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See more AMAs > Robin Pierson

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Robin Pierson

The History of Byzantium

Robin is the host of The History of Byzantium Podcast 💠. From London in the UK, he was a huge fan of “The History of Rome” podcast by Mike Duncan and was very sad when it came to an end. In 2012 he decided to take the plunge and attempt to continue the audio narrative of the Roman Empire. Six years later and 150+ episodes “The History of Byzantium” podcast is still going! Before that Robin wrote and podcasted about American TV shows. Surprisingly people weren’t that happy hearing why their favourite shows were no good.

Robin will be live on Mar 21 starting at 430pm ET for one and a half hours to answer as many questions as possible. Feel free to start asking Robin questions any time in the lead-up to the AMA.

Website    Facebook    Twitter    iTunes    Stitcher

47 Questions
William asked this question 6 months ago

How did you get into Roman history enough to devote so much of your life to it, does researching and producing ever dull the your love of the past?

William
USA Va

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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The Romans were always present in my life in one form or another. I went to church for most of my youth, I watched Ben Hur, Spartacus etc. I visited Roman sites in the UK, I studied classics for a couple of years at school.

But it was Mike Duncan that put flesh on the bones of that interest. I knew the outline of the story but was very ignorant of so much of it. I think the fact that it was a podcast played a huge role in drawing me in. I had started (and still do) listen to podcasts 24/7. So I’ve listened to THOR 4 or 5 times through now. And in 2010 I visited Rome and Pompeii.

So in 2012 when Mike announced he was going to stop I had reached peak-interest in all things Roman. I had read John Julius Norwich’s books on Byzantium so I knew there were some great stories to tell. I also really wanted to be able to podcast full time and so I took the plunge.

Researching Byzantine history has definitely not dulled my interest in the past. The research is the most fun part of the process. I feel so privileged to be able to learn about history for a living. Occasionally I have to read two books in a row which cover the same topic which can be tedious. But with Byzantium that doesn’t happen too often. Finding new and interesting books\articles about Byzantium always feels like finding hidden treasure.

The part of the process I enjoy the least is the recording. My throat often gets very sore and the editing is dull. I am also constantly annoyed at how I pop the mic with my ps and ts and can’t seem to stop!

Adam asked this question 6 months ago

Could you elaborate on how the senate was viewed by the Emperor and the people, what if any meaningful influence they held, and if it was ever formally ended or lasted to the end of the Empire?
Adam
UK

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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When Constantine founded Constantinople he built a Senate House and enrolled men from the east on its rolls. But I don’t think they ever decided much beyond local matters. By the start of the podcast (476) I came across few references to the Senate actually having formal meetings. They did gather to help choose new Emperors but even then the Imperial bodyguards seemed to have more influence on events.

During the 7th century with the loss of the Balkans and the East the nature of being a Senator changed beyond recognition. Men who had been mega-wealthy might suddenly have little more than their house in the city. So instead a new elite formed around Palace honours and titles. I’ve discussed this process in detail on the podcast (e.g. ep118). Men would compete either to serve in an official role or purchase a title which brought with it a salary. This aristocracy was still called “The Senate” by the government and our historians. But it no longer functioned like the Senate of Rome. This system will still be in place until Manzikert and beyond. I will update you as we go 🙂

Evan Ziavras asked this question 6 months ago

How long do you think Constantinople would’ve lasted had the Turks been unsuccessful in 1453? Do you think they would’ve been able to last as a small independent territory into the modern age, or would’ve it eventually fallen to the Ottomans?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I assume the Ottoman Empire would have had to disintegrate for Constantinople to survive as an independent city state. If it had somehow limped into the 1600-1700s there’s a good chance that Britain, France or another colonial power would have seen great value in occupying it.

Neil Donovan asked this question 6 months ago

Assuming you manage to get to that point, will you cover the history of the short-lived Latin Empire as well as the Byzantines who *spoiler alert* eventually take back Constantinople?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I will definitely be covering the history of the Empire until 1453. And so yes I will cover the Latin Empire and the breakaway pockets of Roman territory too.

Blake McAllister asked this question 6 months ago

Hey Robin, big fan of your history of Byzantium podcast. What do you think would be the biggest impact Byzantium has had on the course of history?
Always happy to see the next episodes pop up in my podcast subscriptions!

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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This is a huge question that you could answer several ways. But I suppose the obvious answer is that Byzantium shaped the contours of the modern world. If the Caliphate had captured Constantinople then it would have had a big impact on the development of both Islamic and Christian civilisation.

People tend to assume that the Caliphate would have kept expanding west and perhaps brought Islam to Western Europe. Its possible. But I suspect that a more interesting dilemma would have occurred. I think a Muslim warlord who held Constantinople would have broken away from Baghdad, possibly creating an Islamic Byzantine Empire.

