Starting at the beginning of the year, we had about 7800 followers. We’ve since grown to 9165 as of today. With just shy of 4.0 million impressions for the year, we’re on our way to catch Justin Bieber!
Notable regional events during 2017 include the Reina attack, Erdogan’s visit to Greece, the end of ISIS(for Syria at least), and the continued Syrian refugee crisis in Greece.
The Twitter Account
Your favorite tweets of the year include:
Your favorite WordPress blogs were around tourism and Greek Immigration to the United States. I’ve got more about 12 half way done posts that need completing at this time.
Some of the things I’m currently researching include:
The Despotate of Epirus
The Catholic Church in Greece
More about what happened after the fall of Constantinople
With Robin Pearson’s upcoming trip to Istanbul those sites are covered. I’ll try to make another road trip tour this year…something like paying homage to the enemies of the state leaving from Istanbul. I’ve already booked my Spring flight to the region so stay tuned.
Now that I’ve got more of less half a cycle under my belt, here’s a few thoughts on how things are going. First off, I’ve no problem leaving character or making pop culture references to keep it fun. My sense of humor is dark so it’s a challenge sometimes keeping it snarky.
So I attempted to kick off every emperor with a new meme, but it was kind of hard for a number of them as they weren’t on the throne long enough. Also, the engagement rate on most of them was kind of low so I elected to back off that.
I’m looking forward to a great 2018 year for CFB! When we hit 10K followers we need to do something good. Suggestions are welcome!
Every time the cycle runs towards the Fall of Constantinople, the @CryforByzantium twitter account site impressions explode upwards of 1 million per month. With it comes massive Turkish Nationalist response trolling the site with “Kodyuk Mu!” as the most popular reply.
In another year and a half or so, we will reach this time again. I anticipate even more intensity due to current political climate in Turkey. This is because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appeal has been to connect his rule with Ottoman nationalism, imagery and romanticism of that culture’s historical apogee.
There is a sort of mythology that has developed around Mehmet II. The largely obsolete Gazi thesis of a religiously fueled conquest has been resuscitated and accepted by the modern Turkish state. Turkish television shows like Fetih 1453 and Dirilis: Eturgul help fuel the public’s imagination of this time in history.
There have been an explosion of nationalist youtube videos and the social media campaign is downright impressive.
I wanted to dig further into the character of Mehmet II and the state of the capital after the conquest. There is only one word to describe his time on the throne, and that is Machiavellian. He didn’t need to be loved by the conquered peoples, but rather just that they would accept his rule and not revolt. He was a romantic who admired Greek learning, Alexander the Great and the Ceasars. His task was not to destroy the Byzantine empire, but rather rebuild a new Roman empire in his own name.
Running counter to the Ghazi image, he was not so fanatical as to close the door on dealing with the other peoples of the book. He could have very well left the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople empty, but rather selected Gennadius II as the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians. In fact, the original selection for where the Patriarch was to sit was the exalted Church of Holy Apostles. To ensure the loyalty of the church, he made a deal of protection to the Orthodox patriarch from rival Balkan orthodox churches and Muslims in return for their ability to raise taxes. He even asked for treatises on Christianity, which gave hopes of Christian conversion and overtures from the pope.
However, Mosque and Islamic building boomed in the years after the conquest including the Fatih and Eyub mosques. Restrictions on other religions were instituted such as the prohibition of church bells ringing.
The Ashes of the Byzantine State
For the standards of the day, he was rather kind to the existing residents. Consistent with his religious policies to the Christians, he encouraged mercantilism policies and developed arguably the most multicultural capital of the 15th century. He even imported Greeks into the capital as part of the repopulation campaign. There were no religious barriers to Greeks and Turks living together.
However, he did conduct a cull of a number of former Byzantine leadership to snuff out any allegiance to the former state- the most storied example was Mega Doux Loukas Notaras and his children. Some of the individuals he killed bordered on paranoia, such as the 14 year old son of George Sphrantzes. The former leadership of Trebizond recieved the same treatment, executing the former emperor David and his children. The wife of the former emperor was fined for trying to bury her family.
