Byzantine RoadTrips (Christian Enemies Edition)

So circumstances have granted me an opportunity to head back into Europe this week and I decided to piggyback another Balkan trip into this episode.  I think it was this travel video which tilted the needle for returning into the powder keg of Europe during Wintertime.

In theory this itinerary could be run from either Sofia or Skopje as those are the major airports on this route.  The goal of this adventure is a sort of celebration of some of the major enemies of the middle to late state- in this case Bulgarian, Serbian and Crusader.  The original plan was to include Edirne for Mehmet II, however shockingly enough currently there is very little there associated with the conqueror’s birthplace.  Most of his legacy sits in Istanbul.  I’m skipping Turkey this time as I’m likely be there later this Spring.  In addition, this itinerary skips Thessaloniki as I’ll be there earlier in the week.

I like to keep things kind of fluid so keep multiple plans in place, all depending on the auto insurance situation with Albania.

Day 1 – Sofia-> Skopje ->Ohrid

Day1Word association…when you think Skopje which political leader comes to mind first?  Good luck- first a Byzantine city, then a capital of both the Bulgarian and Serbian empires it’s hard to link to a single dynasty.  My primary interest in this city is Kale Fortress, coronation site of Serbian leader Stefan Dusan.  Stone Bridge will be my lone tribute here to Mehmet as he built it in the late 14th century.  The Skopje Bazaar is another possibility while in town.

Kale Fortress

On the way out of town in the suburb of Gorni Krushopek there is the Church of St. Panteleimon and Macedonian Village.  Built in the mid 12th century, this church reflects the apogee of the Komenian Restoration.

The end goal here today is to head into Ohrid for the night.

Should things go wrong the day will stop in Skopje.

Day 2 Ohrid -> Berat ->Ohrid

Day2We get onto the Via Egnatia today…arguably better known as the favorite highway of the Normans on their way to Constantinople.

Berat is a world heritage site, famous for the Norman invasions in 1282.  If the Normans weren’t stopped here it was likely game over for the restored empire.

The balance of the day will be spent in Ohrid.  This is notable as it was Tsar Samuel’s capital and the attempts to shift the center of power to the southwest.  Arguably the boogeyman of late 10th century Byzantium, he was the Joe Frazier to Basil II.  Ohrid is also heavily linked to Simeon I.



Alternate Plan: Head into Bitola and Agios Achillios on small Prespa Lake.

Day 3 Ohrid-> Pirot Castle/Sukovo Monastery ->Sofia


This is the most ambitious driving day as we are heading into southern Sebia on the way home.  Pirot Castle is notable as the fortress of Momchil.  This reflects the Balkanization of the late empire, as he played both sides between Anna of Savoy and John Kantakouzenos.

Both Sukovo and Poganovo Monasteries are right off the freeway and reflect heavy Byzantine influences as they were built in the 13th-14th centuries.

Sukovo Monastery


Final Note

The trip requires 3 days total and tries to maintain the driving averages from the “Ultimate Byzantine Roadtrip.”  It also skips a lot of the more modern sites such as Art Bridge in Skopje.  Good luck if you decide to do this itinerary!


All photos here were notated as “Labeled for Reuse” by Google.  I will gladly remove by author’s request!



The End of the Byzantine Successor States

In an attempt to complete the postscript to the fall of the Byzantine empire, it made sense to include the fates of the other successor states that outlived the empire.

The Despotate of Epirus  (Conquered 1479)

The early 1440s were promising to Epirus as Skanderberg’s rebellion was going well, the Crusade of Varna was underway and the Byzantine army had invaded from the Morea.  The leader of the vassal Epirus state, Carlo II, felt this was his moment to declare independence from the Turks.  He had the support of several Italian states and the Spanish.  However, as soon as his Spanish support was gone the Turks reappeared to remind him of his vassal status.  Once this happened, the Venetians abandoned him, and Arta was to become Turkish six months after Carlo’s death in the late 1440s.

For all intensive purposes, this was the end of Epirus.  However, ten years later his eldest son Leonardo began to call himself despot.  He married the granddaughter of Thomas Palaiologos, the last Despot of Morea to build his claim to the throne.  He ruled a rump state of a rump state, no more than a handful of castles.  His lifeline came when the Venetians went to war against the Turks for the next 16 years.

