the conceptualizing process for it including the role-playing with Justinianus where we went back to the 6th century whereas she played the influential Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great and I played other characters through Instagram chat started out back in January, though the role play chat itself went on for about 2 months! This character role playing through Instagram chat did in fact occur for so long that I was able to publish 3 articles being my review on the Theophano novel, chapter I and II of the series, and one video for my channel. However, the writing process for the 3rd chapter only began in mid-March after coming back from the same road trip wherein I finished chapter II while the role playing on Instagram chat was still ongoing as well, and luckily before writing chapter III, Dovahhatty released his own episode on Justinian the Great (Unbiased History: Byzantium II- Justinian the Great), which was indeed such a great help to writing the 3rd chapter as the story for the chapter which was about the influential Justinian the Great was to be a very complex one that so many books and videos have had their own take of it. In addition, other than Dovahhatty’s video on Justinian, the same channel Thersites the Historian was of great help in explaining the situation of the 6th century and so was the History of Byzantium Podcastby Robin Pierson, although Dovahhatty made the story plain and simple enough in order to put it all into one story as after all the reign of Justinian I (527-565) was not only long but very eventful.
The role-playing chat with Justinianus meanwhile did serve as the basis for the fictional part of the story especially on Justinian’s life that history does not record, therefore we made up some parts of his life including his thoughts and personality for the story through the role-playing. As for the story of chapter III, a lot of the same locations, characters, and themes from chapter II still continued- although not the alternate history outcome- as the time jump between chapter II and chapter III was in fact very short, and true enough chapter III’s lead character Justinian I was born in 482 just 6 years after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476), while other characters in chapter III were in fact still alive back when the Western Roman Empire was existing. Due to the relatively short time jump from chapter II to III, some of the same characters from chapter II such Emperor Zeno and the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great returned for the background part chapter III, as well as the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, although the one power that was mostly left out in the previous two chapters was the Sassanid Persian Empire in the east, and only in chapter III did they begin having a major role in the story, as true enough it was only in the 6th century when the Sassanids again began to be a bigger threat to the Romans as while Justinian I ruled Eastern Rome, the Sassanids had a ruler equally as ambitious as him which was Khosrow I.
Another new feature chapter III had was that it was the first time in the series which from here on the word “Byzantine” would be used referring to the Eastern Romans, and this was due to the Western Roman Empire falling in 476, however the term may be incorrect as the Byzantines even after the fall of Western Rome in 476 never called themselves “Byzantine” but still continued calling themselves “Romans” and only in the 16th century after Byzantium fell was the term “Byzantine” only first used to refer to them. However, since the series was called “Byzantine Alternate History”, and also for the sake of not confusing viewers, I chose to stick to referring to the Eastern Romans from chapter III in the 6th century onwards as “Byzantines”. Now the big challenge for chapter III was to put all the spectacular events in Justinian I’s reign into one story, thus chapter III would then become the longest so far that I have written considering that it covered Justinian’s wars against the Sassanids, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths that he never fought in personally despite the Byzantines taking back North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain, while it also featured the Nika Riots of 532 that almost destroyed Constantinople if it were not for Justinian having it brutally put down, the spectacular careers of his generals like Belisarius and Narses, the codification of Roman laws, the construction of many notable landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, the Plague of Justinian that almost brought the empire down killing thousands each day, and the hidden story of how Justinian acquired silkworms from China using these smuggled silkworms to begin manufacturing silk in Byzantium. With all these events taking place in one story, it was then set to be a very spectacular one that was not only an action story but one with a lot of drama, intrigue, and overall a larger-than-life figure which was Emperor Justinian I the Great.
The writing process of chapter III was then something very engaging and memorable especially when putting all these legendary historical figures like Emperor Justinian I, his wife Empress Theodora, the generals Belisarius and Narses, the finance minister John the Cappadocian, the jurist Tribonian, the Sassanid emperor Khosrow I, the Ostrogoth king Totila, and Justinian I’s nephew and successor Justin II into one story, while just like in chapter I and II wherein I blended fictional characters into the historical setting wherein in chapter I it was the female Goth warrior Valdis and the assassin/ soldier Cyriacus in chapter II who was the one made up for the story to carry the secret letter to Anthemius, while in chapter III the made up character was a general named Andreas who was made to join in Belisarius’ campaigns and later encourage Justinian himself to take part in the campaign to put Italy back under Roman rule, and this character Andreas was created in the role-playing chat with Justinianus wherein I played as Andreas, however he would also be the last made up character to be blended into a historical setting for the entire series.
Now the alternate history scenario for chapter III had a lot to do with the deadly plague of 542 that Justinian himself was a victim of, although in the story Justinian would end up using the plague as an act of biological warfare which he would use against the Sassanids in the east by sending over plague victims there to spread the plague and destroy their empire in order to focus on his dream of reconquering the lost Roman west. Other than the plague, the other fan fiction part of the story was in having the old emperor Justinian himself join his military campaign to recapture Italy from the Ostrogoths, and in the story Justinian being depressed over the death of his wife Theodora in 548 would go himself to Italy to get a sense of purpose again, though on the other hand the other part the story wanted to explore was to have Justinian properly train his successor, his nephew Justin II as in real history Justin II succeeded his uncle in 565 following his death without any proper training in running an empire, though in this story what would be different would be that Justin would join his uncle Justinian in his Italian campaign to train to be a strong ruler like his uncle.
True enough the story ended happily with Justin II succeeding his uncle in 565, and with the Sassanid Empire no longer around things would be much easier for him especially in focusing on the reconquest of the west, unlike in real history where Justin II inherited from his uncle a very massive empire covering the entire Mediterranean that proved to be too difficult to hold together. Indeed, the 6th century was a very challenging time with the Byzantines reconquering Roman lands lost to barbarians all while they were being pressured by the Sassanids in the east and by a deadly plague, and even though Justinian I achieved his dream in the end, it still cost a lot as the plague and wars depopulated his empire, most especially Italy that just shortly after his death, Byzantine rule over Italy would gradually slip away to a new barbarian invader, the Lombards.
Just how the 6th century was a great challenge that still achieved a lot at the end, it was also a great challenge to write chapter III considering that it was longer than the previous two chapters and had so much story to tell, while chapter III did include a lot of images too. When writing the chapter though, the bigger challenge came from outside as while I was writing the chapter, I was simultaneously busy with school work as I am still in college, and it was true enough very challenging to the point of becoming quite too stressful that I had already slept so very little in the process of doing chapter III with school work combined, that it was here when I decided to take a long break from school to focus on my alternate history series, as it would be hard to balance two difficult things at the same time. Additionally, it was when writing chapter III that I started becoming more ambitious in writing my stories that my stories would not only consist of words but images that I drew, and during March when I published chapter III, this is when I began becoming serious in doing Byzantine themed artworks, wherein one I made at this time was the black and white image of Emperor Zeno, as well as the illustrations of chapter III’s lead characters and a visual genealogy for Justinian’s Dynasty. At the same time, it was during the process of writing chapter III when I began a new gimmick for my Byzantine Instagram account, and this was in posting content related to the era of my current alternate history chapter, and here since my mind was set in the 6th century, most of my Instagram posts then had a lot to do with events happening then. The challenge now at this time was in promoting my Byzantine content online, as it was here in March when I began to aggressively promote my work wherein, I have to admit it was quite a difficult time for me then as my following was basically at a standstill with very little growth, however in the long-term chapter III would turn out to be the most mentioned chapter as its story especially a mention of Justinian I kept making a comeback in the next 9 chapters of the series.
With chapter III completed, I then did another major Byzantine themed art project, which was a painting of Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282), as well as the 2nd episode of my audio epic series on Youtube (Part II: Michael VIII Palaiologos’ Redemption), and between publishing chapters III and IV, I made my first special edition quarter end chapter for the year which was as I mentioned earlier my interview with friends on their reactions to Byzantine era quotes. The process now between writing chapters III and IV was quite a long one with all the research through Youtube channels like Thersites the Historian and Kings and Generals, as well as Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium Podcast, but at the same time, the process of writing chapter IV compared to chapter III was such a great relief with school work no longer in the way.
For me, I could really feel the change in Byzantine history when writing chapter IV, and this change for me could already be felt the moment after Justinian I’s death in 565 which I think from here on the feeling of Byzantine history begins to feel different as the late Roman era comes to an end while the dark ages begins to rise as the arrival of new enemies like the Avars, Slavs, Lombards, and the threat of the Sassanids in the east intensifying, although the Dark Ages itself is basically usually limited to Western Europe at this time and not so much to the Byzantines, however some historians mark the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine Dark Ages in the year 602 with the execution of the Byzantine emperor Maurice, the last ruler of Justinian’s dynasty and the takeover of the common soldier Phocas as emperor, wherein it would then be all downhill for Byzantium. Chapter IV would then be another new kind of phase just as it was for the Byzantines when entering the 7th century, as it was in chapter IV when I would leave the late Roman era wherein chapters I to III were set in that my mind was so focused on for the past months, and thus enter the Middle Byzantine era wherein things will drastically change, and so did the layout of the chapters as the late Roman military structure drawing of mine beginning in chapter IV was no longer in use.
Although when writing chapter IV, I still began with a long background section discussing the events after Justinian I’s death in 565, his successors, how the threat of the Sassanids from the east grew worse thus ending the Golden Age Justinian I left behind for Byzantium, the overthrow of Maurice and rise of Phocas, the fall of Phocas in 610 and the rise of Emperor Heraclius, the great Byzantine-Sassanid War from 602-628, the fall of the Sassanid Empire, and the rise of a new and unexpected enemy, which were the Arabs coming from the deserts of the south. The second and main part of chapter IV would then discuss Byzantium after the fall of the Sassanids and the rise of the Arabs, which then included the drastic loss of so much territory to the Arabs including Egypt and Syria, how Asia Minor would then become Byzantium’s new heartland, the formation of the Thematic System that would define the Byzantines for the next 4 centuries, and the wars with the Arabs that would also define Byzantium for the next 4 centuries as well.
For the lead character of chapter IV, I chose the Byzantine emperor Constans II (r. 641-668), which is quite an unlikely choice as for the 7th century the Byzantine emperor that would be the most remembered would be Constans’ grandfather Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) who was the emperor that lived long enough to see the Sassanids fall only to be replaced as a new major threat by the Arabs. It was however in Constans II’s reign when the Arab threat became real, and so did the creation of Byzantium’s Theme System, which is why I chose to make him the lead character and his reign the story’s main setting. The alternate history scenario for the 4th chapter was then to have Constans II survive the assassination attempt on him in 668, where in real history he was killed in his bath when attempting to move the Byzantine capital to Sicily fearing that Constantinople was no longer safe especially if the Arabs attacked it by sea.
In chapter IV, with Constans II surviving the attempt on his life, the Byzantine capital would then be temporarily moved to Sicily, although without much results, thus this would be the first chapter wherein the what if would not really be useful to the Byzantine protagonists at the end, however chapter IV would end with the epic battle being the first Arab Siege of Constantinople from 674-678 wherein Constans’ son and successor Emperor Constantine IV successfully defended Constantinople due to the invention of a Byzantine superweapon which was Greek Fire, though in the story Constans II had lived long enough to come to Constantinople’s rescue during the siege wherein everyone thought he had disappeared. In addition, chapter IV was the first one in the series to feature a multinational conflict as while the Byzantines and Arabs were at war with each other, I put a fictional scenario of a Sassanid army returning to ally with their old enemy the Byzantines against the Arabs which was their common enemy, while I also thought of giving a bigger role to Tang Dynasty China as in the 7th century as well, Constans II sent Byzantine ambassadors to Tang China to send gifts to their emperor and get some in return, although history does not record much about it, but in the story I put in a fictional part of China assisting the Byzantines against the Arabs by attacking the Arabs from behind as the Arabs did in fact expand so fast that in only a few decades since they united and rose from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, they were able to take over all of Egypt and Syria from the Byzantines, destroy the Sassanid Empire, and reach as far as Central Asia to the east. Chapter IV was thus a turning point in the series with the rise of the Arabs as well as the new dystopian kind of setting the Byzantine Empire would be in, and it was also in the process of doing chapter IV when I began taking my Byzantine themed art much more seriously, thus for the chapter I did a black and white style drawing of its lead character Constans II, as well as an illustration of Constantinople’s land walls. Both in the timeline of the story and in the publishing date, the time jump between chapter III and IV was large, and it was on April 15 of this year when chapter IV was published, and just like chapter II, I also published chapter IV when away on a road trip.
Shortly after finishing chapter IV, I already began the researching and writing process for chapter V while I was also on that same road trip where I completed chapter IV. Chapter V would then see the experimental phase of the alternate history series, and a lot of this both had to do with me wanting to experiment a bit more on Byzantine history by putting a dystopian feeling into it as well as some personal factors I have been going through at this point. Chapter V was then true enough quite entertaining to write as considering that the 8th century where it is set in is the least documented century in Byzantine history while also being my personal worst and least interesting as there were fewer epic battles and the rest all internal conflicts, though the fun part was in playing around by coming up all sorts of made-up stories for the characters in this era just to simply fill in the blanks. Though the era the chapter is set in is the least interesting for me, the writing process for chapter V may have been exciting only because of all the continued wars against the Arabs and civil wars, but its end result would then be nothing more but a story of so much senseless violence including gouged out eyes and chopped off noses, graphic scenes of soldiers eating their own feces to survive the winter, imperial anarchy, tiring wars, petty characters, and the useless breaking of icons known as “Iconoclasm” which defined the 8th century history of Byzantium.
When writing chapter V, I began by discussing the chaos and anarchy Byzantium fell into as the 7th century came to an end, the continued expansion of the Arabs, and then getting to the 2nd Arab Siege of Constantinople from 717-718 ending with another Byzantine victory thanks to the use of Greek Fire and the intervention of new people in the north that was once Byzantium’s enemy which were the Bulgarians, while a new emperor came to power as well which was Leo III the Isaurian, one of the powerful generals of this time who put an end to Byzantium’s 22-year anarchy period that began in 695 and once again brought stability to the empire by establishing his dynasty, however to stabilize the empire once again he issued a very unpopular policy which was that of Iconoclasm or the braking of icons believing it would save the empire as he thought icons were sinful. The ban on icons however created such division among the Byzantine people wherein some supported it especially the army while many opposed it and reacted to it with such violence, but the worst part about this simple policy of breaking religious icons led to the permanent schism between the Byzantine Orthodox and the Latin Church in the west together with the rise of the Republic of Venice as well.
The climax of chapter V however did not have to do so much with Iconoclasm but rather with a dystopian setting in the Byzantine Empire which here was on how the banning of icons affected society, thus making it quite an unique take on setting a dystopian story in Byzantine times, as dystopian style stories are usually set in modern times. The other major story in chapter V then was the family drama within the imperial family wherein the emperor’s daughter Anna even led a resistance against her father’s Iconoclasm while her brother Constantine V strongly stood loyal to his father’s policy of breaking icons. The alternate history scenario for chapter V would then regard Artavasdos, the general and son-in-law of Emperor Leo III who being married to Anna secretly opposed Leo III’s Iconoclasm, and in real history Artavasdos after Leo III’s death in 741 did rebel against Leo’s son and successor Emperor Constantine V in 742, but at the end Artavasdos still failed, and thus Iconoclasm still continued.
In the alternate history scenario however, I made Constantine V lose to Artavasdos and thus making Iconoclasm ended early enough to make amends with the west that had just been alienated from Byzantium, and the reason now why I decided to focus on such a small topic for chapter V was to show that even the smallest events such as if Artavasdos won the civil war can have a major impact on history, this way by ending Iconoclasm early enough to not create a schism with the Western Church that would end up becoming permanent.
Overall, chapter V considering that it was mostly a gore fest story with lots of useless drama, it was still the shortest one in the series that it could have in fact been skipped altogether, however just for the sake of experimenting I chose to do an entire chapter on this unknown part of Byzantine history, while on the other hand I used chapter V to explain some of the bigger events happening at that time such as the rapid expansion of the Arabs all the way west to Spain and the beginning of the end of Byzantine rule over Italy as by the end of the 8th century, the Byzantines were left with only the south in Italy. In addition, chapter V was the second chapter that I wrote for the series wherein I wrote it in collaboration with someone, and this was with my friend Mario (follow him on Instagram @mariopuyatrewreplays) who was also one of the 5 friends I interviewed on the their take on Byzantine history earlier on, and although he isn’t very much familiar with Byzantine history, I just thought it would be a good gimmick to have someone unfamiliar with Byzantium have his own take on the story, again for the sake of experimenting.
Chapter V was in fact so experimental that for this chapter I even made digital artworks of not very Byzantine looking funko-pop figures for the story’s 3 leading characters Artavasdos, Anna, and Constantine V, while my Byzantine themed artworks at this time (late April to early May) have also began becoming experimental such as the one I made with the Mandalorian in Byzantine armor. Additionally, the time I was writing chapter V was more or less the low point of my Byzantine journey this year as my social media accounts (FB and IG) saw little growth, post likes and shares, while at times I would feel as if my content was being neglected that there were even some times wherein I felt like quitting the alternate history series entirely after finishing only chapter VI, and thus starting from scratch afterwards. This kind of situation I was having back then also contributed a lot into the very experimental way I wrote my stories, while at the same time the same kind of situation was ironically the same situation Byzantium was going through where I was at in writing my series which was the Byzantine dark ages, but at the end chapter V was still published on May 2 together with a series of artworks I did relating to this time period in Byzantine history which included by black and white portraits of the 6 emperors of the 22-year Byzantine anarchy (695-717). However, I soon enough overcame these obstacles and hard times through persistence and determination by using these hard times to drive me to push harder thus unleashing a competitive streak within me that would seek to post better quality posts regularly in order to survive and not slip away.
When it all seemed that my Byzantine journey was beginning to go downhill, it eventually did not as I still chose to persevere despite all the adversities and do all it takes to get my content recognized, and after chapter V was completed, I immediately moved on to doing another project which this time was again for my audio epic series, and on May 15 not too long after chapter V was published, I uploaded the 3rd part (Part III: The Beginning of the Decline) of my audio epic series on my channel. While editing the 3rd part of my audio epic series, I also began writing chapter VI for the alternate history series, which was then not too difficult to conceptualize and begin as the story for chapter VI was basically just a direct sequel of chapter V, wherein the story of chapter VI itself is set just right after chapter V finished off while also continuing the stories and themes that were introduced in chapter V including Iconoclasm, the beginning of the “Cold War” style conflict with the Latin west, while characters from chapter V such as Emperor Constantine V too made a comeback in chapter VI with the only difference being that the alternate history scenario of chapter V wherein Constantine V lost the civil war to Artavasdos did not happen, but instead the story would begin with how things actually went in real history.
For chapter VI, the story’s main focus was then on Irene of Athens, the daughter-in-law of Constantine V who married Constantine’s son Leo IV “the Khazar” (r. 775-780), and following Leo IV’s death in 780, Irene came to rule the empire first as regent for her son Constantine VI until she ordered his blinding in 797, wherein afterwards she became the sole empress of the Byzantine Empire, the first time a woman would rule the empire alone. As the ruler of Byzantium, Irene had the great legacy of putting an end to Iconoclasm as she strongly believed in the use of religious icons, while at the same time she was also a strong female ruler both decisive and comfortable with herself. Just like chapters III and V, chapter VI was another article in collaboration with someone, and again it was with Justinianus the Great with whom I have worked together with in creating chapter III, and originally for chapter VI, we were again supposed to do the same kind of role playing like we did for chapter III, however the role playing through Instagram chat instead became an interview with Justinianus wherein I asked her a number of questions regarding Irene as a way to come up with her personality for the story.