Foreigners in the Capital
Mehmet made deals with the Galata Genoese who recently fought against him, and brought Franks to the new Capital. He brought Italian renaissance painters to the capital too. Jews were brought in from Europe and Salonika.
Remembering his experiences of being deposed in 1446, Mehmet did not trust the different Ottoman elites. Rather, foreigners found favor in the government as they did not have substantial alliances to these rival factions.
However, a caste system developed to ensure that Muslims were at the top of the food chain. Specific types of dress were developed that Muslims had the most attractive and highest status clothing. Native Greeks, Armenians and Jews all had enforced colors and could not wear silks or furs.
Artisans from Konya and Bursa were forced to move to the capital, as well as elites from Edirne. These actions developed resentment from Turkish elites connected to the old regimes who saw these actions as unnecessary.
His immediate focus after the conquest was not on consolidating rule in former Greek lands, but rather attacking the Hungarian and Serbian principalities to the North. The Despotate of the Morea operated as a semi-independent Byzantine principality for several years after the fall of Constantinople. In fact, the Despotate was run by Constantine XI Palaiologus’ brothers.
Mehmet also was greatly concerned about the pope calling a papal crusade and worked hard to ensure that the Greeks were not treated so harshly to build sympathies in the West. Yet at the same time his focus was in the Balkans against other Christian powers and eventually made a invasion of Italy.
The Ottoman elites felt his obsession with Constantinople was romantic follies and he was far too pro-Western. Patriarch Gennadius tried to quit multiple times as he felt he was too harsh on the Greeks. His time on the throne is similar to Nikephorus II Phokas – while he managed to rack up a series of battlefield victories but his domestic policies left many isolated. This stance meant that eventually his enemies were going to catch up to him. In this case, it was his son Bayezid II who poisoned him (allegedly).
History treats him far better today (especially in Turkey) than during his life.
On the North side of Athens is a small gem which does not exist in any of the tour books.
This church dates to the late 12th century, with significant western influences on the design into the 13th century. This would reflect the presence of Frankish Crusaders in this area after the 1204 sack of Constantinople.
The craftsmanship of the above parts of the church and upper windows contrasts with the neglected brick built masonry of the lower parts and narthex, reflecting the changing economic times of the empire.
The church is only open 2 times a year and is currently undergoing restoration. One of those days is St. George’s Orthodox feast day, April 23. I am not permitted by the conservator to publish interior photos of the church.
To get to the church, you will take the 608 bus north from Victoria Square. Stay on it until you see Veikou Park.
Given this emperor’s plotting well before the 1180’s, it was a gross oversight that he wasn’t killed decades before.
The history of the Eastern Roman Empire (or the Byzantine Empire, as it was never known to the Byzantines themselves) is sadly not as well known as that of the Roman Empire before the fall of the West in AD 476. It’s a shame because the Romans would continue to wield influence and play a […]
After several trips to the region, I’ve managed to design the perfect Byzantine Roadtrip. This route largely avoids major urban areas (and the traffic that comes with it). There’s likely other plans further north in the Balkans and Anatolia but this one captures the spirit of late empire. I find this preferable as many of these structures are largely intact.
A couple of disclaimers, there is a LOT of driving here. Think like the roadtrip with your family when you were young and special planning was done around bathrooms. You’d better have a really good tenacity and energy levels to support this, because this plan will exhaust you.
If you don’t have a understanding significant other, I highly recommend to leave them behind in Athens with a high limit credit card as a pacifier.
Finally, in pursuit of Byzantine sites and building the narrative here you will be skipping several Ancient Greek sites. Places like Delphi, Ancient Corinth and Mycenae will be passed by on the way to your next site in the Empire.
Plan on about 100 euros in tolls and 100 euros in gas (assuming you’re taking a diesel econobox).
This is a 3 day/2 night plan leaves and returns to Athens with overnight stops in Patras and Kalabaka.