Left out of the peace negotiations, the Despotate had no more support from Venice, Naples or Spain.  The Turks intended to invade Italy, and this was a prime location to launch such an invasion.

Leonardo’s tiny territories were easy pickings that were occupied within weeks.  Vonitsa fell first.  Lefkada, Cephalonia were taken next and finally Zante fell on September 8, 1479.  Leonardo escaped to Rome and died there on a pension.

Some family members continued to use the title Despot of Arta well into the 17th century.


The Depostate of Morea  (Conquered 1461)

After continued infighting of the Palaiologos brothers, Mehmet finally grew tired of the situation and resolved to make it an Ottoman province.  He marched in with an army and most of the Peloponnese submitted with little problem.

3 areas caused problems against the Turks:

A small army under Graiztas Palaiologos holed up in the Castle of Salmeniko, about 26 miles east of Patras.  They were under siege from the Turks for about a year until permitted to leave Ottoman territory to Venetian territory.

Monemvassia on the southeastern coast is known as the Gilbratar of Greece, due to its nearly impregnable setup.  It was sold by Theodore Palaiologos in 1460 to the Papacy.  In 1464, they were given to Venice and held a Venetian garrison until 1540.

The Mani Highlands, a relative outpost were never truly integrated at this time and eventually became part of Venice.


The Empire of Trebizond (Conquered 1461)

Taking the throne in 1460, the new Emperor David lacked the tact of his predecessor and began building a series of alliances against the Ottomans.  He started by making overtures to Italians, Georgians, Armenian and neighboring Turcoman princes.

The only thing this coalition succeeded in doing was to identify the highest priority enemies the Sultan needed to turn his attention to.  David’s ally, the Turcoman prince, sent an embassy to Mehmet asking him to release the Trapezuntines from their tribute.  They reminded the Ottomans of a debt due to them, which only succeeded in making Mehmet furious.

Mehmet immediately made a peace treaty with Skanderberg to settle the western front.  This was going to be a one way trip to the Pontic region- he outfitted 150 galleys and a full army in Constantinople for this conquest.  However, David assumed that this force was headed to attack the Turcomans so didn’t prepare properly.  After some initial attacks on Trapezuntine allies, Mehmet surrounded David’s capital from both land and sea.

Realizing that the jig was up, David’s response was to negotiate the best surrender he could.  He turned over the keys to the city and the Empire of Trebizond was conquered on August 15, 1461.  David settled in Edirne after the conquest, but was soon imprisoned afterwards.  He and his sons were beheaded in 1463.


Principality of Theodoro (Conquered 1475)

Byzantine possessions in the Crimea became part of the Empire of Trebizond after the 4th Crusade.  Originally the Perateia province, these territories were focused around modern day Sevastopol.

After Trebizond’s unsuccessful wars against the Seljuks and Nicea in the 13th century, they established independence from Trebizond.  Their new rulers came from the Comnenus family and were called “Prince of Gothia”.

Just to the North of this territory was the Crimean Khanate, run by descendants of Genghis Khan.  Unable to fully subjugate the Byzantine state in the Crimea, they asked their fellow Muslims in the Ottoman empire for help.  In 1475, the Ottomans sent an invasion force to take Kaffa and the other coastal cities.  The Ottoman invasion was so effective that the Crimean Khan had to accept vassal status to the Turks.

The Last Roman Army

Most books place the end of the empire after the fall of Constantinople.  As a climactic end to the story, it omits that Byzantine government continued in the south of Greece until 1460.  While it did have vassal status to the Turks, the government, culture and army of this state was Byzantine.

Two Brothers Unable to share the throne

After the fall of Constantinople, Mehmet’s primary focus was on the establishment of his new capital.  By comparison, the Peloponnese was not a concern.  The Morea became an independent Greek state run by the recently deceased Constantine XI Palaiologos brothers, Thomas and Demetrios.  Thomas was decidedly pro-western, while Demetrios’ loyalties were with the Ottomans.  Unable to share the throne together or decide on a single leader, they split the peninsula between them.  The infighting and bickering between the two brothers would be a constant theme for the years ahead.

