Episode 223 – Questions VIII

Did Latin Knights put Byzantine soldiers to shame?

Did Latin Knights put Byzantine soldiers to shame?

We look at your questions about Alexios and the Crusades. Listeners wanted an update on the state of Byzantium’s army, economy and administration. How much credit or blame should Alexios get for the events of his reign? What about his relationship with his family? Were the Latins tougher fighters than the Byzantines? And several more. 

Period: 1081-1118

Download: Questions VIII

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Categories: Podcast | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Episode 223 – Questions VIII

  1. George


  2. Don Waterbury

    Thank you for this email. I am listening to See All Comments. Interesting.

    When I clicked Download: Questions VIII this is what the response was:

    “For FeederURL http://feeder.acast.cloud/api/v1/shows/_/episodes/?url=https%3A%2F%2Frss.acast.com%2Fthehistoryofbyzantium&guid=questions-viii&showInfo=true – HTTP error: status code 404″

    I am not well versed in those kinds of messages. I am sure that someone in the IT department might be able to help.

    Thank you, Grandpa Don aka Don Waterbury


    • I’m sorry you had trouble, it is working for me when I click on it now, please could you try again

    • john

      is mr history of byzantium ever going to get back to the chronological history? its been a couple years since basil ii and we aren’t even up to the end of the first crusade yet. God Bless and have a great day!

  3. J

    In this episode, the explanation regarding Bulgaria is only partially correct. It is true that the term ‘Bulgarian’ was applied to various groups by the sources and the Bulgarian state included various groups, but it is incorrect to suggest that there was not coherent Bulgarian identity by the 12th century. The modern notion of ‘Bulgarian’ begins in the ninth century, after Christianization and adoption of slavonic. I’m not sure why the move from Pliska, to Ohrid, to Trnovo, etc. would indicate that anything about ethnicity or self-identification (maybe you have a source on this?)

    Regarding the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Warren Treadgold believes Asen and Peter to be Vlachs, and that the Empire was a Bulgarian state under Vlach rule. This is almost certainly a backwards reading given that Peter chose the name of Tsar Peter I, aiming at the continuity of a Bulgarian state. Further, many of the sources for this period are Western histories, which were unlikely to have recognized any difference between groups in the Balkans.

    The scholar John Fine is helpful on this point because he reminds us that what’s really important here (as it was during the reign of Samuil) it what when the documents from Second Bulgarian Empire appear, their authors write in Slavic and consider themselves Bulgarian. (Fine, The Late Medieval Balkans)

    The question of ethnicity is fraught and largely modern, so self-identity and political continuity should be the focus.


    • I don’t see too much difference in what we’re both saying. My concern is with listeners using modern concepts in their thinking. The idea that the Bulgarians were a distinct group who would all recognise one another as being from one ‘nation’ seems anachronistic to me. Though there were common cultural elements amongst Slavic groups across the Balkans – I don’t believe there was a pan-Balkan ‘Bulgarian’ identity. That was why moving the capital hundreds of miles is a significant point. The average Slavic farmer in Pliska would never have met anyone from Ohrid. They would have spoken different dialects and not recognised one another as “Bulgarians.” We have little idea how they self-identified since there are almost no written sources from this period. But the medieval mind we get acquainted with across cultures is a local one. Not a national one. So it seems unlikely the people from Ohrid or the people from Pliska would have identified as ‘Bulgarian’ unless a state bearing some form of that name existed and was placing demands on them.

      • J

        There is a coherent Bulgarian identity from the ninth century to the present. While it would have been mostly ‘elites’ preserving this identity, many common people (farmers/peasants) would have also participated in it by celebrating the Liturgy in Slavonic and developing a shared literary and oral culture.

        The life of Saint Naum is very helpful to see how, in fact, people in Ohrid and Pliska shared the same language, culture, and eventually identity.


      • George

        I appreciated the answer to my question! Though I did not actually really have nationality and ethnicity in mind when I wrote it. My thought was more that since the Byzantine control in the Balkans was already loose and we know there were and will revolt there, what exactly did the Byzantines do to maintain order? Why weren¨t some garrison troops from Bulgaria withdrawn to help the situation in Anatolia? And if they were, why didn’t the locals simply stop paying taxes and return to their local elites?

  4. Martin A

    Thanks for a great Q&A, briliant as usual 🙂

    As for coherent identities from the 9th century. I am Swedish. And there has been a political center in the general area of Sweden’s capital since the bronze age. However, up until 1500 Sweden could have become a province of Denmark. Or, several regions of Sweden could have broken out. Southern Sweden was only added in the late 17th century. A large rebellion in the 16th century could have created a new state. Several provinces were self governing into the Middle ages. The central most fundamental region of Sweden itself sided with the danes against Sweden to preserve their ancient liberties, at one point. Or, Sweden could have succeeded in destroying Denmark and making it a province of Sweden. And then the center and identity could subsequently have shifted south towards Copenhagen. Or a thousand other shifts in identity and politics.

    So, 9th century Bulgaria was only indivisible and a big thing. Because a more modern state takes a lot of its identity and legitimacy from 9th century Bulgaria. Back in the real 9th century, things were probably a lot more fluid.

  5. Thanks for clarifying. The answer though is similar. The local elites had been coopted and local men were the garrison troops. They don’t seem to have had any problem serving the empire in part because there was not a strong alienative identity that was being suppressed. Once someone offered an alternative then people would have a choice to make.

    • George

      Do you think if there was some ambitious, young enterprising elite(s) like the later Asen brothers in this period, ready to exploit the situation, some sort of independent state could have been created there?

  6. I suppose so. I think the real danger would have been an alliance between Bulgarian elites and the Normans. That could have wrenched the western balkans of of roman hands. Its possible that fear of these Latin outsiders helped the Romans keep everyone on the same page

  7. Niels

    What was the geography of Anatolia like compared to nowadays, or before the Turks arrived? Did the nomad lifestyle, as opposed to the agrarian lifestyle, of the new peoples effect the landscape?

    Were the Turks becoming a visible peoplegroup outside of the Plateau as well, for example, did some settle down and adopt a farming/city lifestyle on the coast or as traders in Constantinople?

    • Anatolia has always been broken into 3 zones. The coastal plains where productive farming takes place. The mountains and the plateau. The plateau does contain river valleys and lakes where farming happens. But large stretches of it are grassland that can’t really grow anything else because the temperatures it is exposed to are too extreme. Before the Turks came the Romans used it for raising stock. The Turkish nomads probably kicked some farmers off the land but otherwise continued to use the land roughly as it had been.

      We know very little about Turkish settlement at this point (1118 AD). Certainly some would have begun to adopt a sedentary lifestyle in the cities they’d captured. Hopefully I will have more information in a centuries time.

      • Niels

        Thank you for your answer. I vaguely remember hearing something something about the Nomads settling on the plateau permanently changing part of the landscape to be unable to support agrarian lifestyles, hence my question. However, I may be confusing it with something else.

  8. Michael del Borrell

    Hello, been a long time listening and have so many questions that I never found time to ask so thought now would be type to ask at least one. I remember Mike Duncan relating what the Roman wine was like, some kind of slurry that you took home and mixed with water. Clearly I’m wondering if the Byzantines continued this tradition and also, when did Raki come about. Seems doubtful that it was a purely Turkish invention. Being the Christmas season in Germany, one wonders sometimes where the schnapps and Geist comes from.

    Thanks for all the work, quite a pleasure to listen.

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