The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miraclc than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

-- William Butler Yeats

The term Byzantium is occasionally used to describe something beautiful, vague and romantic. But it can also mean sycophantic, making compliments to get better off it. These two almost opposite meanings are an indication for the wicked empire that Byzantium actually was.


The empire of Byzantium is usually defined as the eastern part of the Roman Empire as it existed in increasingly smaller shape from 330 (the founding of Constantinople) to 1453 (the fall of Constantinople). This definition is a tricky business 'though:
  • First of all the Byzantines saw themselves as Romans and therefore as inhabitants of the Roman Empire, that had never gone under in their opinion. But through the centuries the Byzantines transformed to Greeks rather than Romans in every possible area, most importantly in religion and culture. This is what is called the Roman Empire in Greek shape.
  • Furthermore the size of the huge empire decreased and decreased. Especially from 622, the growing Islam put a large part of the empire out of reach for the Byzantines. Halfway through the 7th century, the Muslim armies had already reached the eastern border of current Turkey. Because of this, Byzantium then only consisted of (what we call now) Turkey, Greece and parts of other Balkan countries. Besides the problems in the East, the empire also had to deal with pressure from the North as well as the West. In the North it was the Slavs threatening the borders and in the West crusaders, Latins and Venetians were knocking on Byzantium's door.

Thousand years of Byzantium

In spite of these problems, the empire managed to maintain for a thousand years. The main reason: mighty Constantinople. It was founded in 330 by Constantine the Great as the new capital of the Roman Empire. He called it Roma Nova as such. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks renamed the city to Istanbul.

Besides the vague, romantic image, the term Byzantium also has a tragic side. I can point out two causes for this: an heroic battle of a thousand years that still ends in misfortune, and the well-known historian Gibbon who in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire refers to Byzantium as

a long tail of weakness and misery.

Political characteristics: basileus

Byzantium was a strongly centralized empire. All decisions were made by Constantinople, where an autocratic ruler (basileus) had assistance of a large bureaucratic apparatus. This centralization was very unusual in this era. In Western Europe for instance, political power was often spread over multiple regions within the empires.

Because there were no powerful cities or nobility, Byzantium never had a parliament. The basileus stayed in control easily. The punishment for opposition was mutilation. The term used for these mutilated was eunuch, synonym for castrated people.

Religious characteristics: caesaropapism

The religious power was also in hands of the basileus. We call this caesaropapism, in which you can recognize Caesar and Papism. The church patriarch was appointed by the basileus and patriarch resistance never led to change of distribution of power, as happened in Western Europe in the Investiture Controversy.

The emperor was head of the Christian Orthodox church, that had been existing since the Eastern Schism of 1054. The lawfulness of this schism is still questioned by the Vatican because the papal emissary Humbert of Moyenmoutier acted on behalf of pope Leo IX, who had already died in the meantime!

Economic characteristics: healthy economy

The bureaucracy could only exist through reliable salary arrangements by the basileus. This was possible by the healthy economic situation in Byzantium, for which it could thank Constantinople's favourable economic location and the transit trade of products with Caesarian monopoly. A good example is the emperial monopoly on silk. For all monopolized goods taxes were due on transit. The introduction of the bureaucratic system also meant that Western feudalism had no chance of success in Byzantium.

And I dreamed of a past life...

Now, mind you don’t muss this dress…And don’t run. And no climbing into the rigging, with the boys. The ropes are all covered with pitch, and we’ll never get that out…”
“Yes, Mom.” 
She pulls, painfully, on something on my head. She’s sent the ornatrix away, which means that she’s putting on something most probably expensive.
“And now, your face?”

“Perfect. Now, whatever happens, stay on the boat. We don't want you to get lost or get mistaken for someone older."
"Or a whore, or..."
I’m fourteen. It’s not quite Confirmation for me, and Mom’s going a little out of the way for Corpus Christi, here in this finest of cities, Constantinople. Our family is going to be having a banquet, on a boat, and see all the displays that all the other families have put up here on the Golden Horn.

It’s a fine day for sailing, though we also have rowers. The kohl is all right, although I keep trying to rub it off and my lips are stinging and some color not known to Nature, and it’s wet and hot and I’m sure my older cousin is hitting on me. And there’s my annoying old uncle  and his wife Patricia, always carrying on that he can cook better than any of our slaves, and another uncle, who serves no other purpose other than to give a great big belly laugh now and then, and my mom’s second husband The War Hero whom I absolutely despise. 

And I don’t really feel part of any of this.

What’s life? 

The party goes on. We eat. A lot. And more than that. The adults are happy, lulled by wine, napping on pillows, affectionate. Lucky me. I grew up in a traditional family, which means that I don’t get to imagine my parents having sex…I've seen it. Youngsters like me cluster in the bow, try to climb the rigging, playing knucklebones, or fingers, or whatever stupid word game they have this year. I’m overcome with boredom. 

And then, we go for the Return, Gran’ma Maia seizes me bodily, and points me towards the shore. “Smile. Wave. Look happy.”she hisses in my ear. 

Hello, world. I’m Elissa Diodati, I don’t have much of a dowry, I'm smart and pretty, with no apparent social skills, despite years of tutoring. My breasts have come in a little ahead of schedule. It’s 1185 A.U.C.

The Golden Horn shows it’s best light, just then, with the iridescence of silks, the banners of myriad design of the Travellers, and the gold leaf applied over every surface. 

Even my wounded soul sees this as Heaven on Earth...

“That was a complicated filling.” Dr. Rosen says. “Keep your hands down.”

“I was…” I drool. “I was…” 

“Don’t sweat it.” The technician says.

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