Indiana University

History B348

Byzantine History


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Fall Semester 2010 Prof. Deborah M. Deliyannis
Place:  Ballantine Hall 003 Office:  BH 708
Time:  TuTh 2:30-3:45 pm Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30-3:00 or by appt.
Class no. 30043 Phone:  855-3431
website: http://www.indiana.edu/~dmdhist/B348f10.html email: ddeliyan@indiana.edu

Course Assistant: Maksymilian Szostalo, mszostal@imail.iu.edu




Although the Roman empire "fell" in western Europe, the eastern half of the Roman empire survived for over a thousand years, and is known to us as the Byzantine empire.  Until the thirteenth century, it remained one of the most powerful and splendid societies in the world, far overshadowing the emerging countries of western Europe.  This course is designed as an introduction to Byzantine history and civilization, A.D 330-1453.  In it we will explore the survival of the eastern empire, how it developed a distinctive Christian culture and ideology, how it interacted with, and impacted, its neighbors, and how it responded to economic, political, and military challenges. 


The 1000 years of Byzantine history consists of ups and downs; periods when strong emperors and generals brought peace, or at least victory, to the empire, and periods in which internal turmoil and weak emperors led to internal chaos and disastrous losses of territory.  Ultimately, this is a story of the decline of an empire, but a decline that was not continuous.  One of the things we will consider is what stayed the same throughout the course of this 1000 years, and in what ways Byzantine society and culture changed radically.



Course requirements


The following are the requirements for this course:


  Four 5-7 page papers
(10% each)
  Participation in debate
  Midterm exam 
  Final exam


Class meetings will consist of lecture and discussion.  Readings from the textbooks are assigned in order to provide background and supplementary material to what happens in class.  It is very important that you do the reading BEFORE the class for which it is assigned.  Discussion, group activities, debates, and other types of exercises will take place at various points in the semester, and you will be expected to be prepared for these.


Instructions for the papers, including the topic on which you are to write, may be found at the end of this syllabus.  Each paper is based on one of the full-length primary source readings for the class.  You must read each book by the time you write your paper, as well as any relevant textbook readings.  Each paper must be turned in in class on the day that it is due.  Even an hour after class will be counted as late; late papers will be marked down one letter grade for each day that they are late.


On five days we will have a debate in which members from the class participate.  You will be assigned to a team of 5-6 students for one debate.  ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE MADE AT THE THIRD CLASS MEETING.  You are required to meet with your debate team at least once before the debate; the Course Assistant will help to facilitate these meetings. You will be graded individually on your participation, and each person will have ample opportunity to participate.  A website has been created for each debate, linked to the online syllabus, that contains the debate topic, readings (or links to readings), images, and other materials.  Further instructions for the debates can be found below.


The midterm and final exams will be a combination of short identifications and essays (they may also include a map section).  They will be open-note tests; you may NOT however use books or photocopies.  It behooves you, therefore, to attend class and take good notes; also to take good notes on readings and other materials.  Because this form of test is often difficult for people who haven't taken one before, a "practice test" will be made available two weeks before the midterm. 


There will probably be opportunities for extra credit during the semester; usually this involves attending a lecture and writing a one-page summary of it.  These will be announced as the dates are publicized.  Note that attending a lecture or session (and writing a summary) will earn you 2% on your semester average; I will give each person a maximum of 4% extra credit earned in this fashion.  Summaries must be turned in a week after the event.




There is a textbook for the class, from which readings are assigned on the syllabus:


Gregory, Timothy.  A History of Byzantium: 306-1453, 2nd ed.  (Blackwell Publishers, 2005).


There are also several full-length texts assigned, of which two should be bought in the bookstore, and the others are found on the World Wide Web, linked to the syllabus.  Those available for purchase are:


Hull, Denison B., trans.   Digenis Akritas: The Two-Blood Border Lord.  (Ohio University Press, 1986).


Anthony Kaldellis, ed. and trans., Mothers and Sons, Fathers and Daughters: The Byzantine Family of Michael Psellos (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006).


