Constantine Snow

SPOILER ALERT. Do not read this post if you are not up to date with Game of Thrones…when Romanus Lekapenos was on the throne it occurred to me that there was something Stark-ish about his household.

Romanus had six legitimate children, four boys and two girls. He made Constantine VII part of his household and fathered Basil who was then castrated.

When Constantine took power he kept the eunuch Basil around and worked happily with him. I pondered then whether they had bonded over being the runts of the Lekapenos litter.

The comparison with Theon and Jon is amusing to consider. Theon would of course go on to be castrated. While Constantine was the born-in-the-purple prince who had to wait a long time to inherit his birthright. His parents marriage was also highly controversial

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Listener Survey



Hello everyone,

I have an opportunity for you to hear a bonus Byzantine Stories episode for free. Just give me a moment of your time.

So, as most of you know, the podcast is now working with Acast. They’re connecting the History of Byzantium with companises whose adverts play at the start of the show.

In order to advertise products that will be of interest to you we’ve set up a listener survey. It’s got about 30 questions and its asking for your demographic information. Its completely anonymous and you won’t have to input your email or anything. It would be really helpful to me if you could take a moment to fill out the survey.

But I know some of you will think – “What do I care? Let other people do that, I can’t be bothered.” Fair enough. What’s in it for you? Well – this is what’s in it for you. I’m currently working on a Byzantine story about Roman medicine. I think its going to turn into a 3 parter. So if I can get 500 listeners to fill out the survey – then you will all get part 1 for free.

So if you’d like to learn more about the terrifying experience of Roman surgery. Then click here and fill out the survey.

Thanks so much for your help.

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Moving to Acast

So, you see there’s a new podcast from me. You click on it. And what do you hear? An advert.

And you’re thinking “oh, no.”

Yes, the History of Byzantium has moved to Acast. For those who don’t know Acast is a podcast hosting company who connect shows with advertisers. They host your show for free and share revenue with the podcast producer

As podcasting has become my career, I had to look into the possibility of advertising in order to help provide for the future. I hope you understand.

So, adverts will now play before and after each episode. But they will not interfere with the show itself. The ads will be localised to your market so they should be relevant for you. And they will play on all of the free episodes, including the back catalogue.

This should not affect the members feeds or your subscription to the free feed. However any move like this is bound to affect someone. So if you have any trouble, my apologies. Please delete your existing feed and resubscribe and everything should be fine. Any other issues contact me at thehistoryofbyzantium @

I hope this is another step in getting us to 1453 and beyond. And I’m hugely grateful for your support.

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All the Emperors in Rhyme

All the Emperors in Rhyme by Listener JA

When Augustus won the Civil War against Marc Anthony,
he said “All power in Rome now belongs to me,”
First Emperor is what we call the nephew of Caesar,
Now let me tell you about his successors: in rhyme, which isn’t easier.
Tiberius retreated to Capri, he was one grumpy mister.
Caligula loved killing and slept with his sister.
His uncle Claudius stuttered and was a real nerd,
but ruled well and conquered Britain, his success absurd.
With Nero a dark cloud came,
Murdered his mum and Rome went up in flame.

When Nero died, four emperors ruled in 69:
First came Galba, who thought gold was mighty fine.
Otho murdered the old man when told he wouldn’t be successor,
Vitellius was bigger and fatter than any predecessor.
Vespasian ruled the next ten years and liked a dry joke,
Titus reigned well, but Pompeii and Rome went up in smoke.
Domitian was a sly, paranoid man,
an assassin ended the life of the last Flavian.

Nerva was the first of an adoptive dynasty of five:
the Antonines, thought the best rulers of the Empire’s fifteen century life.
Spanish Trajan was a military genius, always had a cunning ploy,
Hadrian defended the empire well and loved a Greek boy.
Antoninus Pius, twenty years of prosperity and peace.
But when he died, the Golden Age began to cease.
Marcus and Lucius fought Marcomanni and Persians together,
but party-animal Lucius soon came under the weather.
The plague had come to kill many a Roman,
thankfully the remaining emperor was Marcus Aurelius, wiser was no man.
The only choice that makes us think of him lesser,
was the how he picked his successor.
Commodus was cruel, corrupt, and mean,
pretended to be a gladiator, such a sight had never been seen.

