Syllabus Spring 2007
History 399:
Byzantine Civilization



William Caraher
Department of History



Office: Merrifield 209            a/b

Office Phone: 777-6379
Office Hours: TR
5:00 and by appointment




Hello! Welcome back, and I hope you had a good holiday break.  The following syllabus outlines the philosophy, procedures, and standards for this class.  Most of the course material will be posted on the class web site on Blackboard including readings, assignments, and general news and notes that will keep you up to date on the progress of the class. 


The class itself will be organized as part lecture, where I will do most of the talking, and part seminar where we will discuss common readings which will form the basis for the exams and occasional papers.  It is vital, then, that we all keep up on the reading, engage it thoughtfully, and be open to a wide variety of opinions.  Weekly reading assignments in addition to a research paper will make this a busy semester! In the end though, you will have acquired a whole array of basic research skills and knowledge.


This course will reward in equal measure creativity and discipline. 


Course Goals:

The goal of this course is to familiarize you broadly with the history and significance of Byzantine Civilization.  While the class will be structured chronologically along the lines of a political narrative, the course will be a civilization course.  This means that the class will emphasize religious, social, artistic, and cultural definitions of Byzantium as much, if not more than, politics or warfare.  As students rarely have any background knowledge of Byzantine Civilization, this course will require considerable quantities of reading from primary and secondary sources.  The goals will not only be for a subtle understanding of the Byzantine world, but a deeper appreciation of the complex foundations of Western Civilization. To summarize:

1)      To continue to develop your skills as historians – particularly your ability to read and write critically and carefully.

2)      To understand construct from primary and secondary sources a sophisticated narrative of Byzantine political, cultural, and religious history.

3)      To develop a broader understanding of the complex heritage of the West and the legacy of the Byzantine world.

Assignments and Grading:


Primary Source Assignments (3-5 pages, double spaced, Times New Roman font)

            Each week we will explore a primary source reading and consider how it served to shed light on some aspect of Byzantine society.  The key issue will always be: “what is the significance of this document?”; that is: what does it tell us about Byzantine society?

It is important to recognize that primary sources are not simply “factual accounts” of the past.  Nor are primary sources simply the “raw materials of history” to be mined for “facts”.  In fact, it is important to recognize that all primary sources lie, tell half truths, or offer only one particular perspective on an event.  Therefore, to say that a source is “biased” tells us almost nothing.  What is of interest to a historian is (a) how a source is biased, (b) what evidence for the bias is visible, and, perhaps most important, (c) what can this bias tell us about the individual who wrote the source and his or her broader social, political, or religious context.  Keep these questions in mind when you read these sources, and make them the focus of your primary source analyses.  In class discussion will shape your analysis.  These analyses will be due any time throughout the semester, but before the midterm (for assignment 1) and final (for assignment 2).


20% Assignment 1 – Select any source or set of sources from before the midterm.


20% Assignment 2 – Select any source or set of sources from after the midterm.


20% Critical Book Review (5 pages, double spaced, Times New Roman font)

            There is a rich tradition of scholarship on Byzantine history.  Unfortunately, almost none of this exists in our library.  The goal of this assignment is for you to examine critically a recent (since 1975) monograph (that is short book (>300 pages) on some topic in Byzantine history.  The best books to select are listed in the “Further Reading” sections of the History of Byzantium, Byzantine Art, or Byzantine Christianity textbooks.  In almost all probability, will need to fill out an interlibrary request form (available online) to get the book and you will need all the various library related information for the book.  You can find this out by searching for the book on WorldCat or talking to a reference librarian at the Chester Fritz.  This will be due before the final exam.


20% Midterm

20% Final


            The midterm and final will require you to know not only basic “factual” information but also identify, analyze, and interpret primary sources.  The exam will include, then, two sections.  One section will focus on a particular primary source or type of primary source that we have used in the course and ask you to evaluate its significance to our understanding of Byzantine history.  The second section will focus on a major theme in Byzantine history and require you to critique it by marshalling not only a strong “factual” background but also the primary sources that we have discussed and analyzed in class.  It will be an essay exam.

Weekly Readings:

            This course will require a considerable amount of reading.  It is, therefore, essential that you keep up or even ahead of the weekly reading. You will inevitably come across concepts, names, places, or titles that you do not recognize.  Part of the process of becoming a “professional historian” is developing the ability to confront and solve problems which you encounter in a primary source.  Byzantine history can be highly politicized and deeply enmeshed in national identities particularly in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, so the internet is a particularly unreliable source.  So, I would suggest starting any problem solving with the textbooks – Gregory’s History of Byzantium and Cormack’s Byzantine Art – or the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium in the library reference section.


