About

“The History of Byzantium” is a podcast dedicated to the story of the Roman Empire from the collapse of the West in 476 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Byzantine history is fascinating, world changing and largely forgotten. Listen and discover who they were.

The show was created to continue the narrative established by Mike Duncan’s wonderful podcast The History of Rome.” I have tried to remain faithful to Mike’s structure of half hour instalments told from a state-centric perspective. My innovation is to pause the narrative at the end of each century to take time to cover wider issues to do with Byzantium. I’ve also taken time to produce feature length episodes on the most dramatic incidents.

After a year of research and recording I asked the audience to support me by purchasing episode 28 (May 2013). Making the podcast had begun taking up almost half of each week. Thankfully the listeners responded and donated and I was able to keep going for another two years. By then though the podcast had occupied more like 70% of my time. So I offered listeners a yearly subscription (July 2015) to support me in exchange for six special episodes each year. So far I’m able to make a living podcasting which is a huge privilege.

I continue to search for the most interesting and entertaining way to communicate the Byzantine story. With listener support I’m confident that we will reach 1453 with a complete audio narrative of the whole sweep of Roman history.

Robin Pierson is from London in the UK. He writes about American TV shows at thetvcritic.org and works for his father (an actor). Contact Robin at thehistoryofbyzantium at gmail.com (all one word with @ instead of at) or on Twitter.

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113 Comments

113 thoughts on “About

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  1. ybne1

    just started listening to the Byzantium History and loving it. Thanks so much.

  2. peter soetewey

    I started listening to your podcast a few weeks ago and it is now my travelling companion to and from work every day 🙂 I have read extensively about the Byzantine history before but I must say Robin that your podcast is so well researched and well made that it is not only fun to listen to, but also tells me things I didn’t know. The episode Who is a Byzantine is very interesting but you really get going when you start the reign of Phocas and the big crisis. It made me see the developments of that period quite differently from what i always understood before. I really hope you will keep this up all the way to 1453. Well done ! Congratulations and thanks for the hours of listening pleasure up to now !!

  3. Brigid Grimwood

    Hi Robin – my query is what did Christian Greeks think about the amazing Ancient Greek architecture ? Why did they let it all become ruins instead of converting it to Christian churces or demolishing it completely ?
    Why did they leave it alone ?
    (This question applies to all other European cultures regarding their ancient pagan architecture).
    Thanks so much, cheers Brigid Grimwood

    • That’s quite a wide ranging question 🙂 And obviously I can’t speak for other European cultures. In the Roman case I think they did appreciate great architecture and the transition to a Christian culture was a gradual one. So those who wanted to pull down old buildings were met with resistance by those who were interested in the past. In most cases though structures which did survive like the Parthenon and Pantheon were converted into churches at least for some time. And that certainly helped them survive.

      • nektarios vourtsis

        The ancient type of Building whose already old thing in the time of late antiquity. The same thing happening with classical art. The medieval Greeks build like Romans of late antiquity, basilicas and Pantheon’s. One typical Byzantine church compounds the two types of Classical inspired buildings the tholos and ancient temple and in most cases use ancient parts in the building the spolia. But the Byzantines read and write in ancient Greek language and never neglected Plato Aristotle or Thoukithidis. The Romans had began building with brink or with combination of layers stone and brink that whose better for earthquakes and fires. Of curse the decoration was inside in the building and the Constantinople was decorated olso with ancient statues and columns that whose preciated. After the 4th Crusade the venetians stolen the treasures of Constantinople and now is in saint Mark even had taken the marmar decoration. In the first buildings of renascence the Andrea Palladio only decorates the front of the church like the lost church of Saint Apostoles in Constantinople . The Thesaloniki is perfect examples of one roman city of late antiquity. Thing the modern citys the have the old classical buildings but the rest is build with concrete. The brick is the ancient concrete. But in most cases the Byzantines imitates with brick the marmare decoration adding brick columns around the dome.

  4. Hi,

    Wonderful site!
    There may be an obvious answer to this, but is there a place on this site with a ‘guide’ to the episodes, in order?

    Thanks,
    Gordon

    • Good question. I haven’t yet been able to find a WordPress option to do that. Down the right hand column I have asked it to list as many past posts as possible which gives you about 40 eps. The alternative is just to use the RSS feed. See the Link under “Find the Podcast” on the right hand side. It will display nicely in Firefox and IE.

