The Legacy of the Byzantine Empire- An Epilogue to the Byzantine Alternate History Series; Featuring Interviews with 3 Byzantine History Enthusiasts

Posted by Powee Celdran

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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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Read the 12 chapters of Byzantine Alternate History Here:

Chapter I- Roman Victory at the Gothic War (376-382), 4th Century

Chapter II- Preventing the Fall of the Western Roman Empire 4 Years in Advance, 5th Century

Chapter III- Justinian the Great Saves his Empire from the Plague and Personally Joins his Campaigns, 6th Century

Chapter IV- Constans II Relocates the Imperial Capital to Sicily, 7th Century

Chapter V- Emperor Artavasdos, the Unlikely Hero, 8th Century

Chapter VI- Irene and Charlemagne, the Wedding of the Century, 9th Century

Chapter VII- A Retelling of the Bizarre Byzantine Renaissance and the Macedonian (Amorian) Dynasty, 10th Century

Chapter VIII- A Byzantine Victory at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert and its Impact on the Empire, 11th Century

Chapter IX- Preventing the Catastrophic 4th Crusade in Advance, 12th Century

Chapter X- The 2nd Bulgarian Empire Captures Constantinople in 1235, 13th Century

Chapter XI- The Serbian Empire Takes Over and Saves a Dying Byzantium, 14th Century

Chapter XII- Constantinople Surrenders to the Ottomans in 1453 in Order to Buy Time to Buy Time to Start a Crusade and Recapture it, 15th Century


The Interviews         

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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.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, art by Flavian the Historian

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.

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Chariot racing at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, art by Akitku

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 Revolution Chrysavgi 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.

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The Hagia Sophia’s interiors from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, art by Chrysa Sakel

The Questions

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.

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The Byzantine Legacy- The Land Walls of Constantinople

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.

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The Byzantine Imperial Palace Complex of Constantinople, art by Ediacar

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.

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Byzantine court life from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, art by Chrysa Sakel

Bonus Questions

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       

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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 Dovahhatty and 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.

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Icon of Dovahhatty

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.

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Roman defeat to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 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.

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Logo of my channel- No Budget Films

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.  

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Constantinople in the Byzantine era artwork, artist unknown

           

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.

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Theophano: A Byzantine Tale graphic novel by Spyros Theocharis

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.

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The Byzantine chi-rho symbol

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.

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Sample of the Byzantine Alternate History chapters’ character illustrations

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.

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Western Roman emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375)

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.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), last emperor of a united Roman Empire, art by myself

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 Group on 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.

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Visual guide to the Late Roman army’s structure, art by myself
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Goths settling in the Roman Empire, 376
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Late Roman era legionnaires in battle
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Defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378

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 Rome which 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.

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Flag of the Western Roman Empire, 395-476

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 Historian which 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.

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Western Roman and Foederati (barbarian allied) soldiers, 5th century

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.

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Emperor Leo I (Leo Marcellus) of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 457-474)

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.

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Emperor Anthemius of the Western Roman Empire (r. 467-472)

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.

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

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.  

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red).
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Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the last emperor Romulus Augustus surrenders to Odoacer, 476

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.

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

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 Podcast by 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.

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

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.

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Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora at the imperial court

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.

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Flavius Belisarius, Byzantine general in Justinian I’s reign, art by Amelianvs

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.

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The Plague of Justinian, 542

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.

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Emperor Justin II of Byzantium (r. 565-578), nephew and successor of Justinian I

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.

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Icon of Emperor St. Justinian the Great (r. 527-565)

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.

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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian in 555 (gold)
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The Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I
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Justinian I receives silkworms from monks arriving from China, 552
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Belisarius defending Rome from the Ostrogoths from 537-538, art by Amelianvs
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Guide to the Justinian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 518-602; character illustrations and layout by myself

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.

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Byzantine soldier (right) attacks a Slav (left) with an Avar behind, during the 7th century Balkan Wars

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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Assassination of Constans II in real history with the use of a soap dish, 668

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.

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange)
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Expansion of the Arabs, 7th century
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Map of the first original 5 Themes of Asia Minor created under Constans II
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Greek Fire used for the first time at the 674-678 Arab Siege of Constantinople
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The Land Walls of Constantinople, art by myself

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.