Old Pertinax tried to fight the growing corruption,
so the Praetorians killed him, disliking the interruption.
Didius Julianus then won the Empire in an auction in a bar.
Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger, and Septimius Severus didn’t accept that and started a civil war.
Septimius ruled with iron fist, caring only for the army.
His sons Geta and Caracalla drove each other barmy.
Macrinus replaced cruel Caracalla by prophecy,
Elagabalus’s reign reads like a dark comedy.
Severus Alexander was young but ruled fine,
but his death was the start of the Empire’s darkest time.
For when giant Maximinus killed him, it was the start,
of fifty years of civil war that tore the Empire apart.
An endless line of usurpers, each the other’s enemy,
we call this disaster the Crisis of the Third Century.

Maximinus Thrax was a massive fighter, a real brute.
Showed two Gordians that rising up against him was an idea that was not good.
Pupienus and Balbinus beat Max, it was very hard,
only to be assassinated by the Praetorian Guard.
Gordian Three then ruled for a year or five,
before Philip the Arab took his life.
Decius persecuted the Christians, thinking they were a curse.
Hostilian, Trebonianus Gallus, Aemilian, things are only getting worse!
With Valerian, the Empire saw its darkest hour:
captured in battle, made a Persian slave with no power.
Then two chunks of Empire split off from the rest:
Palmyra in the east and Gaul in the west.
Gallienus ruled in Rome for eight tense years,
while east and west were run by his imperial peers.
Things were at last getting a little better (phew),
when a Gothic invasion was beaten by Claudius Two.
The next emperor is Quintillus, about whom little is known,
and then the great Aurelian reunited the Empire, ruling alone.
And yet the Crisis was not yet done,
as next came Tacitus and Florian.
Probus’s six years were filled with constant fighting,
Carus was killed by a bolt of lightning.
The last two emperors of the Crisis were Carinus and Numerian,
who were replaced by the great Diocletian.

Diocletian ended fifty years of anarchy,
by reorganising the Empire into what we call the Tetrarchy.
This meant four Emperors ruled at once,
which makes quite a challenge for a simple rhyming dunce.
Maximian was Diocletian’s imperial best friend,
With Constantius Chlorus and Galerius, they made quite the band.
But when Dio and Max both peacefully retired,
trouble started: Constantine and Maxentius wanted to be the next Emperors to be hired.
But Galerius picked Severus and Maximinus Daia,
then Constantius died, which really started a fire:
Constantine and Maxentius both declared emperors as well,
and then Maximian came back from his retirement spell.
Old Dio returned to sort out the whole mess,
then died on his farm, quite possibly of stress.
Licinius now too claimed the throne,
then, at last, Constantine beat the others and ruled alone.

Constantine made the future of the Christians a lot more hopeful,
and moved the capital to a little town we call Constantinople.
If this wasn’t evidence enough he liked his own name,
he also named his kids Constantine, Constantius, and Constans, without any shame.
Constantine the Second died fighting his bro,
Constans lived longer, but was then replaced by general Vetranio.
Constantius the Second then ruled alone,
until he made his cousin Julian co-emperor, thowing him a bone.
Julian the Apostate had grand plans,
to reorganise the Empire and take it back from the Christians,
but his plans had only just begun,
when he charged into battle without his armour on.
Obviously, he lost that fight,
then Emperor Jovian inhaled carbon monoxide.

Valentinian died of rage when an argument with a Goth got vocal,
his brother Valens lost his life in the battle of Adrianople.
Gratian thought the pagans had to be repressed,
Valentinian Two was the last emperor to choose to rule the west.
Meanwhile, in the east, the emperor was Theodosius,
a religious man who listened well to Saint Ambrosius.
Theo was the last man to rule east and west alone,
from now on, the two would have a separate throne.
He gave one Empire to each of his sons,
unfortunately, Arcadius and Honorius were useless morons.
Arcadius at least had the good sense to die after only thirteen years on the throne,
while Honorius worried about his chickens during the Sack of Rome.
Theodosius Two gave Constantinople walls that would save it in plenty a close fight,
while in the west, Honorius at last died.
The crumbling west was reigned for two years by John,
but Theo appointed Valentinian Three, who attacked the west and won.
When Marcian replaced Theo Two, the Empire faced a setting Sun,
going through terror at the hands of Attila the Hun.