Those available electronically are:


Selections from The Theodosian Code, translated by Clyde Pharr et. al. (Princeton University Press, 1952), in the Oncourse Resources folder as TheodosianCode.pdf

Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents:  A Complete Translation of the Surviving Founder's Typika and Testaments, edited by John Thomas and Angela Constantinides Hero:    read selections 35, 36, 37, 39, 46, 51, and 58, which you can either download individually from the website, or you can consult in the file in Oncourse called MonasticFoundationDocuments.pdf.



Website and Oncourse


A website has been set up for this class, at:  http://www.indiana.edu/~dmdhist/B348f10.html.  The syllabus is also linked from Oncourse.  The Oncourse Resources folder will be used for additional readings (some of which are connected to the debates); all Powerpoint presentations used in class will also be placed in the Resources folder.


A very useful and reliable website that lists all Roman/Byzantine emperors with biographies of many of them (especially pre-ninth-century), written by reputable scholars, as well as maps, is http://www.roman-emperors.org/






The origins of Byzantium

Aug. 31   Introduction:  The Roman empire in crisis

        Gregory, pp. 1-48

Sept. 2    Constantine to Theodosius
        Gregory, pp. 45-102

Sept. 7    Why did eastern Rome not "fall"?
        Gregory, pp. 103-109


The Early Byzantine Empire (400-843)

Sept. 14    Constantinople
        Look around on the Byzantium 1200 website:

           Look at the map, and then, under "Contents", at the reconstructions of the Forum of Constantine, the Hippodrome, the Senat House (Magnaura), the Sea Walls, the Great Palace, the Theodosian Land Walls, and whatever else takes your fancy.

Sept. 16    PAPER 1 DUE (on The Theodosian Code)

Sept. 21    Religion and society in the fifth and sixth centuries
        Gregory, pp. 110-128, 148-149

Sept. 23    DEBATE 1:  Justinian
        Gregory, pp. 129-159

Sept. 28    Persia and Islam
        Gregory, pp. 160-191

Sept. 30    New realities:  social and military organization
        Gregory, pp. 191-197

Oct. 5       DEBATE 2:  Iconoclasm
        Everybody read Gregory, pp. 198-231

Oct. 7       Information on the Internet
        Meet in computer lab Geology 226

The Middle Byzantine Empire (843-1050)

Oct. 12    Domestic politics:  the Macedonian dynasty
        Gregory, pp. 242-281

Oct. 14    PAPER 2 DUE (on Digenis Akritas)

Oct. 19    The Byzantines, the West, and the Balkans
        Gregory, pp. 232-241, 318-323


Oct. 26    The Byzantines and the Muslim World

Oct. 28    DEBATE 3:  Military vs. Bureaucracy

Nov. 2      The Macedonian renaissance

Nov. 4      PAPER 3 DUE (on Mothers and Sons, Fathers and Daughters)

Disaster and recovery (1050-1261)

Nov. 9     The Turks and the Normans
        Gregory, pp. 282-89

Nov. 11    The Comneni and the Crusades
        Gregory, pp. 290-329

Nov. 16    DEBATE 4:  The Fourth Crusade
        Everybody read Gregory, pp. 324-329 again

Nov. 18    The Frankish interregnum and the return of the Byzantines
        Gregory, pp. 330-346

The Late Byzantine period

Nov. 23    The Paleologans and the Ottomans
        Gregory, pp. 347-361, 365-382

[Thanksgiving Break]

Nov. 30    PAPER 4 DUE (on selections from Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents)

Dec. 2    Meteora and Mystras
        Gregory, pp. 362-365, 384-388

Dec. 7    DEBATE 5:  The Council of Florence
        Everybody read Gregory, pp. 388-390

Dec. 9    The fall of Byzantium
        Gregory, pp. 390-420

Final exam:  Thursday, December 16, 2:45-4:45 p.m. in the regular classroom






History C300

Instructions for Papers


Paper Topic

Each of the books that we are reading for this class is of a different type:  saints' lives and history, epic, personal essays, and monastic documents.  I would like you to begin to understand how history can be written based on different types of source; therefore you will be writing on the same topic for each paper, and there will be an essay question on the final exam in which you are expected to summarize your results.


