Episode 128 – The Prudent Course

Byzantine fleet attack Rus ships (found on facebook page 'Byzantine Military History')

Byzantine fleet attack Rus ships (found on facebook page ‘Byzantine Military History’)

Surrender of the Mandylion from the Madrid copy of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes

Surrender of the Mandylion from the Madrid copy of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes

A Rus raid delays John Kourkouas from leading a raid into Syria. When he does though he captures the sacred Mandylion and brings it back to the capital. Soon afterwards though he and Romanus are ousted from power.

Period: 941-945

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Categories: Podcast | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Episode 128 – The Prudent Course

  1. Awesome episode as always. Your post recollection of Romanus’ reign got me thinking though. Would it be fair to compare his reign to someone like Antoninus Pius. Military conquests aside he seems like the kind of emperor we know very relatively little about except that he oversaw a time of peace and prosperity. Additionally, where do you think John Kourkouas ranks in terms of Byzantine military leaders? He appears, as you said to be an expert in siege warfare and marching through unfamiliar/ difficult terrain, but do you think he deserves to stand alongside the likes of Heraclius and Belisarius when he was only really going after a highly fragmented group of Islamic emirates?

    • I think its very difficult comparing Byzantine Emperors to Roman ones. Yes there are similarities to be seen with Antoninus Pius. But AP had so many options of what he could have done compared to RL. So not sure.

      Kourkouas definitely deserves to be compared to Heraclius and Belisarius. Though his campaigns were quite different, to keep them going for 20 years is in itself a huge achievement. It’s very hard to know how to rank the Generals who operated between 650-850. How do you give credit to people who had little chance of winning. You could say Constantine V won some battles but not against the Arabs. It will definitely be an interesting debate at the end of the podcast 🙂

  2. Imp

    This comment is more for the Byzantine Stories podcasts that I finally got around to listening. It ties up with your upcoming fundraiser which I cannot recommend enough. The annual subscription is not cheap, but apart from encouraging you to continue working on the free material, the quality of the paid content deserves it. The early Byzantine Stories, with their sound effects and actor (*) reading the quotations/epigrams would not be out of place in the BBC.

    Let me put it like this: if somebody can make me listen to (and enjoy) a couple of hours of exhaustive discussion on theological controversies, church factionalism, and disturbing ascetic behaviour, he’s obviously doing something right. These are exactly the bits of Byzantine history that I usually skip, usually with an exasperated eye-roll in the process.

    You are doing stunning work. This podcast stands out both for the professionalism of the production (perfect delivery and diction especially) and for the depth of its historiographical analysis. I teach History at uni (another kind and period altogether, but still) and I wish my students could be as thorough and critical as you are in their reading. If this had just been the usual narrative-based historical podcast (like THOR) it would have still been fun. This is more that fun. It’s the real stuff.

    (*) Was this an actor, or was it you doing another voice? He sounded a bit like Emperor Palpitation (or whatever the silly Star Wars character was called), but it was super fun to listen to him. Just the right sort of highbrow pompousness that said theological controversies, church factionalism, disturbing ascetic behaviour, and self-important sports glorification deserve :).

    • Thanks so much for the feedback (and not just because it was positive). I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know what you thought. The other voice was my father 🙂

  3. MartinA

    I heard a theory of the Rus attacks on Byzantium. Which is that they came at 30 years interval because the trade-treaties between the Rus and the Romans were written for 30 years periods. So the attacks were part of the negotiations for better trade deals.

    I dont know how creadible that is. However, the importance of trade to the kingdom of the Rus can not be overstated. The reason the kingdoms coalesced around scandinavians is because they were connected to the baltic and to the north sea.

    This traderoute can be seen as the very reason for the viking age in northern Europe. Or at least, it influenced its nature heavily. Ive also heard the argument that the importance of the riverroute to the baltic and the north sea was that the rise of the arab empire had disrupted trade across the mediteranean.