Now the west had Petronius Maximus, what a flop!
Vandals raided Rome and he was stoned by an angry mob.
From here, the emperors in the west had very little power,
as barbarian Ricimer took over their crumbling Empire and made them little more than a wall flower.
Avitus of the west was an old senator with much knowledge of sophistry,
while in the east, Leo the first began the Empire’s recovery.
Oh Majorian, you tried to fix your broken Empire and wouldn’t have been bad,
had Ricimer not become jealous and killed you dead.
Libius Severus shared Majorian’s fate but not his skill,
Ricimer poisoned him, and he too was kill.
Anthemius, the last western emperor who even tried:
fought Vandals and Visigoths, then Ricimer made sure he died.
Olybrius, Glycerius, we are very nearly at the end,
barely anyone now would even listen to the emperor’s command.
Julius Nepos, you could consider him the last legitimate emperor to sit on the western throne,
but the history books disagree, as Orestes had him overthrown.
Orestes then chose the greatest irony of all:
put his fourteen-year old son on the throne, just before the fall.
Romulus Augustulus was the boy’s name,
and it is only because he was last that he achieved any fame.
Gothic Odoacer invaded Italy, oh what horror,
and then the west had no more emperor.

But in Constantinople ruled Emperor Zeno,
and his Empire continued for a thousand more years, so if you’re ready, here we go:
Old Anastasius ruled wisely and left the Empire strong and ready to fight,
though the people were worried because he was a monophysite.
From swineherd to Emperor rose Justin;
couldn’t read or write, so he asked help from his cousin.
Justinian the Great was the clever man’s name,
and he rebuilt the Empire, earning everlasting fame.
Reconquered Africa, Italy, and even Spain,
but oh that plague was such a pain.
Justinian was succeeded by his cousin Justin Two,
but Tiberius stepped in when Justin went quite coocoo.
Tiberius Two’s Empire was overextended, so he forgot the west and defended the east,
a mistake partially rectified by emperor Maurice.

Phocas then murdered Maurice and his entire clan,
only for bad news to reach the cruel man:
the Persians attacked the Empire, what a calamity:
it was the last great war of antiquity.
When Heraclius deposed Phocas, the Empire was in dire straits:
half of it occupied, Persians knocking on Constantinople’s gates!
Eighteen years it took to beat the Persians once and for all,
but Heraclius had only delayed the fall,
for in the south, a new prohet had spoken,
and with the sudden attack of his people, the Empire was broken.
Syria, Egypt, Africa: Heraclius saw his Empire fall apart,
and promptly died of a broken heart.
Constantine Three and Heraklonas were not long for this world.
Constans the Second’s beard was neatly curled.
Tried to move the capitol back west,
which in Constantinople caused much unrest.
Constantine Four fought off an Arab attack on Constantinople without mistake.
Justinian the Second didn’t live up to his famous namesake,
Focussed on the west, fighting his Slavic foes,
but Leontios rose up, exiled him, and slit his nose.
His will wasn’t broken, and he continued the fight,
now with a wife called Theodora by his side.
It took him ten years to retake his throne, but as the historians wrote:
he only hung on to it for one year before they also slit his throat.

When Justinian Two had first been deposed by his peers,
it had been the start of an anarchy that lasted twenty years.
First Leontios and Tiberius Three’s war made the Empire burn,
then came Justinian Two’s return.
Phillipikos Bardanes was responsible for Justinian’s demise,
two years later, he was taking a bath when someone poked out his eyes.
Anastasios the Second became the Empire’s new liege,
he warned all to stock up food, as the Arabs were preparing a siege.
Theodosius the Third briefly took the rule,
then Isaurian Leo Three became emperor, and he wasn’t a fool.

The Empire was defended in its darkest day by Leo’s cunning hand:
the Arabs sieged Constantinople by sea and by land.
But the icons sent him into a spasm,
so he began what we like to call iconoclasm.
Constantine Five continued the policies his dad had begun,
for which historians named him dung.
Leo Four came next, and he wasn’t long for this world.
He married a sly Athenian girl,
her name was Irene,
and she was regent for their son, a sixth Constantine.
But she wanted the throne for herself, no less,
so she deposed her son and ruled as the Empire’s very first empress.