So if you’re wanting to get Byzantium from a firehose and feeling a bit masochistic…
Day 1 Crusader Castles, Mystras and Patras
Birlin Tip: Athens traffic is an adventure, especially during rush hour. To avoid traffic, I picked up my Sixt car in Kinetta Beach. There is a OSE Train that leaves the Athens station on Theodore Diligiannis Street and will drop you at Kinetta. It’s about a 1KM walk from there. I had keys in hand by 8:30AM.
AcroCorinth. Being on the way, this castle overlooks the Gulf of Corinth. It’s at the turn onto the E65 highway out of Athens. You could theoretically catch it on your way back from Mystras too. It’s only about 4KM from the freeway.
The structure has Byzantine fabrication from the 9th century and has additional construction from the Frankish period.
I only spent about an hour and a half here. You will be on your way again to Mystras.
Birlin Tip: After Tripoli take the free road not the toll road. Its more direct than the toll road and the time difference is negligible. Besides it will save you another 10 euros or so in tolls.
Mystras: I made a number of comments about Mystras in my previous publication, and honestly this is the most impressive Byzantine structure I’ve seen outside of Istanbul. This bears repeating- Mystras reflects the evolution of Byzantine art of the late empire.
Assuming all goes right, you’ll arrive in Patras about 4PM which will allow for an hour at the Archaeological Museum of Patras before it closes.
St. Andrews stays open into the evening- this is the place where the Apostle Andrew was crucified and several of his relics are there.
You should be both emotionally and physically exhausted from day 1. However, this is the most difficult travel day.
Birlin Tip: Patras on Monday is a nonstarter. Both the Castle and Byzantine Museum are closed on this day.
If you really wanted to theme your night stay, you can stay in the Byzantino Hotel or the Konstantinos Palaiologos Hotel in Patras.
The spirit of the empire really shines more in this region than any other of Greece. This was the area where a sort of “Byzantine last stand” was done in the Peloponnese in 1460. Expect a publication on that soon.
Parking downtown is challenging. Spots are at a premium.
Day 2 The Despotate of Epirus
Starting off in Patras, grab a quick stop by the Castle right as they open at 8AM. Its at the top of a hill and there’s a number of small streets you need to navigate to get there.
Arta: You’ll then turn north up the coastal freeway and your first stop will be Arta. It’s about an hour and half drive to there. Your number one interest here is the Church of the Parigoritissa.
It was built under control of the Despotate of Epirus, one of the successor states after the 4th Crusade. This principality had the inside track to retake Constantinople and become the restored Byzantine empire before the disastrous Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230.
The Bridge of Arta is also significant and closeby. While the current construction is Ottoman it has existed in different forms since Roman times.
Ioannina: This is an hour past Arta. This place is significant as the capital of the previously mentioned Despotate of Epirus.
The notable sites here include the castle, Orthodox churches and Ottoman era mosques.
In addition, you have the Byzantine Museum of Ioannina. It is located in the citadel of the castle.
You’re not done today, as you need head to Kalabaka to stay the night. It’s about a 1 hour 45 minute drive.
Day 3 The Highs and Lows of Monastery Design
Meteora: You’re going to start your day at the Meteora Monasteries, which is on the outskirts of Kalabaka. Depending on what day you are here the monasteries have differing open times, but the majority of them start about 9AM. There are a handful that open at 8 and others at 10. Not all monasteries are open all days.
Meteora is significant as it reflects the retreat of Orthodox belief into physically inaccessible places as it was faced with unstoppable Ottoman power.
It’s a 3 ½ hour drive to Hosios Loukas. Your goal is to get there before 3 PM to get at least 2 hours here.
Hosios Loukas: Reflects the apogee of the middle period, with the smaller church built under Romanus and the larger one commissioned by Basil II. There are significant mosaics in the larger of the two churches.
Birlin Tip: I went Monday and was the only one here. The cashier said the day prior had 500 people there.
It’s about a 2 hour drive to back to Athens at this point. Also, note that Delphi is about 15 minutes for this location.
