Episode 76 – The Dung Named

The interior of the Hagia Eirene restored by Constantine V (Wikipedia)

The interior of the Hagia Eirene restored by Constantine V (Wikipedia)

Constantine V faces a conspiracy against his throne and his response is violent. He continues to rebuild his capital and campaign against the Bulgars. Yet despite all his success he was remembered as the Dung named.

Period: 765-775

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Categories: Podcast | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Episode 76 – The Dung Named

  1. ArcticXerxes

    Questions: At what point did the Empire once again lose political control of the city of Rome? When and how exactly did the Papal States come into existence?

    Also, do you think we could have an updated map of Italy and the Adriatic soon, so we can see just how much of that area was still under Byzantine rule at this point in history? By the way, I really like the maps you have provided so far.

  2. Ken

    Great Episode. A pity that historians slandered Constantine’s name.
    Q-How were taxes collected? Was it a continuation of the system introduced by Emperor Diocletian or different.

  3. What became of the Senate after the re-population of the city? Any changes, did they still meet? Where there all new members? Did they become even less influential? In what century did they disappear?

    • Chris Cox

      The Senate was already a non-entity around this time. Their last recorded act was in 1204 AD, when they elected a young and unwilling noble, Nicholas Kanabos, as emperor in opposition to Alexios IV Angelos. He never accepted the position and was just as quickly murdered by Alexios V Doukas.

      I’m really enjoying these podcasts. It hurts me that iconoclast emperors like Constantine V and Leo V ‘the Armenian’ don’t get enough respect or information. F-ing ingrates, the iconophiles.

  4. Hi Robin, thanks for the great episode! I always look ahead to your new podcasts. A question for one of the next episodes: As now Byzantine military is on the move again outside of its borders – do we know anything about logistics? How were the soldiers fed? In which way did the army and the navy collaborate during a campaign? How is Byzantine warfare different from Bulgarian warfare? How do we have to envision the composition of the army? How did advancement in the ranks worked, where the officers all from the noble class? Thanks for your diligent work. I like how you take your time for each period and don’t rush through the centuries.
    Also, it there are any data, I would be interested in economic and demographic developments.

  5. Benjamin the Drunkard

    Once again, great episode Robin. It is a shame that Constantine was so slandered by historians. It was interesting to hear an objective, measured analysis of a man that did so much for the empire.

    Along similar lines to Joros’ question, I’m interested in learning how the equipment, tactics and day to day life of the Byzantine military. Did Byzantine generals still refer to the Strategicon? Did they erect fortified, organized camps like their Roman forefathers? Was the army comprised of volunteers, or were they levied conscripts? How had their weaponry been influenced by more than a century and a half of warfare with the Arabs?

  6. Julius

    Hi Robin. Thank you for the effort you put in this. My question is probably a bigger one: Is it possible to give a (chronological) overview about the development of Christianity in the Roman Empire up to now (that is, from Chalcedon to Iconoclasm)? There was some information on the general change of religious worldview in the episode about theodicy, and in other episodes we had some information about it, but not a coherent summary about the history of Christianity in the empire.

  7. Hello! I just wanted to say that I’ve spent the last year and a half listening to The History Rome three full times because I loved it so much and I’ve been craving a continuation of the story through the Byzantine age – and I just found your podcast a few days ago! I’m only on episode 8 right now but I’m excited to catch up and get through the rest of the episodes. Just wanted to let you know that you have a new listener and I’m super excited to learn about the history of Byzantium!

    • gerald hammond

      Yeah I went from Robin and the Byzantine Podcast to Mike and The History of Rome. Mike is good, but Robin is better…I would also recommend Lars Brownworths book “Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that saved Western Civilization” Its a great read/listen.

  8. Paul Kendrick

    Great episode I very much enjoyed it and gathered much information. You ask for question as to the end of this century, my question is what did the empire know of China given its trade routes.

  9. Rbills

    Were gladiator spectacles still being staged? Are you ok? Maybe I missed it but no new episodes since the 9th….

  10. Nathan Daniels

    I’ve come late to the party, and have been binge-listening over the past month. I’m loving the podcast!
    It’s a great frustration that I usually listen whilst driving, so by the time I’m able to consult these fantastic maps I’m always hearing about, I’m inundated with work or family life.