The alternate history scenario for chapter VI was then my own take on the popular what if of Empress Irene and Charlemagne, the newly crowned Frankish emperor marrying as an act to unite both their empires into one massive Frankish-Roman Empire. Chapter VI also had the major innovation of being written in the form of flashbacks wherein it begins off already with Irene as empress in year 800 while she narrates the events of the past such as her backstory. Chapter VI too was the first chapter in the series that equally featured Byzantium and another empire, in this case being Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire that became the new power that conquered and united most of Europe, while Byzantium here was losing in terms of power wherein their salvation could come if both rulers of these said empires married each other.
The writing process for chapter VI happened to be quite a fun one especially when introducing Irene’s character, the extravagance of the Byzantine imperial court, the court rituals and ceremonies, the scheming court eunuchs, the fashion styles of the time, and the journey of Irene from a small-town orphaned girl in Athens to the ruler of the Byzantine Empire. This chapter also had some experimental elements, and here it was especially in Irene’s character not only as a strong empress but as an attractive figure as this was the only chapter in the series to have a female lead character, thus for Irene I even created an experimental seductive drawing of her in a kind of dress that may have not been existing in the Byzantine era, while additionally this story was the one too with the most side stories made up just out of fun to put some more life into it.
Chapter VI was also for me a very ambitious project and for it I created a number of more detailed and intricate drawings rather than just the character illustrations for the intro, as here I came up with a full-body drawing of the story’s lead characters Irene and Charlemagne. When writing the chapter, the entertaining part was in introducing Charlemagne, and here when showing him in person, rather than introducing him as a great man even in physical form, I chose to introduce him as a tired old man feeling like his life’s mission is over as an act of downplaying the greatness he is seen having in history, however he and Irene still married- which never happened in real history- although they only marry for an alliance to join both their empires together in order to fully defeat the Bulgarian Empire. Although each chapter in the alternate history series is made per century out of the 12 centuries in Byzantium’s history, chapter VI was a hybrid one as though it is basically the chapter for the 9th century, its events were in both the 8th and 9th centuries.
The story’s climax however which was Irene and Charlemagne’s wedding in 802, and the battle against the Bulgarians in 811 where the story ends however is in the 9th century, though in the early part of it. With only the early years of the 9th century discussed in the chapter, it would then so happen that my alternate history series skipped an entire part of Byzantine history, which was almost the entire 9th century itself, true enough a very important time for the Byzantine Empire as this was when Byzantium would come out of the dark ages and begin rising again, while also seeing a Renaissance in the arts and academics, and the spread of Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium to the Slavs in Eastern Europe in the latter part of the century, as well as the rise of the Bulgarian Empire and the decline of Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire and the Arab Abbasid Caliphate which were at first thought to be all powerful empires that were a main threat to Byzantium.
However, since the chapter was basically about Irene and Charlemagne, I chose to just set the story in the early 9th century skipping the rest of the century, while at the same writing about the outcome of this marriage between Irene and Charlemagne was also confusing especially seeing how long the union of the empires would last, which therefore requires great analytical skills wherein only great historians could succeed in doing. One thing I have to mention too about this chapter’s setting and characters was that just recently I discovered a new Byzantine podcast on Empress Irene and her story, except not including Charlemagne and an alternate history of them marrying, check out Icons/Idols: Irene. On the other hand, just a few days before publishing chapter VI on May 24, I experienced one lifetime achievement, which here was getting my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and not to mention the side effects were quite strong that the sleepiness I got from it delayed the publishing of the article by 2 days!
Before publishing chapter VI, I was at a low point in my Byzantine history journey, however success had turned out to be found just right around the corner, as after chapter VI was completed, my Byzantine online career suddenly had an upswing, and this was seen when I created and posted a visual genealogy of the Isaurian Dynasty- the emperors from Leo III to Irene- which got a great number of shares on Facebook, while on May 29 I posted an Instagram a post commemorating the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, which also happened on that day, and this post did in fact all of a sudden get hundreds of likes and multiple shares both on IG and FB, thus making it the first time since my Late Roman Military Structure drawing in late January to get so much hits. Though at the same time as I posted this very successful post, I had already begun doing research for chapter VII’s story in which I true enough even began doing it just 2 days after publishing chapter VI. Basically, because chapter VII covered a lot of content and more than 150 years of history, it required tons of research that for almost a full week I have been going through the videos of the same Thersites the Historian on Youtube as well as listening to Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium podcast to get some more new information on the era and put the entire story together. Now since chapter VI despite being the assigned chapter to the 9th century only featured the first few years of it as the story was supposed to be about Empress Irene and Charlemagne, I instead covered the important events of the latter 9th century in chapter VII despite it being the 10th century’s respective chapter. Since there would be so much information in chapter VII, I then chose to write it in a more concise way wherein I would condense all the events of the years from the 830s to the 980s, although to still make it in the form of a fan fiction story rather than a factual story, I chose to write chapter VII in the style of a historical parody mocking but at the same time admiring the Byzantines, especially since the 9th and 10th centuries feature Byzantium at its prime with so much to admire about from them such as their victories, military might, and extravagant court life while there is also so much to mock about them at this era such as the toxic court politics and the infamous eunuchs.
When writing chapter VII, I began off with the beginnings of the Byzantine Renaissance and the evangelization of the Slavs under Emperor Michael III the Amorian (r. 842-867), the rise to power of the simple peasant turned wrestler, turned emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886), the continued war with the now weakened Arabs, and the rise of the major Bulgarian conflict and that of their powerful ruler Simeon the Great. Once the story hit the 10th century, the more it became detailed as personally it is my all-time favorite century in Byzantine history, and no doubt because this was the glory days of Byzantium on the rise as a military and cultural power that commanded both great respect and fear among everyone around them, thus for chapter VII I had a lot of fun writing it due to its action-packed style despite it being quite complicated as it featured too many characters, battles, locations, and foreign powers like the Bulgarians, Arabs, Rus, Khazars, Magyars, Pechenegs, and the new Holy Roman Empire in the west.
Now for chapter VII’s alternate history part, I chose to not write it like the previous 6 chapters wherein it begins with what happened in real history wherein everything will get fictional as it ends, instead I wrote it in a way wherein I just basically told it like how the story in real history was told, except to make it a fan fiction I altered a few things along the way, such as that the ruling dynasty of that time which was the Macedonian Dynasty would not actually be that dynasty, instead it would be the previous Amorian Dynasty still continued as this story went with the rumor of the Macedonian emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) not being the dynasty’s founder Basil I’s son but the son of the emperor he killed which was Michael III being the truth, thus Leo VI’s descendants as the Macedonian Dynasty would be a lie and instead his descendants would still continue ruling as the Amorian Dynasty.
In addition, when conceptualizing the chapters I also planned to use chapter VII as a rewrite of the graphic novel “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale” that I read earlier on in the year wherein the chapter was the exact same setting as that book, but for chapter VII, I rewrote the book’s story by omitting its lead character Theophano from the real historical setting as if she did not exist at all, and at the end things would never really change until the story’s ending if she were removed, as after all Theophano was the mother of the legendary Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025), therefore the story ended totally differently as compared to real history due to the fact that Emperor Basil II would not be around.
The best part for me about writing chapter VII was that it covered the most interesting Byzantine characters as the 10th century had all of them put together including the scholarly and highly cultured emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913-959), his former co-emperor and regent Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944) who rose up the ranks to be emperor despite being also of low birth, the scheming court eunuchs Joseph Bringas and Basil Lekapenos, the powerful and ruthless general and later emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), his successor Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), and the other powerful generals of the era like Leo and Bardas Phokas as well as Bardas Skleros.
Chapter VII too featured numerous larger than life events including Nikephoros Phokas’ wars against the Arabs and the Byzantine reconquests, Greek Fire on the sea, the chaotic regency civil war for the young emperor Constantine VII from 913-920, and the all the court intrigues including the assassination of Nikephoros II Phokas in 969. When doing chapter VII, I also made a number of ambitious art projects for the same chapter including a black and white illustration of Constantine VII- which was however done weeks prior to writing the chapter- and an illustration of Emperor Leo VI and his 4 different wives, and of course the usual icon illustrations for the story’s lead characters in which for chapter VII I did 20 of them, being the first time to do this much character illustrations since chapter II, and not mention chapter VII was also the first time the intro symbol for the story changed from the Byzantine chi-rho that had been used since chapter I to the double-headed Byzantine eagle which would be the one in use until chapter XII and is used here in this post as well. Chapter VII too featured quite a lot of images as this era in Byzantine history was perhaps the one with the most historical illustrations due to one important illustrated manuscript still around up to this day which is the Madrid Skylitzes showing the 9th, 10th, and 11th century history of Byzantium in very detailed illustrations, and for both chapters VII and VIII I used a lot of images from this manuscript. Also, not to mention while in the process of writing chapter VII, I had also been balancing the hectic workload of my Byzantine Alternate History stories with re-watching all 11 seasons of Modern Family on Netflix and playing the futuristic video game Cyberpunk 2077, which seem to be so far away from Byzantium, though these things still showed that my life was still perfectly balanced between Byzantium and the real world, as I had already been comfortable where I was at in my Byzantine journey.
The more impressive part too was that when writing chapter VII, the dark days of my Byzantine career which was just less than 2 months earlier seemed like it was long gone, and ironically just like the Byzantine Empire which in the same era I was at during this point of my journey was at a very high point too while I also had reached the high point of my Byzantine journey and part of this was that when I published chapter VII on June 9- not too long after publishing chapter VI- and immediately shared it on social media, I even caught the attention of the creators of the Theophano graphic novel considering that the chapter I wrote was at the same era as their book’s setting, that they asked me to be interviewed for their site which I gladly accepted (read it here). Following the completion of chapter VII, I took quite a quick break doing a road trip again, ironically going back to where I went to after chapter II was completed 3 months earlier, and during the 4 days away I mostly kept my mind out of Byzantium for the first time in a long time until returning home with some good news that my interview on the site of Byzantine Tales had been published while my recent artworks too had been shared by other Byzantine Facebook pages, and some days later I also completed the edit and uploaded the 4th part of my late Byzantine era audio epic (Part IV: Andronikos III: The Last Revival). Feeling confident of where I was at in my Byzantine journey then, I then proceeded to do the research and begin writing chapter VIII without much hesitation, although the research process for the upcoming chapter was also another great challenge as its setting being the 11th century had so much happening while having so many sources too.
When doing the research for chapter VIII and its 11th century setting wherein the Macedonian Dynasty from chapter VII continues, I deeply immersed myself by listening to Robin Pierson’s podcasts and read the very informative non-fiction book on this era Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis, in which both turned out to be of great help for putting together the story for chapter VIII. Now if chapter VII of the series basically discussed Byzantium on the rise to power and glory, its direct successor chapter VIII was basically written as the reverse story to chapter VII as it discussed Byzantium declining from its glory days during the 11th century. Chapter VIII would then discuss the glorious reign of possibly Byzantium’s most popular emperor these days which is Basil II (976-1025) who being omitted from chapter VII as the story omitted his mother Theophano finally had a big role to set the stage for the 11th century which begins as a glorious time for the Byzantines as they finally defeated and conquered their major enemy the Bulgarian Empire to the north thus putting the entire Balkans under their rule.
Chapter VIII though was also the last chapter in the series to feature the conflict between the Byzantines and Arabs in the east, as the 11th century saw the end of the Arab-Byzantine conflicts that began way back in the 7th century where chapter IV was set in due to the rise of another new eastern enemy, the Seljuk Turks of Central Asia. Aside from continuing in discussing the same Byzantine court politics, extravagance, and extensive military campaigns of the 10th century that continued on to the 11th century, chapter VIII also discussed the rise of new threats to Byzantium such as the Normans in the west and the Seljuk Turks in the east together with their backstories, as well as many side stories like that of the origins of the famous Nordic and Rus Varangian Guard in the Byzantine army wherein the future King of Norway Harald Hardrada served in from the 1030s-1040s and the Great Schism of 1054 which was then the permanent divide between the Byzantine and Latin Churches.
The climax of chapter VIII however was the catastrophic Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which was the event marking the end of Byzantium’s glory days and although it may not have really been a terrible disaster for the army, it would still result in the permanent loss of Byzantine rule over their heartland Asia Minor and the collapse of the centuries old Thematic System there that had been around since the 7th century. Now just like chapter VII, chapter VIII was written in the same kind of way wherein there was more facts than fictional elements, though only at the end do things change as the story’s what if was to have a Byzantine victory over the invading Seljuk Turks at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, whereas in real history it was a Byzantine defeat.
Chapter VIII then true enough altered history by having a Byzantine victory wherein the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes would not be captured by the Seljuk Turks’ sultan Alp Arslan, however the main point of the story was to prove that it was not the Battle of Manzikert that really destroyed Byzantium in the 11th century but the corruption, betrayals, and wasteful spending in the imperial court, as well as weak leadership of emperors like Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067) and Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078). In the story, I also explained that even with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert, Byzantium would still be brought down from the inside through corruption, although the major difference with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert was that a lot of Asia Minor would not really be lost to the Seljuks while the First Crusade which was called for in 1095 as a result of the Seljuks’ victory at Manzikert in real history would still be called as true enough the First Crusade’s real purpose was not really to help the Byzantines recover lands lost to the Seljuks but to take back the city of Jerusalem that had also fallen to the Seljuks. While doing chapter VIII, I had also created several Byzantine themed artworks including a black and white Byzantine style inspired drawing of Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine on the Death Star II, and for chapter VIII itself I did the usual illustrations for the lead characters, but more than that, I also did a full-scale drawing of a Byzantine cataphract cavalry soldier for the story as well as a drawing of the famous future King of Norway Harald Hardrada as a Varangian Guard who had a cameo in the story as well, while I also made a genealogy for the Doukas Dynasty which ruled Byzantium in the setting of chapter VIII (1059-1081) wherein the Battle of Manzikert took place in. Chapter VIII itself was published on June 29 right before the end of the very eventful month, and unlike the Byzantine Empire that had begun going through a decline in power at this time, my own Byzantine journey’s success still remained yet continued to grow at the same time with the sudden increase of followers on Instagram, thus making June surely an eventful month.
The success of my Byzantine journey would then continue onwards after the completion of chapter VIII and this was seen with the success of new posts most notably that of my Byzantine cataphract cavalry soldier and Harald Hardrada as a Varangian Guard illustration which got a great number of likes and shares both on FB and IG, with in fact a total of 39 shares on Facebook.
The month of July was then set to be a busy one for me, as not only was it the month for writing and publishing chapter IX, but it was also a busy one for posting on Instagram as it was here when I posted so much new and unique interesting content that would define my Byzantine IG account. These posts would include a 5-part series I did on Byzantium’s famous Varangian Guard and on the Armenian city of Ani in the Byzantine era in which were all successful posts, and in between publishing chapters VIII and IX, I published my article on how I rank the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst which then came out on July 7 as a break article between chapters. Now the researching part for chapter IX was quite challenging as the History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson had not yet reached the era of the chapter which was the 12th century, thus for research I had to turn to my old go to book for a more concise approach in telling Byzantine history which was the History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici, while also going through Wikipedia to get more information on the era and its people.
Writing chapter IX was also a challenge for me especially when getting the facts right as this era was a confusing one, although it was also exciting to write as the 12th century it was set in featured Byzantium, the now rising kingdoms of Western Europe, the Seljuk Turks, the new Crusader states in the Levant known as Outremer, the Balkans, and the Arab powers of the Middle East all coming together. Chapter IX was then really supposed to be the chapter on the Crusades as it was its era, thus chapter IX began where chapter VIII left off which was the beginning of the First Crusade which was originally called for by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), originally aimed in helping Byzantium drive away the Seljuks that have taken over Asia Minor since their victory at Manzikert in 1071, but at the end the Crusaders’ real intention was to take back Jerusalem from the Seljuks for themselves and not assist Byzantium recover their lost lands, and as the Crusaders succeeded in achieving their goal, they became a new neighbor to Byzantium that would be both a friend or an enemy.
In the meantime, after sharing chapter VIII which was about Manzikert to the Alternate History Discussion Groupon Facebook, I got one suggestion from a comment saying that my next chapter should have to do with the following century (12th century) about an event that could stop the catastrophic 4th Crusade of 1204, another major disaster for the Byzantines that would begin the end for their empire, thus I kind of took this comment into consideration for the 9th chapters’ alternate history topic. Originally when conceptualizing the chapters, the story of chapter IX was only supposed to be about the rather controversial Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195) wherein the story would prevent his blinding in 1195 by his older brother Alexios- who in real history blinded Isaac and took over the throne thus leading to the 4th Crusade in 1204- and if this event were to happen then this could possibly prevent the 4th Crusade from happening.
However, this what if scenario for chapter IX did not push through for rather complicated reasons being the first and only time in the series wherein an original idea did not push through for the chapter’s story, instead I chose to go with another what if for the 12th century, and this would have to do with identifying events that may have led to the disastrous 4th Crusade in 1204 and thinking of ways to avoid them to prevent that tragic event from happening. The story for chapter IX then covered the 3 consecutive stable and successful reigns of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), his son John II (1118-1143), and his son Manuel I (1143-1180) which was a total of 99 years combined, while at the same time the chapter also featured the First, 2nd, and 3rd Crusades, the rise of the Republic of Venice and the kingdoms of Western Europe including the Normans of Italy, the rise of Balkan powers like Serbia and the Kingdom of Hungary, the Seljuk Empire that had been established in Asia Minor that was there to stay, and a lot more.
For the Byzantines, most of the 12th century was another time of power and dominance over the Mediterranean where Byzantium was basically the bully of the era under the Komnenos emperors wherein the new Crusader states even became Byzantium’s vassals. However, this renewed era of power would not last as following the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, everything would go downhill for Byzantium, as his son and successor Alexios II Komnenos (r. 1180-1183) was still only a child, thus he was overthrown and killed by Manuel I’s cousin and strongest enemy Andronikos I Komnenos who took over the throne with a bloody massacre of Constantinople’s Latin inhabitants and later only making things worse for the empire by running the empire in a totalitarian manner. In the story, what was then changed was that before killing young Alexios II and taking over the empire, Andronikos’ plot was discovered by the loyalists of the young emperor including Isaac Angelos- who in real history was chosen by the people to seize the throne and overthrow Andronikos I- though in this story, Andronikos’ plot was discovered and thus he was blinded and exiled unlike in real history where he ruled for the next 2 years (1183-1185) until being overthrown by Isaac Angelos and executed by being brutally beaten to death by the same people that put him in power just recently.
The climax of chapter IX then featured the same Norman invasion of Byzantine Greece in 1185 like in real history which was defeated by the Byzantines, though while the Byzantines won a major victory, they also faced a major challenge of the Bulgarians once again breaking free from Byzantine rule after being under Byzantium since Basil II’s conquest of 1018, thus the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was declared in 1185. However, in the story the young Emperor Alexios II who survives the attempt on his life carefully plans the elimination of all rivals including the leaders of the Bulgarian uprising and his exiled uncle Andronikos, thus the chapter ended in a very dramatic moment wherein the young emperor with the leader or Doge of Venice swear a sacred oath to be allies once again all while all enemies are eliminated one by one at the same time in the same style as the climax of The Godfather.
