Episode 146 – What’s the Plan?


Did the Romans dream of reconquering their eastern provinces? Or were their border acquisitions enough?

Period: 913-976

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Categories: Podcast | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Episode 146 – What’s the Plan?

  1. Mats Falt

    A question concerning the possible incursion into Palestine and occupation of, among other cities, Nazareth: that this story might be a later invention seems plausible – or we will be aboe to check it up on the first History of Byzantium time travel excursion – byt is it at all realistic that the emperor wrote about it in a letter to the Armenian king if it didn’t happen? Yes communications were bad, but thousands of Armenian soldiers formed the better part of the army.
    Best wishes
    Mats Falt

    • That is indeed an issue with the story. If we take it at face value it seems like a fake. But there may be context to it that we are missing. Prof Kaldellis dismisses it as a reliable source. But I thought it was worth mentioning as an example of the surviving traces of expansionist thought from the period.

  2. Elliott Tydeman

    You make an excellent point that reconquering the eastern provinces was out of the question, considering it would have taken far more much more resources that the Romans had available to take and hold on to, as well as be a constant source of rebellion and aggression from neighboring Muslim States. In a what if scenario, had the Romans managed to conquer the eastern provinces would it be likely possible that the Romans would be facing a situation similar to the crusaders after they conquered the Levant.

    Really enjoying the podcast. Keep up the amazing work.

  3. Steve

    It’s bizarre to consider that from the death of Emperor Heraclius to 976 it had been 335 years. Imagine if today, the American president said it was time to formulate a plan to recapture lands lost in 1682.

    A glance at the wikipedia article for the year reveals Peter the Great starting his reign to shape Russia into a modern state, the Ottomans preparing to besiege Vienna, an english woman executed for witchcraft and Philadelphia was founded.

    Obviously much more has changed technologically but it is still a fair measurement to put into perspective how long the eastern provinces had been outside the Roman Empire.

  4. David Thompson

    It seems likely that if the empire had continued after Basil the second to keep the line of military commanders on the throne, the empire would have expanded. It just seems part of the nature of states before the very recent past that if the possibility is there, they will expand.

  5. David Thompson

    Hi Robin:
    This is a general question and maybe it is too late to ask and maybe it is a better question for the end of the series.

    Edward Gibbons idea that the ERE was a degenerated form of the good old Roman Empire has been long thought of as overstated and not really accurate. But it seems that ever since the Arab conquests that Byzantium has been a giant head on a shrunken body. Constantinople seems to be the only really functioning city in the classical sense with perhaps Thessalonica being of notable size but not much heard of in terms of in terms of an urban center until a bit later. It also seems that there has never been enough resources in terms of money since Anastasius and manpower since Constantine.

    I have always been interested in the population and wealth of the empire as a whole and how it changed and grew or shrank. Was there just a much lower population or was the empire less effective in using it than the Romans? Was the issue that the Romans could step into Asia minor and Greece with already functioning and wealthy cities and just not mess it up? Cities like Athens and Ephesus never seem to recover and no replacements seem to spring up.

    I don’t know if you have heard the podcast “The fall of the Roman Empire” by Patrick Wyman, but I get the impression that even after Rome lost Carthage and Marseilles to “Barbarians” that they were able to continue on in some fashion as centers of trade and that they faded only as the trade networks broke down and the new kingdoms became balkanized.

    I suppose the question is, was there a specialized economy with regional centers like the Roman one if only on a smaller scale? Were there signs that cities were growing and could has started to regenerate an urban economy? How did the economy and city life compare to the Abbasid and later Fatimid Caliphate? Were there cultural, strategic, and geographic issues that made an urban and economic revival on a large scale unfeasible?

    I might be overstating it a little as even the Roman empire was 95% rural, but it seems that even at this time most of the military, economic, and political issues are based around rural issues involving Anatolia with little happening even in the Balkans, even with regard to farming.



    • That’s quite a few questions all in one. I will address the growth of the economy and the state of cities when we get to 1025.

      I have talked about population sizes before on the show. Large parts of Anatolia are sparsely populated and most of the Balkans fell out of Constantinople’s control. This put a severe reduction on the taxes being gathered and therefore the number of soldiers that could be recruited.

      Clearly during the original expansion of Rome, there was a very favourable demographic situation. And a much less competitive international context. Many of the enemies the Romans faced were tribal whereas Byzantium often faced organised states.

      I also think the Muslim/Christian dichotomy makes conquest a very different business. The original Romans rarely threatened the identity and doctrine of people they colonised. Whereas Christians and Muslims often defined themselves against the other. That makes it much harder for large groups of Muslims to defect to the Empire which is probably what would have been needed for them to expand further into the Levant.

  6. Erik

    Still loving the podcast, keep it up.

    What will you do after 1453 has been reached and The History of Byzantium wraps up? Start a new podcast? Or is it far too early to say? 🙂

    • At the moment I’m leaning toward going back to the earlier centuries of the Roman empire. I feel like there are a lot of questions which have been raised here that I’d like to explore: when/how did non-Italian people become Romans? Developments within the Roman army. The move from poly to monotheism. The origins of Christianity etc. What do you think of that idea?

      • Steve

        “The Second Glance Podcast” sounds like something I’d listen to for sure.

      • I personally love the idea.

        The question of identities and how over time people change their own views of themselves was always fascinating to me. Similarly the origins of Christianity, its structure, hierarchy and teachings, and how they developed, is very interesting.

        Thou I hope we still have many years to go before we get to 1453 🙂 And there were those emperors in exile as well after that…

      • David Thompson

        Hi Robin:
        That sounds great. Mike Duncan’s coverage was great but I like the fact that you go quite extensively beyond a straight forward narrative.


      • Erik

        Sounds good to me! 🙂

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