    I’d like to know more about your sources. The reason why is that you tend to fall into a pattern, which is that if the original extant sources tend to be monolithic (especially if they’re Orthodox), your stated conclusion is that they’re unreliable, if not outright false. That is a possible reality, but the reality also might sometimes actually correlate with the only historical texts that are available, or somewhere inbetween. I get the impression that you’re a meticulous researcher, and rarely state your own conjectures if they’re not posited by other intermediate sources.

    The issue of iconoclasm has been the most stark example I’ve heard yet on the podcast. I’ve heard you mention a few times that there was no evidence of a wide-ranging destruction of icons under Constantine, but what would constitue such evidence other than the extant historical writings; smashed icons? The research I’ve seen seems to indicate that while iconography had been a huge deal in the Eastern Roman Empire (hence the controversy), almost no icons exist from before the time of iconoclasm. The remaining old icons predating iconoclasm are in distant monasteries such as St. Catherine’s in Sinai, which is remote enough that Byzantine or Islamic iconoclasts left it alone, or places like Ravenna, which as you mentioned on this episode had passed out of Byzantine influence before Constantine’s alleged campaign against icons fully engaged.

    So that’s why I’m asking about your sources. I presume that they’re roughly proposing the same hypotheses, so reading up on them and finding out what *their* sources are might help me to understand why the tendency is to reject (certain) monolithic original sources so completely.

    All that said, I do really enjoy your podcast, and I’ve learned SO MUCH. I was recently listening to another podcast (one that covers video game music, of all things), and a tangiental conversation led to them talking about Excubitors. I immediately responded that I knew EXACTLY what they were talking about, thanks to a certain History of Byzantium Podcast, and by the way they should check it out. I’m very excited to catch up, hopefully before you get to -ulp- 1453.

    • Thanks so much for the feedback. Hopefully the discussion of sources will improve as we go forward.

      With Iconoclasm there are of course a huge array of non-written sources that have been called upon to give evidence (everything from archaeology and coins to fabrics and lead seals). But primarily we’re talking about written sources (so letters, hagiography and histories).

      The main histories are the Chronicle of Theophanes and the Short History of the Patriarch Nicephorus. What emerges from them is the story of Icons being torn down and monks being persecuted. But they don’t tell a consistent, thorough story. Instead they list a few grievances, damn the memory of the Emperors involved and talk in greater detail about the restoration of images afterwards.

      The most convincing modern scholars have argued that these accounts are greatly simplifying a complex ideological battle that took place in both political and monastic circles. At the end of Iconoclasm there was a strong desire to present the Iconophiles as having ‘won’ and ‘restored Orthodoxy.’ So our historians seem to have framed the struggle as if it were like the early Christian martyrs fighting the pagan authorities. Good on one side, bad on the other.

      The hagiography and letters of the day make little reference to destruction and persecution in those terms. A struggle was taking place but it’s not clear how this struggle was acted out.

      Though the debate about images and their place in society was real enough. It’s not clear if the political struggle ever gained the level of vitriol or ideological importance that is implied. It may have been more about political loyalty than where one really stood on representations of Christ.

      What is clear is that the ‘restoration of Orthodoxy’ was a big political project to make sure that the argument was forgotten and never revisited. Damning the memory of those who’d been on the losing side could be one of the ways this was achieved.

      Two real problems dog us throughout this discussion. One is that there is no Iconoclast history to contrast with that of the Iconophiles. And two is that history was not written in Byzantium to be a record of facts. It was a moral project. A presentation of the past to make a point about the present. That’s not to say that people made things up – only that things tended to be framed to make a wider point. When we suspect that the wider point is a distortion or simplification of reality – it calls into question everything that has come before.

  11. Copper

    Well, apparently I’m going to become a Constantine V defender! I’ve really enjoyed how you’ve used Constantine and the legacy he has left to really think about sources, what the intervening centuries and sources do to our perceptions of history and how much we can only see history through the lens of all the intervening years and people, and how much these ‘historical sources’ actually reflect the time they are written in rather than the time they are talking about. Super interesting stuff!

    Also its nice to see the navy being useful and not going around having uprisings and installing new emperors.

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