The story then ended happily for Byzantium whereas the Alexios II would continue to rule with Isaac Angelos as his right-hand-man now having more experience to one day run the empire- unlike in real history where Isaac came to rule the empire despite having not much experience- and although it was a happy ending for Byzantium with Venice which Alexios II’s father Manuel made an enemy become their ally again, and with the Bulgarian uprising defeated before it could grow worse like in real history, the 3rd Crusade still did happen, but the happy ending though was that the 4th Crusade in 1204 that sacked Constantinople never took place due to Byzantium and Venice fixing their ties with each other, as Venice in real history brought the Crusaders to Constantinople to sack it, even if the Crusade was originally aimed for Jerusalem to take it back from the new Islamic power being Saladin’s Ayyubid Empire. When doing chapter IX, I also did a number of art projects for the chapter like a recreation of the manuscript depicting Niketas Choniates, one of the primary historians of the 12th century, and aside from the usual lead character illustrations for the chapter, Justinianus who previously helped in writing chapters III and VI did an illustration of chapter IX’s lead character Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in her own style. Chapter IX was then published on July 19, and only after finishing chapter IX did I do my own illustrations for the 3 Angelos emperors of Byzantium: Isaac II, Alexios III, and Alexios IV who are said to be Byzantium’s 3 worst emperors.
As chapter IX was completed and published, I quickly worked on the 5th episode of my audio-epic series (Part V: Double Disaster: Civil War and Black Death) which was uploaded before the end of July and true enough my schedule in late July and early August was a very tight one with all the art projects included.
After chapter IX was completed, I immediately began working on my acrylic painting of Emperor Basil II which was to be completed on the day he defeated the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (July 29), while at the same time I was also working on my drawing on the 3 Angelos emperors, and lastly a black and white illustration of Emperor John III Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254), who would be the lead character for chapter X. The time for writing chapter X too was a tight one, but luckily before writing I already knew a lot of information for the era the chapter was to be set in which was the 13th century in which I have been making many Lego films including audio epics of it in the past, while I was lucky here also since the Youtube channel Kings and Generals had also published some videos regarding that era earlier on. When writing chapter X, I then wrote it with such speed but again as I already knew the events of the time, it was not so much of a challenge to write, however the challenging part of writing it was its very confusing story, as this chapter covered the 4th Crusade of 1204 which temporarily ended the Byzantine Empire and fractured the area of the Byzantine Empire into so many different states both Latin and Byzantine Greek. Although for chapter IX I gave a more positive image to the controversial Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos, for chapter X however where he returns, I returned to portraying him as he is usually portrayed in history as an incompetent and corrupt ruler while his dynasty was even much worse that their bad leadership would eventually lead to the army of the 4th Crusade arriving before Constantinople’s walls in 1203.
Chapter X’s main highlight then was the tragic betrayal and fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade’s Western European army in 1204 which led to the victorious Crusaders carving up Byzantine lands and dividing it among themselves while looting tons of precious Byzantine treasures and relics taking them back to Europe, though the Byzantines that survived it had formed their own successor states such as the Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and Despotate of Epirus, while in the north the absence of Byzantium allowed the newly proclaimed 2nd Bulgarian Empire to grow. The confusing part about chapter X was in combining all these post-1204 successor states and the constant fighting among them into one story, however the what if for this 13th century story would take place in 1235 wherein the powerful Bulgarian emperor Ivan Asen II and the exiled Byzantine emperor of Nicaea John III Vatatzes team up to take back Constantinople from the Latin Empire.
Although both rulers teamed up in real history, neither of them succeeded in taking back Constantinople from the Latins, however in the story the change was very shocking with Ivan Asen II betraying John III and capturing Constantinople from the Latins for himself, thus putting Constantinople under Bulgarian rule. This chapter’s what if as mentioned earlier was then something I have planned long before I conceptualized the whole series, as last year when doing my audio epics set in the 13th century, I came across this very unfamiliar and unlikely what if of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire taking over Constantinople in 1235. Chapter X though ended with what did not happen in real history, which here was John III eventually taking back Constantinople from the Bulgarians after Ivan II’s death in 1241 thus restoring the Byzantine Empire that was thought to have died out in 1204, as in real history John III died in 1254 and Constantinople was only recaptured by the Byzantines of Nicaea in 1261.
Due to so much happening in the early 13th century, I chose to end chapter X by 1261 no longer covering the latter part of the 13th century, although chapter X uniquely featured an alternate ending wherein I had the dynasty of John III Vatatzes survive by having Michael Palaiologos, the man who overthrew John III’s dynasty in 1261 blinded and imprisoned for life as his plot to overthrow the dynasty was discovered, thus in the story the descendants of John III or the Laskaris-Vatatzes Dynasty would continue ruling the restored Byzantium. On the other hand, the success of my Byzantine journey had still continued, at the time I was writing chapter X, although not really increasing too much but at least still staying at the same level of success, and part of this was seen with one of my Instagram posts which was a map I made of the post-1204 Byzantium with the different states’ respective coats of arms on it which then got a number of likes and shares and so did my drawing of the 3 Angelos emperors, and my post on August 15 about the reestablishment of Byzantium in 1261 which did happen on that day, and later on another one on the Slavs in the 6th century according to the Byzantines which was for me a very surprising success that now has more than 600 likes on IG. Other than having my success continue after chapter X, I also uploaded the 6th part of my late Byzantine history audio epic (Part VI: The Tragedy of John V Palaiologos), which was uploaded just 2 weeks after finishing chapter X and 3 weeks after the previous video of the series, and it was here when the stories of my late Byzantine history audio epics began coinciding with the stories of my chapters, and other than all the successes I have been facing at this time, it was also between finishing chapter X and before starting the next chapter wherein I got the 2nd dose for the COVID-19 vaccine, thus becoming fully vaccinated. Now as for chapter XI, this then happened to be the one with the quickest writing process out of all the chapters in the entire series, and most of this was due to having enough information on the era in advance considering that the audio epic series I was working on and still working on now is set in the same timeline as chapter XI which is the late 13th and the rest of the 14th centuries.
The rest of the events of the late 13th century beginning with the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople in 1261 and the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282), the War of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, the first attempt to convert the Byzantine Empire to Catholicism in the 1270s, the reign of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II (1282-1328), and the further destruction brought to Byzantium by the Catalan mercenaries were then covered in chapter XI. At the same time, chapter XI was the chapter made to introduce the final act of Byzantine history as it was the first chapter to introduce the Ottoman Turks as the new enemy of Byzantium that would in 1453 bring about their end replacing the now dissolved Seljuk Empire in Asia Minor, while the chapter also continued the story of the Mongols as well as the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, but also of the rise of Serbia into a kingdom and eventually to the dominant power of the Balkans being the Serbian Empire. Chapter XI’s story also featured the reign of Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341) being the last period of revival for Byzantium by reconquering most of Greece, as what followed his death in 1341 was a devastating civil war between his wife Anna of Savoy backing their young son Emperor John V and Andronikos III’s right-hand-man and general John Kantakouzenos.
The story then basically went through what actually happened in real history whereas John Kantakouzenos won the civil war in 1347 becoming Emperor John VI only to have the plague of Black Death hit the Byzantine Empire and further destroy it all while their northern neighbor the Serbian Empire under their newly proclaimed emperor Stefan IV Dusan not being much affected by the plague took advantage of Byzantium’s weakness and took over a lot of Byzantine territory in Greece. The story of the 14th century in chapter XI was then only altered when reaching the 1350s and here I chose to have the Serbian emperor Dusan capture Constantinople, not to conquer and pillage it but to save Byzantium from dying, therefore I chose to make this chapter’s story very much like the previous chapter with a foreign power taking over Byzantium.
The lead character for chapter XI then was the Serbian emperor Stefan IV Dusan who I chose to portray in a more positive light as an admirer of Byzantium despite him being their enemy and in changing the course of history, I had him take over Byzantium to not only save it from deteriorating but to fully expel the Ottomans from the Balkans before they begin to expand, as in real history Dusan never took over Constantinople while the Ottomans after first crossing into Europe in 1354 began rapidly expanding to the point of destroying both the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires. Chapter XI then ended with Constantinople returning to Byzantine rule after Dusan’s death in 1355, though the main difference was that the Ottomans would no longer pose as a threat. The 14th century history of Byzantium true enough never interested me much as it basically just featured Byzantium as a weak and impoverished state with so much wars, plotting, and disaster to the point where it already becomes too tiring unlike how it was in Byzantium’s glory days of the 10th century, therefore I did not put as much effort and attention into writing chapter XI that I could have in fact skipped this entire era being the 14th century which many historical books featuring Byzantium do anyway.
However, since all centuries in Byzantine history were to be represented per chapter, I still went with doing a chapter for the 14th century anyway where the most possible what if was for Dusan to take over Byzantium as it was part of his intention in real history anyway. On the other hand, chapter XI was also basically more or less the teaser chapter for the grand finale (chapter XII), while I also did not do much art projects for chapter XI except for the usual lead character illustrations in which I only featured 10 characters as very early on back in February I already did an illustration of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy recreating a historical illustration of them, while in March I did a portrait of Emperor Michael VIII, and in April a recreation of a historical illustration of Andronikos II.
Chapter XI was then completed and published on August 31 and when sharing it, it got rather mixed reviews in the comments section just like chapter X previously, and for chapter XI the comments I got usually said that they did not agree much with Constantinople being taken over by Dusan seeing it as worthless, but despite the criticism the success of my Byzantine journey was still ongoing. While doing chapter XI, I also came across new things such as beginning in watching the series Downton Abbey and later Into the Night on Netflix, replaying Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for PS4, and beginning a new Byzantine historical novel which was TheUsurper which was also set in the same era as that of chapter XI.
Before writing the finale chapter XII, I first finished reading The Usurper and even published a review for it on September 11 (read it here) accompanied by a drawing I made of its lead character the late 13th century Byzantine general Alexios Philanthropenos, while at the same time as my success was continuing, on September 6 I posted an artwork I made of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) which was the day he won a victory at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 becoming the last emperor of a united Roman Empire before it permanently split with the east becoming the Byzantine Empire and the west falling in 476, and again this post was a success on both FB and IG.
At the same time, before writing chapter IX I also returned to studying after 5 months of being on break, although only doing one subject, thus chapter XII’s release date was delayed as originally it was supposed to be out on September 15, but due to other things I had to do, the date for release was moved to September 27. The process of writing chapter XII then was a long one as considering it being the series’ finale, I put a lot of time and attention to it in order to make a well-made conclusion to the entire 12-part series. Now ever since the very beginning when conceptualizing all the chapters for the series, I already had very big plans for chapter XII which was the finale set in the 15th century being Byzantium’s last century, therefore I wanted to have the final chapter have a much more epic story with a battle more epic than that in the past chapters for its climax, and to also have stories from all the other past chapters including characters like Justinian I the Great and Nikephoros II Phokas make a comeback as a fitting way to end the series.
The researching part and the structuring for chapter XII too was quite tricky, as for the final chapter the story itself was not only about Byzantium as by the 15th century, Byzantium itself had already been so reduced, thus the story itself had a lot more to do about the Ottoman Empire now growing strong than ever, the rest of the Balkans including Serbia, Albania, Wallachia, and Hungary, and the now more powerful kingdoms of Western Europe becoming aware of the threat of the Ottomans. The 15th century where chapter XII was set in was also a time of great transition wherein the Middle Ages transitioned into the Renaissance especially in Italy while the Age of Exploration also began especially in Portugal, while for Byzantium things went the other way around as centuries ago, they were the advanced power both respected and feared by all others around them, but by this point they were the ones weaker and backwards while the rest of the developments happened in the rest of Europe.
With all the stories of the wars against the Ottomans, the birth of the Renaissance and Age of Exploration, the schism with the Latin Church still continuing, and lastly the 1453 Siege of Constantinople, the finale then went along with real history beginning with the reign of Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) wherein the Ottoman Empire was temporarily destroyed following the defeat of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I to Timur and his forces at the Battle of Ankara, then the story proceeded to the reign of Manuel II’s son John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) wherein the old ideas from Byzantium would spread to Italy and help introduce the Renaissance when John VIII himself visited Italy.
The story also discussed the tensions in Byzantium especially about uniting with the Latin Church in the west to stand against the Ottomans wherein many Byzantines opposed it choosing to fall to the Ottomans rather than giving up their soul being the Orthodox faith and submit to the pope as a result of the trauma they faced under the Catholic Latins of the 4th Crusade in 1204, and this conflict was true enough even present in the ruling dynasty as the emperor John VIII as well as his brothers Constantine and Thomas supported the union while the other brother Demetrios stood against with such passion creating a strong conflict between the brothers despite their empire already on the verge of extinction. The climax of the story would then take place during the reign of John VIII’s brother Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449-1453) as the last Byzantine emperor, although rather than doing what he did in 1453 in real history which was in refusing to surrender the city to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II and instead choose to fight till the end, in the story I made Constantine XI go for the other option of surrendering Constantinople to Mehmed II in order to buy time to one day launch a massive Crusade to take back Constantinople from the Ottomans, thus totally altering history.
From 1453 onwards, the story was totally altered as Mehmed II took over Constantinople without a fight, while Constantine XI returned to the Morea in Southern Greece, the last Byzantine holding to once again be its Despot (governor) together with his brother Thomas while the other brother Demetrios then abandons and betrays them switching sides to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, though both Constantine and Thomas then do the bold move of going to Rome themselves to fully submit to the pope and convert to Catholicism, thus once and for all ending the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, which never happened in real history.
The story then ends with a climactic final battle to recapture Constantinople wherein the famous rulers and defenders of Europe at this time including the Albanian resistance leader against the Ottomans Skanderbeg, the Hungarian general John Hunyadi, and the Prince of Wallachia Vlad III the Impaler all team up to join Constantine and Thomas in the recapture Constantinople from Mehmed II. In addition, I also wanted to add in a very unlikely story and this here was in having the distant Kingdom of Portugal which here was the 15th century’s rising star to come and assist in the recapture of Constantinople, as in real history the Byzantines and Portugal hardly if not had any interaction with each other at all, and just for the sake of fantasy, I had the powerful Portuguese navy come at the last minute to turn the tide of the war to the side of Byzantium, thus at the end the Ottoman Empire was shattered, and Byzantium continued to live on.
As the grand finale of the series, chapter XII was no doubt longer than all the previous 11 chapters as it featured so many side stories of the major characters from different parts of Europe and beyond, while it also brought back the highlights from the past 11 chapters. As part of the process of doing chapter XII, I did the usual illustrations for the leading characters which here had 15, while on the other hand as a reference to the Portuguese part in the story, the illustration I did for the story’s cover was a blue and white artwork of Emperor Constantine XI inspired by the Portuguese blue and white azulejo tiles. After publishing the final chapter on September 27, when sharing to the various history groups in Facebook I am a part of, it received rather mixed reviews wherein many commented saying that this kind of story of Constantine XI surrendering Constantinople to one day take it back seems rather absurd as the schism between east and west could not be solved while Western Europe was either too busy with their problems or too selfish to assist Byzantium, however I still did not really give much of damn about what they said as true enough the final chapter for the series was pure fantasy, and overall I was just very glad to have finished the entire series still coming out of it in one piece. Now after completing the series, my following on both FB and IG still continued to increase and after more than a week of taking a break from posting on IG, I continued posting in which my posts still continued getting the same success, and just recently on October 7 I uploaded the 7th episode of my audio epic (Part VII: Byzantium’s Last Respite) which has the same setting as the prologue part of chapter XII, and even with the series over, my Byzantine journey still has a long way to go.
Lessons from the History of Byzantium and from my Byzantine Journey, My Take on Byzantium’s Legacy, and Updates
Now when it comes to discussing the lessons that I have learned throughout my journey of writing the 12 chapters, I have to divide this into two parts as there were lessons that I have learned from the Byzantines in their entire 1,100-year history, and lessons I also learned from my journey as a Byzantine content producer.
First, I shall start with the lessons I learned from the history of Byzantium itself and being an empire that lasted for a total of 1,123 years with over 90 emperors and 15 ruling dynasties, there is just so much to learn from. The biggest learning I had from the entire history of Byzantium itself that I have been impressed with the most was the longevity of their empire and how they persisted through such challenges to the point of lasting for over 1,100 years, that true enough just recently when looking at a list of the world’s longest living states in history, Byzantium ranked at #7 while the other longer living states higher than that had in fact happened to be lesser known states that had either existed in Ancient history or were very unknown states in other parts of the world like India or Africa. There were many incidents wherein Byzantium could have already surely disappeared such as in the 7th century when the Arabs all of a sudden expanded and could have conquered the entire Byzantium that had just recently been weakened by war with the Sassanids but impressively Byzantium survived while the Sassanid Empire that had been their longest enemy had completely fallen to the Arabs. When Byzantium’s golden age came to a close in 11th century with another enemy coming out the blue being the Seljuks that so rapidly crushed the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, it was also impressive here to know that Byzantium not only survived but were able to overcome this enemy and grow to become a major power again in the 12th century.
Lastly, when the army of the 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople and could have possibly ended the existence of the Byzantine Empire itself in 1204, the Byzantines though still going into exile still managed to come back and return to ruling Constantinople despite now no longer ruling a powerful empire but rather one that was a shadow of its former self, and more so that Byzantium at their last days chose to fight to the end for their empire even knowing this would be their end as the Ottomans did in fact capture Constantinople on May 29 of 1453 ending the empire. Now what I leaned from the longevity of Byzantium is that life goes that way, there are many ups and downs to go through, and many challenges to face, and just like Byzantium that overcame these life-threatening challenges through persistence and courage, the same can be said with overcoming life’s greatest challenges and surviving them. Of course, we all meet an end the same way all empires do, and for the Byzantine Empire itself I could say that if it were a person, it would have lived a life of 110 years with every century being a decade in one’s life, and truly this 1,100-year existence of Byzantium was so impressive enough that in entire lifetime as an empire, things had changed so much that the Byzantium of the 12th century ruled by the Komnenos emperors may look so far different from the Byzantium of the 6th century under Justinian I when it fact it was the same empire with the same capital, and in their entire existence they had seen many states around them both rise and fall all while they continued to exist, and even at the very end when the Ottomans conquered all their surrounding states such as Serbia and Bulgaria, Byzantium still stood.
Just as Flavian said when interviewing him, I have to agree with what he said that one of his greatest learnings from Byzantium is that success comes with the mastery of sword and spirit and this can truly be said about Byzantium as it was through fighting constant wars throughout their existence, that there was barely a time in their history that they experienced multiple decades of peace, and it was through their mastery of war and studying the battle tactics of their enemies that they were able to overcome them and survive, while for the part of the mastery of spirit I can say that they lived on for so long basically because they had the faith of Orthodox Christianity uniting them despite Byzantine society being so divided.
However, another thing I have to say about Byzantium is that they were able to live on for so long not only due to inventions of weapons like Greek Fire or having powerful armies and massive walls protecting their capital, but also because of their mastery of diplomacy, thus a very big learning from Byzantium is that winning wars also require a lot of diplomacy and true enough the Byzantines managed to turn so many enemies away by bribing them, but also the history of Byzantium teaches us that if there is no peaceful way to resolve a conflict, war is the answer as seen many times with the Byzantines. Another great learning too from Byzantine history was that they were basically the empire that continued the existence of the Roman Empire and preserved the knowledge of the Classical Era from Ancient Greece and Rome that they in fact even absorbed it and blended it together with the Christian faith, thus making them an advanced society while the rest of Europe was in the Dark Ages. Of course, over time things would evolve thus the rest of Europe itself would begin advancing while Byzantium itself would stay in the past especially in its last years where their institutions that once seemed so advanced eventually began becoming obsolete, but luckily enough Western Europe was able to obtain knowledge from Byzantium to become more advanced the way Byzantium was before, thus brining about the Renaissance. As Akitku said earlier when I interviewed him, was that Byzantium was true enough a very advanced society in their time, and I have to agree here as when literally most of the entire world did not really have a structured government or laws, Byzantium did, and not only did Byzantium have a very centralized government, they also had state-funded hospitals and schools and a society that was much more literate than that of Europe and most other parts of the world in their time long before the modern age when society became like this.