    • I’m no expert on the Rus and I’m not sure what time limit their treaties had. I don’t think it was as specific as 30 years. In each case they raided when the Byzantine military were engaged elsewhere so they were not strictly going by a calendar, but waiting for an opportunity.

      • MartinA

        Yea, you are probably right. I just wanted to reiterate the importance of this traderoute, at least on the other end. And its not really a traderoute from Scandinavia to Byzantium but rather a traderoute from Byzantium, and maybe in some respects the silk roude to England, France, Germany and such ecnomic centres. The Kievan Rus were an effect of the traderoute rather than the other way around. When I now read the Wikipediapage it says that the importance of this traderoute dwindeled with the crusades which opened up the mediteranean again.

  4. schon fazio

    I had a Question regarding the ownership of Adrianople during the 10th century. According to my research Simeon 1 captured it in sometime around 920 which is fine. The issue im running into is at what moment in history between than and Basil II’s reign was it recovered? if you look at maps at the start of 976 adrinople is in Byzantine control again and looking through the pages of the emperors between Constantine VII and Basil II i cant find mention of it being taken back. The truce expired after 40 years so around ~962 but im not sure. All i know is it was definatley in control when Basil II started his first campaigns there. MY theory is John Tzimiskes was responsible during his Bulgarian campaigns aroudn the Battle of Arcadiopolis, but i cant find evidence of that. Could you help me out?

    • Symeon took the city twice during his campaigns against the Byzantines. In both cases we’re told that the Byzantines immediately retook the city. In one case by marching out to meet him and negotiating. In the other the garrison had betrayed the city to him because they hadn’t been paid. So money was sent and they shut the doors on him. That’s off the top of my head but I think those were the details. On both occasions the implication is that Symeon did not sack the city, he may not even have entered it. It may have been a little like the Byzantine initial occupation of Melitene – where they installed a garrison but did not actually occupy the city.

      • schon fazio

        hmmm ok that makes much more sense. Thanks for the reply !

  5. Andy R

    Any idea what happened to the Christian residents of the lands that John Kourkouas re-took for the Byzantines? Did they aid the conquerors, remain neutral, or assist the Arabs? Afterwards, did any relocate to Anatolia either voluntarily or by force? In the conquest of Melitene, you indicated that most of the Muslim population stayed put. Would I be safe in assuming the same happened with these recent conquests?

    Superb, podcast BTW! I discovered the podcast around Christmas and spent the last month or so binge listening and am glad to have finally caught up with your new episodes. I’ve definitely recommended it to a slew of people.

    • Thanks so much 🙂 Most of the land retaken since the 860s has been Armenian territory. So most of the non-Muslim population were Christian Armenians. Their feelings about the Romans tended to be ambivalent. We find few instances of Christians aiding the Romans for religious reasons. Generally speaking if there were Christians inside a city like Melitene then they had a life and social ties there. They weren’t going to risk being lynched to help an army that, for all they knew, might sack the city.

      As we shall see there will be invitations made to Syrian Christians to move to Melitene. And many Armenians given new homes in Anatolia as part of political deals. But most of this was politically or economically motivated. Not about religious solidarity.

  6. McEwen Reil

    can I find a copy of Romanos I addressing his sons?

  7. Yes it will be in any English translation of Liudprand of Cremona’s works. Or if you just want that specific quote John Julius Norwich reprints it in his Byznantium: The Apogee. You may be able to find some Liudprand online.

  8. Tim

    At about 6:35 into the episode, “… He wanted to strike deep into enemy territory when spring came. In early 843, then, the host moved forward, swords drawn….” Were Theodora and Sergios surprised?

    • Sorry, I’m being slow?

      • Tim

        No, no, I was being overly jokey! I’m sorry.

        The episode is set in “Period: 941-945”. At that time marker, you said that John Kourkouas attacked in *843*. So I was imagining Theodora and Sergios (in Michael III the Drunkard’s reign) being astonished at an army from a century in the future arriving on the frontier.

      • Got it 🙂 I thought there was a joke there but I still didn’t see my own error.

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