Episode 80 – The Isaurian Dynasty

Europe and the Middle East 800AD (worldhistorymaps.info)

Europe and the Middle East 800AD (worldhistorymaps.info)

Irene rules alone but the search for her successor undermines her. Then I recap the century and look at what Iconoclasm really represents.

Period: 797-802

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Categories: Podcast | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Episode 80 – The Isaurian Dynasty

  1. We always talk about how we need to take ancient historians with a grain of salt. Why are we so much better at knowing what happened at the time they actually lived? Are modern sources of contemporary events more reliable than ancient ones? Did ancient historians respect concepts of impartiality or accuracy?

    • 1) They tended not to view history as an attempt at an impartial observation of the past. It was more a piece of literature. Many of the histories contain allusions to Homer or Thucydides or Herodotus. Procopius for example uses the earlier description of a plague in Athens as the basis for his description of plague in 541 AD. These allusions are meant to please the ear of the audience at the time whose common culture was being referenced. That puts modern historians on edge about whether or not what is described is accurate or whether the facts were distorted to fit the literary creativity.
      2) Most historical works were written with a specific purpose in mind. Or a specific audience to please. Theophanes and Nicephorus are churchmen. Their work puts the church at the centre of the story of Iconoclasm when in many ways it wasn’t. They have to be careful about their comments on recent Emperors but can get away with slandering the long dead. Again it’s not that modern historians dismiss ancient accounts after one read. It’s that they all fit into a tradition and match the style of other works which attempt to flatter or defame based on who commissioned them.
      3) There are many exaggerations in these texts. Supernatural events. Armies of sizes that wouldn’t be possible to feed etc. We have to discount these and judge at other times what is exaggeration and what isn’t. For example, Theophanes says that the sky went dark for 17 days after the blinding of Constantine by Irene. I don’t think he wants anyone to actually believe that happened. It’s an indication of how he thinks God would view such actions.

      I hope that hepls. Impartiality and accuracy aren’t the goals of these writers. Theophanes and Nicephorus fully believed that anyone who wasn’t a Christian was living under the power of lies. So they would see no contradiction in making sure their work portrayed an order of events which seemed consistent with the narrative of God’s support for the Orthodox church.

  2. hello, I am enjoying the podcast. I have couple of questions for the end of the century: you have explained that the vast majority of people in the empire were farmers, but I am unclear on the details: what crops did they grow? How did grain get moved to the cities? With the breadbasket of the empire, ie Egypt, gone, were the Balkans or Anatolia more fertile, and did different areas specialize in different crops? Were the farms mostly large estates, or small landholdings? Along the same lines, (material culture) what were fashions like? Did most people make their own clothes, and did they use dyed wool and cotton, or something else? And what was the diet mostly like? I assume mostly grain, but which ones? Also, water/beer/wine/milk? And what about sweeteners? I know there might not be sources for any of this stuff, but it would help to bring the history closer.

  3. Nick Murray

    For the end of century (or maybe after you’ve covered Charlemagne assuming the title of Emperor of the Romans):

    How was the Roman name viewed from afar? Would the name of “Roman” still have enjoyed a prestige in places outside the empire? Would lands as far as Britain and Mauritania still have some memory of the mighty Romans? Would the Byzantines have entertained ambassadors from China, as was said to have happened in the enpire’s heyday? How had awareness of the Romans changed outside the enpire’s borders?

  4. Greg

    How did the Byzantines and the Arabs see each other? What did the caliph and the emperor think about one another?

    Where else do you think the Byzantine identity crisis that generated iconoclasm shows itself? Do you think it was responsible for any other novel policies?

  5. Jay

    Since its going to be such a big part of the upcoming story, and without being too graphic, maybe you could explain how the practice of blinding came about and why it was performed so regularly. And why didn’t poor Constantine VI survive his sentence (most did).

    • Imp

      On this line of inquiry, how did mutilation (since it was not just blinding) tie up with the legal (and legalistic in attitude) Roman tradition? Was mutilation just the end result of political power play and the arbitrariness of absolute power, or did it form part of the criminal code for the wider population as well?

      Brilliant work, as always. You have really, really improved over the last 30-40 episodes and you didn’t start up badly either. I enjoyed HoR (not so keen on Mike’s new stuff though), but you have formed an entirely different, and might I say, better style as the podcast has proceeded. It’s deeper and much more academic (in a good way) than a simple narrative of kings and wars (though we get lots of both). Really well done.

  6. Shawn

    I asked this prematurely, but now I think the time is right: was there any influence that Monophysite sects within or near the empire had on iconoclasm?

    Second question: how many Jews remained with the empire’s borders? How were the viewed by the general populace, the civil authorities, and the church?

  7. Greg

    Maybe you can save this for a later time, but I am curious about how the Byzantines thought about past rulers. Have you come across any opinions from later Roman historians about classical emperors that surprised you?

    Also, I would love a sketch of Sicily in particular. It seems like things have been relatively quiet there since like the freaking Punic wars – is it still a bread basket? How did be Byzantines exert so much power over it when Africa slipped away so easily so many times?

  8. SChon

    If i give you more money will you produce more content quicker? nom nom nom knowledge

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