What about Monemvassia?
As the final independent domain of the Despotate of Morea after the fall of Constantinople, it would make sense to include this. In addition, there are a number of Byzantine Churches and town walls which would make this a worthwhile visit. Logistically, it was just too far from all the other sites that you would lost 1/2 a day or more to visit it.
One Final Word
It should go without saying, but regrettably abroad I always see people treating these people’s homeland as their personal playground. It embarrasses me as an American that my fellow country-people act in such a way. We are guests here and should represent our nations as suitable dignitaries.
Please respect religious institutions and the beliefs of those who practice. It should go without saying, but dress appropriately in such places.
I think this is a fantastic post and reevaluation of the Civil War. In attempting to redefine the narrative at the turn of the 20th century, a great amount of ink was spilled in trying to diminish that the Civil War fight was over slavery, but rather a defense of culture and states rights.
Take the major conflicts leading up to the war- the Dred Scott Decision, the Compromise of 1850, and Bleeding Kansas. All of these conflicts all had to do with the slavery question. Then why would the Civil War be fought over differing conditions?
When I first began teaching at Florida State College at Jacksonville in 2010, Dr. Wesley Moody was a senior historian that became both my mentor and my friend. Always in a coat and tie, with a conservative formal approach to dealing with students and teaching, Wes is very much a professor in the classic or […]
I’ve made it home from the last foray into Europe, and unlike the last 2 years I felt and out brief might be helpful of where things are going here.
In Comparing Istanbul to Greece…a Byzantine Perspective
Istanbul feels a lot like Rome, that everywhere you turn you find reminders of the Empire throughout the city. More than once, you’ll find yourself walking by a 1,000-year-old fixture that has no mention in any guidebook.
Furthermore, the architecture of this city encompasses the entire 1,100-year history of the Empire. Consider examples from each architectural period:
Early Period: Theodosian Walls, Hagia Sophia
Iconoclastic Architecture: Hagia Irene
Middle Period: Chora Church
Late Period: Saint Mary of the Mongols
The city reflects not just the Byzantine period, but also includes an overlay of 600 years of Ottoman and Modern Turkish history on top of it. It reflects the transitional nature of the people, religion and economy over the last 2 millennia.
This was not my first trip into Greece, but Athens and the Peloponnese brought about an entirely different feeling. In going into these sites, it was the feeling of a sort of open air museum portraying a time gone by. Even visiting sites that were still functioning churches and monasteries, I couldn’t shake this emotion. There is an eerie stillness in the Greek Medieval sites, especially when you get away from the crowds.
As the center of cultural and economic activity in the Empire shifted west, Greece became a center of activity. As a result, most of the Medieval buildings here are Middle Period and Palaiologinos Era constructions.
A Word on Mystras
As the empire was basically a shell of itself in the 13th and 14th centuries, the citizens couldn’t help but turn inward trying to understand what went so very wrong. The state evolved from a world superpower to a backwater inside of a century. They were in a word…obsolete.
Hungry and broken refugees from the eastern frontier were flooding the capital, and the state was economically bankrupt. Formerly majestic fixtures such as the Great Palace and Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople were falling into ruin as there was no money for upkeep. The population which was nearly 400,000 in 1200, dropped 82% over the next century. It’s not a stretch for many citizens to wonder if these were the Christian end times.
Drained of its power, glory and wealth, the empire reached for its artistic apogee especially in painting. The ground zero for this effort was rising out of the former Frankish fortress town of Mystras.
The entire complex spreads across the side of a mountain, and a number of buildings remain in remarkably good shape. The handful of photos currently online do not reflect the size of this location many turns reveal a whole new set of ruins and building.
Knowing that this was the swan song of the empire, it brought me to tears upon entering.
The last couple of years I’ve been into Northern Greece and Bulgaria multiple times. I’m overdue to get back into Turkey again soon. It’s been 2 years since I’ve last been in Istanbul and I’d really like to get into some of the some of the frontier regions (Bursa, Kayseri, and Trabzon particularly). I really would like to study the impact of areas with extended Turkish presence and how the landscape changes.