On the other hand, Byzantium also shows that even the most advanced societies are very vulnerable to corruption and internal division, and true enough corruption in the government, incompetence and cruelty by emperors in running the empire at some occasions, political rivalries and even fighting among ruling families, and a highly divided society especially regarding religious or political issues defined their history, but overall this shows that Byzantium was not perfect which makes them seem like any other country today rather than a mythical utopia that may or may have not existed. Meanwhile, another great learning for me is that even the Byzantine emperors no matter how powerful they seemed could lose their power at any moment the moment they lose their popularity, thus this shows that Byzantium really was the continuation of the Roman Empire of old as not only did it continue its imperial institutions but those from the Ancient Roman Republic itself, and true enough Byzantine emperors just like the Roman emperors before them and the consuls of the republic before them were not like the monarchs of Western Europe or the Sassanid or other eastern emperors (China and Japan) that had divine rights but rather, Byzantine emperors got their power from the Senate, army, and people just as how a republic works, therefore Byzantium never really had a system wherein the emperor’s eldest son would succeed him, which is why whenever an emperor comes to power, his authority is sure to be challenged despite him being the eldest son, which is why emperors had creative means of getting around this such as making their sons co-emperors as a way to already immediately name a successor to prevent power struggles.
In Byzantium’s history there had also been many incidents showing that their political system had allowed anyone to rise to power as emperor, thus in their history there had been generals, admirals, common soldiers, peasants, even women, young children, a tribal chieftain, and a money changer becoming emperors, thus I would have to agree with what Chrysa said that Byzantium is kind of the place to follow your dreams as if yo are lucky enough, it will lead to you to something big. There were also some incidences wherein even long before our time when people do have the right to change their system did exist, and true enough there were even some incidences in Byzantine history when revolutions led by the people changed the regime by installing a new emperor of their own choice even long before revolutions like this like the American and French Revolutions happened. Their history too had shown incidences wherein emperors despite starting out popular eventually lost their popularity the moment they are no longer in favor with their people, that some emperors in fact even lost their power when losing popular support, thus being an emperor was a really tough job as to stay in power you really needed to maintain your popularity mostly by winning battles against enemies.
Lastly, the biggest lesson I learned from Byzantium was that learning to adapt to the current situation is the way to survive, and this was true enough how Byzantium was able to live on for over a thousand years, as when the times changes such as first when the Western Roman Empire had fallen in 476, they took up the role as the civilization that was there to preserve the imperial Roman identity; when the Arab threat came out of the blue and was there to stay, the Byzantines had to adapt in order to survive, thus creating the Thematic System and Thematic army; when their economy was falling apart, they had to adapt by issuing new economic reforms and new forms of currency; but Byzantium still had major weaknesses, and for me, I would say it was religious schism which further divided their society, and no matter how great they were in solving political and economic problems in their empire, it was their religious problems they could not solve, therefore if there was something I would want to change about Byzantine history, for me it should be that they should have not gotten themselves too fixated on religious schisms which was thus the cancer in their society, especially Iconoclasm as for me I would say the same as Chrysa did, wherein if the Iconoclast policies of the 8th century never came to exist, then perhaps Byzantium would never get into any strong bitter schisms with the west, therefore no Great Schism in 1054, no bad blood between Byzantium and the west, no 4th Crusade sacking Constantinople in 1204, and surely the west will help Byzantium against the Ottomans at the end. Now even up to this day in the distant future, I would say that if we have questions about the society we live in and are either confused or frustrated, I would say that a good solution is to look back at the history of Byzantium to take a look at patterns, as after all history does repeat itself.
Now that I have discussed the lessons that I have learned from the history of Byzantium itself, it’s now time to move on to the lessons that I have learned from my journey in creating Byzantine related content online. Basically, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from doing online content on Byzantine history whether blog posts like these, videos, or Instagram posts is to first of all set a goal on where you aim your account/ page to be headed towards as well as how big you want yourself to become in the industry, then to come up with a plan of what you will post as well as your own unique style of posting. For over 2 years now I have been posting articles about Byzantine history on this same site, however it was only at the start on this year when I decided to reach a wider audience and raise more awareness about Byzantine history by creating social media accounts relating to it, beginning with my Instagram account which I in fact was at first reluctant to start wondering in what direction it would be headed to. Although at first, I basically just posted old travel posts on Byzantine era locations I have been to in the past and behind the scenes posts of my previous Byzantine era Lego films, however when the number of my followers began to increase, it was about time that I posted things that had more depth and information mostly being Byzantine history trivia in order to make my content more interesting considering the increase in followers and engagements.
This strategy of posting too would include posting a variety of posts which in my case included Byzantine travel destinations, Byzantine history trivia, Byzantine fan art, sometimes a quick bio on a Byzantine emperor, and once and a while a spin off post whether it was a Byzantine-Star Wars crossover drawing or a post of another country’s history like that of the Sassanid Empire, Slavs, or even of a far-off place like India or China with a hint of Byzantine history, while when posting every post on my Instagram, from the very early days I already created a trademark of introducing the caption for every post with a diamond emoji, while the emojis too would be common in my posts to make them seem to appear more light and less scholarly, while I also chose to put in a lot of hashtags as a way to get more notice.
At the same time, I also learned some tips in posting from the other accounts I follow in which one before basically posted something long everyday whether it was a bio of a Byzantine emperor or something about Byzantine history wherein the caption was so long it had to spill over to the comments- which I do at times and dread it- while another user does every post beginning with a picture of the user in that certain historical landmark wherein you can view the pictures of the place itself when swiping right while the caption below on the other hand explains the historical angle. The accounts however that basically served as the inspiration for mine included Shadows of Constantinoplewhich tells the history of Byzantium in a very informative, smart, and more organized manner of a collage to put all the pictures at once so that everything is seen immediately, and there was the user Roman Courierwhich never fails in creating interesting content discussing Roman history and lesser known facts about it including debunking myths in a very light and engaging but at the same time in a very serious way by using primary and academic sources; although from the same Flavian I interviewed here, one major tip I learned in posting history content is to engage followers more by having regular Q&As as well as keeping the posts concise yet entertaining. Another strategy I considered was to also balance and in a way experiment a little in your posts by making them both historically accurate and authentic but also contemporary, meaning not going too over the top in historical authenticity, and for this one example I would give would be in terms of soundtrack when doing videos wherein I would choose to use more modern soundtracks such as those from my favorite bands Chvrches and Of Monsters and Men instead of going too over historical by using Byzantine chants as a soundtrack, while the same can be said too when for example doing a post on Byzantine Constantinople wherein I would choose to balance it better by putting historical information in the caption but using a modern illustration of Byzantine Constantinople for the image instead of one from the Byzantine era itself, and also in this case I would sometimes share funny memes relating to Byzantium as well.
As time progressed, another trick I learned was to post at a regular interval meaning coming up with a new Byzantine IG post every 2-3 days or every 5 days at the most in order to keep things balanced, as posting something or even more than one post every day would soon enough become too tiring for viewers, while posting irregularly- like once every week and once every 2 weeks at times- would confuse viewers making them wonder where you went, while posting irregularly too would not really get you anywhere in followers and engagements unless you have already reached your peak.
Along the way, I also came up with a strategy to post on Instagram posts relating to the era where I was at in writing the alternate history stories, and it was around March in between doing chapters II and III when I developed this trick, which was basically a way to just keep my mind focused on the era I was currently working on. When it comes to posting something that would get a lot of hits, from my experience it was usually doing a post about what happened on this certain day, such as my post on the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, while on the other hand the posts that would get the most number of likes as well as comments sometimes happen to be the most unlikely ones, and in my case it was my post on the Slavs and how Byzantium saw them, which then got me a lot of followers including catching the attention of one user posting similar content as I do (follow Slavic History Mythologyon Instagram). Of course, if you want your post to gain more attention including shares globally, what I do here is to post whatever I posted on Instagram to my Facebook page, then share it to various Byzantine history related groups that have thousands of members like Roman and Byzantine History, The History of the Byzantine Empire, and Byzantine Real History, which is also basically how I share my blog posts. What I would then say is the key to a successful post is consistency, and I do this by as I said posting things related to the era you’re currently working at, and not to wander off too much into different eras, however for a change it would be good to do so as well. With success however comes a lot of criticism, and in my journey I began experiencing a lot of this especially when my accounts became more successful, and a lot of this had to do with comments of others disagreeing with my post or sometimes speaking ill about Byzantium, and usually I reply back to explain exactly what I was saying or usually don’t mind them if they are just senseless comments as these could be trolls, although this criticism also shows that at least people are interested, though sometimes I also speak out my opinion by commenting what I think or what I suggest for the posts of others especially when it comes to a topic in Byzantine history that interests me a lot. The very rare thing now that I’ve faced was other users plagiarizing by posting the exact same content that I had posted behind my back without mentioning me, and although I very rarely experience this, what I do here about it is to usually remind them when seeing it that the post was originally mine, and also if it all comes to worse; I would report the post. On the other hand, another great experience was in having people out of the blue send you messages praising your content or being plainly curious to know about you and why you like Byzantine history, and when my account became successful, I have experienced this a number of times, in which this kind of experience taught me how to be truly appreciative for something like that to happen as these moments are very rare. Now, one very major thing I learned about in my journey of creating Byzantine history content is to know your audience and who exactly are you aiming to impress, as when it comes to posting about history, people see things differently, and in my experience, I have noticed there are two kinds of audiences, in which there is for one the history fans or history buffs such as myself, and there are the authorities which are basically the scholars and professors of Byzantine history.
Based on my experience, both these audiences are usually different from each other and certain posts please either of them, and usually my posts due to its more contemporary and easier to understand style please more history buffs which are the majority of users on Instagram, while posts that usually contain more information on sources and more historical accuracy please the authorities more. At the end however, as I have learned it is quite difficult to please both at the same time or in my case to please the authorities, therefore it turns out that my posts appeal more to history buffs, and although this may not command as much respect as it does when pleasing historical authorities, at least I can get a wider variety of audience, as after all my mission and vision for my Byzantine history social media accounts was to make the history of Byzantium accessible to everyone of all walks of life whether they are familiar with it or not, rather than to just keep the history of Byzantium among a smaller circle of scholars and historians. Of course it would still be great to get the attention of the authorities on Byzantine history online, and to do this I also learned along my journey that this would mean doing tons of research for a an article or for just a simple post and to explain the historical sources as well rather than just searching Wikipedia, and true enough I also applied this method to writing my alternate history stories, meaning that when writing each of the chapters I did more than just search Wikipedia but go through the links linked in Wikipedia, read different articles and books, and go through many channels and podcasts discussing the era to get different versions of it in order to compare them.
Additionally, whenever I complete a chapter for the alternate history series or a video on my channel, I always promote it by putting its link on my Instagram bio, while also since I post a lot of Byzantine history trivia it then turned out that my Instagram account became a way of retelling the trivia from one of my favorite Byzantine history books which is A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis, thus probably my viewers would no longer buy the book but instead just follow my IG to get info on Byzantine trivia from the book. Now the greatest learning I have made here was that success comes with time as for the first few months, progress was quite slow, but through time things turned unexpectedly that from over 300 followers I suddenly reached 1,000, then 2,000, and now I have over 4,000 followers on Instagram and over 900 likes on my Facebook page all in less than a year, thus I would say the trick here is to regularly post interesting information but also to be original, and in my case I do this by using filters for every image I post as a way to authenticate it as mine, as well as a detailed caption on what the image is. Although another important learning is to also know your place and what kind of account or page you are, and in my case, I soon enough came to realize I’m more of a Byzantine history fan page posting popular content that appeals to a wider audience in which I have now been growing more satisfied in being such. Of course, the biggest thing I’ve learned is still to basically enjoy posting and creating and let the inspiration flow as this will lead you to many places, and in my case this passion for Byzantine history and posting made me virtually meet and communicate with people from all over the world who all share this common interest.
And now I’ve come to the part of discussing about the rich legacy of the Byzantine Empire and where I can still see it today. Obviously, like as many would say I also see the legacy of Byzantium in the many landmarks built in the Byzantine era still around today including the massive and still intact Hagia Sophia and a lot of other landmarks in Istanbul including the Walls of Constantinople, Forum of Constantine, the cisterns, old monasteries and so much more including monasteries and churches in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans with their impressive mosaics and very deep looking frescos usually with a dark blue background, and the mosaics and churches of Ravenna and in other parts of Italy as well in which I was truly lucky enough to see.
Of course, I do not only see the legacy of Byzantium in the physical form meaning landmarks but rather in the non-material world and this would include the Orthodox faith and the Patriarchate of Constantinople that had been the Church of Byzantium which until this day is still around, while another of the spiritual influences of Byzantium that still live on to this day is the Cyrillic Alphabet the Slavic countries such as Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia still use which was in fact first introduced to them by the Byzantine Greek missionaries St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the 9th century in which the alphabet in fact even gets its name from St. Cyril, although these missionaries did not really invent it as other monks in the Balkans developed it over time in the late 9th century.
Aside from the Orthodox faith and the Cyrillic Alphabet, the Byzantine legacy in the non-physical form can be seen in a much bigger picture even beyond the lands once under Byzantium, and this is in terms of legal systems, as true enough even up to this day the code of laws or Corpus Juris Civilis created by the jurist Tribonian under Emperor Justinian I way back in the 6th century still serves as the basis for legal systems of many modern countries, while on the other hand laws made back then in that code of laws still even apply up to this day, as recently I discovered about a law wherein any body of water cannot be owned, and this law itself dates all the way back to Justinian’s code. Now Justinian’s code had happened to be so influential that many rulers and kingdoms after his time including the Visigoths of Spain, Emperor Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia, and the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in the 16th century were all inspired by Justinian to make their own code of laws for their empires, thus showing how Byzantium even in their time already influenced others a lot.
Byzantium’s reach true enough was so large, not even in our time but in theirs, as in the 10th and 11th centuries when Byzantium was a major world power, stories of the grandness of their empire reached as far as Scandinavia to the north and Sub-Saharan Africa in the south wherein Scandinavians even referred to Constantinople as Miklagard simply meaning “the city”. Of course, even after the fall of Byzantine Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, Byzantium itself never really died as many states took in the identity of Byzantium, therefore it remains unclear to tell which state is really Byzantium’s successor. For me, I would say that the Ottoman Empire was Byzantium’s political successor as they took over Constantinople themselves and made it their new capital while also adopting Byzantium’s government systems and architecture, while Italy on the other hand is Byzantium’s spiritual successor mainly because of the Renaissance as after the fall of Constantinople several Byzantine scholars fled to Italy escaping the Ottomans and bringing with them knowledge from Classical Greece and Rome that they have preserved and there introducing a new revival of art and academics which was the Renaissance in which we owe it very much to the Byzantines, and lastly there is Russia as they were the ones to succeed Byzantium in terms of faith as long after the fall of Byzantium it was Russia that became the world’s Orthodox power the way Byzantium was in the Middle Ages.
Now, for many Western minded people including myself, Byzantium should be held with such high respect as even though they were not a Western empire, they still preserved the ideas of Classical Greece and Rome that would help bring about the Renaissance and greatly influence Western thinking up to this day, and unfortunately those who put Byzantium in such a bad light after the 16th century- when the word “byzantine” was for the first time coined- by remembering Byzantium only for corruption and everything despicable were Western scholars, therefore I have to say that these Westerners including the likes of Edward Gibbon and Voltaire who basically slandered Byzantium should be ashamed of themselves as it was Byzantium that preserved the philosophy that influenced their way of thinking! Now at this day, no matter where you are in the world, you can surely see that Byzantium lives on especially in the way countries with their governments and political systems work, most especially when seeing how leaders are backed by the people, army, and aristocrats, including all the political rivalries, and power struggles which definitely still shows that Byzantium does indeed have its relevance all the way up to this day in the distant future.
On the other hand, I would also see Byzantium’s influence not only in large aspects including faith, politics, art, and culture but in the smallest things used in everyday life as well like the simple fork, in which many do not know that the Byzantines did in fact invent it and spread it throughout Europe sometime in the 10th century when a Byzantine princess married the Holy Roman emperor in Germany. For me, the fork is such an important part of life that I literally use it to eat everything including pizza and sandwiches, thus truly I owe a lot to the Byzantines for making life easier that way! Of course, what keeps Byzantium and its history alive today are those who keep the flame of the empire burning as if it had not been extinguished in 1453- as Flavian had said- from renowned scholars and academics to content creators such as myself and many others I know who live to believe Byzantium never really died out and see the legacy of the empire still alive in many forms, in which for my case I do in fact still see Byzantium in many things no matter how very unrelated they are such as in a good and emotional song which brings me back to the Byzantine era.
However, it is still such a shame that Byzantium is not really popular in world history that general history books barely mention it except for Constantinople’s founding by Constantine I in 330, the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century, and the fall of the empire in 1453 while many people either ignore Byzantine history instead believing the Roman Empire had fallen in 476 and after that Europe fell into the dark ages. However, I would also say that I am glad to see young people such as myself, Flavian, and a lot of others being aware of the great history of Byzantium in an age where most young people are rather shallow, narrow-minded, or do not care much about the wider world but just their immediate surroundings, which shows that the rich history and legacy of the Byzantine Empire still does indeed have some relevance and interest with young everyday people rather than just scholars and historians, thus I have to say that I am glad to be part of the movement of young people not only interested in but willing to share the great history of Byzantium to other everyday people whether or not they are familiar with it. Of course, the best way for Byzantine history to get more exposure especially among everyday people is to have a large budget Hollywood movie or a large budget series on the topic, as Byzantine history unlike Ancient Greece, Rome, or Medieval Europe has never even made an appearance in popular films and series, and true enough it does have the potential do so, and that way people would more and more be aware of Byzantium’s existence.