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

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.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm under Leo III in the 8th century

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.

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Emperor Artavasdos (r. 742-743), Funko pop recreation by myself

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.

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Emperor Constantine V of Byzantium (r. 741-742/ 743-775), art by Chrysa Sakel

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.

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The Mandalorian in Byzantine armor, art by myself

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.  

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The 6 emperors of the Byzantine 22-year-Anarchy (695-717)- Leontios (top-left, r. 695-698), Tiberius III (top-middle, r. 698-705), Justinian II Rhinotmetos (top-right, r. 705-711), Philippikos Bardanes (bottom-left, r. 711-713), Anastasius II (bottom-middle, r. 713-715), Theodosius III (bottom-right, r. 715-717), art by myself
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Victory for the Byzantines with Bulgarian aid against the Arabs in Constantinople, 718
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Iconoclasm- breaking of religious icons and persecution of monks in the Byzantine Empire, 8th century

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.

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Emperor Leo IV the Khazar of Byzantium (r. 775-780), art by Chrysa Sakel

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.

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Empress Irene of Athens, regent (780-797), full empress (797-802)

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.

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Irene Sarantapechaina, Byzantine empress, art by myself

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.

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Charlemagne, King and Emperor of the Franks (r. 768-814), art by myself

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.

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Irene and Charlemagne as husband and wife

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.

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Flag of Irene and Charlemagne’s fictional united Frankish-Roman Empire, crossover between Byzantine (red) and Frankish (blue) flags (photo from Reddit)

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!    

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Empress Irene at the palace, art by myself
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Charlemagne crowned as “Roman emperor” by Pope Leo III in Rome, 800
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Speculated map of Irene and Charlemagne’s united empire
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Guide to the Isaurian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 717-802; character illustrations and layout by myself

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.

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

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.

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Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) of Byzantium

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.

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Empress Theophano of Byzantium, omitted from chapter VII

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.

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

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.

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Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas of Byzantium (r. 963-969), art by Spatharokandidatos

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.

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Byzantine battles in the 10th century

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.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis

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.

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Painting of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium (r. 976-1025), art by myself

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.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry soldier in the 11th century, art by myself

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.

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Byzantine (left) and Seljuk (right) cavalrymen clash at the Battle of Manzikert, 1071

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.  

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Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium and his 4 wives, art by myself
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A scene of the Rus-Byzantine War of 941 from the Madrid Skylitzes
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Nikephoros Phokas enters Constantinople in 963, Madrid Skylitzes
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The Byzantine Empire (red) at its apogee, at Basil II’s death in 1025
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Painting of the fateful Battle of Manzikert between the Byzantines and Seljuks, 1071
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Byzantine- Star Wars crossover, Emperor Palpatine as a Byzantine emperor on Death Star II, art by myself
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Genealogy of the Doukas Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 1059-1081; character illustrations and layout by myself

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.

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Harald III Sigurdsson “Harald Hardrada”, King of Norway (r. 1046-1066), former Varangian Guard commander in the service of Byzantium, art by myself

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.

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Map of the 4 Crusader States of Outremer in 1135, during the reign of Byzantine emperor John II Komnenos

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.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos meets the leaders of the First Crusade, 1096

In the meantime, after sharing chapter VIII which was about Manzikert to the Alternate History Discussion Group on 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.

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Isaac II Angelos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1185-1195), art by myself

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.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180), art by Justinianus the Great

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.

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The young emperor Alexios II beneath the shadow of his uncle Andronikos, art by Ediacar

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.

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Niketas Choniates, Byzantine historian (1155-1217), recreation of the original manuscript depicting Choniates, art by myself

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.   

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (pink) at Manuel I’s death, 1180
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Manuel I Komnenos (on a horse) at a triumphal parade in Constantinople
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Isaac II Angelos’ rise to power by beheading Andronikos I’s hitman, 1185
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Normans from Sicily invade Byzantine Greece, 1185

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.

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John III Doukas Vatatzes, Byzantine emperor in Nicaea (r. 1222-1254), art by myself

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.

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4th Crusade army storms Constantinople’s walls, 1204

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.

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Tsar Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria (r. 1218-1241), art by HistoryGold777

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.

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Emperor John III Vatatzes in imperial armor on a horse

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.