      • Perfect – thanks!

      • Ah, I was wondering about an episode index. I find that the episode date orientation of the archives to be inconvenient, as I (as usual with my podcast subscriptions) am listening in “catch up” mode, and the episode dates have little meaning for me. This was also the case with The History of Rome, and my solution to that was to come up with my own episode index, organized by the century being covered, with links into Mike Duncan’s website for each episode. See http://www.sal.wisc.edu/~jwp/thor-episode-index.html. (I have an index for his Revolutions podcast too, grouped by Revolution.)

        Robin, I would be happy to do this for your podcast, if you can tolerate having such an index living in a different corner of the Internet from your web site.

        Great podcast Robin, I’m only at episode 10, so have many fine drives to work to look forward to.

        -Jeff

      • Jeff, if you really had the time to do it I would be delighted and would post it boldly and give you all the credit. I wish WordPress would offer a solution. I suppose I could go back and retag the posts based on century, that way they would appear under the CATEGORIES menu above in order. That would save you the trouble but I’m so busy I might not get to it for a while.

  5. Geoff Woodford

    I made the catastrophic mistake of listening to this podcast as my first history podcast. Any other podcast I try out fall so far short of what Robin does here that they are unlistenable. I have heard all the Great Courses audio and again, they fall short of History of Byzantium. We are all so lucky and I pledge my continued support. Great Job

  6. Jeffrey W Percival

    Robin, I would be delighted to be able to contribute something to your great podcast effort. I have only the most basic web page skills, but I will cobble up a draft index and let you see it. I’ll even try to maintain the look and feel of your web site!

  7. Adam Skrzynski

    Dear Robin,

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your podcast and have now caught up to your latest episode. This is truly excellent work! In the most recent episodes, the Byzantines suffer a series of large defeats that seem to cost them much in both manpower and treasure. However, it seems that they are soon able to once again take the field to battle their foes, the Bulgars. Is there any sense of where all of the additional manpower and resources were coming from to replenish the Roman forces? It seems quite a bit taxing on a society that seems to be rather down on its luck. Thanks!

    • I suspect the answer is that fewer people actually died in major battles than we assume did. When I describe an army routing that usually means thousands of men survive because they ran away. Even at the Battle of Pliska (811) where casualties were distressing, it’s hard to estimate how many people died. The Tagmata were hit hardest but they may have been a force of only 5000 men (very rough guess, don’t quote me). If that was the case and half were killed that would be a huge shock to the 2500 families back in Constantinople. A tragedy no doubt. But the rest of the army seems to have suffered less severely and the total force may have been 15000+. So say they lost another 3000 (again just a guess). Well that would be a massive loss of a third of the army. But in another sense, there would still be 10,000 men ready for battle, still larger than the Bulgars. So I’m assuming this is the answer you’re seeking..

      • Adam Skrzynski

        Thanks! That helped to explain things for me. Again, great podcast!

  8. Robert

    I’ve just started listening the podcast and I’m loving it. Thank you very much!

    I wonder if I could ask: What is the best source for the genealogy of the emperors, hopefully where it is all laid out?

    And on a related note: Justinian has the name Flavius, just like the first-century Flavius family (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian) yet he is supposed to be of peasant origins. Is there actually some family relation there?

    • There is a link on the right hand side (under links) to online encyclopaedia of Roman rulers.

      No no relation. I would have to go back and research it but either it was a common name or he adopted it to sound more Imperial 🙂

  9. I’ve just gotten to episode 24.

    I was a bit confused by the section in episode 23 where you talked about getting the corn mills going again. They would not have had corn.

    Apparently corn is the name you can give to whatever your local major grain happens to be. Maize would be Indian corn. The use of the word corn in Europe pre-dates the introduction of what I would call corn these days.

    I am now reminded that the corn in corned beef is salt. Little grain sized bits of salt.

  10. DANIEL BENSKY

    Just heard about this podcast and started listening from the beginning. Seems like a worthy successor to THOR. Thanks much.

  11. armstein

    Thank you so much for making this podcast. It’s finally cleared up that big grey historical area in my mind and in an excellent manner. I’ve even begun rooting for the Byzantines and have developed a small hope that 1204 or 1453 won’t ever occur.