Secondary Sources:

History of Byzantium = Timothy E.Gregory, A History of Byzantium, London and New York: Blackwells, 2005.

Byzantine Art = R. Cormack, Byzantine Art.  Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000.

Byzantine Christianity = D. Krueger, Byzantine Christianity.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2006.



A. Kazdan ed. et al., Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (3 vols.).  Oxford: Oxford University Press 1991

K. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.  6th ed. Chicago 1996.

W. Strunk et al., Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York 2000.



Primary Sources

Various primary sources will be linked directly to this syllabus or found in the “Course Documents” folder.  Those documents that are not HTML links to websites, will be PDF format.  Some of these documents are quite long – book length, in fact – and, consequently, I strongly recommend that you download them over a high-speed internet connection.  I have checked the PDF files on numerous computers, and they all work.  If you are having problems downloading the files, it is because the computer that you are using has a problem. 



Reading List:

            This reading list is subject to modification over the course to semester.  The best way to keep on top of the required readings is to attend class or keep in touch with the instructor.


Week 1:  

January 9 Tuesday: Introduction

January 11 Thursday: City, Empire, and Christianity

                        (These are two generic links; any version of these books will do.)

Gospel of St. John

                        Acts of the Apostles                


Week 2:

January 16 Tuesday: Diocletian, Constantine, and Late Antiquity

                        History of Byzantium, Chapters 1-3

January 18 Thursday: Eusebius and the Constantinean System

Eusebius, Life of Constantine


Week 3:

January 23 Tuesday: Constantine and His Successors

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 4

                        Byzantine Art, Chapter 1                    

January 25 Thursday: The Family of Theodosius

            History of Byzantium, Chapter 5


Week 4:

January 30 Tuesday: Pagans and Christians

            Pagan and Christian Tombstones of Attica

            Mark the Deacon, The Life of St. Porphyry of Gaza

            Marinos of Samaria, Life of Proclus

History of Byzantium, Box 4.3, 5.2

February 1 Thursday: Christology and Early Byzantine Spirituality

                        Gregory of Nyssa, Life  of Macrina

Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History (selections)

St. Athanasius, The Life of St. Anthony

The Nicene Creed


Week 5:

February 6 Tuesday: Justinian

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 6

                        Byzantine Art, Chapter 2

Procopius, The Buildings, Book 1 (read all three parts of Procopius)

February 8 Thursday: Byzantine Spirituality: Liturgy and Saints

                        Byzantine Christianity, Chapters 1-3

John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow

The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom


Week 6:

            February 13 Tuesday: Heraclius and the Loss of the East

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 7

February 15 Thusday: The Dynasty of Heraclius

Theophanes Confessor, Chronicle

The Life of St. John the Almsgiver


Week 7:

February 20 Tuesday: Icons and Iconoclasm

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 8-9

                        Byzantine Art, Chapter 3

February 22 Thursday: Iconoclasm and the Sources

Theophanes, Chronicle,

Saints Lives, Various Icondule Saints.


Week 8:

            February 27 Tuesday: Catch-up Day   

            March 1 Thursday: Midterm


Week 9

            March 6 Tuesday: The Macedonian Dynasty

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 10-11

March 7 Thursday: Byzantine Values and Literature

Digenes Akritas


Spring Break March 12-16


Week 10:

            March 20 Tuesday:  Macedonian Renaissance

                        Byzantine Art, Chapter 4        

March 22 Thursday: The Height of Byzantine Power

Michael Psellos (Books 1-6)


Week 11

            March 27 Tuesday: Middle Byzantine Spirituality

                        Byzantine Art, Chapter 5

                        Byzantine Christianity

March 29 Thursday: Monasticism

Byzantine Monastic Documents (selections)


Week 12

            April 3 Tuesday: The Byzantium in Age of the Komnenians

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 12

            April 5 Thursday: The First Crusade

Anna Komnena (selections)                 


Week 13

            April 10 Tuesday: The Fourth Crusade

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 13

            April 12 Thursday: Byzantium and the West

Niketas Choniates


Week 14

            April 17 Tuesday: The Late Byzantine Revival

                        History of Byzantium, Chapters 14-15

            April 19 Thursday The Intellectual Life of Late Byzantium

                        Gregory Palamas, Triads


Week 15

            April 24 Tuesday: The Fall of Constantinople

                        History of Byzantium, Chapter 16

            April 26 Thursday: The Last Romans


Week 16

            May 1 Tuesday: The Byzantine Legacy

                        Byzantine Art, Chapter 6

History of Byzantium, Introduction,

            May 3 Thursday: Review