The Caliphate was shaken every half century or so by major civil wars which redefined the shape of its mission. And it eventually broke apart because too many of its provinces could shake off the authority of Baghdad and run their own affairs. Constantinople, would be the ultimate place to form your own breakaway state. The city was such a fortress that it would have been tempting for many men to rebel against Baghdad and run their own state between the Danube and the Taurus mountains.

If something like this took place I can imagine three potential directions which would have changed history significantly.
1) Christian Europe unites more quickly behind a Crusading movement
2) Eastern Europe begins converting to Islam, changing the future of Europe completely
3) Some kind of Christian-Muslim hybrid develops in Byzantium

We’re into the realms of fiction obviously but I use that to illustrate the massive influence Byzantium had on shaping history. And that’s before you throw in the Steppe peoples. What is the Huns, Avars, Bulgars etc had captured Constantinople?

So yeah, Byzantium gave the Islamic world and Europe the boundaries which would define them. In many ways they insulated Europe from the outside world.

JAIME Jaimon asked this question 6 months ago

1. What Eastern Roman event or person deserves a TV series?

2. If you could change one event in Byzantine history, what would it be? The battle of Yarmouk? The Justinian plague? Basil II having a good heir?

3. Which one is the most popular misconception regarding the Eastern Roman Empire?

4. How is the life of a full time podcaster?

5. When do you think that you are going to reach the end of the History of Byzantium?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1. I have very strong opinions about this! I have very little interest in TV shows depicting historical events as they happened. I don’t like to know what’s going happen. I think HBO’s Rome was clever in its first season by making two fictional characters so prominent. Similarly STARZ’ Spartacus had a surprisingly good first season when making up the whole story. It was far less successful depicting history.

I also think some stories don’t lend themselves to the medium of television. How do you tell Justinian’s life story? He lived till he was 70. Do you produce season after season like “The Crown” and keep recasting him? That doesn’t sound interesting to me. Or take Heraclius. I think you could make a good Persian wars film. In 2.5 hours you could show Heraclius leading the 6 year war, perhaps with flashbacks to fill in the earlier part of his story. The film would have a natural arc and a happy ending. As a tv show I’m not sure how satisfying that would be unless you made up a load of personal drama that we don’t know about.

I think a lot of stories would have anticlimactic endings or cliched ones. You could tell the Phokas / Tsimisces story but you would have to decide whether you wanted Tsimisces to die of illness or be poisoned. One is dull, one is cliched. I’m hugely critical of “Game of Thrones” since they left the books behind. The producers don’t understand what drama is. They think “shockingly” bumping people off is dramatic when it long ago became predictable and implausible.

Personally I would make a fictional show about the era of Arab raids on Anatolia. There is so much possibility for storytelling and drama without the restrictions of reality.

2. I think we need to lay the blame at Justinian’s door again. At least partly. He doesn’t seem to have nominated a successor. His nephew Justin II then restarted the war with the Persians that Justinian had paid so much to end. This led eventually to the death of Maurice, the loss of the Balkans and the rise of Islam. We don’t know what happened but had Justinian prepared a successor and impressed upon them the importance of peace in the East then history could have been very different.

3. That’s actually a really difficult question to answer. My impression is that most people know nothing about Byzantium. Non-history fans don’t seem to know that it existed at all. For those who like history I suppose the word Byzantine has conjured up an image of a bureaucracy that was deliberately complicated and inefficient. The inefficient part is a misconception. The Byzantine government was more efficient than most of its neighbours for centuries.

But I’d say even amongst listeners to the show there are a number of misconceptions that linger on even after I discuss them:
– That Justinian was a great Emperor
– That religious faith was similar to how we perceive it today
– That Byzantines must have been confused about calling themselves Romans when the city of Rome was not part of the Empire
– That the army functioned like a modern army with men sitting in barracks patiently waiting for orders that they would then obediently follow
One of the hardest things to do when studying history is to let go of modern conceptions and put yourself in the shoes of an ancient person. I know I am guilty of this too.

4. It’s great, I am so lucky to be able to do something I love for a living. The only downside is the technical side of producing and selling episodes. I am dependent on others for that and it can be frustrating. But podcasting is growing so fast that many systems are being created to make these things easier.

5. It seems to be taking about a year to cover a century. So I guess another 4 years.

Theo L asked this question 6 months ago

Is there another ancient people who’s story you’d like to cover in a podcast once The History of Byzantium is eventually concluded? Alternatively, is there another ancient you people or period in history that you’re interested in in general, regardless of a podcast?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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In a strange way the answer is no. I don’t think any other civilisation has the connections with the modern West in the same way that Rome does. And that means creating a podcast would be much more difficult. Many people have an emotional connection with the Romans, whether they realise it or not. Throughout THOB and THOR people engage with the Roman state as if its their local sports team. They cheer when they win and aren’t happy when decline sets in. There aren’t many other civilisations I could podcast about that would create that same feeling.