And lastly before I finish off, I would just like to share a few updates on what I would be doing now that I have finished my 12-part series, and basically since I have completed writing it, of course what I have to share next is this long post you are reading here to conclude the entire series and my thoughts and feeling about it. Now after finishing chapter XII, I do not really have plans of posting anything on this site for a while, as after all I need to take quite a long rest after about 8 months of writing the entire series with barely any breaks and facing so many ups and downs, but of course I will still continue to do more Byzantine themed art and posts on Byzantine trivia for my Instagram account to keep you all updated and to know that I am still out there and still willing to share more Byzantine history content, as after all there are still tons topics that may be of interest to many in their very rich and complex history that I have not yet shared in social media. Definitely I will still continue doing my Byzantine themed art which I would continue to post wherein I also have one planned for the end of the year being a chart of all the Byzantine emperors in which I have already drawn many of them for the 12 chapters of the series, although for the ones I have not drawn yet, I would draw them in the same icon style I used for the series’ character illustrations in order to complete the chart of the emperors. As for my Instagram posts, now that the series is over, most of them will no longer follow the course of Byzantine history but instead be random, meaning that one post would be something about Byzantium in the 6th century, then the next one may be something about the 12th century, although with chapter XII finished my other IG posts would also include spinoff stories discussing characters from the story including non-Byzantines like Vlad the Impaler, Mehmed II, and Skanderbeg, as well as events after 1453 like the last descendants of the Palaiologos Dynasty, the last dynasty of Byzantium’s 15 ruling dynasties. At the same time, my audio epic series “The Last Roman Dynasty” for my Youtube channel discussing Byzantium under the Palaiologos Dynasty still remains unfinished with 2 more episodes left to go, thus before the end of the year my plan is to finish this entire audio epic series. Overall, I would definitely miss writing the alternate history series though possibly before the year ends, I also plan to write one more alternate history chapter, although this one being chapter XIII would basically be a Byzantine spinoff discussing an alternate reality of the Byzantine Empire if it lived up to the 16th century wherein the events that had been altered from chapter XII would spill over to this story. Other than this, I definitely plan to do more interactive articles like this one in the future with interviews or articles in collaboration with someone, which was after all a new thing for my site I only began doing this year. Aside from possibly writing this story, I also have a major project planned in mind once I finish the audio epic series I have also been working on for the entire year, and this major project I have in mind is another Byzantine Lego epic film, as after all I have not filmed a major Lego epic film since War of the Sicilian Vespersin 2020, therefore it would be such a pleasure to do another large-scale Byzantine era Lego epic after such a long time as a comeback film. Now for this upcoming Lego epic, the plot I have in mind for it would be one of the 12 chapters of my series, and out of the 12 chapters I am for now deciding whether it would be the story of chapter II or that of chapter IX of the series that would be made into this film, as after all these were the two most enjoyable chapters in the series for me, while it is also these two that I believe have the potential to be made into and are the most practical ones in story to be made into a homemade Lego film for my channel No Budget Films that is mainly a channel of homemade Lego films telling an epic story set in history. Now aside from more Byzantine themed artworks, the possible epilogue story to the 12-part series, and the upcoming Lego film, the even much bigger thing I have in mind in the future related to my Byzantine history interest is going to be a business I aim to launch next year on a Byzantine themed board game and a deck of cards considering that I study a business course, though I still have to organize my thoughts and plans on this. As for now, with the 12-part series completed what is to happen next would be a trip to New York and Washington D.C. wherein I will continue my Byzantine journey seeing the Byzantine collections there including the Dumbarton Oaks collection of Byzantine seals and coins in Washington D.C. Now that I have completed the series, I have also come to realize that my career path in Byzantine history is that I am more of a generalist as I basically share information not just in a specific part of Byzantine history, or of a certain emperor, or on a certain part of Byzantine culture, but on the entire 1,1100-year history of Byzantium and everything about it, therefore I shall stick to this career path in Byzantine history. Of course, with the series over, I definitely have much higher ambitions and goals for my Byzantine journey and this would include getting more exposure and publicity worldwide, as well as also writing an article for a Byzantine history site, and getting one of my artworks featured by another site, but of course the best thing to do is still to share good information and enjoy doing it. Lastly, before I completely finish off, I would want to say that this Byzantine career I have launched only this year no matter how tiring it was still gave me a great sense of purpose and direction, as without it I would not know where I would be, therefore I would like to thank all those who share the content I made in any social media platform, those who have also recommended my IG account to the others as this truly helped in growing my account in terms of likes and followers, and of course I would like to thank all my fans and viewers whether on Instagram, Facebook, or in this site for showing some support. After all, it all turned out this Byzantine journey of mine was very much like a dream coming true like that of the Byzantine emperors of the past who began out as nothing and rose up the ranks, as in my journey over the months as well, the same can be said. Now, this is all for this article, and I hope you enjoyed reading it, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveler, thank you all for reading and showing your appreciation!
DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 15th century AD. This story will begin with real events in history but will become fictional as it progresses.
“Consider then, my brothers and comrades in arms, how the commemoration of our death, our memory, fame and freedom can be rendered eternal.” -Final speech of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, 1453
Welcome to the 12th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger, the grand finale of this 12-part series! Last time in chapter XI, we went over a possibility wherein the powerful and ambitious Serbian emperor Stefan IV Dusan in the 14th century would take over a deteriorating Byzantium not to destroy it but to save it from decay and expel the new threat of the Ottoman Turks from the Balkans which in real history would in fact be the power that would conquer the once great civilization of the Byzantines in 1453. Once again, as these chapters in this alternate history series are not continuous with each other in plot, the outcome of the previous chapter wherein the Serbian Empire took over Byzantium for a brief time which resulted in the full expulsion of the Ottoman troops in the Balkans before the Byzantine Empire itself returned following the death of the Serbian emperor in Dusan in 1355 would not happen, instead this chapter as usual will begin with what actually happened in real history.
Now as we all know it, the Byzantine Empire had lived on for so long, and true enough this Byzantine Alternate History series had been running for more than 7 months now, featuring 11 chapters covering more than 1,000 years of Byzantine history beginning all the way back in the 4th century (chapter I) when basically the only major power in Europe and the known world was the Roman Empire eventually becoming the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire that continued to live for over a thousand years to where we are at now wherein it remains a small state in the middle of countless of others all over the world. In the past 11 chapters of this series, we went over many emperors and empresses, battles, traditions, political intrigues, betrayals, disasters, reforms, civil wars, and so much more over the past 1,000 years as well as a large number of foreign powers that the Byzantines had come across over the centuries that either posed as a serious threat to them or came as an ally and these included the likes of the Goths, Huns, Vandals, Sassanids, Franks, Lombards, Avars, Slavs, the Arab Caliphates, Bulgars, Khazars, Rus, Magyars, Pechenegs, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Mongols, Serbians, and finally the Ottoman Turks. The truly impressive and inspiring part here is that the Byzantine Empire saw all of these people come and go with so many kingdoms around them rising, evolving, and falling in its entire existence, but of course all empires have their end and the 15th century where this chapter takes place in was in real history the end of the Byzantine Empire as a state. In the past 1,000 years there were several instances wherein Byzantium could have already ended whether it was to the sudden and rapid expansion of the Arabs back in the 7th and 8th centuries, or to the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century, or most recently to the 4th Crusade in 1204 but throughout all these hard times, the Byzantines still persisted and through their determination and willingness to not allow their proud empire to disappear. By the end of the 14th century however, the end for Byzantium was already inevitable and like many threats the empire had faced in it history, the one that had the potential to bring about its end was an unlikely power, in this case the Ottoman Turks. The 14th century true enough saw the rise and quick evolution of the Ottomans from a small Turkish feudal state or Beylik located along the Byzantine border in the former Byzantine heartland Asia Minor to becoming the master power of Asia Minor and the rising new power of the Balkans that had been able to crush the once powerful Serbian Empire in 1389 at the Battle of Kosovo, make what was left of the Byzantine Empire its vassal, and later on conquer the entire 2nd Bulgarian Empire and wipe it off the map.
By the end of the 14th century, the Ottomans had already expanded deep into the Balkans to the point of already posing a threat to the more powerful kingdoms of Western Europe but luckily the Byzantine Empire despite being severely reduced to Constantinople already surrounded by Ottoman territory as well as parts of Southern Greece and some Aegean islands was still standing and this was mainly because the Byzantines to ensure their survival surrendered to the Ottomans as a vasal no matter how humiliating it was. However, as the 15th century began, the rising Ottoman Empire’s new sultan Bayezid I whose life-long ambition was to finally capture Constantinople decided to capture it once and for all thus leading to an 8-year siege, while the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos not wanting to surrender what was left of his empire travelled around Europe to seek military aid from the various kingdoms there that had now surpassed the once powerful Byzantium in military and economic power. Though Manuel II returned to Constantinople empty handed, Byzantium was fortunately saved from the inevitable Ottoman threat as in 1402, the undefeatable Ottoman sultan Bayezid I was for once defeated out of the blue by the powerful Turco-Mongol emperor Timur at the Battle of Ankara resulting in the capture of the sultan and the Ottoman Empire itself thrown into anarchy and civil war among the sultan’s sons. If not for Timur crushing the Ottoman army causing a temporary collapse for the Ottomans, Byzantium would have already fallen, but because it happened, Byzantium was given 50 more years left to live allowing their history to extend deep int the 15th century. Manuel II would then die in 1425 and would be succeeded by his son Emperor John VIII Palaiologos (r. 1425-1448) and in the meantime, the Ottomans would get their act back together again thus once more becoming a major threat not only to the existence of Byzantium but to the rest of Europe which made organizing Crusades a thing once again. The Byzantines being the most threatened by the rise of the Ottomans were the ones to have to ask for the kingdoms of the west and for the pope’s approval to launch a Crusade against the ever-expanding Ottomans, but such aid from the west would come at such a high price, and the price to pay here in order for the Catholic kingdoms of the west to agree to help Byzantium was for the Byzantines to give up their old faith of Orthodoxy and convert to Catholicism. In the last days of Byzantium, Byzantine emperors as mentioned even in the previous chapter were more than willing to end the age old schism with the west by submitting their empire to the faith of Catholicism in order for the empire to survive, and though this may turn out to be a practical choice, it proved to be very unpopular among the Byzantine people that there was even a famous saying at this time by the Byzantine imperial official Loukas Notaras in the last days of Constantinople which said “I would rather see a Turkish turban in the midst of the city than the Latin miter” meaning that it would be better off that Byzantium would fall to the Ottomans rather than losing their identity by submitting to the Catholic Church as after all, the Byzantines even over 200 years later could still not get over the damage and destruction brought upon them by the Catholic armies of the 4th Crusade in 1204 as discussed in chapter X of this series. Despite the Byzantine Empire already in ruins and their end near, disunity and conflict among the people especially over religious matters still remained unchanged while the centuries old “Cold War” between Byzantium and the Western world too was still existent even up to Byzantium’s last days. In the meantime, the Ottomans could not also focus all their attention in capturing Constantinople as they too were distracted by other problems in the Balkans such as resistance from the Albanians and the threat of Crusades summoned against them from the other kingdoms of Europe particularly Hungary. The Ottomans however at this time were still able to defeat two massive Crusades launched against them by Hungary, first at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, then at the Battle of Varna in 1444, and lastly once again at the Battle of Kosovo in 1448 fought in the same place the Ottomans crushed the Serbians in 1389, and following the Ottoman victory at the 2nd Battle of Kosovo in 1448 the way to besiege Constantinople was clear. With the death of the Ottoman sultan Murad II in 1451, the new sultan which was his son and successor the young and ambitious yet treacherous Mehmed II had only one single objective which was to simply capture Constantinople and finish off the Byzantine Empire for good as no matter how weakened the Byzantines became to the point of becoming just a small dot surrounded by a vast sea of Ottoman territory, they still posed a dangerous threat by asking for help from the rest of Europe against the Ottomans. Mehmed II in 1453 then raised an army of about 80,000 men including some 320 ships, 70 cannons, and one massive cannon intended to completely destroy Constantinople’s 1,000-year-old walls that no enemy before had ever managed to destroy. The Byzantine emperor here meanwhile which was Constantine XI Palaiologos, the younger brother of John VIII and this story’s tragic hero that came to power in 1449 after John VIII’s death was known to be a brave soldier-emperor, an exception for his time when Byzantine emperors no longer fought in battle themselves, and apparently Constantine XI was in fact given an offer by Mehmed II to simply surrender Constantinople and be able to leave unharmed. Constantine XI however declined this offer and bravely chose to fight to the death, thus resulting in a 2-month Ottoman siege of Constantinople that had been described in such vivid detail wherein Constantine XI despite having an army of roughly more than 7,000 men including barely trained local Greek forces and Italian mercenaries were able to defend Constantinople’s walls against an Ottoman army of over 80,000 that had a more of an advantage with the use of cannons. At the end however, the outnumbered defenders still lost, Constantine XI died as the last Roman emperor, while Constantinople had fallen to the Ottomans on May 29 of 1453 making Sultan Mehmed II be remembered as “Mehmed the Conqueror” who then built Constantinople back up scratch turning it into the Ottoman’s capital. Now, a lot say that the defeat of the Byzantines here in 1453 despite fighting courageously to the end was because they were outnumbered while no aid from the west came for them, and so for this chapter, I would say that if Constantine XI did initially surrender Constantinople to Mehmed II when given the offer, then would this allow Constantine XI to buy time and organize a large Crusade consisting of various European powers now aware of the Ottoman threat which could achieve in taking Constantinople back from the Ottomans a few years later and allow the Byzantine Empire to continue its existence?
Note: Since this chapter is set in the 15th century, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.
Since this chapter will be the grand finale of this 12-part series, I had something specular in mind planned for it, thus this chapter will be a lot longer than the past 11 ones. As the finale, it will be a culmination of all the stories from the past 11 chapters going as far back as the 4th century, and ever since conceptualizing this 12-part series before even writing the first chapter, I had already planned something big for the final chapter. The past 5 chapters since chapter VII now had however contained more history than fiction, but here in the last chapter of the series it will once again be like the first 6 chapters of this series with more fictional elements including larger than life battles, more insights on the people of the story and their character, many side stories and cameos of famous historical figures, and a number of supernatural elements such as ghosts of the important characters from the previous chapters returning here for the grand finale.
To conclude this series, this chapter will have a climax more epic and larger than life than the past 11 chapters as after all in real history, the Byzantine Empire in 1453 did not die out with a whimper but with a bang when the Byzantines of Constantinople fought to the end defending their city against the 80,000 Ottoman army despite still losing to the Ottomans at the end, unlike let’s say the Western Roman Empire in 476 which just ended quietly when its last emperor surrendered to a barbarian general who just chose to make himself King of Italy instead of emperor, which if you remember was part of the story of chapter II of this series. However, since this series is always in favor of Byzantium wherein all chapters ended with a Byzantine victory, the series in this chapter will definitely have to end with Byzantium once more victorious and alive, thus we will conclude this series with one epic battle like no other. This chapter like all others in this series will again begin with events that did take place in real history in order to establish the story’s 15th century setting wherein Byzantium although still standing is no longer what it once was as a major world power that all other powers around them were either in awe of or feared but instead reduced to an insignificant backwater in the humiliating position as a vassal of the new power of the Ottomans and a shadow of its former self. World history in the 15th century true enough hardly makes any mention of Byzantium if not for the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 as the 15th century true enough had too much happening around the world that had more significance to what was happening in Byzantium, but on the other hand even if Byzantium was already so reduced to the point of making it more or less a city-state, Constantinople itself despite being so damaged and depopulated still had the prestige of being a thousand-year-old imperial capital and Byzantium itself too still had the prestige of basically being the Roman Empire still alive, thus making it the ultimate goal of the Ottomans to conquer it as the saying goes “whoever possesses Constantinople controls the world” as Constantinople was once the world’s greatest metropolis.
Other than the prestige Byzantium still had all the way up to the 15th century, Byzantium although no longer known for being a military power still had a great cultural influence and in its last years as Constantinople was decaying, one of Byzantium’s last holdings in the Peloponnese Peninsula in Southern Greece known as the Morea and particularly its capital Mystras would have an important part to play here as a place where art, culture, and education thrived despite the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople already weak and dying. In this chapter, Mystras will have a major part to play especially since it was here where new ideas formed and ancient ones revived such as the Ancient Greek Platonic philosophy which would later on play a major role in impacting the Renaissance in Italy. The 15th century is as well best remembered for being the century when the Middle Ages came to an end and when the Renaissance began and thrived especially in Italy, but what a lot do not realize is that the kick-start of the Renaissance in Italy can be attributed a lot to the Byzantines especially since throughout the Middle Ages, the Byzantines had preserved the ancient Greek and Roman knowledge of the past, but in the last years of Byzantine history due to Byzantium no longer being safe especially due to the expansion of the Ottomans, several scholars fled to especially to Italy with their texts containing ancient knowledge, which would soon enough begin a trend there in the revival of ancient knowledge in which most were in Greek which only these Byzantine scholars could understand and translate. It was then particularly the event of the Council of Florence from 1437-1440 wherein knowledge from Byzantium was brought into Italy as the Byzantine emperor John VIII himself visited Italy together with several Byzantine scholars in which some chose to stay behind in Italy. The 15th century was therefore true enough an era of major transition and change and a lot of this had to do with the Middle Ages fading away and a new age of learning, art, and science emerging in Europe known as the Renaissance wherein it would now be the rest of Europe’s turn to be more and more of an advanced society the way Byzantium was centuries ago- if you remember from chapter VII of this series set in the 10th century- when the rest of Europe was still in the Dark Ages, however for Byzantium it would be the other way around in the 15th century wherein they would be the ones left behind in time as the rest of Europe progressed. In the 15th century, the biggest challenge the Byzantines would have to face is to now give up their old ways and “Westernize” meaning to be more like how the rest of Europe was turning out to be in this era, but for Byzantium to change, this would mean taking away their soul which is the faith of Orthodoxy as to be at the same level as the rest of Europe they had to convert to the religion of the rest of Europe at that time which was Catholicism. As mentioned earlier, despite the Byzantine rulers of this time willing to submit to Catholicism to save their empire, the thought was strongly opposed by the proudly Orthodox Byzantine people which only did more harm than good to the already dying Byzantium. Now the climax of this story would start off in 1453, the exact same year Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, but here rather than the last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos choosing to fight to the end, he would initially surrender Constantinople to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II as a way to buy time and one day a few years later recapture Constantinople. As a more realistic approach, rather than Constantine XI suddenly receiving a last minute Crusade from the west sent by the pope to assist him while defending Constantinople from the Ottomans in 1453, I chose to have Constantine XI surrender at first and return to Mystras in the Morea wherein his brothers Demetrios and Thomas Palaiologos still remained as its governors or Despots, and it is here where Constantine would in the next few years organize a Crusade and personally go to Rome to once and for all submit to the pope and convert to Catholicism realizing it is the only way to get assistance from the more powerful west especially since he would be the one particularly asking for the Crusade.
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 is then a very well-known historical topic that was true enough made into many historical fiction books and live action series like the recent 2020 Netflix miniseries Rise of Empires: Ottoman (watch the trailer here), however most people when hearing of 1453 will just think about the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI battling against the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II. True enough it was not only Constantine XI that was resisting against the Ottomans as he did in fact have younger brothers in the Morea at the time he was emperor wherein one of them being Thomas was on Constantine’s side willing to also submit Byzantium to Catholicism in order to launch a Crusade against the Ottomans while the other brother Demetrios who for the longest time had bad blood with his brothers envying them strongly opposed Church unity and found it better to just continue having Byzantium as an Ottoman vassal despite Mehmed II unlike the other sultans before him being tired of having Byzantium as a vassal but instead wanting to conquer it once and for all. On the other hand, while Byzantium and the Ottomans were at war with each other, there were a number of famous rulers across the Balkans resisting the Ottoman expansion as well which included the independent Albanian lord George Kastrioti better known as “Skanderbeg” who once serving in the Ottoman army knew their tactics which made him later on be undefeatable by the Ottomans, the Hungarian general John Hunyadi who fought a number of battles against the Ottomans despite losing them but at the end still successfully resisted, and the Voivode or Prince of Wallachia Vlad III Tepes known as “the Impaler”, who would forever be remembered for his atrocities against the Ottomans and basically the basis of the famous “Dracula”. This story’s fictional climax wherein the final battle to recover Constantinople will then take place in 1458, 5 years after the actual fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, and here in 1458 Constantine XI would return to take back Constantinople from Mehmed II now with more assistance as here he would be aided by his brother Thomas as well as the Genoese mercenary general Giovanni Giustiniani- who did assist him in real history when defending Constantinople- while at the same time these great figures I just mentioned being Hunyadi, Skanderbeg, and Vlad III who were all contemporaries of Constantine XI would also come to his assistance as in real history neither of them came to Constantinople’s aid, but if they did then possibly Constantine XI’s side would have more of an advantage. In addition, I wanted to include one more power from Europe that would assist in the reconquest of Constantinople from the Ottomans, and here it would be the very unlikely choice of the Kingdom of Portugal which was also another rising power here in the 15th century.