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

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.

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Emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391), art by Justinianus the Great

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.

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Stefan Uros IV Dusan, King of Serbia (1331-1346), Emperor of Serbia (1346-1355)

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.

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Byzantine art recreated- Chrysobull of Emperor Andronikos II (r. 1282-1328, left) presenting the document to Christ (right), art by myself

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.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, founded in 1261

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 The Usurper which was also set in the same era as that of chapter XI.

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Map of the Division of the Byzantine Empire after 1204 with the respective flags and seals of post and pre-1204 states, design by myself
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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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The 1261 Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople, art by FaisalHashemi
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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy, art by myself
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Coronation of Dusan as Emperor of Serbia in Skopje, 1346
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Map of the spread of Black Death across Europe, 1347-1351

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.

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Alexios Philanthropenos from The Usurper, art by myself

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.

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire, born in 1299

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.

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Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1391-1425)

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.

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Emperor John VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1425-1448)

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.

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

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.

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Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1451-1481)

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.

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The last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in the Portuguese blue and white tile art style, art by myself

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.  

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Map of the Byzantine Empire by 1450 (purple) and other territories including the Ottoman Empire
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Renaissance Italian painting of John VIII as one of the magi, made during his stay in Florence by Benozzo Gozzoli
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The Fall and Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople, 1453
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Constantine XI’s final charge against the Ottomans on May 29, 1453, art by FaisalHashemi

Lessons from the History of Byzantium and from my Byzantine Journey, My Take on Byzantium’s Legacy, and Updates          

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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.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire (13th-15th centuries)

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.

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Constantine XI in full plated armor with his broadsword at the last moments of Byzantium, art by JohnJollos

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.

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Byzantine Cataphracts in battle

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.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1081-1118), master of both warfare and diplomacy

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.

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Civil War between Emperor Andronikos II and his grandson Andronikos from 1321-1328, sample of political instability in Byzantium

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.

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Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), an example of an emperor going from hero to zero

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.

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Constantine XI Palaiologos with the Byzantine emperors of the past above, left to right: Constantine I the Great, Justinian I the Great, Heraclius, Basil II, John II Komnenos, and Michael VIII Palaiologos, art by JohnJollos

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. 

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Map of the Byzantine Empire at 3 different eras; greatest extent in the 6th century (red line), in 1025 (pink), and by 1360 (red)
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Life in 6th century Byzantine Constantinople, art by Amelianvs
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Early period Byzantine soldiers in training, art by Amelianvs
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Byzantine emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842) with the backing of the Byzantine Senate, Madrid Skylitzes
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Alexios V bribes the Varangian Guards to proclaim him emperor, 1204
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Left to right: Byzantine emperors Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195), Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), and Alexios IV Angelos (r. 1203-1204), said to be the worst Byzantine emperors, art by myself

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.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry unload using ramps

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.

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Sample of my posting style on Instagram

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 Constantinople which 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 Courier which 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.

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Meme of Irene blinding Constantine VI, 797

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.

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Slavic warriors attacking a Byzantine fortress in the late 6th century, one of my most successful Instagram posts

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 Mythology on 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.

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

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.

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis

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.

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Map of Constantinople in the early 15th century

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.

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Sts. Cyril (left) with the Cyrillic Alphabet and Methodius (right), Byzantine missionaries sent to convert the Slavs by Patriarch Photios in the 9th century

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.

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Emperor Justinian I with his Corpus Juris Civilis

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.

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Kievan Rus’ and Scandinavians (Varangians) sail down to Constantinople (Miklagard), 860

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.

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Constantine XI, the last emperor with the great rulers of Byzantium’s past above, left to right: Basil II, Manuel I Komnenos, Justinian I, Theodora, Irene of Athens, Zoe Porphyrogenita, art by Gambargin

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.

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Byzantine forks

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.

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The lifetime of the entire Roman civilization- Kingdom, Republic, Empire, and Byzantine Empire (753BC-1453AD)

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.  

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The Byzantine Legacy- frescos on a dark blue background
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The Byzantine Legacy- golden mosaics, Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

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 Vespers in 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!   

 

 

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

A VERY SPECIAL EDITION ARTICLE

WARNING THIS IS AN EXTREMELY LONG ARTICLE BUT ENJOY!!