Irene was deposed by her finance minister,
but despite his brains, Nicephoros’s fate was sinister,
ran into the Bulgars at Plisska, quite dumb,
and so his skull became a drinking cup for Khan Krum.
Staurakios, Michael Rangabe, their reigns were brief,
then Leo the Fifth, a general with iconoclastic belief.
Michael the Second butted heads with Thomas the Slav,
Theophilos tried to make sure justice was something everyone would have.
A ruler who quite liked a drink was Michael Three,
he spent his rule as a puppet to friends and family.

Macedonian Basil took the imperial throne from his friend,
a great general, he was the first in ages to conquer enemy land.
Many a book was written by the wise sixth Leo,
Alexander died of exhaustion after playing polo.
Another great writer was the seventh Constantine,
deposed for twenty years by the Romanos Lekapenos regime.
Between Romanos and the return of Constantine to the purple he’d been born in,
the Roman Empire began to score many a win.
Romanos the Second retook Crete,
then Nicephoros Phocas took Antioch, no mean feat!
Next up was Emperor John,
who fought Rus’ and Bulgar, and on both accounts won.
Basil Two then brought Constantinople to its greatest height,
conquered Bulgaria and Armenia, adding to the Empire’s might.
Constantine Eight was lazy and the Empire again became a mess,
then his daughter Zoe became the second empress.
Her husbands ruled with her until she died,
but perhaps they shouldn’t even have tried.
First Romanos, then Mike, and finally Constantine Nine,
lost Sicily, the Balkans, and nearly caused a civil war that wasn’t so fine.
Zoe’s sister Theodora then took over as basilissa,
lasted six years before the Empire had to miss her.

Mike Six ruled for one year before abdicating and becoming a monk,
as his enemy Isaac Komnenos was so very big and stronk.
Most of Byzantine Italy was lost by Constantine Ten,
when it was taken over by the Norman men.
Next came Mike Seven and Romanos Four,
but Romanos lost Anatolia at Manzikert, what horror!
After Roman’s army was crushed and forced to flee,
he was blinded, then Mike had to give the throne to Nicephoros Three.

The Empire was now well and truly wrecked,
on all sides, the odds against them were stacked.
This is when Alexios Komnenos took over,
and did his best to make them recover.
He fought Normans, Turks, and all the rest,
then asked for some help from the west.
He probably wasn’t expecting too much aid,
so was quite surprised when this started the First Crusade.
Sensing the Crusaders weren’t entirely worthy of trust,
he still teamed up with them, as needs must.
John the Second was popular with all subjects except his sister,
Manuel Komnenos was a very energetic mister.
Alexios Two’s beard had only just begun to grow,
when cousin Andronikos caused his overthrow.
Andronikos massacred Latins without flinching,
but was pretty dismayed by his own lynching.

Isaac Angelos fought a war against the Bulgars (yes, another),
then was blinded by his own brother.
Alexios Three’s reign was a mess and a bore,
especially with the arrival of Crusade number Four.
The Crusaders put blind Isaac and Alexios Four back on the throne as puppets,
but Alexios Five took over, and he didn’t obey their every command like muppets,
which is when Byzantium suffered the greatest betrayal of them all,
as the Crusaders conquered Constantinople and brought the Empire to fall.

As the capital fell to these ungrateful hicks,
Nicaea held the ashes of the purple phoenix.
Theodore Laskaris fought Latins and Turks on both sides,
John the Third gave Latins and Bulgars plenty more good fights.
Theodore Two continued to increase the Empire’s agency,
while John Four was too young to rule, and was put under a regency.

