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Between God and Rome: the Byzantine Empire 307-1453 (level 5)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor and tutor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: a three-hour examination (70%) and two 2500-word essays (15% each)

Module description

From the rise of Constantine I in 307 to the fall of Constantine XI in 1453, the eastern Roman Empire, which we call 'Byzantine' ruled in the eastern Mediterranean from its capital in Constantinople, a vital component of the medieval world and a continuing link to the classical tradition. The empire was predominantly Christian and its belief in itself as the 'empire of God', a creation on earth of the heavenly court, shaped its social and political systems. It was also the Roman Empire and its historians and emperors situated themselves in a direct line from the classical Roman past.

'In the image of God, in the image of Rome' explores the more than 1000-year trajectory of this empire, examining themes across time to see how its systems of government, religious beliefs, literary traditions and relations with outsiders changed over the centuries but also maintained crucial continuities. How did the tensions between being an empire of God and an empire of the Romans affect ordinary lives and imperial decisions? How did being an imperial subject in Constantinople compare to life lived in the provinces as these grew and shrank over the centuries? How did the lives of men and women fit into ideals about what it mean to be ‘Byzantine’? This course will give you an overview of Byzantine history with a clear emphasis on understanding its changing face over time, as well as providing an opportunity to explore specific people, moments and facets of its existence in depth.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Constantine I and Constantine XI: the Christian emperor
  • Time and space: the geography and periodisations of Byzantine history
  • Julian the Apostate and John VII: religious change and imperial choices
  • Constantinople: palaces and processions
  • Imperial law
  • Matrimony and misbelief from the court to the provinces
  • Writing Byzantium as the empire of Rome: Procopius to Sphrantzes
  • Writing Byzantium as the empire of God: Eusebius, Theophanes, Panaretos
  • Imperial women: by motherhood and marriage?
  • In the image of Mary, in the image of Livia: female models and lives
  • Conquest, re-conquest and the imperial realm
  • Anastasius I, Alexios Komnenos and the gold economy
  • Small change, big changes
  • Constantinople: walls and wells
  • Enemies and allies
  • Byzantine diplomacy
  • Images of God: icons in the Byzantine tradition
  • Images of power in the provinces: statues, tax collectors and imperial messages
  • Symeon Stylites and Andreas Salos: madness and vision
  • Theodore of Stoudion, Nicholas Mesarites and Maximos Planoudes: intellectual traditions

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • be familiar with the chronology, geography and core themes of Byzantine history, and an understanding of what is meant by the term 'Byzantine'
  • understand the range of sources, written and material, which are available for the study of the Byzantine Empire
  • understand how change and continuity affected the Byzantine experience from 307 to 1453
  • be able to evaluate the effectiveness of different source types for understanding specific areas of life in the empire
  • be able to think comparatively about themes in Byzantine society across time and, where appropriate, in different locations
  • be able to situate Byzantine society within the history and historiography of the medieval world more widely.