Episode 101 – Thomas the Slav

Thomas the Slav negotiates with the Arabs (from The Chronicle of John Scylitzes)

Thomas the Slav negotiates with the Arabs (from The Chronicle of John Scylitzes)

Thomas the Slav's troops in action (from The Chronicle of John Scylitzes)

Thomas the Slav’s troops in action (from The Chronicle of John Scylitzes)

Leo’s murder is greeted with disgust in Anatolia where men rally behind Thomas the Slav. But back at the capital men get behind Michael of Amorium as a suitable replacement. This split leads to a three year civil war and a stalemate which suggests that God favours neither man.

Period: 820-824

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Categories: Podcast | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Episode 101 – Thomas the Slav

  1. ArcticXerxes

    Nice episode.
    There is a repeating section around 44:00 from “But despite the impressive horde facing them…” to “….while singing the liturgy.”

  2. Laurent

    Nice story to get the narrative rolling again.
    I was a bit disappointed not to learn who killed Hae though.

  3. briugu

    Hello Robin,
    Great episode as always.
    When reading history, one usually asks ‘why’ someone did something; you have done a very good job explaining the logical and sometimes illogical reasons why events unfolded throughout the series. However, I cannot get my head around why Thomas actually attacked Constantinople!
    I understand your points: it was the heart of the Roman world, legitimacy hinged on its throne, Thomas did not want to undertake a gruelling campaign and spend his forces unnecessarily etc etc. I also understand that Thomas hoped to cow the city’s population into capitulation by simply reaching its walls.
    What I don’t understand is that Thomas, as an experienced commander, knew Fortress Constantinople. His men, who were there seven years previous, knew the city. Why would men who bore witness to one of the most heavily fortified cities in the known world think they could physically take it when so many before had failed?
    When listening to the story and upon hearing that the city’s gates remained barred I expected you to say that Thomas was going to head off into Thrace and arse around there for a while but no – he settled into a siege and attacked the walls.
    I am baffled. Can you revisit this again very briefly and give me your thoughts on it? Did Thomas really think he could take it or just hoped to hold the siege and throw some meaningless attacks at the walls in an effort to impress the population?
    You said Thomas did not want to set himself up in Anatolia as ruler (which he could have) – he wanted to reach Constantinople and make himself emperor. However, when he realised that the city was not going to fall without a fight, why did he not realise the folly of attacking the city and set himself up in Thrace or Anatolia as a separate kingdom?
    Apologies for the length!

    • All excellent questions. I think though they can be divided into two. Why did he march on Constantinople? And then why did he maintain the siege?
      1) As I said on the podcast we should remember that we only know Constantinople was so impregnable in retrospect. If you recall Constantine V actually successfully besieged the city. And of course before that you had the period of 7 Emperors when men had repeatedly captured the city. Before them Heraclius had done it. So it was possible to win a civil war by taking the capital. And so this lured Thomas into going for the main prize rather than isolating the city.
      2) I think the answer to why he maintained the siege helps answer question 1 as well. Thomas had to maintain the fiction that he was very close to victory. If he admitted that the battle was lost his men would surely abandon him. So if he broke off the siege and asked them to help him capture Anatolia instead I think they would likely have lost faith in him. Those men were probably waiting for spoils and a big bonus payment and promotion etc. If they were told “we’re going back to Anatolia, it’s the smart move but it means we’ll probably be at war for several more years” – well, I don’t think that’s what they wanted to hear.
      Once Thomas had decided to take the capital, which is what all Emperors must eventually do, he pretty much committed himself to staying there.

      • Barry Smith

        Thank you for that reply Robin. Thomas’ actions and reasoning behind them are very clear now!

  4. Hey Robin – I’m looking for that jaunty little tune that played near the end of the show when you talked about Thomas’ identity controversy. Did you say it’s from WorldPercussion.net (because I wasn’t able to locate it there)?

    • Hey, the worldpercussion was for the drum sound effect to mark the end of the year. The tune I played was a little joke because its the music from the “Serial” podcast. If you put Serial music into youtube you will find it 🙂

  5. I, for one, believe that Thomas really was Nero finally returning from the east. He was just a few centuries late.

  6. McEwen Reil

    I know I probably won’t get a responce on this because this is like 8 months late but were can I find this information? Thanks a million if you answere this and if you don’t then thanks for the fantastic podcast!

  7. dustz92

    I’ve decided to check the wikipedia article of Thomas after this great episode and:
    1) I was surprised how good it was. Waaay better than Michael II’s. You have to go all the way to Heraclius to find another guy from the ERE with such a detailed biography. I guess that, at least in legacy, Thomas has ended up beating Michael.
    2) Even more than here, almost every part of the war was described as “X,Y and Z historians think that this happened, but according to A, B and C what happened was that other thing”. In the end, it seemed that such long article was wortless because you could not believe anything described in it… But because of that it really looks like a “history written by the victors thing but now uncovered”. Definitely the most detailed “this actually may not had happened at all” part of Roman story so far.

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