We also lack sources for so many other civilisations. The obvious next step would be the ancient Greeks because the sources and academic literature are available. One thing I’ve thought about is comparing the Roman experience to the Chinese. Personally I find it very difficult to learn about Chinese history because the names and places are so foreign to me. I wonder if I could create a series where I “translate” Chinese history into a language we understand. And by that I mean by comparing their experiences to the Romans. I think that might be one way to develop an understanding for another civilisation that is otherwise too alien to fully comprehend.

Allen asked this question 6 months ago

1. Will you ever go over the histories of Epirus and Trebizond?
2. What is your policy on transliteration of Byzantine names (Nicephorus, Alexius, etc.)?
3. Which emperor was your favorite to talk about so far?
4. How did you get into Byzantine history?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1. I will but I don’t know how much detail I will go into until I get there.

2. I addressed this in detail in episode 116. For names I knew before the podcast I stick with the most common anglicised form. For words I didn’t know I will lean toward their modern pronunciation. Sometimes the Greek pronunciation rolls off the tongue and I stick with it but sometimes it disturbs the flow of my speech too much. It’s an ad hoc / case by case basic decision. I know this annoys people who believe they know the correct pronunciation and I do understand that. But even the way I see Byzantine goes against how fellow Brits say it. I simply imitated Mike Duncan and wanted to keep the pronunciations that his audience were familiar with.

Professor Anthony Kaldellis amongst others thinks that by using John, Paul, Gregory etc instead of their Greek equivalents that something is taken away from the Byzantines. But I believe as a podcast I am in the business of emotional engagement not slavish accuracy. I think Western ears will relate more quickly to Western names. Those who want to learn more can make their own distinctions.

3. That’s such a hard question. Where they my favourite because I liked them? Or because talking about them was so interesting? We know more about Justinian than any other Emperor by a long way. But I was very intrigued by Emperors like Constans II and Theophilus who we know very little about.

I’m tempted to answer Nicephorus I. His reign led to a nice 3-part series which I named “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.” I think he presided over one of the great what-if turning points. If he had occupied Bulgaria in the early 800s I think it could have made a significant difference to Roman history. Instead his skull ended up as a drinking bowl (they say) and the Empire fell back into Iconoclasm in despair.

4. See my first answer above. But between John Julius Norwich’s books and my Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (by Colin McEvedy, highly recommended) I was definitely intrigued by Byzantine survival. When Mike Duncan stopped THOR I realised it was time to find out more.

Connor asked this question 6 months ago

1. What do you think that has been the most rewarding part of doing this entire grand saga of Eastern Roman/Byzantine Histroy
2. If you could make any other type of media piece for Byzantine history what it be ex. Video Games, Movie, Television, Board game, ect

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1. Not to sound too corny or self helpy but I have a sense that I’ve found what I’m supposed to be doing. My passions tend to revolve around alternative worlds to this one. Hence my love of American TV shows. But my work as a TV critic ended up in a lot of running arguments as I criticised peoples escapism. With Byzantium I’m able to produce something very positive. I love learning about this other world and thinking of ways to explain it to others. I am very lucky to be able to do this.

2. Great question, I’d love to make them all. But they would all last forever! The video game and board game would end up being completely immersive and take weeks to play. The TV show has obvious appeal to me but might be the hardest to pull off.

James asked this question 6 months ago

1) What has been something that “shocked” or “surprised” you over the course of your research and preparation for the History of Byzantium?
2) What is something that you have wanted to discuss but haven’t found a way to make it into the narrative or Byzantine Stories series?
3) What do you think are the most similar and different aspects of Byzantine culture to the “modern world?”
4) If you had to live under the reign of any Byzantine emperor, which would you prefer?
5) If you could speak with any Byzantine person and interview them, who would it be and why?
6) What have you taken away most from learning more about the history of Byzantium?

Thanks so much. Big fan of the show and thanks for all your work!
-JD USA, California

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1) The origins of Islam are easily the most surprising and fascinating thing from this period. I think there is a whole library still to be written about it and it may not happen in our lifetime or even this century.

2) A great question, there have been little things that come up all the time that I’ve had to leave out as they are distractions. But of course I can’t think of any right now! Hopefully we will cover the big topics as Byzantine Stories as we go (engineering/science, gender etc). I suppose I’ve wanted to sketch out how a Byzantine would think differently to a modern person. But I’m not sure if I have the skills to pull that off. We’ll see.

3) Ah, there you go, you already knew my answer to the previous question! I think the most similar and most different are the same in a way. In the West we have stripped away formal religion from the way we conceive our personal and national decision making. This would be quite alien to a Byzantine. Regardless of whether you were a pagan, Christian, Muslim etc you would have perceived the world to be shaped by the supernatural. This might have meant a complex theology or it might have meant little superstitions that kept you safe on a daily basis.