John’s regent was a Michael Palaiologos,
who showed the Latin Empire was total bogus,
when at last he retook Constantinople,
making every Roman briefly hopeful.
But Andronikos Two was little better than the first of the name.
Neglecting defence, he brought the Empire to shame.
Andronikos Three died too early by far,
sparking an unfortunate civil war.
We call the claimants Johns Six and Five,
and their fighting nearly ended the Empire’s life.
To survive, the Empire, now weak and small,
had to become an Ottoman vassal.
But this couldn’t stop the internal trouble:
next John Five fought Andronikos Four and John Seven, seeing double.
Just when it seemed there was nothing more the Romans could do,
the next emperor was clever Manuel Two.
He journeyed western courts, asking for aid,
which is when the Ottomans his day made:
as there was now a civil war between the Turkish men,
the Empire could rise one last time again.
But it wasn’t enough,
as the Ottomans reunified, and they were tough.
Then during the reign of John Eight,
the Empire could sense its approaching fate,
as finally, we come to the eleventh Constantine,
and in fifteen centuries, a braver emperor hadn’t been seen.
Mehmed’s cannons broke the Theodosian wall,
and with that came Constantinople’s fall.
Constantine the Eleventh defended his city to the last,
but that day, the Roman Empire became a thing of the past.

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September 2016 Update

Hey everyone,

As most of you know I am deep into research for the end of the century episodes. Unlike the narrative I have to learn about a whole topic before going back and turning it into an episode. So things take longer than usual but once the research is done I can usually turn out 3 episodes in quick succession.

There would have been an episode out last week but my microphone of 8 years (!) finally quit on me. So I am installing a new recording system which as you can imagine is adding to the amount of time it takes me to get to the next episode.

Please bear with me and thanks in advance for your patience,


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Subscription Update

Hello everyone, this is an update on the subscriptions and the Byzantine stories series.

It was the 26th July 2015 when I released the special feed which you can subscribe to that gives you access to all the paid-for episodes I’ve produced.

We are now 2 weeks away from that 12 month period coming to an end. For those of you who bought the subscription back then, you will soon get an email offering you the chance to resubscribe.

The price has gone up to $42 as the History of Byzantium will soon be my only job. It’s very exciting as I can spend more time researching the show, producing episodes more quickly and discovering more fascinating lives that the narrative glossed over in our Byzantine Stories series.

You can resubscribe as soon as you receive the reminder email. Your new 12 month sub will begin when your old one ends so you can renew early and be all set up ahead of schedule.

In that 12 month period you will get another six bonus episodes. In addition to the six you got in this 12 month period. And don’t worry, number six for this year is just about to come out. It covers the life of the greatest charioteer of the 6th century but also delves into the history of Roman chariot racing and the Hippodrome in particular. It’s going to be a two part episode. So part 1 will be your sixth bonus episode and part 2 will be the first of the new 12 month period.

For those of you who subscribed later on in 2015 or in 2016, you don’t need to do anything. You will get an email reminder 2 weeks before your sub comes due.

Let me know if you have any questions And thank you for listening.


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Byzantine Stories Episode 2 Announcement

Listen here for an announcement about the second episode in the Byzantine Stories series and an increase in the subscription price.

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The Syrian Refugee who changed Western Civilization

While on holiday I was reading about the refugee crisis and decided to write this article. I thought you might enjoy…

The Syrian Refugee who changed Western Civilization

1300 years ago a boy was dragged from his home and taken to Europe. We should remember the vital role he played in world history.

Did you hear the story about the Syrian refugee? The one about the boy named Konon from a Christian family living near the border. As a small child he was forced to flee his home and migrate across Turkey to a Greek port. You can imagine where the story goes from there.

Leo III (from 'Rulers of the Byzantine Empire' published by KIBEA)

Leo III (from ‘Rulers of the Byzantine Empire’ published by KIBEA)

His family was given prime farming land by the European government. Then he was offered a lucrative career in the army. Finally aged just 32 he became the most powerful politician on the continent and emerged victorious from one of the most important battles in world history. You must have heard this story before?

These events took place between 685 and 718 AD. This period of history offers a strange reflection of our own time as if glimpsed in a fairground mirror. The Middle East was in ferment with war and political chaos everywhere. Refugees were arriving in Europe by the boatload and precious relics from the past were being smashed to pieces.

But the Arab peoples were not the ones suffering from the tumult. Instead they were the military superpower looking to extend their influence. A generation after the Prophet Muhammad passed away (c632) the Arabs had united under one government for the first time. A Caliphate. The model of Muslim government which IS wants to recreate today.