I initially wanted to do a list of the 10 worst rulers, however settled on three individuals who hold the crown of absolutely failure and accelerated the decline of the Empire. These individuals left the Empire much worse off than when they came in, especially at a time when it needed good leadership. Without further ado…
Alexius IV Angelos (1203-1204)
To gain access on the throne, he diverted a Latin Crusader army headed for Egypt to the shores of the Bosphorus with promises of payment that the empire just did not have.
Once on the throne, it quickly became apparent that these debts could not be honored. The Crusaders obviously were a bit upset about the situation but it still was not outright war yet.
Alexius decided to play both parties off on each other. He refused to take any actual decisive action- he wouldn’t pay the Crusaders much less inform them that they monies did not exist. On the other side, he wouldn’t take decisive action to battle against the Crusaders in the defense of the city. He had just hoped the Crusaders would just go away.
Alexius IV holds more responsibility for the disaster of the 4th Crusade more than anyone else. Had he not gotten involved, the Crusader army would have sailed for Egypt and never made way for Constantinople.
Constantine X Doukas (1061-1067)
This emperor’s obsession with balancing the financial books defied all good logic. He gutted the army, releasing the best soldiers as a cost saving measure. It wasn’t as if this was happening in a vacuum. Everyone knew these were dangerous times- Turks had been testing the defenses of the Eastern Borders, Normans had just wrapped the conquest of Byzantine Italy and eyeing across the Adriatic, and the Pechenegs were making noise up north. Byzantium always had a goal of keeping a single front war, here she was threatened with action on 3 fronts.
Constantine’s actions around Ani didn’t escape his cost cutting. A city of 80,000 people, this city would have occupied a place in the 20 largest metropolises in the world in 1045. It would have a similar economic importance of Los Angeles in the United States or Hong Kong to China. The city was critical to the defense of the empire, covering a major Eastern gates into the heartland.
However, this did not stop Doukas from his penny pinching. He made a deal with a profiteer named Bagrat for the defense of Ani. Bagrat promised that the city would be self sufficient in defense, and not require any of the Empire’s tax money. Bagrat diverted the revenues into his own pocket and downgraded the defenses of the city. Predictably, the Turks were able to take the city in 1064. However, Constantine failed to make any sort of meaningful response. The Turks, taking this as a sign of weakness, accelerated their incursions into Byzantine territory.
John IV Kantakouzenos
This one is interesting, as his tenure as Grand Domestic under Andronikos III Palaiologus(1328-1341) was quite effective. The empire had annexed Epirus and had a relatively compact and defensible position in the Balkans from which a modest recovery could be continued.
These were dangerous times with foreign enemies, but manageable with wise leadership. The Turks had been raiding in the Balkans since the late 1320s, the Serbs under Stefan Dusan were making attacks on Macedonia and the Bulgarians were exercising their power under Ivan Alexander.
Upon the death of Andronikos III in 1341, the will dictated that he was to be the regent for the 9 year old heir, John V.
Let’s quickly revisit Emperor Rule #1: There are no shortage of ambitious men waiting for a sign of weakness by which to take the throne. Kantakouzenos had plenty of enemies. Empress Anna, the widow of Andronikos III, hated him. The Patriarch was solidly in the anti-Kantakouzenos and he must of known of his apprentice, Alexios Apokaukos.
Then why out of gross naivety(or arrogance), did Kantakouzenos leave the capitol to deal with the Peloponnese? He failed completely to realize the gravity of his situation, and his enemies rolled their plots to seize the throne.
Kantakouzenos lost most of his support quickly. Instead of giving up on a lost cause, he embroiled the empire in a civil war. He made deals with the Serbians to exchange Byzantine territory for Serbian armed support and brought the Turks into the conflict. After 7 years of Civil war, Kantakouzenos managed to regain the regency and throne. However, the Byzantium he gained back was no longer an empire but rather little more than Constantinople and its environs.