The resident Greeks in the Morea handed over their allegiances and began to pay their tribute to the Turks.  Not happy with the situation, some 30,000 Albanians immediately began to revolt in 1453 and found their leader in a descendant from a Byzantine noble family, Manuel Kantakouzenos. This is the same family tree that was emperor a century earlier.

Marching on Morea, the rebels made headway quickly.  They besieged the two brothers in their respective capitals, Thomas in Patras and Demetrios in Mystras.  The Palaiologos brothers made their call for the Turks to help them.  Mehmet sent an army in 1454 who put down the revolt and reinstall them as Despots.

Almost as soon as the Turkish army left, the two Palaiologos brothers went right back to their previous bickering and infighting. Civil war erupted and Thomas got the upper hand.  Demetrios called to Mehmet for support.

With his patience exhausted, Mehmet resolved to turn Morea into an Ottoman province and end the de facto Byzantine State.  In 1459, he marched in with an army, and town after town capitulated with little resistance.  With the Turks closing in, Thomas escaped to Italy.

A Last Stand

However, there was a lone Byzantine army that wasn’t going to give in so easily.  Graitzas Paliaologos had a small force holed up in the castle of Salmeniko about 40km from Patras.  Setup on the side of a mountain, the defenses were a nearly impregnable setup.  After several failed attempts at attack, the Turks settled in for a siege.  Tradition says that the defenders were able to get water into the castle by the use of sponges on ropes they dipped into the river below.

Faced with a stalemate, the two sides sides negotiated a settlement where Graitzas and his army would be permitted to leave for Venetian territory.  Not entirely trusting the enemy, he sent his baggage train out of the castle first which the Turks attacked.  Seeing the ruse, they immediately shut the doors of the castle.

The siege carried on, until the original terms were honored where Graitzas’ army was permitted to leave to Lepanto.  He was later confirmed a Stratioti commander in service of the Venetian military.

Later the Turks almost completed demolished the entire castle, leaving nothing more than the remnants of a few paths.

My Search for the Castle

As mentioned before I did not perfectly follow the directions to the Ultimate Byzantine Roadtrip, as there were some additional items and detours for investigation along the path.

Making my attempt at a modern day Indiana Jones I took directions from what I could find on the internet and headed into the backwoods of the Achaea province.

First off, once you turn south off the 8A Freeway, things definitely turn provincial really quickly into a small 2 laned road.  Failing to check the Greek sources properly, I was given 2 different coordinates around Kato Salmeniko.

IMG 20171112 162603691 HDR (2)
These coordinates are NOT the castle!

I asked several folks in town there who were walking around, and they were unaware of its existence.  I did get some direction that it was further up the mountain.  As I continued further away from the town road the more it became the Greek version of “You ain’t from around here, are you boy?”  Making another turn, I encountered an armed hunter emerging from the woods and realized this was a good time to call it a day and head into Patras.

As it turns out, the location is even further south.  This is the proper location of what remains of the castle.  If you are ever interested in seeing some rocks and rubble, here it is.


CryForByzantium Year in Review

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:


The WordPress

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.

Personal Thoughts

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!

Some thoughts on Mehmet II

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.

Foreign Relations

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Church of Hagios Gergios Omorphoklessia, Athens

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.


Tyrants of the world: Andronikos I Komnenos — Red Seal Society

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 […]

via Tyrants of the world: Andronikos I Komnenos — Red Seal Society

The Ultimate Byzantine Roadtrip

Justinian is not a Queen fan…

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

Day 1 Driving Plan

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.

AcroCorinth, Main Gate of the Outer Wall

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.

Pantanassa Monastery, Mystras

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

Day 2 Driving Plan

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.

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.

Ioannina Castle
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

Day 3 Travel Plan

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.



Seven Myths of the Civil War: An Interview with Dr. Wesley Moody — Andrew Holt, Ph.D.

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 […]

via Seven Myths of the Civil War: An Interview with Dr. Wesley Moody — Andrew Holt, Ph.D.

Thoughts from Byzantine Greece

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.


What’s Next?

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.