It was the European power that was collapsing into civil war and suffering fresh disasters every day. The Eastern Roman Empire (often called Byzantium) had been shocked by the arrival of the Arab armies. Shoddy military intelligence left them unprepared for the assault and the provinces of Egypt, Palestine and Syria slipped from their control in barely eight years.

The Caliphate of the 7th century was a largely tolerant place though. No strict codes of behavior or dress were handed down. If people were prepared to continue their lives as before then they would be left in peace.

Those who did flee to Europe were not housed in camps or left to wait on beaches. On the contrary the shell-shocked Romans needed every ounce of talent they could find. These people were given empty land to work or encouraged to work for the state. During a break in the fighting the Imperial government ordered troops to cross the Taurus Mountains (the border between the two Empires) into Syria to deport local Christians. These former Romans had remained to work the land within the Caliphate but were now moved ‘home’ at the point of a sword. One such family was that of young Konon.

Konon’s unique experience would take him far in the Roman world. The trauma of being uprooted and having to start a new life hundreds of miles away made him tough and flexible. Once fully grown he joined the army and was quickly promoted to become an officer with considerable responsibility.

The conflict he found himself in the middle of was a clash of civilizations. Instead of western powers dictating democratic solutions, it was the Arabs who were reshaping the world to their way of thinking. The Caliphate was on the warpath and had the Roman capital Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was in its sights. The anger and frustration which fuels IS-like organisations today was being felt on the European shore. The Romans had been successful for a millennium and now suddenly found themselves impotent in the face of Arab power.

By the summer of 717 their capital was surrounded by a huge army and fleet. If the city had been incorporated into the Caliphate then the future of Europe would have changed beyond all recognition. But it didn’t, thanks in large part to Konon.

He had grown up around the Arabs and may have spoken the language. He was a senior general by 717 and as they approached the city he was given the ultimate promotion, to Emperor, to deal with the crisis. Through skillful diplomacy and ruthless warfare the Syrian refugee, now known as Leo III, saved the Roman world.

This battle is largely forgotten today, yet we should remember its significance in shaping the modern world. Constantinople would not ultimately fall until 1453 leaving Western Europe to develop its unique culture. Only four decades after the Roman state finally disappeared Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World.

Perhaps we should also look differently at those desperate to reach Europe today. They may possess the talent and the perspective to shape the world of tomorrow.

Robin Pierson is the presenter of The History of Byzantium podcast. The story of the Eastern Roman Empire from 476-1453.

Categories: News | 12 Comments

The Eleven Constantines

The one Constantine we have no trouble remembering

The one Constantine we have no trouble remembering

Here is an update on the Constantine Acronym or Acrostic or Mnemonic or whatever we decide to make it which I mentioned back in episode 76. A few brave listeners sent in suggestions and I thought I’d post the two best I’ve seen. I’ll keep updating them every century until we find a version that works the best. Let me know what you think.

Listener SM

Christianized the Roman state,
Oldest of three heirs of the Great.
Never made it past month four,
Stopped the Arabs at the door.
Theophanes called him dung,
Assassinated by his mum.
Newborn in purple was his name,
Tall and cruel, inept and lame.
I fought alone against the Normans,
No more Italy for the Romans.
Emperor fell and so did the Byzantines,
So we have eleven Constantines.

Listener JF

Constantine the great was first; he built the imperial city,
Constantine the second, died young, his three year reign gave pity,
Constantine the third, of the west, reigned along with another,
Constantine the third, of the rest, split with his half-brother,
Constantine the fourth, reigned long, his son’s nose was slit,
Constantine the fifth, broke idols, he gave the Bulgars shit,
Constantine the sixth, raised at nine, killed blind as a fighter,
Constantine the seventh, purple-born, from the shadows to a writer,
Constantine the eighth’s daughter Zoe, was stately in her carriage,
Constantine the ninth, wed Zoe to gain the throne by marriage,
Constantine the tenth, zealot & bureaucrat, used mercenaries not the army,
Constantine the eleventh lost the empire to the Turks which sent the listeners barmy….

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Listener Survey

Hey everyone. Listener DT is doing a dissertation on podcasting as a medium for producing works of history and needs our help. Would you mind answering this one question about your relationship with the History of Byzantium podcast?

You don’t need to comment on Facebook, you can comment here or on the poll if you like.


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