    Having gone through the whole podcast in the last 3 months, the main question I have is regarding the Byzantine fleet. We talk a lot about the armies but the fleet seems to appear and dissapear between Emperors without much noise and even less control of the ‘inner seas’ of the Byzantine Empire. Was there a standing navy? Admirals? Were Dromons markedly superior from their rivals and were there a string of naval bases the Byzantine relied on for commerce and strategic control?

    On a sidennote, I though your listeners might enjoy these 3D renditions of Constantinople (albeit in 1200). Keep up the excellent work and am looking forward to the next episodes!

    http://www.byzantium1200.com/introduction.html

    • The histories rarely comment in detail on naval matters. The navy was not usually a route to higher office and therefore was of little concern to those writing about court life. Certainly there was a standing navy but it doesn’t seem likely that a battle-ready force was maintained. So you might have a small squadron of military ships sitting at all times at the capital and at the various Theme bases. But then when war was expected other ships were called in from their merchant activities and made ready for service. Often when a big naval battle was imminent new ships were built. Certainly there were ports at every major seaside town and the islands but these were not military harbours.

  12. Ben Hartley

    The greatest empire in history deserves the best podcast huge fan of this thing Byzantine empire is my absolute favorite empire to read about with the Normans a close second I thought I knew most of the history of this great empire but I did not know even a quarter of it this podcast is absolulety fascinating THNK YOU so much for shedding some light on aspects of this empire I did not know they get pigeon holed as a very religious and diplomatic society but they were so much more they get no credit for keeping western culture alive wduring the dark ages huge fan thank you again

  13. Hi Robin, you may find this of interest:

    http://www.caitlingreen.org/2016/04/heptarchy-harun-ibn-yahya.html?m=1

    Paul Fowler

  14. Jackson Pierce

    Hi

    I am an avid listener of your podcast, and I don’t know how to classify this post. It is less of a question and more a theory I would like to posit. You have mentioned several times that the leadership of Byzantine armies was far more important than in the case of the Republic. You propose that this is due to the professional nature of the army. However, even the pre professional Roman armies won victories with less than competent leaders. While some of this is down to the quality of enemy and the relative manpower of the empire. However I would also like to suggest that the weapons systems are important in this factor. The change from the massed heavy infantry of the Republic, which relied on one troop type and largely one very simple tactic, defensive attrition, to the multiple arms systems of the Byzantines requires far more intelligent use of the various troop types. Effectively while possibly more effective wheb use correctly the Byzantine army took far more balance and skill to use properly than the Republican armies.

    • Comparing the two is problematic. But I think your point makes sense – that you might need less skill in leading a simpler infantry army. However I think a lot of “recent” (600-840) Byzantine collapses are due to morale and logistics rather than the weapons systems as such.

  15. Arthur

    I’m not sure if anyone mentioned it earlier but pronunciation of Cherson in Crimea should be with ‘k’ sound like in ‘chrome’.

  16. Oreva

    I’ve always loved Rome’s history, and I was really happy to see that someone was continuing the story from 475 onward. I want to let you know that I got the opportunity to walk through Istanbul today and see the old sites. I’ve been geeking out the entire time!

  17. Mike

    You are doing fabulous work! My common understanding is “Byzantine” is also an adjective used to describe complex, intricately involved diplomacy. Are you going to talk more about how the historical narrative gave birth to that common understanding? Does this diplomacy evolve later (Post Manzikert?) as the struggle to survive tightens?

    • I’m happy to discuss the evolution of the term Byzantine as an adjective when the narrative closes. But that reputation developed as early as the 7-8th century and was understood by peoples who dealt with them from then on.

  18. Sounds like a good discussion point for later as I always felt the adjective and its connotations unfairly blacken the reputation of the Byzantine state.
    I understood it as a 7th-8th century term too. I can’t remember who it was (maybe Decker?) who argued well that the Byzantines only adopted ‘Byzantine’ measures (duplicity, bribes, playing enemies off against one another etc) out of bare necessity. Essentially once they could no longer throw big armies at every trouble spot they were instead forced to adopt other means to rebuff enemy forces.

  19. Andrew Rosenthal

    Good Evening Robin,

    I just listened to the most recent questions podcast.

    The Cyrillic alphabet is not the only alphabet (nor Near Eastern alphabet) that has letters to indicate sounds. Hebrew is an alphabet with implied vowels. The vowel sounds are often indicated by specific letters and/or letter order.

  20. Maxime Gousse

    I just subscribed to your podcast. You are filling a void in me after The History of Rome. Question: you feed does not allow my podcast player to speed playback. Do you know why? Thanks.