I think today we behave in exactly the same way but don’t see it. I think on a national level we treat the global economy like God. We need to make sacrifices to please it, we need to purify our institutions to bring ourselves in line with its will. And on a smaller level I think we all make moral judgements about ourselves and why our behaviour is ok but our neighbours is wrong. Judgements based on a moral code we largely make up, no different than the superstition that governed many Byzantines.

4) I suppose it depends where you lived. But Anastasius seemed to me to be the most ego-less Emperor. And that was before the collapse of the 7th century.

5) The easy answer is Constans II, Heraclius’ grandson. That is the period of Byzantine history we know the least about. We know nothing about the institutional reaction to the shocking loss of the eastern provinces. I could ask him about that.

But more in the spirit of the question I think I would say someone like Basil Lekapenos. Someone who lived a full life and visited different parts of the Empire, dealt with many different people and survived. I also think as a eunuch Basil would offer insight into the Byzantine experience in a different way to others.

6) Probably that human nature governs all. People will always look out for their own self interest regardless of their knowledge of the wider world. That sounds thoroughly negative but plenty can be achieved by understanding that, as the Byzantines showed.

Demetrios Velis asked this question 6 months ago

Thank you for this AMA round. Here is a series of related questions I would like to ask.

The Palaeologoi have been known to have adopted the use of the double-headed eagle as their imperial standard. But how about the earlier Byzantine dynasties? Did each dynasty of rulers have a different imperial standard or did they suffice with the each Emperor’s newly minted coinage?

How about the Byzantine aristocracy? Did they fashion something other than a monogram or a signet ring seal to identify or distinguish themselves?

And what about the imperial army and navy? Dit they have something analogous to the Roman legion standards to identify themselves? Some of the illustrated manuscripts of Byzantine cavalry engaging Arab forces (eg, the J. Skylitzes ones) show something of a triangular flag at the top of their lances but I fail to identify any writing or images on such flags.

Did the administrative Themata (Themes) have some sort of a marking at their respective borders to delineate their respective territories, analogous to the limes-inscriptions at the Roman Empire’s successive frontiers?

Thank you, once again. I would greatly appreciate any plausible answers to any of the above.

ΝΙΨΟΝΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑΜΗΜΟΝΑΝΟΨΙΝ

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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These are all good questions but they require research that I haven’t yet done. I have added them to my questions file. While you wait I will say that the written sources don’t discuss this much. In episode 37 (there are images there to see https://thehistoryofbyzantium.com/2013/10/04/episode-37-the-army-of-the-strategikon/) I discussed Byzantine legionary standards. And yes units of professional soldiers would have had their own banners or painted shields. And any unit taking part in a pitched battle would have standards of some kind because it gave men something to rally around during the chaos of battle.
I don’t believe the Themes had any boundary markings. The Themes were subdivided over time and were usually based around various forts, so it would simply be a case of assigning various fortifications to new commanders rather than any physical markings. However there may have been provincial boundary markers that I don’t know about. The development of Themes into actual provincial units is a murky subject.

Brian asked this question 6 months ago

Hey Robin, I have a few questions.
1. In your research, what have you made of Byzantine historiography? I know Anthony Kaldellis devoted much of his most recent book (Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood) to confronting the ‘feudal’ narratives of Byzantine history, but I was wondering how much you have involved yourself in the field. Are there any historians whose work you particularly enjoy?
2. How do you live with being so gosh darn handsome but available in podcast form? Seriously, these Istanbul videos will be doing the world a favor.
3. Have fun in Istanbul. I know you’ll be working hard for all of us, your adoring fans, but please treat yourself. The devotion you’ve given to this work of history is a gift to the world ❤️
Cheers from CT USA

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1. You are right a lot of Byzantine history writing is taken up with deconstructing the work of those who wrote pre-1970. Anthony Kaldellis is particularly good at writing about what isn’t in our sources. Inferring from silence what must have been the case. That is definitely one of the more fascinating things to read about. When we have so little in the way of sources, what can we learn from what is not said or mentioned.

I consider Peter Brown to be the best writer I’ve read on Byzantium. If you get the chance to read “The World of Late Antiquity” you won’t be disappointed. Beautiful flowing prose combined with great analysis.

Patricia Crone is another who writes with real elan. People tend to jump on me for quoting her and point out that many questions have been raised (including by her) about some of her sweeping assessments of the origins of Islam. And while that is a necessary corollary she is still brilliant to read. And often for the amateur (me) it is more valuable to read someone making provocative mind-expanding statements before you start getting into the nitty gritty. The opposite of this is Walter Kaegi who has written a couple of books which painstakingly point out every little thing we can’t be sure of. Which is absolutely fair and accurate but at times painful to read.

Anthony Kaldellis is one of the best modern writers to read, no question, passionate and interesting. The most helpful book I’ve read on Byzantium though is Mark Whittow’s “The Making of Orthodox Byzantium.” I would recommend this to anyone who wants to understand the actual dynamics that dictated Byzantine politicsa. Tragically he was killed in a car accident earlier this year.