You are to write on the following topic for all four papers:


What can a historian learn from this text about the gender roles, both expected and actual, of men and women in society?  How are they supposed to act?  How do they act?  You might include consideration of marriage traditions, education of boys and girls, personal qualities that are admired or despised in both men and women, religious functions of men and women, etc.


This topic has been chosen because there is information in all the sources for you to use (although sometimes you may have to dig for it!).


For each paper, write an essay in which you discuss the topic.  What kind of information does this text provide?  Are you able to form a good picture of the subject in question from this source? Do any things that you read surprise you?


You should consider, if appropriate, what biases or problems there might be with the text, so that the picture it presents might not be complete or accurate.  For example, do you come away with a good overall picture of your topic, or only of one facet of it?  Be sure to include specific quotes from the text to explain each of your points.


When I say that you should be quoting from "the text", I mean the part of the text that was written in the Middle Ages.  Of course you may read the introduction to each text, and the notes; in fact, I encourage you to do so, as it will give you a better sense of the text.  But the parts you should really concentrate on are the texts themselves.

Some general instructions for the papers:


      - Papers should be typed/word processed, and should be of a length equivalent to 5-7 double-spaced pages, with settings of 1 inch margins (top, bottom, and sides) and twelve-point font.


      -  When you quote or paraphrase any part of any written text, either these books or any other published material, you must provide the appropriate reference, either in footnotes or endnotes.  Failure to provide adequate references is considered plagiarism, which I am required to report to the Office of Student Ethics.  If you have any question about your use of sources, it is better to be on the safe side and provide a reference. If you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism, see the section on academic misconduct at 


      - Don't be afraid of including your own opinions about what is in the book; the purpose of the exercise is to make you react to the book and what it is about.


Guidelines for writing a good paper:


      - Introduction.  These are fairly short papers.  It is essential for a good paper that you have a strong introduction that clearly explains what you are going to be discussing.  That way, each paragraph makes sense in the context of the whole thing.  Don't let it be a surprise to the reader!  One way to do this, which is effective, is to have the concluding sentence of the first paragraph be:  "In this paper I will show that/how . . ." Don't be afraid of using such a sentence!  That is not the only way to do it, but it works.  Also, PUT YOUR CONCLUSION IN THE INTRODUCTION!  Do not say "I will show the way that Psellos describes the family," but rather say, "I will show that Psellos describes the family as a close and loving unit." 


      - Be sure to include dates in the introduction, both the date the text was written, and the date of the events described in the text (if they are different).


      - Use of source.  Be SURE to provide specific quotes from the source, appropriately referenced, for every point you make.  Don't just generalize about what it says; that is not the right way to go about proving your point.


      - Don't waste time summarizing the plot of the text; or if you want to provide a summary, it should be no more than one paragraph long.


      - If you are quoting a passage that is more than 3 lines long, it should be set as a block quote:  indented and single-spaced.

Some specific comments on the texts for the papers


Paper 1 (due Sept. 16)


The Theodosian Code is a collection of the laws issued by the Roman emperors between 313 and 438.  It was compiled in Constantinople at the command of the emperor Theodosius II (408-450), by a committee of nine learned men, and was completed in AD 438.  Note that each law is issued by an emperor or emperors, addressed to a government official, and contains the date at the end of the law.  For some of the laws, the compilers provided an "Interpretation".

I have included the Table of Contents, so that you can see the scope of the full collection.  You will be reading only Book 9 (primarily criminal law), Book 13 (on certain kinds of taxation), and Book 15 (on public works and entertainments).



Paper 2 (due Oct. 14)


Digenis Akritas is the hero of an epic poem.  The action takes place in the late 9th/early 10th century, although the poem was probably composed a century or more later, as an oral poem, and then written down even later than that.  This poem was written as entertainment; presumably it would have been recited at banquets.  You might think about what that implies about its audience.  Read pp. 3-113 (and the introduction if you wish). 