    • Thank you for subscribing. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the technology to give you a proper answer. Can you change the speed on the free feed? If so then you should only be restricted on the paid-for eps as they are hosted on much slower servers.

  21. Christian Dyrnesli

    Hello Robin
    I have listened in from the very start and I love the show. I would like to hear something about Roman military tactics in the period we are in now. I read somewhere that the Byzantines had stoped writing military “instruction manuals” (like The Strategikon”) as this point in time. But what do we (read: you) know from the source if anything? How do the fighting forces compare to the earlier Roman/Byzantine forces in tactics?

  22. Hello Robin. Than you so much for doing this great Podcast, I’m always thrilled to see when a new episode has arrived and can’t wait to hear the rest of the story of Byzantium. I had a (few) questions I wanted to ask about. Mainly it is this: what has become of the Blues and Greens, the chariot races and great spectacles in the Hippodrome? The importance of these groups, and that place, in the earlier episodes drew for me a direct line to the classical Roman period and I guess I was wondering if their absence means they we’re no longer happening or important? Have they been replaced with more somber Christian celebrations or did the reduced in population (and budget) from war and disease make them unnecessary and unsustainable? Cheers!

  23. Alfred

    Just started. After some episodes of listening, I think it is really a worthy successor of The History of Rome (and of Twelve Byzantine Rulers, which inspired Mike Duncan’s podcast). Greetings from Austria! Alfred

  24. Chris Britt

    I’ve listened to your podcast twice and just bought the most recent episode after hearing that you now get the vast amount of your income from the podcast.

    Thanks for your dedication, you’ve really put color to an otherwise fairly obscure historical topic. I also thank you for minimizing advertisements. I’d much rather pay (and donate) every few episodes than have advertisements.

  25. revo2regnar@gmail.com

    Hello. I am quite keely interested in listening to this podcast. However, I am not interested in hitting the “older posts” link to go back to the first one, so I can start at the begining. Is there an index that I am not seeing? It would be most helpful.

  26. Barbara-Ann

    Love the podcast. Looking forward to next week’s episode. ☆☆☆☆☆

  27. Steve Schweiger

    Robin:

    My son-in-law just alerted me to your podcast. Thanks for doing it I was hoping for a post history of Rome podcast and this fills the bill.

    I just finished episode 3 and can say you are clearly meeting one of your goals of being on par with Mike Duncan.

    Much thanks!

  28. JB

    Hi Robin,

    Been listening since the beginning; As of the mid 10th century, you’ve been referring to places like Syria, Iraq, etc. over the last number of episodes. Are you using these names for our benefit of general geography? Or are these now the actual names the contemporaries would have used. Do you know when these names and boundaries formed as we know them today? I apologize if you’ve explained this already and I missed it.

    Thanks.

    • I’m afraid I use modern and ancient geographical terms. Just to try and help everyone have an idea of where action is taking place. Syria has been known as such since ancient times, coming from Assyria. Iraq and Iran were both terms used by native people during this period. But they didn’t have the same nation-state meaning we now assume for them. Iraq had a more specific geographical setting during this period (in the south). Iran was an old term connected to Aryan people who settled the area and was in use in some contexts. The Romans would have thought of those areas as Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Persia (Iran).

  29. Aidy lane

    How Robin I was wondering where did the Romans and Greeks call the city of germainika when it is nowhere near the then germania was this just a coincidence or was it founded by a roman General ect BTW keep up the great work cheers

    • Great question and I can’t find an easy answer. It was apparently known as Germanikea Caesarea early on which could well suggest a military colony with German troops dominating or something like that, but I’m afraid I’d have to do more research.

  30. Hi! I just discovered your podcast and am a few episodes in, now. I have given you some positive word-of-mouth on the ancient coin discussion forum I frequent. We ancient coin collectors do tend to love history podcasts!

    I’ve donated several old coins for giveaways on David Crowther’s History of England podcast. If you think some promotional giveaways of inexpensive Byzantine coins would be fun to do here, let’s talk.

    I am not selling anything- just ask David Crowther. I’m strictly a coin and history enthusiast.

    Here is my comment/review:

    https://cointalk.com/threads/may-29-1453-the-end-of-a-world.297210/page-2#post-2754039

    Regards,

    ~ Robertson (“Rob”) Shinnick
    (aka “lordmarcovan” in cyberspace)

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