There are lots of authors I like but who I’ve only read one work by. I should also say that though I don’t trust al of his his conclusions, Warren Treadgold has done a great service to Byzantine history. His determination to provide a clear narrative regardless of gaps in the sources is highly readable.

2. Mum, I’ve told you before, stop posting on the internet.

3. You are very kind.

Mike asked this question 6 months ago

Love the podcast!!! What do you plan on doing after the podcast? If I may, I think you should do a “history of the Solomonic dynasty”- perhaps the very last gasp of Byzantium?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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At this stage my aim is to go back to the Roman Imperial period and provide “end of the century” style episodes. So many questions about Byzantine history go back to the earlier Empire and I can’t answer them because I’ve not studied that period. My passion is with the Romans and so it will be hard to resist this. 3 questions in particular I’m keen to get to:
1) The origins of Christianity
2) The actual size/function/organisation of the army
3) The process by which local people “became” Roman

Kate Slack asked this question 6 months ago

I came on here with so many questions, but they’ve already been asked! So, just wanted to say that I’m a huge fan and I look forward to reading all of you answers to the questions above.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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🙂

Patrick Withers asked this question 6 months ago

How did you go about making the professional transition into podcasting? Knowing what you know now, are there things you’d do differently? Are there things about the business of podcasting that surprised you?

Thanks, and I love the podcast!

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Thank you.

I studied Politics and International Relations at University. As you can imagine that involved researching a topic and writing an essay about it. Skills I was sure would never be useful in the real world! I then went to work for my father who is an actor. I am still his informal manager to this day. His work is seasonal and so there were lots of times in the year when I had time to do other things. I started podcasting in 2008 inspired by the TV show “Lost” which spawned a thousand podcasts. After four years of podcasting and writing about TV I realised that I wasn’t going to turn it into a living. My opinions were too strong and too serious, it turned most listeners off. But being serious has translated rather well into Byzantine history. When Mike announced he was going to stop I realised I had an opportunity I couldn’t ignore. I had all the recording equipment and web setup, I just had to start researching.

My research methods up till the time of Heraclius were inadequate. In a way I’d love to go back and do that whole period again. But I’m not sure that will happen. I was relying on only a few books and not spending days in the library tracking down articles and more obscure sources. But I only learnt how to research it as I went. If I could go back I would want to research the whole thing thoroughly from the start.

The biggest problem technically has been hosting the show and charging for episodes. I signed up for “unlimited” storage on a website and as soon as the show became popular they revealed that “unlimited” was actually quite limited. So they charged me for a dedicated server which was expensive and still listeners complained that the show downloaded slowly or wouldn’t stream. The world of web storage just hasn’t caught up with podcasting.

So I switched to Libsyn who give you genuinely unlimited storage for a fraction of the cost. They were great and I would recommend them to any podcasters starting out. But I couldn’t put episodes behind a paywall with them. So the sale episodes are still on a dedicated server leading to a slightly Byzantine system of purchasing episodes and feeds which I wish was simpler.

Libsyn offer a system where they will create a dedicated app for you to keep paid-for episodes on. Which sounds great but they wanted 50% of the profits at the time. I said I couldn’t start charging double for all my episodes and so have stuck with the system I have.

I feel sure in the future a company will come along that can offer solutions to all these issues. Podcasting just keeps growing so I’m hopeful. Recently I moved to Acast because they stitch adverts onto the front of every episode across the run of the show which is very helpful.

All of this has surprised me I suppose as I knew nothing going in 🙂

Neil Donovan asked this question 6 months ago

Sorry for asking another question, but will you be doing an episode entirely about the Varangian Guard?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Ask as many as you like. I don’t know. I imagine they will get good coverage as we go forward and I’ll certainly talk about them during the military roundup during this end of the century. If there is enough material I would.

BADER ALOSSIMI asked this question 6 months ago

Hey Robin
Peace be upon he who follows the guidance

– Are there any known byzantine who converted to islam, as you know byzantium was neighbor to the islamic califate, there must be some sort of communications or engagements between the two entities
– In your personal opinion, do you consider byzantines to be romans or they are different calture
– Do you have plans to return to the tv shows business

Riyadh, KSA

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1. There are loads of Byzantines who converted to Islam. Starting with the families who lived in Syria, Palestine and Egypt who adapted quickly to the conquest. Later on lots of Byzantine prisoners never returned from captivity and we assume they converted to survive. I believe members of the Ducas and Sclerus families (who were captives in Baghdad) went on to serve as officials in the Caliphate. Famously Leo of Tripoli, a Byzantine, led the sack of Thessalonica in 904. If you mean do we know of a Roman who made a sincere conversion to the Islamic faith and then wrote about why, I don’t know. I haven’t heard of one. Nor of a Muslim who became a Christian and wrote about it in religious terms. Again plenty of Arabs stayed on in Constantinople and converted. Conversion for most of these people was mandatory in order to get a job.