Paper 3 (due Nov. 4)


Michael Psellos was a philosopher and government official in the mid-11th century.  He wrote many different texts on many subjects (including astronomy, medicine, grammar, physics, and a major history of his own day, 976-1077, called the Chronographia).  The texts included in this book, though, are his writings that have to do with his family - encomia are essays in praise of someone, and the letters and other documents are related to his family members.



Paper 4 (due Nov. 30)


When a monastery was founded, or when a substantial donation was made to a monastery, a document was usually drawn up explaining who was completing the action, why they were doing it, and what they expected the monks/nuns to do.  Several of these documents have survived from the later Byzantine period, and have been translated:


Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents:  A Complete Translation of the Surviving Founder's Typika and Testaments,  Edited by John Thomas and Angela Constantinides Hero


Read selections 35, 36, 37, 39, 46, 51, and 58, which you can either download individually from the website, or you can consult in the file in Oncourse called "MonasticFoundationDocuments.pdf".

They consist of last wills and testaments of various people, as well as rules for monastic conduct.  As you read the documents, be sure to focus on the part that says "Translation" - the introductory material, which is quite lengthy, can be skipped if you prefer, and certainly should not form the evidence for your paper. 






Note that there is no term-paper for this class.  The debate is an opportunity for you to examine one issue in more depth than simply reading a book and reacting to it.  I expect that for your debate you will be well-prepared, knowledgable about the historical background and the issue itself, and able to argue a case.  You are not required to do huge amounts of research, but you should at a minimum be very familiar with everything provided on the debate webpage.  Pay particular attention to the primary sources, on which you should base your argument.


Since this is a group activity, you must meet with members of your debate team at least one time prior to the class meeting in which the debate will take place.  If you have questions about who your team members are, or how to get in touch with them, let me know.


The debate will take the place of lecture on a given topic for that day; thus, debaters will be responsible for providing background material on their subjects (from the textbook, for example) as well as arguing their side.  Background material assignments are made on the debate webpage.  At a minimum you should present the relevant material from the textbook, in such a way that it forms a useful introduction to the debate. You may certainly use additional materials if you like. 


The background material is intended to give everyone in the class the necessary background to understand what the debate is about.  It covers what the primary sources are that you are using, what the background to the issues is, and what the main outline of the issue was.  As such, you should be prepared to speak for about 4-5 minutes for EACH item of background.  You should certainly include names and dates.  If you are in doubt as to whether you are clear enough, practice on a roommate and ask if he/she understands!  You might find it helpful to have this material written out and just read it (that is perfectly fine), if you are nervous speaking from notes, or if you think you might forget some of it.  Or you can speak from notes if you feel more comfortable doing so.


EVERYONE IN THE CLASS SHOULD LOOK AT THE DEBATE MATERIALS AND READ THE ASSIGNMENT IN THE TEXTBOOK for that day; this material will not otherwise be covered in lecture, but you will be expected to know it for the tests.


Each debate assignment will consist of seven or eight parts.  You must prepare all the parts, as you do not know which part(s) you will be called upon to present.  In addition to the presentation and argumentation stages of the debate, there will also be counter-argument for which you should be prepared to speak on the spot.  You will be graded INDIVIDUALLY on how well you do on the part that you were called on to present, AND how you do in counter-arguments and conclusions.  I will NOT be grading you on your debating skills, so if you have never debated before, that is not a problem.


Note that in order to create a solid argument for your side, you will have to figure out what the opposing side's arguments might be so that you can plan what your counter-argument will be.  You will be expected to present a solid and detailed argument for your side, using background and other information.


The structure of each debate will be the following:


I.  Presentation of the background material

            A.  Team 1

            B.  Team 2


II.  Presentation of the proposition - Team 1

            A.  Define the topic and the basis of your argument

            B.  Give your main arguments in detail, including quotes from primary sources


III.  Presentation of the opposition - Team 2

            A.  Define the basis of your argument, possibly rebutting some points of Team 1.

            B.  Give your arguments in detail, including quotes from primary sources


IV.  Counter-arguments

            A.   Team 1

            B.   Team 2


V.  Summaries:  summarize your arguments, rebut the arguments of the main team, state why your argument is preferable


VI.  Vote by the class