Things the Byzantines have taught me.

Emperor Justinian I mosiac

Emperor Justinian I mosiac

History has been a lifelong interest of mine, although I arrived late to the Byzantine party. The gradual accretion of knowledge of the Roman empire in the west, and English history – my early favorites – as I grew up gave me bits and pieces of history at a time, not the whole grand panorama. Coming across the Byzantines as an adult meant I could see its 11 centuries unroll like an enormous scroll all at once.

Reflecting on their great story, I realized there were a few things I learned:

1 – It isn’t the winners who have the last word, it’s the writers. Just ask Procopios (Justinian and Theodora), Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (father-in-law Romanos I Lecapenus), Michael Psellus (Zoe and Constantine IX Monomachus), John Skylitzes (Basil II), and Anna Comnena (her brother John II Comnenus).

2 – Food fads (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, etc.) are not new. The Byzantines had books listing what foods were good to eat at what time of the year, which were good for heat or coolness, etc. They had different reasons for their fads, but they still had fads.

3 – Byzantines gave generous “gifts” to foreign peoples, the purpose of which was to manipulate them into doing, or not doing, something. Today we call those gifts “foreign aid”.

4 – Byzantines loved to build churches, with some emperors using the public fisc to pay for their favorite church, which people would visit, especially on Sundays. Today, we still have great edifices built by the public fisc that people visit on Sundays. We call them stadiums.

So the Byzantines were not all that different from us!

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Eileen Stephenson

Eileen Stephenson

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