HI 103: The Byzantine Empire, 330-1453





I. Course Overview

The Christianization of the Roman Empire and the transfer of its capital to Constantinople gave rise to a powerful and stable Eastern Roman Empire (called "Byzantine"), lasting almost 1000 years after the collapse of the empire in the West. This course is an inquiry into the reasons for its stability and longevity. It also attempts to explain why the Byzantine Empire declined and was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Emphasis is given to the Eastern Empire's disastrous relations with the Latin West during the Crusades as the chief reason for its decline and fall. Thus this course offers a way to understand the heritage of the ancient world as well the origins of some of the current ethnic, cultural and religious problems facing Greece, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Russia.

This semester we will see, first of all, how Roman, Greek and Christian elements fuse in the East to form a legitimate and enormously stable successor state to the pagan Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire served as "civilizer" of the West in many senses, and the course will show how its advanced civilization contributed to the West's development. East and West, however, split not only geographically but also religiously. The tragedy of the Eastern Empire was to be caught between a doctrinally hostile and envious Medieval West and the repeated Islamic onslaughts. The combined weight of both these enemies served ultimately to destroy what was called (along with old Rome) one of the "two eyes" of Christianity.


II. Structure of the Course

The course is divided into three parts.

Part I

is an inquiry into the structures which gave the Byzantine Empire its strength and solidity: the nature of the imperial office and the theology of emperor and empire; the relationship of Church and State; rural and urban life; commerce and industry; home and family. Emphasis will also be placed on Byzantium as bulwark protecting the Early Medieval West from Islamic expansion. In addition, this section will give special attention to the architecture, art, worship and ceremonial (churches, worship and ikons) of the Byzantine world, as a way to understand the various Eastern Orthodox traditions both in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Part II

examines the growing separation of Byzantium from the Latin West from the Early Medieval period to the Crusades, and its confrontation with the Latin West. The crusading movement as a whole is examined in an attempt to understand why the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.

Part III

concerns the aftermath of the Crusades and the circumstances leading to the long slow death of the Eastern Roman Empire at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, a drama that ended when the City was finally conquered on May 29, 1453.


III. Required Readings (available in Campus Bookstore)


Geanakoplos, Deno John, Byzantium:Church, Society, and Civilization Seen through Contemporary Eyes. University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Magoulias, Harry J., Byzantine Christianity: Emperor, Church and the West. Wayne State University Press, 1982.

Ostrogorsky, George, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press, 1969.

Procopius, The Secret History. Penguin Books, 1981.


IV. Course Requirements

1. The course is a combination of lecture and discussion. Discussion is based on primary source readings and prepared written focus questions. Questions must be handed in when due, and will be collected and graded. Late work is not accepted.

2. Each member of the class is responsible for a brief (5 minute maximum) oral presentation on selected terms from Eastern Roman history. These presentations are preparation for the identification section of each of the three examinations, and are handed in after class and graded.

3. Three Examinations: Wednesday, October 2; Wednesday, October 30; during Final Examination period (TBA).

4. Class attendance and participation (notification required beforehand for an excused absence)


V. Grading

Final grades will be calculated as follows:

Focus questions, participation, attendance: 10%
Oral Presentation: 15%
Three examinations (25% each): 75%


Lecture Topics and Assigned Readings


Part I: The Transformation of the Roman Empire, 500-711 M 8/26,W 8/28,
F 8/30: The Roman Empire: Augustus to Constantine
History of the Byzantine State, 27-50
Byzantium, pp.1-2; #19

W 9/4: Orthodoxy, Heresy and the Christian Emperor
Byzantine Christianity, 17-41; 51-53

F 9/6: Discussion: Constantinople - God's City, God's Empire, God's Emperor
Krautheimer, Constantinople (photocopy)
Byzantium, Ax. C, Map 1, p. 464; #1-5, #57, #58, #92, #94,#99A

M 9/9, W 9/11,
F 9/13: The Roman Empire in the West
HBS, 50-68
Discussion: Byzantium, #242-247

M 9/16, W 9/18,
F 9/20:
Justinian and the Renovatio of the Roman Empire
HBS, 68-86
Byzantium, #12, #38, #49
Procopius, The Secret History, 1-37
Discussion: Procopius, The Secret History, 130-152

M 9/23: Theodora, Sexuality and Apocalyptic History
Byzantium, #183
Procopius, The Secret History, 81-86, 94-129

W 9/25: Imperial Architecture: Hagia Sophia; Ruins of the Imperial Palace; Imperial Fora
Byzantium, #143; Slides, Video

F 9/27,
M 9/30: Heraclius, Constans II, and Arab Invasions
HBS, pp. 92-123
Byzantium, #61, #98

10/2: First Examination



Part II: Struggle and Apogee, 711-1081
F 10/4,
M 10/7: Withdrawal and Defense, 641-867
HBS, 123-146
Discussion: Byzantium, #248-252, #258-263

W 10/9,
F 10/11: Relations with the Early Medieval West: The Carolingian Empire
HBS, 182-186
BC, 41-53; 92-100
Discussion: Byzantium, #111-115, #266-7 (Video: Nicaea)

W 10/16,
F 10/18: Golden Age: The Macedonian Dynasty
HBS, 269-315

M 10/21, W 10/23
F 10/25: Tensions between Rome and Constantinople - the Great Schism
HBS, 334-341
BC, 109-119
Discussion:Byzantium, #146-154

M 10/28: Life in Constantinople: Defense, Women's Roles and Urban Living,
Discussion: Byzantium, #185-6, #200-02, #216-219, #233-4, #237
Video: Along the Land Walls from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn
Slides:Along the Sea Walls

W 10/30: Second Examination



Part III: Decline and Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, 1081-1453 F 11/1: Economic Policies of the Empire and Relations with Venice
HBS, 358-359
BC, 117-121
Byzantium, #207-211. #273-275

M 11/4,
W 11/6: The Crusading Movement and the First Crusade
HBS, 360-366
BC, 121-133
Discussion: Byzantium, #269-272

F 11/8,
M 11/11: The Fourth Crusade and the Latin Conquest of Constantinople, 1204
HBS, 401-417
BC, 148-165
Discussion: Byzantium, #276-280, #282, #283, #285

W 11/13: The Latin Empire of Constantinople, 1204-1261
HBS, 422-434

F 11/15,
M 11/18: Restoration: The Reconquest of the City and the Palaiologos Dynasty
HBS, 444-465
Byzantium, #283

W 11/20: The Ottoman Turks and the Balkans
HBS, 478-498; 533-552
Byzantium, #289-93

F 11/22: Reign of John VIII and the Council of Ferrara-Florence, 1439
HBS, 560-567
Discussion: Byzantium, #159-163

M 11/25, The Decline and Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to1453
M 12/2: HBS, 567-571
BC, 165-173
Discussion: Byzantium, #34, #77, #195, #294-5, #329

W 12/4: Legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Renaissance West and to Russia
HBS, 571-2
BC, 172-3
Byzantium, #330-3