2. The Byzantines were Romans, I have no doubt. But obviously the culture had changed significantly from the pagan city state to the Christian Empire.

3. I was a self-employed TV critic and its still my passion but I don’t have any plans to go back.

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

You produced a very good special podcast on St John Chrysostom. His impact on Christendom, certainly most importantly on Eastern Christendom, is not widely appreciated. There are other influential Byzantine church fathers such as Saints Gregory of Palama, John Climacus and Basil the Great. Would you consider preparing a special episode on them and their legacy?
Also, have you contacted the Constantinople Patriarchate to see if you could obtain an audience with Patriarch Bartholomew I during your planned visit to Istanbul? He represents really the last living vestige of Byzantium and surely would be most informative.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1) I would consider it. I follow the material, if there are good sources I will cover someone. It does become a little difficult to cover similar subjects in detail. Not to imply that those figures are similar. But I am trying to cover different aspects of Roman life and not just cover Priests and Monks who dominate the source material.

2) This is something a couple of listeners have asked. My concern is that I’m not sure what I would ask if I was given an interview. Though some of the analysis I do inevitably has a political connotation I don’t think of the podcast as being political. If I interview the Patriarch what do I discuss? It would seem odd to interview him as if he were just an expert on the church.

I think people would expect me to ask him about relations with the Turkish authorities and I don’t see any benefit in doing that. I am telling a story about a state that ended in 1453. I don’t see myself as an advocate for the Romaioi. I’m happy to be persuaded if listeners can come up with a discussion they can imagine me having.

Ra And asked this question 6 months ago

HBO/Netflix/whatever hires you to create a drama miniseries about Byzantium. Which time period and what events do you choose?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I would write a story about fictional people living in Anatolia during the time of Arab raids. I explain why in a previous answer 🙂

Conor asked this question 6 months ago

Do you subscribe to the notion that Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ hurt the perception of Byzantium and did long term damage to Byzantine studies?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I don’t think I can answer that question very well. I haven’t studied the history of Byzantine studies! I know that sounds like a cop out but I genuinely don’t know. I suspect Byzantine studies would always have struggled because of other factors:
1) No modern Byzantines to fight for that period of history specifically
2) That Byzantium owed such a debt to Rome and Greece that those eras became sexier to study
3) That so few sources exist for certain periods.
4) That so many Byzantine sites in Anatolia would not be architecturally interesting compared to the columns and pillars of earlier times.

Stephen Crocker asked this question 6 months ago

In the current period of the podcast you are covering (end of Basil II) what is happening in what is now modern Greece? I remember you recently read a description that even Athens was considered a backwater, is there much information on the culture and economy of this area at the time? Thanks! Love the podcast!

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Yes and I will answer this on the podcast. Sorry to keep you waiting.

Patrick Lycans asked this question 6 months ago

I know we’ve still got over 400 years to go, but have you put any thought to what you might want to do after History of Byzantium? Any other periods of world history interest you enough to tell their story in podcast form?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I’ve given similar answers above. To summarise: earlier Roman Empire and China!

Sebastian Florian asked this question 6 months ago

Hey Robin,

You might have heard about this guy: Constantin Cantacuzino, a descendant of byzantine emperor John VI Kantakouzenos and a World War II flying ace, Romanian national hockey team captain, motorcycle racing champion.

Which leads me into my question: What remnants from Byzantium can we see today? Besides the historical buildings, and the Orthodox Church, which would be the obvious ones, some others people might not be immediately aware of?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Hmm. I suppose an art / architecture / fashion / Russian historian might have some specifics for you. Certainly some symbols of European Royalty could be traced back to Byzantium. There are lots of things we trace back to the Romans, some of which could be connected to Byzantium. Studying the Hippodrome factions was interesting to me. People seem to have picked a colour on a fairly arbitrary basis but then strongly identified with their team. Quite like today’s soccer teams. Then the hardcore young male fans would brawl with one another, again like today’s ultras. But I don’t think this is a remnant of Byzantium as such. Just a way in which one can see human nature manifest itself in both places in similar ways.

Patrick Lycans asked this question 6 months ago

How much reading do you generally do weekly while preparing to write an episode? And do you generally rely on modern histories when researching, or the contemporary sources? Love the podcast and thanks for all the book recommendations!