Now having the Portuguese come to assist Byzantium here seems to be very odd and unlikely considering how far Portugal being at the far western edge of Europe along the Atlantic Ocean was to Byzantium, but here in this story it could be a possibility considering that with Byzantium converting to Catholicism, a Catholic power like Portugal would come to their aid, and out of all the powers that could come to assist Byzantium I chose Portugal for the sake of it being unlikely as for the Byzantines in their entire history of being in contact with several powers around the world, they never in fact had any contact with Portugal, thus this alternate history story would be this chance for the Portuguese and Byzantines to finally meet each other which is the kind of fantasy I always wanted to see happen. Now at this time in history, Portugal was in fact a growing power especially considering that it was here in the 15th century when they would also begin the Age of Exploration where they would develop faster ships known as caravels enabling them to sail down the Atlantic and discover new lands especially in Africa that no one else had seen before, and for this story it would be only fitting to have this new rising star of this era being Portugal to also have a part in assisting Byzantium.
Now with all these characters and countries mentioned, this chapter is thus set to be like no other as rather than just a Byzantine story, this chapter as the grand finale will be not only the story of Byzantium but of the Ottomans, Serbia, Albania, Hungary, Wallachia, Italy, and Portugal put together in one big epic. Now due to Portugal’s part in this story’s climax I chose to draw this story’s lead character and tragic hero Emperor Constantine XI in the art style of the Portuguese blue and white tiles. Now, this story’s climax will feature an epic battle like no other mentioned in this series levelling up from battles with Cataphract cavalry soldiers and Greek Fire to one with knights and armies in full plated armor, gunpowder weapons such as cannons and guns finally in use, and faster and more effective ships being the Portuguese caravels squaring off against the much smaller Ottoman ships, and true enough the 15th century saw a major change in the course of warfare with guns and cannons finally coming into the picture. Before moving on to the story itself, I would like to thank the Youtube channels Eastern Roman History and Kings and Generals for providing a good amount of information for this very eventful era especially on the Byzantine angle, while I would also like to thank the artists (Spatharokandidatos, Pyrasterran, FaisalHashemi, Elveo, HistoryGold777, Radialart, Badbuckle, R7artist, JohnJollos, Gambargin, and FlaviantheHistorian) whose works will be featured here in order to guide you viewers through the very action-packed 15th century, the concluding century of the 1,100-year history of Byzantium.
Story characters set1- Constantine XI Palaiologos, Mehmed II, George Sphrantzes, Demetrios Palaiologos, Thomas Palaiologos
Story characters set2- Loukas Notaras, Giovanni Giustiniani, Mara Brankovic, Basil Bessarion, Durad Brankovic
Story characters set3- John Hunyadi, Skanderbeg, Vlad III, Zaganos Pasha, Prince Ferdinand
Prologue- The Ottoman Expansion into the Balkans and the Reign of Manuel II Palaiologos (1389-1425)
Once the Ottomans from Asia Minor gained their first holding in Europe in 1354 which was the Byzantine city of Gallipoli along the European shore of the Dardanelles Strait separating Europe from Asia following the massive 1354 earthquake there, nothing was left to stop the Ottomans from expanding. Not too long after the Ottomans had first crossed into Europe, the Byzantine city of Adrianople in Thrace not too far from the imperial capital Constantinople was captured and turned into the new Ottoman capital renamed “Edirne”, thus Constantinople and its surroundings would now be surrounded by a sea of Ottoman territory.
By this point, the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople was only limited to just its capital and its surroundings, a few islands in the Aegean, and a region in the Peloponnese Peninsula in Southern Greece known as the Morea which was however isolated and cut off by land from Constantinople wherein only ships that were in fact not even Byzantine but hired from foreign powers particularly Italian ones were the only means of connection between Constantinople and the Morea. By the late 14th century, the glory days of Byzantium as a Mediterranean power with professional armies of Cataphracts and Varangian Guards, lavish banquets and functions, emperors sitting on a golden mechanically operated throne, secret superpowered weapons like Greek Fire defending the capital, and a cosmopolitan imperial capital of with a multi-ethnic population of about a million was long gone, instead Byzantium was reduced into an impoverished backwater state surrounded by Ottoman territory while the imperial capital of Constantinople was severely depopulated with a population of about only 50,000 with the rest having been killed off by the plague of Black Death in 1340s. Though Constantinople still had its centuries old impressive landmarks including the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia, the Theodosian Walls, and the Hippodrome they were however rundown and neglected to the point of being taken over by cobwebs, insects, and rats as the empire no longer had funds to maintain them anymore, the imperial Blachernae Palace too was run down where a long wooden dining table now appeared before the emperor’s throne, while at the same time there were already patches of farmland within Constantinople’s walls. Though no matter how much of a shell of its former self Byzantium became, it still had the great prestige of being the surviving relic of the centuries old Roman Empire which is why Constantinople itself was such a great prize for the new Ottoman Turkish power to conquer.
The emperor at this point John V Palaiologos who had ruled the empire since he was a child in 1341 although with a few interruptions tried all he could to keep his empire alive as the Ottomans rapidly expanded around him, but when seeing there was no other choice as John V had been turned down every time he asked for assistance from foreign powers such as the Kingdom of Hungary and the Papacy, John V decided to peacefully surrender Byzantium as a vassal to the Ottoman sultan Murad I who was the 3rd Ottoman sultan that had been in power since 1362. With the Byzantine Empire as an Ottoman vassal, the emperor had to pay annual tribute, provide the Ottomans with young Christian boys wherein they would convert to Islam and serve as the Ottomans’ toughest and most loyal soldiers known as the Janissaries, and basically do whatever the sultan ordered him to do. Although no matter how humiliating the idea was of the once proud Byzantine Empire having to submit to the Ottomans as vassal, this at least spared Byzantium from being conquered and wiped off the map by the Ottomans, thus allowing the Ottomans to fight wars against Byzantium’s northern neighbors in the Balkans being Serbia and Bulgaria in which the Ottomans intended to conquer both. As for Serbia here in the 1380s, just 3 decades earlier they were the dominant power of the Balkans being the Serbian Empire but this golden age Serbia however did not last as immediately after the death of the Serbian Empire’s founder and only great ruler Stefan IV Dusan in 1355, Serbia fell into ruin breaking apart into various independent states ruled by their own powerful magnates. In 1387 however, one of these powerful Serbian magnates which was Prince Lazar with a united force of Serbians and Bosnians won a surprising victory over the expanding Ottomans at the Battle of Plocnik, although in the same year the Byzantine city of Thessaloniki in Greece fell to the Ottomans as well after a 4-year siege.
Now due to his victory over the Ottomans in 1387, Prince Lazar felt the confidence to reunite the fractured states of Serbia and revive the Serbian Empire of Dusan that died out 3 decades earlier, thus Prince Lazar began to organize a massive army intending to once and for all drive the Ottomans away from the Balkans. On June 15 of 1389, the massive Serbian army of Prince Lazar then confronted the massive Ottoman army led by their sultan Murad I himself at the Battle of Kosovo in which the site of the battle was known as the “Field of Blackbirds”. Though no matter how large the Serbian army was here, at the end they were still surrounded by the Ottoman forces and thus defeated, and to finish off the last remains of the Serbian forces, Murad I sent a large number of his men to chase the fleeing Serbians though this also left Murad undefended which then caused the Serbian knight Milos Obilic to break into Murad’s tent and assassinate Murad on the spot, although right after killing Murad Milos was immediately cut down and killed by the sultan’s guards.
As the battle came to an end, the Serbian army’s leader Prince Lazar too was captured and executed which led to the collapse of the Serbian army here as they no longer had a leader, and as for the Ottomans although they suffered a lot of casualties in this battle, they at least won which then allowed them to continue their expansion into the Balkans. Following Murad I’s death, his son who was also present in this battle commanding a division of the Ottoman army immediately came to power after the battle as the new Ottoman sultan Bayezid I, and following the Ottoman victory over the Serbians, Bayezid I to seal an alliance with the defeated Serbians married the slain Prince Lazar’s daughter Olivera Despina whose brother then which was Stefan Lazarevic, son of Prince Lazar was made the Ottoman vassal Prince of Serbia ruling Serbia’s northern portion as the entire south of Serbia fell under direct Ottoman rule, therefore Serbia would now be forced to ally with the Ottomans and join their future campaigns. In the meantime back in the Byzantine Empire, the emperor John V in 1390 was suddenly overthrown by his 20-year-old grandson becoming Emperor John VII Palaiologos, who rebelled and overthrew his grandfather to continue what his father started and failed to do as apparently John VII’s father Andronikos IV Palaiologos had rebelled against and had overthrown his father thus becoming emperor for 3 years (1376-1379), however John V being assisted by Murad I took back the throne in 1379 forcing his son Andronikos to surrender, although Andronikos in 1385 decided to rebel again but suddenly died before he could launch another rebellion, which therefore left the job of rebelling against John V to his son.
After travelling to Genoa in Italy himself to get some support from the Genoese government, John VII who also got support from the new Ottoman sultan Bayezid I was able to oust his grandfather out of Constantinople and seize the throne, however the deposed John V managed to escape to the Aegean island of Lemnos where his other and more loyal son Manuel Palaiologos was and just 5 months later, John V was able to take the throne back from his grandson with the help of Manuel and the Knights of Rhodes while the young John VII was forced to flee back to his base which was the port town of Selymbria west of Constantinople, although John VII would still not give up his imperial title.
When back in power, the old John V decided to continue being a vassal of the new Ottoman sultan Bayezid I, thus part of the agreement was for John to send his grown-up son Manuel as a hostage to the court of Bayezid in both Bursa in Asia Minor and Edirne in Thrace where Manuel was to join in the sultan’s military campaigns. Feeling that his rule was once again secured, John V ordered the repair of the damaged Golden Gate of Constantinople’s Walls, however Sultan Bayezid I saw John V repairing the gate as a threat especially since John repaired it without Bayezid’s permission, and being an Ottoman vassal the Byzantine emperor could not do even the slightest thing such as repairing the gate without the sultan’s permission, thus Bayezid sent John an ultimatum to tear down the Golden Gate he had just repaired or else his son Manuel who was in Bayezid’s court was to be blinded. John V not wanting to lose another son who would succeed him, as his eldest son Andronikos already died back in 1385 complied with the sultan’s orders and so he ordered the gate he just repaired torn down, however John could no longer live from the humiliation of this as true enough he lived a life of constant humiliation and stress, and so in one February night of 1391 John V decided to end his tragic life, and so the 58-year-old John V killed himself in the peaceful way of possibly poisoning his wine, and in the next day he was found dead on his bed. Now John V’s eldest surviving son Manuel who was in Bursa when hearing of his father’s death by suicide returned to Constantinople at the dead of night without even asking permission from his master Sultan Bayezid as Manuel needed to get to Constantinople and be crowned before his nephew John VII would as John VII true enough had still not yet given up his claim to the throne.
Manuel luckily made it right in time back to Constantinople in 1391 to be crowned as Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, and as the new emperor Manuel II decided to continue in having Byzantium as an Ottoman vassal while Bayezid I too had forgiven Manuel for leaving Bursa at the dead of night without asking permission, however Bayezid still preferred to have the young John VII instead of Manuel II as Byzantine emperor. Manuel II despite being already 42 by 1392 still remained unmarried as he was both never arranged to marry anyone and had no time to do so, but as emperor and finally having the time to do so, Manuel here married the 20-year-old Serbian princess Helena Dragas, daughter of the Ottoman vassal Serbian prince Konstantin Dejanovic, and despite the age gap between Manuel and Helena their marriage would turn out to be a happy one. Meanwhile, as Bayezid I had Byzantium as a vassal, Byzantine troops were sent to assist the Ottomans in their campaigns into the Asia Minor in which Bayezid would conquer the last remaining Turkish feudal states or Beyliks there that were still not yet under the Ottomans, while at the same time Bayezid also continued his conquests in the Balkans, most particularly his wars against the now deteriorating 2nd Bulgarian Empire which had formed some 2 centuries earlier when the Bulgarian population rebelled against Byzantine rule due to heavy taxation imposed on them by the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195) and after crushing all Byzantine attempts to recapture Bulgaria, the Bulgaria became a full independent empire.
By the end of the 14th century however, the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was already weak and divided between two rulers the brothers Tsar Ivan Shishman ruling from the city of Tarnovo and Tsar Ivan Sratsimir ruling from the city of Vidin in Western Bulgaria. In 1393, Bayezid I’s Ottoman forces then laid siege to Tarnovo which was once the united 2nd Bulgarian Empire’s capital, and with the defending Bulgarians unable to resist the attacking Ottomans, Tarnovo was captured by the Ottomans while its ruler Ivan Shishman fled and would be captured and executed by the Ottomans 2 years later, thus leaving Vidin as the last Bulgarian holding for one more year. The fall of Tarnovo to the Ottomans in 1393 then ended the existence of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire making Sultan Bayezid I be the second “Bulgar-Slayer” for slaying the Bulgarian Empire, although instead Bayezid was known as “the Thunderbolt”, while the original “Bulgar-Slayer” was the Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025) who in 1018 conquered the original Bulgarian Empire that had been Byzantium’s neighbor being both is ally and enemy since the late 7th century, though this event in 1393 would then once and for all end Bulgaria’s time as a medieval empire putting it now not again under Byzantium but under full Ottoman rule.
Back to the Byzantines, Manuel II began to feel that his nephew John VII who was still in Selymbria might once again launch a coup to take over throne, thus Manuel attempted to solve the tension between them diplomatically, which however turned out to be another violation of the treaty with the Ottomans, as again Manuel was doing something without the sultan’s permission. In response to this act of violation by Manuel, Bayezid I first considered executing Manuel although he instead demanded that Manuel turn the Genoese colony of Galata in Constantinople into an Ottoman colony with a mosque. Manuel II now tired of being bullied by the Ottoman sultan then proceeded to do something very bold yet foolish which was suddenly refusing to pay annual tribute to Bayezid and also no longer responding to all of Bayezid’s letters leading to Bayezid becoming more enraged than ever, thus in 1394 Bayezid began laying siege to Constantinople by blockading it as after all Bayezid’s lifelong dream was to conquer Constantinople.
To enable his conquest, Bayezid constructed a large fortress in the Asian side of the Bosporus Strait known as the Anadoluhisari in Turkish meaning “Fortress of Asia” at the narrowest part of the Bosporus to block of all ships coming from the Black Sea to assist Constantinople while supplies could also not come from the Aegean as the Dardanelles Strait too that connected the Aegean to the Marmara Sea where Constantinople was too was under Ottoman control. The people of Constantinople however soon enough began to get used to life under a blockade as they were apparently able to sustain themselves with the farmland inside the walls.
In the meantime, there was one chance of salvation for Constantinople here as in 1394 as well, the King of Hungary Sigismund was organizing a Crusade consisting of armies from all across the kingdoms of Europe intending to expel the Ottomans from Europe once and for all as apparently Hungary too began feeling threatened by the Ottomans’ expansion due to the Ottomans crushing the Serbians at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, crushing and annexing the Bulgarian Empire in 1393, and now laying siege to Constantinople. Although busy in blockading Constantinople, Bayezid I was also busy fighting a war with the rich and dark forested though politically unstable Principality of Wallachia or the “Land of the Vlachs” which now also felt threatened by the Ottomans as their southern neighbor being Bulgaria had just fallen, and so in 1395 the Prince of Wallachia Mircea I with his army clashed against the Ottoman army together with their Serbian vassals led by Bayezid I himself at the Battle of Rovine in Wallachia, and here for the first time Bayezid I was defeated due to the Wallachians using guerilla warfare, though Bayezid still survived but the Serbian prince and Manuel II’s father-in-law Konstantin Dejanovic who was present here assisting Bayezid as his vassal was slain in battle against the Wallachians.
Feeling the Ottoman threat was still at large despite winning, Prince Mircea then agreed to join the Crusade organized by King Sigismund of Hungary, and in 1396 despite the rest of Europe in conflict with each other most notably France and England fighting the Hundred-Years’-War with each other, they still sent troops to join Sigismund’s Crusade, while other armies from the Hospitaller and Teutonic Knights, Burgundy, Aragon, Poland, Bohemia, and Italy as well as ships from both the Republics of Venice and Genoa all took up arms joining the Crusade of Hungary and Wallachia against the Ottomans. The massive Crusader army of about 100,000 led by Sigismund then marched south to Bulgaria wherein Bayezid I who was besieging Constantinople quickly marched north when hearing about this, thus the army of Sigismund’s Crusade confronted the Ottoman army of only 30,000 which included Serbian allies too led by the Serbian vassal prince and brother-in-law Stefan Lazarevic at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396.
At the end of the day, no matter how well organized this Crusader army was which consisted of knights in full plate armor and archers armed with powerful longbows, they still suffered a defeat to the Ottomans while King Sigismund in fact barely escaped back to Hungary with his life, although the Ottomans too suffered many casualties but this still did not stop the Ottomans from conquering the last Bulgarian holding which was the city of Vidin later on in 1396. With nothing anymore in the way of the Ottomans, Bayezid I now put all his attention in capturing Constantinople, however Manuel II who was defending it still did not want to surrender that in 1397 he even sent word to the King of France to send a reinforcement army of knights to defend Constantinople, and true enough an army of 1,200 French knights led by the French general Marshal Jean Boucicaut came to the aid of Constantinople.
With the help of these French knights, the Byzantines still managed to defend Constantinople for more than year but by 1399 the Marshal Jean had to return home to France while he also convinced Manuel to travel himself to the courts of the kings of Western Europe if he desperately wanted military aid, and so in December of 1399 Manuel II recalled his nephew John VII from Selymbria assigning him to defend Constantinople with some 300 French knights while Manuel departed for Western Europe. Before travelling to Western Europe, Manuel first left behind his wife Helena and their 3 sons in the Morea under the care of Manuel’s brother the Despot of the Morea Theodore I Palaiologos as Manuel feared that if his wife and sons were left behind in Constantinople, John VII might harm them as after all John VII had not yet given up his claim to the throne. In early 1400 Manuel II and Jean arrived in Venice from where they headed north to Milan, and from there north to France wherein Jean returned home while Manuel proceeded to the suburbs Paris, the Kingdom of France’s capital meeting the King of France Charles VI of the Valois Dynasty and from there they proceeded to the king’s palace which was the Louvre.
In Paris, Charles VI treated Manuel as a special guest entertaining him with banquets and hunting trips and no matter how well received Manuel was, Charles VI was still quite blind to the Ottoman threat and rather than providing Manuel with real assistance, Charles only went as far as sending another army of 1,200 French knights to assist Constantinople. Seeing that he did not gain much from the King of France, Manuel then decided to travel north across the channel to England being the first Roman emperor since Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) who was also the first Byzantine emperor more than a thousand years earlier to set foot in the island of Britain. By this point in 1400, the King of England Henry IV of the Lancaster Dynasty had only been in power for about a year recently just overthrowing his cousin the last Plantagenet King of England Richard II (r. 1377-1399), and by this point as well it had been about 1,000 years since the Roman forces of the Western Roman Empire left and abandoned Britain.