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

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

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No Budget Films studio logo (Byzantine flag background)

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

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

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No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers main poster

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War of the Sicilian Vespers pandemic edition poster

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

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Byzantine imperial flag

Watch No Budget Films’ other Byzantine era films here:

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

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

The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

Killing a Byzantine Emperor (2019)

Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

Summer of 1261 deleted scenes (2019)

War of the Sicilian Vespers deleted scenes (2020)

 

Related Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:

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

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

The Sieges of Constantinople

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors

7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium

The Complete Genealogy of Byzantine Emperors

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Byzantines Emperors and their Personalities Part3

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

The Ravenna Mosaics and What to Expect

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part1- Armies

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part2- Imperial System

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part3- Culture

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

Roman and Byzantine Food and Dining

 

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

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

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The Roman Empire fully divided east and west, 395

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Budget Films’ Rise of Phokas (2019) poster

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

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

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

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No Budget Films 4th Crusade movie poster (2015)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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No Budget Films’ Summer of 1261 poster

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Reconquest of Constantinople by the Byzantines, Summer of 1261

 

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

 

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

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Alexios Strategopoulos, Byzantine general from Nicaea

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

 

 

 

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

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Lego figure of Michael VIII Palaiologos

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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War of the Sicilian Vespers movie poster in Italian

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

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Map of Sicily

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

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

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

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The restored Byzantine Empire (yellow) after 1261

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

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The Rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers in Palermo, 1282

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Battle of Benevento, 1266- French vs Hohenstaufen Sicily

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

 

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

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Conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, medieval Italy

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sicilian Vespers rebels massacre French soldiers in Sicily

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

 

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

 

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

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2nd Council of Lyon, 1272-1274

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Alexios in the 1282 setting of War of the Sicilian Vespers

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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War of the Sicilian Vespers painting by Francesco Hayez

 

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

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Steven Runciman, British historian (1903-2000)

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

 

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

 

Characters in No Budget Films’ War of the Sicilian Vespers

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

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

Sicilian Vespers characters

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

The Main Cast of 12:

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War of the Sicilian Vespers main cast of 12

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Dr. Giovanni Procida- (voiced by Jon Cabrera), a new character in this film War of the Sicilian Vespers, loosely based on the same medieval Italian doctor Giovanni Procida (or John of Procida) who took part in organizing the rebellions in Sicily in 1282 as a loyalist to the former Hohenstaufen family that ruled Sicily and in the film, he does the same except his character is much younger than the real historical character in 1282 as the

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Lego figure of Dr. Giovanni Procida of Sicily

real one was in his 70s at that time while in the movie in his 50s. In the movie, Dr. Giovanni is portrayed in a much more rugged and gritty way as not only a doctor and diplomat but as a pirate as well though it is Dr. Giovanni who travels to Constantinople and informs the emperor Michael VIII on the Sicilian matter in which Michael agrees to and gives the bribes to Giovanni to be given to the local lords in Sicily. The movie also shows Dr. Giovanni as a skilled orator who stirs up the people of Messina, Sicily to rebel against their French occupiers and at the final battle, Giovanni takes part in beating the French, and at the end though not seen in the film, he is appointed by Sicily’s new ruler Peter III of Aragon to be in charge of Sicily while Peter III rules from Aragon in Spain. In the film, the character of Dr. Giovanni was given a generous amount of screen time to show the side of the Sicilians in the movie, on the other Dr. Giovanni is a character in Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers opera with the name Jean Procida.

 

Hugh Sully- (voiced by Pat Claudio), a new character introduced in this film War of the Sicilian Vespers, Hugh Sully is the traditional secondary henchman villain to the main villain Charles of Anjou, he is Charles’ hitman doing all the dirty work mostly involving killing and is seen as a large sized knight with a broadsword dressed in fully black armor never removing his bucket-shaped helmet. In the movie, the Burgundian French knight Sully kills Alexios at the beginning and is later sent by Charles to ride to Byzantium himself and assassinate the whole line of succession which includes Michael VIII,

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Hugh Sully, French knight assassin Lego figure

Michael’s son Andronikos, and John Laskaris so Charles has no more opposition when he takes back Byzantium, though Sully confronts Michael at a farm in Thrace in the duel Sully is killed by Michael himself though Michael dies shortly after. The character of Hugh Sully is loosely based on Charles of Anjou’s general with the same name except the real Sully’s role in history is very minimal, though in the movie Sully was made to look mysterious and terrifying wearing his helmet at all times (only seen without it in the behind-the-scenes photos) having a fiery temper and speaking with a deep voice in which a filter was added to in the edit. In this film, Sully is supposed to be the new Valentin Clovis from the previous film Summer of 1261 who was the secondary henchman villain to the main villain, Emperor Baldwin II.