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Thank you. Obviously it depends. With the narrative the process can be pretty quick now. With the end of the century episodes I might be reading solidly for 7 hours a day for 5 or 6 days a week.
I start with the best modern histories because they help you weed out the obvious fabrications or misdirection from older sources. I definitely try to read the original sources if they are available in English. I am limited by my inability to read other languages.
I try to read everything that seems relevant. The modern histories obviously have footnotes which lead me to articles and other books which I will check out. I make notes on everything, then sit down and try to find an angle or way in to an episode and then just start writing. Sometimes I don’t like what I’ve written and have to start all over again. Sometimes I can get in a flow and an episode is largely written in an hour or two.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Thank you. Obviously it depends. With the narrative the process can be pretty quick now. With the end of the century episodes I might be reading solidly for 7 hours a day for 5 or 6 days a week.
I start with the best modern histories because they help you weed out the obvious fabrications or misdirection from older sources. I definitely try to read the original sources if they are available in English. I am limited by my inability to read other languages.
I try to read everything that seems relevant. The modern histories obviously have footnotes which lead me to articles and other books which I will check out. I make notes on everything, then sit down and try to find an angle or way in to an episode and then just start writing. Sometimes I don’t like what I’ve written and have to start all over again. Sometimes I can get in a flow and an episode is largely written in an hour or two.

Jake Loveland asked this question 6 months ago

Dear Robin

My question is as follows: Could you please send me the episodes behind the pay wall for free. If you need to make up for cash lost on this I suggest raising the price for everyone else.

thanks in advance

Jake

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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🙂 no

C K asked this question 6 months ago

How will you handle the podcast after the splitting of the empire following the 4th crusade? Will you stick with Nicaea or cover all of the successor states?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I will definitely cover them all but I can’t promise how much detail I’ll go into.

Brian asked this question 6 months ago

Hi Robyn,

Do you think if the Guiscard had conquered Constantinople the empire would perhaps have been reinvigorated in the same way England was after William conquered it? I always imagined the Normans would of course adopt Roman culture, but maybe would have made the empire stronger and last up to the modern age.

Regards,

Brian

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I suppose in theory a Norman takeover might have been just what the Empire needed. A military shot in the arm to take on the Turks in the field. I haven’t actually reached this period in detail yet so I don’t know enough about Guiscard’s personality or his resources. I strongly suspect however that he would have been the target of repeated assassination attempts. I think a non-Roman on the throne would have been widely resented.

Björn Havsöga asked this question 6 months ago

How removed from the citizens and nobles of Constantinople were the emperors of the turn of the millenia? Are they a semi-divine remote figure, aloof in golden splendor only to be glimpsed even by the most esteemed nobles on special occassions (if even that), like Diocletian’s ideally divine dominate, hidden behind layer upon layer of ceremony and bureaucracy? Or are they more like the princeps of the early imperial age just more removed from the populace?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Interesting question. That conception of the dominate did not quite extend to Constantinople of the Year 1000. There was, if not a democratic, then an interactive nature to Imperial rule. The Emperor was expected to appear in church processions and at the occasional chariot race. I think the palace would also have been a place of much gossip. Stories about the Emperors and their families would have circulated widely.
Then you look at someone like Basil II. He would have been seen regularly travelling in and out of the city. And the nobles would have known him well because he handed out salaries every Easter and fought on campaign with many of them.
So not quite the princeps, more like a modern Royal perhaps.

Taylor Nussenbaum asked this question 6 months ago

Best episode of Friends?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Love this question, thank you for asking. I still think Friends Season 1 & 2 is about as good as it gets for sit coms. So I will go for The One with Barry and Mindy’s Wedding. An emotional end to 2 seasons of character-based, beautifully crafted. Though I do lmao at The One with the Candy Hearts.

Elliott Tydeman asked this question 6 months ago

Hey Robin
I wanted to ask, since Roman history often taught in primary, secondary and even colleges to some extent, why do you think schools and the education system is so reluctant to teach Byzantine history?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I think inevitably when there is no Roman or Byzantine country in existence today its history is a lower priority

Robin Pierson asked this question 6 months ago

Hello everyone, I am live now. If you ask a question live I will answer it asap.

Patrick Lycans asked this question 6 months ago

Have you managed to stick with The Walking Dead? The slow pace really lost me around season 5 I think.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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No I haven’t (thank you for asking). I can’t believe how the producers have tried to string the whole thing out. They’ve destroyed the tension that made it so addictive in the first place. I checked out after ep 2 of this season. I think it was Ezekial bragging about no one dying then getting shot to pieces that did it 🙂

Robin Pierson asked this question 6 months ago

Alexander Rybin asks on Facebook:
1. What is your favorite period of Bizantium history?
2. Do you consider possibility to discuss about alternative history (as you discussed with Antonio wh=at would be after tbe victory of Varda Sklir). My favorite theme – Justinian loose Nika

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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1. The most interesting period was the rise of the Caliphate because of how much we don’t know. But the 10th century conquests has been fun. There is that part of all of us that cheers the Romans on like a sports team and its been nice to see them succeeding.
2. I’m happy to discuss alternative histories. I think if Justinian had died during Nika history would definitely have been different. I doubt whether Anastasius’ nephews (if they had succeeded) would have attempted to conquer Africa or Italy. That could well have prevented the Persian wars from escalating with potentially very positive consequences.