In December of 1400, Manuel arrived in England personally meeting its king Henry IV, and for the next 2 months Manuel would stay at Eltham Palace which was one of the royal palaces in London wherein he would spend Christmas and New Years’ in, and true enough Manuel was treated so well by the king that a joust was even held in his honor. The English chroniclers at the king’s court meanwhile were in awe but also perplexed of Manuel and his Byzantine entourage’s exotic look with their long beards and golden robes seeing them as a kind of weird cult, while Manuel on the other hand describes that Henry IV was a good ruler who was generous enough to provide him with a generous donation of 2,000 pounds intended for the defense of Constantinople. Not receiving anything more from Henry IV, Manuel left England in February of 1401 returning to France wherein he would reside for an entire year in the Louvre still feeling it would be unsafe to return to Constantinople which was still under siege. During his stay in the Louvre, Manuel sent letters with important holy relics to a number of rulers across Europe including the pope Boniface IX, Queen Margaret I of Denmark, King Martin of Aragon, and King Charles III of Navarre in order to ask them for further assistance, but in return none of them came to his aid as they all had problems of their own. Fortunately Manuel II received some good news for once from Constantinople later in 1402 and this good news was that the Ottoman threat suddenly vanished as out of the blue, the powerful yet deadly and brutal ruler of the new Turco-Mongol empire of Central Asia Timur also known as “Tamerlane” out of the blue invaded Ottoman Asia Minor forcing Sultan Bayezid I to abandon his siege of Constantinople to confront Timur’s forces and at the Battle of Ankara in Asia Minor in July of 1402, Bayezid I who seemed unbeatable in battle suffered a heavy defeat to the powerful Turco-Mongol army of Timur.
At the Battle of Ankara in July of 1402, Bayezid I “the Thunderbolt” commanded an army of 60,000 of Ottomans as well as Serbian allies again led by his brother-in-law Prince Stefan Lazarevic of Serbia while Timur on the other hand who attacked Asia Minor as a result of Bayezid expanding Ottoman territory too far into the east exposing himself to Timur’s new empire commanded an army of 90,000 mostly made up of fully armored Turkic horse archers and Indian war elephants.
Timur had after all since he began his reign in the 1370s achieved a large number of victories wherein he managed to conquer Persia and even parts of Northern India and Russia through terror, thus by having so much experience especially in conquering entire kingdoms mercilessly, he managed to defeat Bayezid I in battle thus throwing the Ottoman Empire into chaos and anarchy as their sultan Bayezid I himself after his defeat was captured and brought over thousands of kilometers away to Timur’s capital of Samarkand in Central Asia inside a cage, and in the following year (1403) Bayezid I would die there in captivity. Following Timur’s victory, he and his forces freely raided and pillaged Asia Minor mercilessly killing off its inhabitants and when taking as much loot as they wanted, Timur decided to return east as after all he only wanted to pillage Asia Minor as his main objective to conquer was Ming Dynasty China.
Now Timur’s main objective really was to restore the Mongol Empire of his ancestor Genghis Khan (r. 1206-1227) to its dominance as a power that controlled almost all of Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe some 200 years earlier which is why he intended to conquer Northern India, Persia, Asia Minor, Russia, parts of the Middle East, and China as they were all once under the Mongol Empire until it fragmented wherein some of the Mongol successor states like the Ilkhanate of Persia disintegrated while the Chagatai Khanate of Central Asia which Timur came to rule rose up again, and Timur at the same time too wanted to establish his empire as an Islamic cultural superpower as his branch of the Mongols had in fact adopted the religion of Islam.
On the other hand, as Manuel returned home to Constantinople in 1403, he sent tribute money to Timur convincing Timur to not attack the severely reduced Byzantium, but true enough Timur had no such intention as here he was already making preparations to invade China and return it to Mongol rule, however Timur would never achieve this dream as in 1405 before launching his invasion of China, he died at 70 and thus his Timurid Empire would no longer be much of a threat. Now, thanks to Timur’s unlikely intervention in crushing the Ottomans at Ankara, the Byzantines would now be given a great relief as this terrible defeat caused the Ottoman Empire to collapse after just about 100 years of existing, and here civil war would erupt between the sons of Bayezid wherein one of Bayezid’s sons Prince Suleiman took control of Ottoman territory in Europe allying himself with Byzantium, while Bayezid’s other son Prince Mehmed was recognized by Timur as the ruler of Asia Minor that would be vassals of the Timurid Empire, and also as a result of Bayezid’s capture the Serbian prince Stefan Lazarevic declared Serbia once again independent and no longer an Ottoman vassal as his loyalty was only to Bayezid and not his sons.
By sealing an alliance with Prince Suleiman, the Byzantines fortunately were able to gain back a number of lands they had lost to the Ottomans and this included the city of Thessaloniki itself, a long strip along the Black Sea coast all the way up north to Mesembria in Bulgaria, the Khalkidhiki Peninsula in Northern Greece, and in fact even getting back some land in Asia Minor along the Marmara coast across Constantinople from Scutari to Nicomedia as part of the treaty, while the Byzantines too would stop paying tribute to the Ottomans as well. Now Manuel’s nephew John VII who stayed behind to defend Constantinople apparently did a good job assisted by the few French knights left behind, and the moment Manuel returned to Constantinople, John VII who was able to regain these said lands through the treaty with Prince Suleiman dutifully surrendered control of Constantinople back to his uncle as after all John VII really just wanted some control over Constantinople for a time, and for his loyalty and renouncing his claim to the throne, Manuel rewarded John VII by making him governor of Thessaloniki in which they just gained back from the Ottomans, thus John VII would rule Thessaloniki as its governor until his death not too long after in 1408 never giving his uncle the emperor a hard time anymore, while Manuel’s wife and sons too would return to Constantinople from the Morea at this time.
With the Ottomans now facing a civil war between its princes known as the “Ottoman Interregnum”, Manuel II would now be given a chance to rule his empire in peace and in this period of peace, he turned to continuing Byzantium’s Palaiologan Renaissance by promoting art, culture, and literature in his empire as apart from being a highly skilled diplomat emperor, Manuel was also known to be serious, highly cultured, and devoted scholar and theologian making him have a vision of a highly cultured and educated Byzantium which for the past decades could not have been a reality due to all the wars and disasters the Byzantines had to face, however this would be the last time Byzantium would enjoy a period of peace. In the meantime, Suleiman being the most ambitious of the warring Ottoman princes put his claim on Asia Minor thus marching there but Mehmed who was the crowned-prince had counter-attacked by sending his allied brother Prince Musa to the Balkans to attack Suleiman’s territory which then forced Suleiman to return back to defend his territory. In 1410, Suleiman then defeated Musa’s forces in battle although Musa still escaped alive, and though Suleiman was victorious his troops were however unhappy with him thus they killed him and all defected to Musa’s side.
Following Suleiman’s death, Musa then proclaimed himself the ruler of Europe taking over from Suleiman, thus declaring rebellion against his brother Mehmed in Asia Minor and out of revenge on the Byzantines for being his brother Suleiman’s ally, Musa decided to lay siege to Constantinople in 1411. With Constantinople again put under siege although a much smaller one this time, Manuel II then turned to diplomacy to save Constantinople, thus he allied himself with Mehmed who became Musa’s enemy and so Manuel asked Mehmed to cross over to Europe to defeat his brother Musa. When Mehmed arrived outside Constantinople, he managed to help lift Musa’s siege forcing Musa to flee deep into the Balkans.
It would only be in 1413 when Mehmed and Musa would once again clash in battle, and here in 1413 Mehmed with the help of a small army sent by Manuel II and from Stefan Lazarevic of Serbia defeated Musa’s forces in a battle in Bulgaria killing Musa in the process, thus ending this 11-year period of anarchy in the Ottoman Empire and once again restoring order. With the Ottoman interregnum over, Mehmed I became the full Ottoman sultan and due to Manuel II helping him take over the Ottoman Empire, both rulers would be in good terms with each other while Byzantium would once again no longer have to pay tribute, and now with the Byzantines and Ottomans having established friendly terms with each other, Mehmed I would then focus his attention in taking back lands in Asia Minor and also in conquering the independent feudal states of Albania as this part of the Balkans had not yet fallen under the Ottomans. As part of Mehmed I’s conquests of Albania, one Albanian feudal lord which was John Kastrioti in 1415 surrendered himself as a vassal to Mehmed and in the process, he also sent his 10-year-old son George Kastrioti to Mehmed’s court in Edirne as a Janissary, wherein George would later be known to the Ottomans as “Skanderbeg”.
With Manuel II and Mehmed I in a more or less peaceful co-existence with each other, Manuel then turned to assigning his 3 eldest sons to control different parts of the empire thus he made his eldest son John his co-emperor in 1414 as Manuel was starting to age, then in 1415 he appointed his second son Theodore as the Despot of the Morea based in its capital Mystras wherein Theodore now as Despot Theodore II would succeed his uncle Manuel’s younger brother Theodore I who had died back in 1407, while at the same time Manuel had already appointed his 3rd son Andronikos who despite being weak-minded and sickly as the Governor of Thessaloniki as the previous governor Manuel’s nephew John VII had died back in 1408, while on the other hand Manuel’s 3 younger sons were both still too young to be given positions while there was also no longer much land in the empire to assign them to anymore.
In 1415 when Manuel travelled to the Morea to appoint his son Theodore II as its despot, Manuel did a tour of the Peloponnese Peninsula and here he ordered the construction of wall across the entire Isthmus of Corinth, the small piece of land that connected the Peloponnese to mainland Greece, and this wall that was built here was known as the Hexamilion or “6-mile wall” in which its purpose was to further defend the Morea from attackers from the north. When visiting the Morea and particularly Mystras, Manuel came to believe that if ever Constantinople was to fall, Byzantine civilization would continue to thrive in Mystras as after all Constantinople had grown more and more insignificant while its location too made it very vulnerable for future Ottoman attacks if Mehmed I’s successors were to again resume war with Byzantium, while Mystras on the other hand was in a safe location being found on the high the slopes of the mountains above the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Sparta, thus making its location a hard one to attack which would therefore allow learning and culture to thrive there.
This period of peace between the Byzantines and Ottomans would however unfortunately not last as in 1421, Sultan Mehmed I after making a quick stop in Constantinople to attend a function hosted by Manuel II as Mehmed was returning back to Bursa in Asia Minor from a military campaign in the Balkans, Mehmed suddenly died only in his 30s when returning to Bursa, thus only ruling for 8 years as a legitimate sultan. Mehmed I was then succeeded by his son Murad II as sultan who was however only 17, while in 1421 as well Manuel already reaching his 70s decided he was too old to run the empire alone, thus he went into retirement leaving his eldest son John to be practically in control of the empire while Manuel only ruled in title, and now the new rulers were not entirely interested in maintaining diplomatic ties with each other the way Manuel and Mehmed did. Byzantium now practically under John had turned out to make quite a risky and foolish move when they attempted to get Murad II away by starting a rebellion within the Ottoman Empire by backing a man named Mustafa who claimed to be the long-lost son of Bayezid I that returned from captivity in Samarkand in rebelling against Murad II. The rebellion of Mustafa was however quickly defeated by Murad II in 1422 and again out of revenge on the Byzantines for supporting the rebel Mustafa, Murad II shortly after once again put Constantinople under the siege the way his uncle Musa did back in 1411 with the same reason as well which was for plain revenge, thus Murad II here did not really have a large enough army to fully capture Constantinople and end Byzantine rule.
The co-emperor John in charge of Constantinople was the one here this time to defend it against the Ottomans, however as Constantinople was under siege Manuel II came out of retirement to again use diplomacy to save Constantinople and this time, Manuel found a way to pay off Murad II’s younger brother also named Mustafa to rebel which then forced Murad II to abandon his siege on Constantinople and rush back to Asia Minor to deal with his brother Mustafa in which Murad succeeded in defeating. Constantinople was then once again saved from another Ottoman siege, however Manuel later in 1402 suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed, thus Manuel retired to become a monk using the name Matthew, while his son John from now on really ruled the empire. In the meantime as Murad II put Constantinople under siege, he sent an army to attack the Morea and destroy the Hexamilion Wall Manuel had just built to simply punish the Byzantines while Murad also blockaded Thessaloniki, and though his siege of Constantinople was lifted, Thessaloniki could no longer resist and so in 1423 its governor Manuel’s son Andronikos sold off the whole city of Thessaloniki itself to the Republic of Venice hoping they would defend it better against the Ottomans, thus Andronikos would return to Constantinople to retire as a monk while the Byzantines from here on would forever lose Thessaloniki.
In 1423 as well, Manuel now having recovered but also traumatized from Murad’s attack the previous year decided to do one last trip to Europe to ask for assistance, this time to Buda, the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary wherein his father John V travelled to many decades earlier in 1366, and at this point King Sigismund who led the failed Crusade in 1396 that was defeated by Bayezid I at the Battle of Nicopolis was still Hungary’s king in addition to being King of Germany since 1411. Just like his father many decades earlier, Manuel II here was turned down by the King of Hungary as Sigismund true enough suffered a heavy defeat to the Ottomans at Nicopolis, thus Sigismund came to believe nothing could stop the Ottoman expansion anymore, however Sigismund at this point also had his own problems to deal with in his own lands and this was particularly a civil war in Bohemia known as the Hussite Wars against a militant heretical branch of Christianity known as the Hussites, thus Sigismund needed most his own forces to defend against the Hussites who were many in number. Manuel II then returned back to Constantinople empty handed once more and the worst part was that in 1424, he had to do the humiliating thing once again of signing a treaty together with his son John that would make Byzantium an Ottoman vassal once again to ensure its survival as Murad II unlike his father really intended end Byzantium’s existence, thus the Ottomans were back again as Byzantium’s overlord that would continue to bully it. Manuel II Palaiologos then died at the age of 75 in 1425 as a broken man although as a monk while his son and co-emperor John was away in Rome at this time to seek an alliance with the pope, though Manuel on the other hand left behind a number of philosophical works written in his time as emperor.
The Reign of John VIII Palaiologos, the last Victories of the Byzantines, and the Resurgence of the Ottomans (1425-1448)
The Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos who died in 1425 had a total of 6 children with his wife Empress Helena Dragas the Serbian princess, and all these 6 children were boys with the eldest of them being John who was born in 1392 and named after his grandfather Emperor John V succeeded his father as the senior emperor John VIII Palaiologos who was however still in Rome when hearing of his father’s death.
Here, John who is in Rome after hearing about the death of his father immediately rushed back to Constantinople to be crowned as the new senior emperor at the age of 33, and in personality John was wise, practical, and diplomatic much like his late father. Now the second son of Manuel and Helena which was Theodore II at this point in 1425 still ruled as the Despot of the Morea and although he was very much unambitious and lazy, he still did not want to step down from power while the 3rd son on the other hand which was Andronikos who was previously in charge of Thessaloniki but surrendered it to the Venetians in 1423 had already chosen to retire as a monk and stay away from politics due to his bad health. Meanwhile, the 4th son of Manuel and Helena which was Constantine Palaiologos who was born in 1405 in Constantinople and named after his maternal grandfather- Helena’s father the Serbian prince Konstantin Dejanovic who was killed in the battle against Wallachia in 1395- was a large and muscular man although not very tall but still courageous and adventurous, highly skilled in military matters, as well as in martial arts, horsemanship, and hunting much like the legendary great brave warrior Byzantine emperors centuries ago, although Constantine too was very superstitious but also loyal to his family and empire making him the favorite brother of John VIII. Now the 5th son of Manuel and Helena which was Demetrios Palaiologos who was born in 1407 happened to be the most neglected of the brothers which made him the most selfish and rebellious of the 6 when grown up, however Demetrios only arrived back in the Byzantine Empire in 1427, 2 years after his father’s death as for the past 4 years Demetrios had been living in the court of the King of Hungary Sigismund in Buda feeling that the Hungarian king could protect him from his brothers who constantly gave him a problem, and even though returning to Byzantium in 1427 Demetrios was still granted nothing by his eldest brother the emperor. Lastly the youngest of the 6 sons which was Thomas Palaiologos who was born in 1409 was a large and intimidating man, although being the youngest of the brothers he basically just did whatever he was told.
It also happened that in 1427 the former Ottoman vassal Prince of Serbia Stefan Lazarevic had died and without naming an heir, both the Ottomans and the Kingdom of Hungary came close to the point of having a war with each other over the vacant Serbia, until one of the Ottoman vassal Serbian nobles Durad Brankovic who previously took part fighting with the Ottomans against Timur at Ankara in 1402 also here in 1427 stepped up and claimed the vacant throne of Serbia agreeing to be a vassal prince or “despot” of both the Ottomans and Hungary to prevent either side from invading Serbia, thus Serbia would become the buffer zone between the Ottomans and Hungary. In 1427 as well, the Morea in southern Greece which was under Despot Theodore II Palaiologos became threatened by Carlo I Tocco, the independent Italian ruler of the Ionian Sea islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos who constantly raided the coasts of Byzantine Morea with the pirate fleet he commanded, and Theodore who was quite an ineffective ruler could barely stop the pirate attacks that the action had to be done by the emperor John VIII himself.
Later in 1427, John VIII together with his brother Constantine and Constantine’s childhood friend and now secretary George Sphrantzes travelled by ship from Constantinople to the Morea to settle down the conflict with Carlo Tocco through diplomacy, however the negotiations failed leading to a minor naval battle along the Western coast of the Morea between the last remains of the Byzantine fleet commanded by Constantine and the pirate fleet of Carlo. The Byzantines however still won the battle defeating Carlo’s fleet, thus in 1428 Carlo agreed to a peace treaty with the Byzantines wherein he returned the islands and parts of the Morea he conquered from Byzantium along the Western coast back to the Byzantines, and to further seal the deal Carlo also married off his niece Theodora to Constantine. For Constantine’s victory against the Italian pirates in the Ionian and reclaiming most of the Peloponnese, John VIII rewarded him by appointing him as Despot of the Morea, however Constantine’s brother Theodore II was still in power as Despot of the Morea, and despite being unambitious Theodore still refused to give up his rule over the Morea, thus both Theodore and Constantine had to share their rule over the Morea. Additionally, John VIII in 1428 as well appointed his youngest brother Thomas who was only 19 as an additional Despot of the Morea thus making the Morea have 3 rulers simultaneously, and while John VIII as the emperor basically in control of just Constantinople would for the next years not really do much, the action from here on would all take place in the Morea with the 3 brothers. Seeing that the entire Byzantine Morea (Peloponnese) was not sufficient enough in land for all 3 brothers to control, the 3 all decided that they should attack and conquer the still surviving but already weakened Latin Principality of Achaea, one of the many states the Crusaders in 1204 established when carving up the remains of Byzantine territory.
Although the restored Byzantine emperor and founder of the current Palaiologos Dynasty Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) after restoring Byzantium in 1261 managed to take back the southeast part of the Peloponnese for Byzantium in 1263, thus establishing the city of Mystras which became the major Byzantine city there, the Latin Principality of Achaea still survived, although by the 15th century it was basically reduced to just the northern Peloponnese. Now by 1429, Constantine, Theodore II, and Thomas joined forces in attacking the Principality of Achaea’s strategic port city of Patras along the northern coast of the Morea, however due to Theodore’s laziness and Thomas’ inexperience due to his young age, the conquest of Patras failed leaving Theodore and Thomas to abandon the campaign, though the courageous Constantine still chose to continue it himself together with his secretary George Sphrantzes.
Constantine’s siege of Patras that would then go on for 3 months turned out to be a difficult and hopeless one that in one occasion Constantine’s horse was shot by an arrow and killed while Constantine was on it thus nearly killing Constantine if not for George saving his life. Eventually the last Latin knights and soldiers defending Patras surrendered to Constantine accepting him as their overlord, thus Patras after about 225 years of Latin occupation returned to Byzantine rule with George appointed by Constantine as Patras’ Byzantine governor, however the Prince of Achaea which was the Italian Centurione II Zaccaria was still alive and following the fall of Patras to the Byzantines, he retreated to the inland region of Arcadia in the Peloponnese which would here be the last holding of the Latin Principality of Achaea. In the meantime, the 3rd son Andronikos who retired as a monk in Constantinople since 1423 had died in 1429 at the young age of 29 due to sickness while Thessaloniki which was now under the Venetians could no longer resist against the Ottomans that were blockading it, thus in 1430 Thessaloniki once again fell under the rule of the Ottomans, and this time for good. Later in 1429, Constantine experience the tragedy of the death of his wife Theodora Tocco after more than just a year of marriage which resulted in no children.