 

Irene Palaiologina- (voiced by Nuni Celdran), a new character introduced in this film War of the Sicilian Vespers, Irene Komnene Palaiologina is Byzantine emperor Michael VIII’s older sister by 5 years who was revealed to be his puppet master that schemed her way to put him in the throne so that she could rule through him. Irene’s character is largely based on the real sister of Emperor Michael VIII who was also named Irene and it was said that she raised him when young as their parents were never really there for them, sung him to sleep that he will one day take back Constantinople from the Latins, and was indeed the one behind John Laskaris’ blinding in 1261 in order to secure the Palaiologos

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Irene Palaiologina (1218-1284), sister of Michael VIII Lego figure

Dynasty. In the film, Irene’s character’s appearance is quite minimal and not seen in most of it as she was put there to represent the Byzantine side of the story and Michael’s personal story, here in the story Irene despite having taken care of Michael when young grew distant and hateful to her younger especially because of his controversial Church Union which she strongly opposed and openly criticized being a true Byzantine Orthodox Christian. Irene then cannot reconcile with her brother until he cancels the union though later on they reconcile as long as Michael also tells his son Andronikos the real reason he blinded John Laskaris which was to secure Andronikos’ succession although Michael feeling guilty for it says he will also reconcile with his sister if she releases John Laskaris from his prison tower and relocates him to a monastery in Nicomedia for safety which she does as when they last see each other in the movie before Michael rides leaves Constantinople never to return, they both reconcile. In real history, Irene after 1261 became a nun using the name Eulogia but was a lot more villainous and scheming than she was in the film as she asked the Bulgarians to invade Byzantine borders to cause more pain for her brother, forbade Michael’s widow Theodora to pray from him after his death, but had also convinced her nephew Andronikos to cancel his father’s Church Union; on the other hand, Irene’s character in the film was ironically voiced by Nuni Celdran who is Michael VIII’s voicer Powee Celdran’s real life sister.

 

Georgios Doukas- (voiced by Carlos Francisco), a returning character from the Summer of 1261 film who appears as an even older man in the 1282 setting of this film. Georgios Doukas is in fact so old that he was alive as a child to see the fall Constantinople and the atrocities of the Crusaders back in 1204 which was almost 80 years before the Sicilian Vespers story, yet Georgios also lived a very eventful long life even as monk as he has seen the whole 57 year existence of the Latin and Nicaean Empires, was friends with the Nicaean emperor John III Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) as well as with Michael VIII even helping the Byzantines take back

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The elderly monk Georgios Doukas Lego figure in 1282

Constantinople in 1261 even becoming part of the Byzantine Senate for a time yet even lived much longer to see a new Latin threat emerging which was Charles of Anjou. In the Sicilian Vespers film, Georgios’ appearance though happens to be quite minimal but still a major role being the same old mentor figure he was in the previous film except much older, here being already around 87 having been the mentor for Michael, Alexios, and young Andronikos though Georgios even as a reclusive monk living inside Constantinople’s walls, also came to openly criticize Michael’s rule and policies that he even grabs Michael from the streets to take him in and talk some sense into him, though this was overall part of Georgios’ plan to reconcile Michael with Irene. At the end of the film, Georgios survives the whole chain of events though not seen fighting due to his old age and at the closing scene he can be seen staring into the sea from Constantinople having survived all the events of the 13th century having lived seeing the reign of 10 Byzantine emperors. The character of Georgios Doukas was loosely based on the Byzantine historian of that time George Akropolites (1217-1282) who he shares the same first name with; meanwhile Georgios’ character is made to be so old and wise that he even calls Michael by his first name and not “my lord” or “emperor”, his voice actor Carlos Francisco who voiced him in the previous film this time used an old man’s voice for Georgios to show he has aged even more.