How time passes so quickly! A year ago, on Orthodox Assumption day (August 15th) we kicked off the cycle of @CryForByzantium. Since then, we’ve garnered 4.51 Million Impressions and grown to 8,800 followers. I did work for a while on memes for new emperors and will try to pick that up again somewhat. The images makes this fun and really brings history alive.
So watching engagements, your favorite emperor by far is Justinian. Conquest is a good business in making your place in history.
In second place, Constantine is another fan favorite. Something about this whole Christianity business is something you really reacted to.
Other emperors which had high levels of engagement are Julian the Apostate, Heraclius, and Leo.
The emperor I’ve enjoyed playing the most has been Justinian II. Such a twisted and misguided character was an absolute joy on the replies.
We have a very international following. It especially warms my heart to see we have so many Turkish followers recognizing that Byzantine history is your heritage as well as Seljuk and Ottoman history.
With that, thank you for following and I look forward to bringing you the next 300+ years of the cycle over the next 12 months.
I‘ve been thinking a lot recently about several issues around the Kommenian restoration and the international politcal scene prior to the 4th crusade, particularly around Byzantine-Venetian relations. The standard histories detail the 1054 schism, some problems during the Crusades and relative peace until the 1204 Siege of Constantinople. If anything, there was a series of low level conflicts and tension during the majority of the previous century.
A Bad Marriage
In the late 11th century, the Normans took the remainder of Byzantine possessions in Italy and Sicily and were threatening Byzantine possessions in the Balkans. In a desperate act to gain naval support, Alexios Komnenos granted special trade rights to the Venetians through the Chrysobull of 1082. They were granted Byzantine tax exemptions and received their own special trading district in the capital. In exchange, the Venetians were to provide naval intervention on behalf of the Byzantine state.
Arguably one of the worst deals in history, this had profound consequences for Venice as it kicked their economic and state development into high gear. Over the next 100 years Venetian trading power eventually choked off competition of Byzantine merchants. Venice really had no love for Byzantium or motivation to protect them beyond their new source of income.
This situation created an interesting paradox of Byzantine leaders unable to undo or reduce these privileges. They lacked the naval forces to change the balance of power so continued to depend on an unreliable Venice for this support. Byzantium really needed the support of Venice in her conflicts against her enemies, but this relationship was toxic to the empire. Common sense dictates a large revenue source diverted to a foreign nation for protection undermines their own national security.
Untying the Knot
As a result, Byzantine leaders were motivated to undo the agreement. Upon the ascension of John Komnenos, he refused to confirm the Chrysobull of 1082 and remove their special tax free status. Soon after, the Venetians attacked Corfu on their way to Crusade. In retaliation, John exiled the Venetians in the capital which only escalated the conflict. Doge Domenico Michele leveled the city of Methoni and pillaging continued until 1126. John Komnenos finally confirmed and extended their trading privileges. Doge Michele’s tomb reads the “Greek Terror, Praise of the Venetians.”
As an effort to undermine Venice’s position in the capital, Manuel Komnenos cultivated relationships with her rivals Genoa and Pisa. Similar agreements were created, in the thought that they could get similar protections without the attitude.
Once Manuel felt comfortable with cutting ties with Venice, he imprisoned some 10,000 Venetians in Constantinople in 1171. Public opinion turned decisively against the Byzantines in Venice and the people clamored for war. After several rather indecisive battles, plague set in the Venetian camp while waiting for negotiations. Manuel stalled in negotiations while letting the plague set in with the Venetian navy. As time passed, the Venice’s navy was decisively destroyed.
Of course, things came to a head in 1182 with the Massacre of the Latins. Tens of thousands of westerners were massacred in the capital and Cardinal John was beheaded.
The Massacre of the Latins event has been pointed to as a sort of casus belli for the Venetians attack in the 4th crusade. Obscured by modern nationalist rhetoric, Enrico Dandolo never took it personally and was back to the previous status quo settling several new trading agreements shortly thereafter.