Now due to Constantine crushing the Principality of Achaea which however happened to be an Ottoman vassal as well, the Ottoman sultan Murad II furious about Constantine who was also his vassal attacking another Ottoman vassal which was Achaea sent an Ottoman army led by his general Turahan Bey in 1431 to attack Byzantine Morea by land not to invade it but to pillage it just to teach Constantine and his brothers a lesson that as Ottoman vassals, they should not mess around with their other fellow vassals. The Ottoman devastation over the Morea however was only minimal and now with the Byzantines secured, the youngest brother Thomas made a deal with the defeated Prince of Achaea Centurione II wherein Thomas would marry Centurione’s daughter Caterina Zaccaria as a way to finally put an end to more than 200 years of the Latin Principality of Achaea, and in 1432 following the death of Centurione II as the last Prince of Achaea, the Principality of Achaea itself ceased to exist as Thomas who now married the late prince’s daughter inherited the entire Principality of Achaea. Rather than taking the title of “Prince of Achaea”, Thomas decided to abolish it and choose to simply be “Despot of the Morea”, and now in 1432 the entire Peloponnese Peninsula was again fully under Byzantine rule, except for a few port towns which were under Venice.
With the entire Peloponnese under Byzantine rule once again, Constantine and his brothers Theodore II and Thomas would now come to the point of co-existing as rulers of the entire peninsula with their own capitals as Theodore would be based in the thriving mountain city of Mystras, Constantine in the fortress city of Kalavryta in the north of the Morea, and Thomas based in the Ancient Greek city of Elis in the west of the Morea.
Meanwhile, the Byzantine emperor John VIII in Constantinople in his lifetime had been married twice, although the first wife died back in 1417 before he was emperor, while the second wife had divorced him without warning in 1426, and now John was married for the 3rd time, here to the Byzantine princess Maria Komnene from the Byzantine successor state of the Empire of Trebizond at the far eastern corner of Asia Minor along the Black Sea founded in 1204 which in the 1430s was still existing, however both of John’s first two marriages failed to produce children while the 3rd so far too had not produced any. Having no children so far, John VIII whose favorite brother was Constantine considered naming him his heir in case John died without a son and thus John called Constantine to come over to Constantinople in 1435, which however only made Theodore suspicious thinking his brother John was going to make Constantine co-emperor making Theodore follow Constantine to Constantinople leaving Thomas as the only brother to watch over the Morea. However, John VIII only called Constantine to come over to Constantinople to just stay behind as its regent as here John had planned to travel to Italy to attend the Church Council there that had been held since 1431 wherein the Byzantines wanted to have a part in it to negotiate with the pope in finally submitting the Byzantine Church to Catholicism, something no emperor has ever achieved ever since the permanent schism between both Eastern and Western Churches in 1054 if you remember from chapter VIII of this series.
Although Theodore found out there was really no intention to make Constantine co-emperor, a quarrel still erupted between Theodore and Constantine in Constantinople almost leading to civil war if not for it being resolved a year later (1436) by their mother Helena Dragas who was still alive retired as a nun. All while the Palaiologos brothers Theodore and Constantine were at a petty conflict with each other, a revival of Classical Greek philosophy had been developing in the city of Mystras in the Morea and the one particularly responsible for this revival was the scholar George Gemistus Plethon, a Greek native of Constantinople who for several years studied Ancient Greek texts in the Morea, as well as one of his students which was Basil Bessarion, a Greek native of the Empire of Trebizond.
Together they were at a campaign to revive the philosophy of the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato on nature and politics known as “Neo-Platonism”, and in fact Plethon even called himself that thinking himself as the new Plato. At the same time, the Ottoman capital in Europe Edirne, once Byzantine Adrianople was also growing as a center of learning under Murad II wherein the Ottomans themselves would learn the Ancient Greek philosophy too which the Byzantines had left behind there blending it with their own Islamic philosophy, and in 1435 in Edirne Murad II had married the Serbian princess Mara Brankovic, the daughter of the Ottoman vassal Serbian prince Durad Brankovic who sent his young daughter to marry the sultan to prevent the Ottomans from literally invading Serbia as Durad like many others knew the sultan was up to trouble. John VIII too despite being an Ottoman vassal knew that Murad II was up to trouble as due to his unpredictability Murad could just break their treaty and attack Constantinople anyway, which is then why John agreed to take part in the Church Council held in Italy to submit the Byzantine Church to the pope as he believed it was the only way to get protection from the pope and the more powerful Western kingdoms against the once more ever-expanding Ottomans.
In 1437, John VIII departed Constantinople for Italy to attend the still ongoing council in Ferrara made to discuss various religious issues of the day, thus John VIII left with an entourage of 700 as a way to show full commitment in submitting to the pope, and the entourage included the Patriarch of Constantinople Joseph II who turned out to be a son of the last Bulgarian tsar Ivan Shishman, a large number of bishops and priests, and the same scholars from Mystras Plethon and Bessarion who were interested to travel to Italy to introduce their new philosophical ideas there. Meanwhile, the 5th Palaiologos brother Demetrios comes back to the picture here in 1437 being forced by his eldest brother the emperor to join him in their trip to Italy as John surely knew that if Demetrios were left behind in Constantinople he would immediately seize the throne behind John’s back as apparently Demetrios had his own rebellious tendency to seize the throne in the name of the Orthodox faith due to Demetrios’ strong anti-Western worldview.
Constantine was then left behind to watch over Constantinople as its regent while John VIII was away, and during his time as Regent of Constantinople, Constantine would be advised by his mother Helena Dragas, his secretary George, and the politician Loukas Notaras who just like Demetrios was also strongly anti-Western preferring that it would be better that Byzantium would fall to the Ottomans rather than for the emperor to submit to the pope which is why he said he preferred the sultan’s turban over the Latin miter, while Theodore on the other hand returned to the Morea to rule it together with Thomas.
By 1439, the council moved from Ferrara to Florence where it was held at its famous cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in which just a few years back its impressive and massive high dome that could already rival that of the Hagia Sophia’s in Constantinople had been completed which then would have humbled the Byzantines visiting it unlike before when it was the other way around as those from other parts beyond including Italy were humbled when seeing Constantinople and the Hagia Sophia cathedral. Here at the cathedral of Florence, the historic moment of 1439 happened wherein the union between both Byzantine and Latin Churches was finally declared when the pope Eugene IV as well as the Patriarch of Constantinople Joseph II and Emperor John VIII signed the Church Union making the Byzantine Church now fully submitting to the pope’s authority. At this time, Florence had already been a growing center for arts and culture, and during his visit to Florence John VIII was in fact painted by famous Florentine Italian painters of this age such as Piero de la Francesca and Benozzo Gozzoli in which the latter painted John VIII as one of the figures in a massive wall fresco at the Magi Chapel in Florence which can still be seen today.
Among John VIII’s entourage, Basil Bessarion who had previously been ordained as a priest in Byzantium chose to stay behind in Italy after the Council of Florence and due to the Byzantines submitting to the pope at the council, Bessarion was made a Catholic cardinal as well, while Plethon who however turned out to secretly renounce Christianity and return to worshiping the Ancient Greek gods returned to Mystras. Other than Bessarion, other Byzantine scholars who joined John VIII here in Italy also chose to stay behind as in Byzantium the noble families both no longer had enough money to sponsor scholars and were more interested in mystical ideas- such as the meditation practice of Hesychasm if you remember previously from chapter XI- than progressive philosophy at this time, while in Italy these Byzantine Greek scholars were in high demand as the Italians too had been starting to become interested in Classical Greek philosophy but could not understand it as it was in Greek therefore needing these Byzantine scholars to translate them.
On the other hand, there were more wealthy patrons in Italy such as the rich and powerful Cosimo de Medici who was the one responsible for this revival of art and learning in Florence, and it was possibly Cosimo who sponsored these émigré Byzantine scholars in Italy leading to the rise of the Italian Renaissance that began and grew in Florence. John VIII meanwhile extended his stay in Italy to explore the land as after all aside from John’s grandfather Emperor John V who visited Italy back in 1369, there has not been a Byzantine emperor to really travel around Italy since the 7th century Constans II (r. 641-668), who if you remember from chapter IV of this series not only toured Italy but even chose to move the Byzantine capital to the city of Syracuse in Sicily only to get assassinated in his bath there in 668.
Members of John’s entourage including the Patriarch Joseph II with a number of bishops and priests meanwhile did their own side trip to Venice wherein they came across the loot the Crusaders stole from Constantinople back in 1204 while the Venetian locals that toured told them that these were important treasures from Constantinople, however these bishops and priests who true enough could read the Greek inscriptions on these treasures realized that this loot the Venetians stole were not as valuable as the Venetians thought they were as these priests and bishops knew they came from smaller monasteries in Constantinople based on the inscriptions carved into them. John VIII then returned to Constantinople by ship in 1440 while his brother Demetrios returned earlier and back in Constantinople, John returned receiving a grand celebration thrown by Constantine and Demetrios celebrating the union of both Churches that had finally been achieved.
Following John VIII’s return to Constantinople in 1440, his brother Constantine would not yet return to his brothers Theodore and Thomas in the Morea but would stay behind as he was to look for a suitable candidate for a second wife as his first one died back in 1429, and eventually he came across the young Caterina Gattilusio, the daughter of the Italian Lord of Lesbos Dorino Gattilusio who was in fact a Byzantine vassal.
Dorino, the Byzantine vassal Lord of Lesbos apparently had not only been paying tribute to the Byzantines who paid tribute to the Ottomans, but had also turned out to be a second cousin of Constantine as Dorino’s grandmother was Constantine’s great-aunt Maria who was the sister of Constantine’s grandfather Emperor John V, as back in 1355 if you recall from the previous chapter Dorino’s grandfather the Genoese pirate Francesco Gattilusio was rewarded the by John V island of Lesbos to rule it as his own independent vassal state as well as John V’s sister Maria in marriage in exchange for helping John V take back the throne from his father-in-law Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) . Now Constantine’s future wife Caterina would apparently be related to him, although Constantine would not yet meet Caterina until he would go to Lesbos himself in 1441, though prior to this Constantine had already sent George to Lesbos to arrange the marriage. Following Constantine’s arrival in Lesbos in 1441 together with George and Loukas Notaras, Constantine after meeting Caterina and her father would marry Caterina in Lesbos, but shortly after marrying Caterina Constantine finally returned to the Morea leaving Caterina behind in Lesbos with her father.
When returning to the Morea, Constantine came to discover that his brothers Theodore and Thomas were able to rule it well while he was in Constantinople for the past 4 years, and although things seemed very much stable in the Morea, it was Constantinople that was not as apparently the people were discontent with their emperor John VIII uniting the Byzantine Church with the Catholic Church. Rather than holding their emperor in such high regard for travelling all the way to Italy and leaving his empire for 3 full years, most of the Byzantine people especially in Constantinople saw their emperor as a selfish traitor who betrayed them for his own personal interests, as the Byzantine people were certainly not willing to let go of their centuries old Orthodox Christian traditions despite their beliefs being very similar to that of the Catholics with only minor differences. The Byzantine people basically even 200 years after the sack of Constantinople by the Catholic Crusaders in 1204 were still traumatized by it which gave them a true reason to refuse submitting their faith to Catholicism. In response to John VIII reuniting with the Catholic Church, the Byzantine people rioted for days in Constantinople, thus the Church union wherein John VIII travelled all the way to Italy for just to sign it never pushed through due to popular objection, and the one mostly responsible for stirring the rioting that went as far as burning houses was no other than the trouble-making brother Demetrios.
As it turned out, Demetrios not only wanted to rebel against his brother John VIII for his own selfish objectives but to seize the throne in the name of Orthodoxy as Demetrios was a proud Orthodox Christian and traditionalist who resented all the radical changes the Byzantines were going through which John VIII as well as his brothers Theodore, Constantine, and Thomas championed such as Church unity, the introduction of new fashion styles from Western Europe, and new philosophies. Demetrios on the other hand wanted Byzantium to be how it was like in the past centuries, therefore he resented the new fashion styles borrowed from Western Europe which consisted of more comfortable, loose, and simpler robes together with vests and smaller hats for men and women’s dresses that were much more lose with a wider neckline which also showed more skin and shoulders.
Instead, Demetrios still preferred the age old Byzantine fashion styles of tight-fitting and uncomfortable silk tunics and oddly shaped hats for men and tight-fitting silk dresses for women that basically covered up everything except their faces, but more so Demetrios strongly championed these old traditions and fashion styles as they were more associated with the Orthodox faith, while the Ottomans too had supported him as they were true enough threatened by John VIII’s plans to unite with the Catholic Church which for the Ottomans meant starting a Crusade against them. At this time, Demetrios following his return from Italy had been given control of the port of Mesembria along the Black Sea by John VIII, which was at this point Byzantium’s northernmost holding while Constantine on the other hand feeling that he had done his part as Despot of the Morea and now wanted to have a new experience considered switching positions with Demetrios wherein Constantine would rule Mesembria and Demetrios would be Despot of the Morea. Constantine then sent George to deliver Demetrios in Mesembria his proposal but also sending George afterwards to the Ottoman sultan Murad II in Edirne as again with Byzantium as an Ottoman vassal, the slightest thing such as an appointment of a family member in ruling a part of the empire needed the sultan’s approval.
Demetrios in 1442 however no longer had any desires for new appointments, instead his main objective now was the imperial throne and by having the backing of Sultan Murad II, Demetrios declared war on John VIII thus preparing to march to Constantinople to seize the throne in the name of Orthodoxy and age-old traditions. Seeing Demetrios’ threat being large, John VIII had to recall Constantine from the Morea once again to defend Constantinople as John himself did not have as much military ability as Constantine. On his way to Constantinople, Constantine returned to Lesbos to fetch his wife Caterina but on the way to Constantinople when stopping at the island of Lemnos, Caterina suddenly died after suffering a fever and thus Constantine for the second time lost a wife and again this marriage did not produce any children, though Constantine still arrived outside Constantinople’s walls right in time to repel Demetrios’ attack which however consisted of just a few soldiers.
The defeated Demetrios was then imprisoned while George was appointed by Constantine to be in charge of the port town of Selymbria west of Constantinople to keep a watch on Demetrios who was imprisoned there. In the following year 1443, Constantine’s older brother and co-Despot of the Morea Theodore II finally decided it was time to give up his position as despot after holding it for many years and in exchange for resigning his title as Despot of the Morea, Theodore was given control of Selymbria thus George stepped down as he was supposed to be only its temporary governor, thus making Constantine and Thomas the sole Despots of the Morea. In his time as despot co-ruling with Thomas, Constantine ruling from Mystras proved to be highly capable administrator and politician that he greatly won the loyalty of the people and landowners of the Morea by holding athletic games such as footraces for prizes, thus in a way reviving the Ancient Greek Olympic Games in Greece after a thousand years as in the 390 it was the Christian extremist Byzantine emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) that put an end to the centuries old Olympics believing it to be Unchristian. The biggest achievement of Constantine in his time as despot though was that he completely reconstructed and further fortified the Hexamilion Wall at the Isthmus of Corinth that his father Manuel II constructed in 1415 in which the Ottomans destroyed in 1423 and 1431, and its completion in 1444 greatly impressed the people of the Morea as well as the Venetian colonists there.
In the meantime, the Kingdom of Hungary had been in a state of chaos after the death of their king Sigismund in 1437- who also became Holy Roman emperor in 1433- and only in 1440 did Hungary once again have a king, and however this new king was the young reigning King of Poland and Duke of Lithuania Wladyslaw III who then came to rule both Poland and Hungary.
At this time when Hungary had no legitimate king, the one holding the kingdom together happened to be the general John Hunyadi as its governor-general, while the state of chaos Hungary was in allowed the Ottomans to further threaten Serbia which was the Ottomans’ and Hungary’s buffer state. After becoming King of Hungary, Wladyslaw III then turned to making alliances with the kings all over Europe against the Ottomans and from 1441-1442, both Wladyslaw III and John Hunyadi while waiting for their allies to come began launching initial campaigns against the Ottomans in the Balkans which had turned out to be successful. It was then only in 1443 when Pope Eugene IV considered launching a Crusade against the Ottomans consisting of armies from all across Europe which was to be led by Wladyslaw III, while at the same time the Serbian vassal prince Durad Brankovic also decided to turn against the Ottomans and join forces with the Crusaders. This Crusade initially won a major victory over the Ottomans at the Battle of Nis in 1443 and part of this was due to George Kastrioti known to the Ottomans as “Skanderbeg”- the same Albanian boy originally an Orthodox Christian taken as hostage by the Ottomans in 1415 and converted into Islam to be a Janissary soldier- who at this point was already a grown man turned against the Ottomans switching sides to the Crusaders.
Following the Crusade’s victory at Nis in 1443, Skanderbeg returned to Albania converting to Catholicism and ruling it as its independent lord as his father its former feudal lord John Kastrioti died back in 1437, and as for the Crusaders their next battle against the Ottomans later in 1443 would result in defeat, but in early 1444 they would win another victory over the Ottomans. This defeat the Ottomans faced to the Crusaders in early 1444 then made their sultan Murad II unpopular among his subjects that he had to decide to abdicate the throne and go to retirement in Asia Minor despite Murad still being quite young, thus Murad here passed the Ottoman throne to his 12-year-old son Mehmed II who despite being still a child had already been developing a singular objective and obsession which was the ultimate conquest of Constantinople from the Byzantines, however the Crusade of Wladyslaw III and John Hunyadi distracted Mehmed II from pushing through with his main objective.
Believing that the Ottomans were now in a weaker state especially since their new ruler was still a child, Wladyslaw III decided to resume his Crusade believing he had a strong chance of winning, thus the young Mehmed II being too young to lead the campaign himself called his father out of retirement to lead the counter-attack against the Crusaders. In the meantime, a smaller Ottoman force was sent by Murad II who came out of retirement to attack Albania in which Skanderbeg had just declared independent from the Ottomans, but apparently Skanderbeg after returning to Albania had united neighboring Albanian and Serbian lords into a military alliance known as the “League of Lezhe” and with a united army of Serbians and Albanians as well as some hit-and-run tactics, Skanderbeg defeated the Ottoman army sent against him in 1444. In October of 1444, the Crusader army led by Wladyslaw III of Hungary and John Hunyadi with armies from Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Wallachia, Serbia, and Burgundy clashed with the Ottoman army led by the retired Murad II at the Battle of Varna in Bulgaria.
The battle started going in the favor of the Crusaders until the tide suddenly turned to the side of the Ottomans when Wladyslaw III after charging at the Ottoman Janissaries and not expecting their fierceness in battle was killed by them while Hunyadi when trying to reach Wladyslaw’s body was encircled by the Ottomans and forced to retreat, thus the Ottomans decimated this large Crusader army and won a decisive victory just like at the Battle of Nicopolis back in 1396. Now as the Ottomans were busy fighting wars in the Balkans, Constantine as the Despot of the Morea used the situation to his advantage and thus with only a few forces marched north to invade the Duchy of Athens which at this point was under the rule of the Catalans ever since 1311, and thus after being defeated in battle the Catalan Duke of Athens was even forced to start paying tribute money to the Byzantines instead of the Ottomans in which they were initially paying tribute to as well.