 

Philippe Courtenay- (voiced by Angelo Lacson), a new character introduced in this film War of the Sicilian Vespers who is the son of the late former Latin emperor Baldwin II who lost Constantinople in 1261 made to show in the movie a link to Baldwin II and the Latin Empire. Philippe’s character in the movie is loosely based on Baldwin II’s real life son the exiled Latin emperor Philip who in reality like in the movie was Charles of Anjou’s son-in-law and the legitimate claimant to Constantinople when Charles takes it back, although Charles would be the actual ruler of his proposed empire while Philippe ruling at Constantinople would be a puppet ruler to Charles. Philippe though had one challenger to him in Charles’ court, Charles’ secretary Jean Clovis who had no legitimate claim to the throne of Constantinople though Philippe still remained the legitimate claimant but at the final battle in early 1283 he was killed. As Charles’ son-in-law,

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Philippe Courtenay (1248-1283), son of Latin Emperor Baldwin II Lego figure

Philippe was a loyal ally to Charles but personally deeply hated the Byzantines as they defeated and humiliated his father and killed his mother though little does he know that the ghost of the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II killed his mother, and that whole time in 1261, Philippe was held by the Venetians as his father sold him off to Venice to fund the poor Latin Empire. In the movie, Philippe is only one of the secondary villains and is a vicious fighter and torturer taking pleasure in torturing the people of Panormos and using all sorts of means to kill his enemies in which he enjoyed mutilating men’s private parts, though Philippe in the movie always appears loyal and submissive to Charles.

 

Jean Clovis- (voiced by Alej Consing), a new character introduced in this film War of the Sicilian Vespers who is a French nobleman and Charles of Anjou’s secretary with his own imperial ambitions but cannot pursue it to due Philippe in his way. Jean Clovis, a purely fictional character is the first son of the Latin emperor Baldwin II’s general Valentin Clovis from the previous film and since he is only the son of a general and not the late Latin emperor, he has no claim to the Latin Empire although he still thinks he does for no apparent reason except the desire for power. In the movie, Jean Clovis happens to be a failed villain as he tries to challenge Philippe to claim the throne of Constantinople but loses the fistfight to him and later on tries to set up Philippe as a traitor by having Andronikos, the Byzantine heir escape Charles’ castle by saying he jumped into Philippe’s boat which was in fact Jean’s however Charles easily discovers Jean’s plot knowing he

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Jean Clovis, secretary of Charles of Anjou Lego figure

only did that to put all the blame on Philippe and for treason, Charles blinds and kills Jean totally removing a challenge for Philippe who Charles very much favored. Ironically, the character of Jean Clovis and John Laskaris are the same age (both born in 1250) as well as sharing the same first name also looking alike as well as both being voiced by Alej Consing, therefore Charles thought of using Jean as an experiment by blinding him to make him pose as John Laskaris returned to trick the Byzantine people, although after Jean’s treachery, Charles dumped the plan and just killed Jean instead.

 

Giulia Parisi- (voiced by Monica David), a new character introduced in this film, War of the Sicilian Vespers, Giulia is the female hero in the Sicilian perspective of the movie based on the unnamed woman grabbed by a drunk French soldier after the evening vespers that triggered rebellion in Panormos beginning the Sicilian Vespers conflict. In real history, this woman disappeared from the scene after the incident but in the movie she returns later as one of the rebel fighters against the Angevin French going as far as

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Giulia Parisi of Sicily Lego figure

fighting in the final battle early in 1283. Giulia appears as a young attractive black haired Sicilian woman who’s looks most possibly got her harassed by a French soldier also getting her husband Alessandro killed in the process though in battle she was tough fighter with stealth skills although was not very independent in personality being submissive to the men around her including Dr. Giovanni, the Sicilian local lord Count Tomaso, and the Byzantine imperial heir Andronikos. At the end, it turns out she had strong romantic feelings for Andronikos as she sees the Byzantines as Sicily’s saviors. In real history, the woman remains unnamed, though No Budget Films gave her the name Giulia which is Italian for Julia.

 

Stephanos Raoul- (voiced by Miguel Abarentos), a returning character from the Summer of 1261 film reprising his ro