Sebastian Florian asked this question 6 months ago

Do you know if there’s any historical correlation between the name of present day Romania, and Romania, the name you use for Byzantium?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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As far as I know there isn’t a direct connection. Obviously both derive from the Romans and the Roman Empire. Scholars seem to lean toward the modern Romanians adopting that name based on their language. Byzantines and then the Ottomans referred to these people by various names like Vlachs or Wallachians. But from the 1600s various texts record that these people identified themselves as Romanians based on the origins of their language being from Roman times. The Byzantines referred to their own lands as Romania, but themselves as just Romans.

Stathis asked this question 6 months ago

Hey Robin! In one of the first episodes you mentioned an event about the liberation of a Greek island after Ww1. In that event you said that when the Greek soldiers arrived in the island, the locals answered that we are Romans/not Greeks. I want to ask you if you have any plans of podcasting the heritage of the empire in the modern world and the modern states of the region after 1453.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Hi, interesting question. My answer at this stage would be no. I still think I’m in the business of providing an entertaining show about a state which ceased to be in 1453. I think a show about events beyond that would be better handled by someone of Greek heritage. I don’t see myself as skilful enough to navigate the minefields that come with taking on living, painful history. I would definitely encourage someone else to take it on.

Robin Pierson asked this question 6 months ago

If anyone wants to reply to one of the posts above maybe post here too in case I don’t see it

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

Robin, are we still live? Regarding the Patriarch I see no need for a political discussion. He is the last living vestige of the Byzantine Empire. That is remarkable given that the latter ceased to exist more than five centuries ago. Ask him about the role the patriarchate played throughout Byzantine history, the relationship between Emperor and Patriarch which you have spoken of frequently. Ask about the architecture of lost buildings such as St Irina or the Blachernae Monastery. I would imagine there will be shortage of subjects of interest to listeners! Bartholomew II is said to speak English so there you are.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I am still live

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I’m still wary of applying for an interview and then asking questions that aren’t exactly relevant to him. Does he have the time to give a basic history or architecture lesson? I really do appreciate the idea. But if I were to interview the Pope would he be impressed by history questions?

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

Another one concerns the Latin sack and occupation of Constantinople in 1204. It was remarkable the Pope John Paul II personally apologized to Patriarch Bartholomew about an event that occured eight hundred years ago. Would be interesting to know how that conversation went!

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Ha. True.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Ha. True.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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If you want to compile a list of questions I will happily consider it

William asked this question 6 months ago

Couldn’t figure out how to respond in my own thread, but just wanted to thank for your response to my question, and taking the time to talk to your fans, helps us feel closer to the show and closer as a community!

William
USA Va

William asked this question 6 months ago

Couldn’t figure out how to respond in my own thread, but just wanted to thank for your response to my question, and taking the time to talk to your fans, helps us feel closer to the show and closer as a community!

William
USA Va

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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🙂 thank you for posting good questions, much appreciated

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

The decision is yours. He is a unique resource and a human being. It is interesting that the Turkish government reserves the right to approve candidates for the Patriarchy. One of their conditions is that he be a Turkish citizen. As you can imagine that applies to fewer and fewer Greeks.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Indeed

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

I just saw your note about compiling a list of questions. The format of Whatpods is not entirely straightforward. Sorry about that. I’ll work on a list. This all may well be academic. The patriarch is very much of a traveler and not always in the Phanar. The last time I tried to meet him he was absent but his deputies provided me with a car and Turkish driver to bring me to various sites. There were some English speaking Greek monks who were quite helpful.

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

Their greatest contribution as bringing us to Blachernae, walking us through it and explaining its significance.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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That’s great. Did you have any particular connection with them. Or did you just ask as an individual visitor and get this red carpet treatment?

John Glover asked this question 6 months ago

One of the interesting things about the ancient world in general is the brutality of it. Disfigurements, blindings, summary executions, are all in a day’s work for the Byzantines. Does this disturb you? Is it fair to apply a modern sensibility to the behaviour of 1000 years ago?

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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It doesn’t disturb me as I’m so removed from it. It actually makes more and more sense to me the more I realise
a) how vast the ancient world was and therefore how easily someone could disappear and
b) the complete absence of a police force or law enforcement
With these two put together the idea of brutalising criminals becomes logical. How else can one deter other criminals and demonstrate to the public that the authorities are doing something about crime.
Imperial mutilations have a similar cold logic. It makes me marvel at living in an age when election results are generally respected and the public good can be put above ambition

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

I join the other listeners in thanking you and congratulating you on this monumental undertaking (by that I mean the series of podcasts!) and the contribution it has made to understanding a remarkable part of our heritage that is, as you say, poorly understood and not well known.

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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Thank you again

Robin Pierson asked this question 6 months ago

Thank you to everyone for your questions. I really appreciate you taking the time to join in and support the show.

Michael Rae asked this question 6 months ago

My wife and I went as individual visitors. The Patriarchate doesn’t appear to receive many. Perhaps that is why we were so well received!

Robin Pierson replied 6 months ago

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I’ll email you about this

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