Episode 40 – Questions (6th Century)

Bélisaire, by François-André Vincent (1776). Belisarius, blinded, a beggar, is recognised by one of his former soldiers. (Wikipedia).

Bélisaire, by François-André Vincent (1776). Belisarius, blinded, a beggar, is recognised by one of his former soldiers.(Wikipedia).

I answer your 6th century questions from education to eunuchs and food to fleets.

Period: 500-602

Download: Episode 40 – Questions (6th Century)

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Belisarius Begging for Alms (1781) by Jacques-Louis David (Wikipedia).

Belisarius Begging for Alms (1781) by Jacques-Louis David (Wikipedia).

Categories: Podcast | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Episode 40 – Questions (6th Century)

  1. Reading

    After listening, I have additional question. How manny people could read in Byzantimu empire?
    I.e. not just in the city but average number.

  2. There’s obviously no way of answering that accurately. But I would guess it was something like 1 or 2% of the population. Maybe a slightly higher number of people could read and write a little for the functions of their trade or profession but wouldn’t have been able to read a book.

  3. Patrick

    I’m just catching up to this podcast now and am only at episode 8, but I really wish I could have shown you this website: http://geacron.com/home-en/?&sid=GeaCron543854 at that time. It would have solved so many issues with mapping the ever changing geopolitical situations you’re moving through since it shows the whole world every year. It of course has a few bugs and inaccuracies, but no major ones that are relevant to this podcast.

  4. Great Job Robin ! Keep up the good work.

  5. matejcepltest


    going through the backlog, and I have a question which may be answered later. While reading absolutely excellent “Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History” (http://staff.lib.msu.edu/sowards/balkan/ ; generally they start after the Middle-Ages, so not directly interesting to your podcast) I found this fascinating paragraph when they go through the early history of Greece:

    > We have copious historic records about Greece, but there are still some questions. The most mysterious episode in Greek national history takes place at the end of the Roman period. The Greek world was part of Rome, but Greek culture survived under Roman rule. Greek was the language of the earliest Christian gospels. The eastern half of the Roman Empire was culturally Greek and survived as the Byzantine Empire until 1453 AD (or CE, Christian Era). Between 600 and 800 AD, Slavic invaders washed over Greece as far south as the Peloponessus. These “barbarians” created a “dark age” in the Balkans during which written Greek records cease. In 800 AD Greek written culture reappears. Apparently these “invasions” can also be characterized as an intermingling of peoples. Greek civilization seems to have survived in small cities, and ultimately the newly arrived Slavs became Hellenized. Are we then dealing with the same Greek identity? It persists in a cultural sense, but the 19th century notion of “blood” might say that these are not quite the same people. This is worth keeping in mind later as one wrestles with questions of ethnic identity.

    I am Czech, so I have some understanding of the European history, but all my life I have considered Greeks as a rather isolated strange piece of nation sui generis. This history of Balkans seems to move them firmly into the Balkan history. Without restoring to the panslavic nonsense, I now wonder whether at least genetically (if not culturally), actually I am not closer to the current Greeks than they are to Socrates. Is there more about history of the Greece in the Byzantine times? During whole this time it looks like behind the Thessaloniki there was a huge hole where nothing happened. Was it so?

    • As a response to that question, I would recommend starting with this writer, raised in the modern nation of Greece but of Macedonian origins, who tells a fascinating tale of being told he was the descendant of “Slavs” and yet discovering his DNA proves he’s only maybe 11% Eastern European: http://www.pollitecon.com/html/essays/DNA-Testing-Annihilates-Greek-Propaganda.htm

      From what I’ve read and seen, the people who live in Greece now have predominantly localized “Greek” DNA but with a smattering of all the peoples who have settled in or passed through in the intervening centuries since Socrates. This despite the fact that millions of Greeks emigrated from what is now Turkey in Anatolia to the nation of Greece today, and vice versa with the Turks, and thousands more have returned to the Greek homeland from nations of the former USSR in recent decades–there’s some genetic mixup between the Greeks and Italians and the Greeks and the Turks, but shockingly, the Greeks are still seem to be more than half “Greek” according to DNA results, with similarities to Albanians, Italians, Romanians, and other geographically nearby Europeans.

      Masaman has a video all about it (you can probably skip the first half, which is just about how the Greeks were once, you know, the Greek empire): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8YJqYpNQT8

      That doesn’t mean that we should all run off and become fascist racists, though. It’s important to point out that on a larger time scale, there are unique haplogroups shared between, say, Greeks and Africans, and that we all come from Africa at some point in the past. Also, a lot of these DNA tests claim to be definitive, but really if you peer down into it, there’s just strong percentages versus certainties (e.g. I might be 80% likely to have 4% Swedish DNA, but that means that 1 in 5 people being told that are not 4% Swedish. And as more and more Swedes take DNA tests, for example, I might learn that I am 80% likely to be 7% Swedish, or 90% likely to be 4% Swedish, or that I’m actually, somehow, a Dane).

  6. If I may

    I wouldn’t take his lecture seriously, as he tries to include and interweave the quite modern notions of racial purity and national identity in the medieval world, and then only apply it for the Greeks.

    I actually read through it
    In the same lecture you can read about how the albanians are the actual descendants of illyrians, without applying the same “dark ages” argument, which would have spanned, up to the first documentation of the albanian language, 13th century or so,
    I’m also not aware of any links between their languages that he writes as fact, (from the little illyrian we derived about since there are no written sources)

  7. I have a question regarding the Italian reconquest of Italy–one the Lombards came in, was there an acknowledgment in the public language about the “Roman Empire” that the Lombardian duchies existed? Would maps and doctrine and such acknowledge that the Lombards had basically halved the Byzantine holdings in the Italian peninsula? Or officially was all of Italy still a part of Byzantium, on paper?

  8. Also, how far did Byzantine diplomacy travel? Did Byzantine diplomats and ambassadors, or even just merchants, in the sixth century travel to China? To the Gupta Empire? To we have word of the Byzantines traveling to England and Ireland? Or to Ethiopia? The Malaysian states? Saxony? Tibet?

    It seems that if the Byzantines were so intent on circumventing the Silk Road, they would have made entreaties to every nation along the coast all the way around the Arabian peninsula and Indian subcontinent, at the very least–and maybe at least try to bargain with the peoples of the steppes for safe passage to China through a northern route.

    And to counter their potential enemies among the Franks and Visigoths, you’d assume they would try to get in touch with their rivals, such as the Basques and Frisians, and with any tribe that might be bribed or at least strongly encouraged to, say, storm the beaches of Normandy to hold the Franks at bay while Byzantines focused solely on the Ostrogoths.

    I would be very curious to know what the impression was of Justinian and his peers upon any of these peoples, and vice versa.

    • Despite isolated missions across the centuries there is little evidence of Byzantine diplomatic missions travelling too far afield. Most Byzantine diplomacy was focused on neighbouring states. Roman traders, monks and other travellers however are recorded all over the globe. Including a few contacts with China. But there are plenty of references to Greek-speakers all over Europe and all along the coasts to Sri Lanka and back.

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