Byzantium and its Neighbours, 641-1081
Value: one unit
Professor Jonathan Harris
Taught through weekly two-hour seminars
3-hour exam (70%), best two of three coursework essays (20%), oral presentation (10%)
By the early years of the seventh century, the Eastern Roman Empire was at the point of collapse. It was no longer able to defend its frontiers against Slav and Persian invaders and even its capital city of Constantinople was under attack. Yet the empire not only weathered this period of crisis but in the process transformed itself into a completely different, more compact and stronger society, known as the Byzantine empire or Byzantium. This course traces the reasons why the empire survived and investigates the profound changes that took place in its military organisation, society, religious life, art and culture. It will also examine how the key to the empire's survival was the way in which it interacted with the world around it, particularly western Europe, the Islamic caliphate and the Slavonic world. Although the Byzantines frequently fought their neighbours, they preferred where possible to influence them through diplomacy and conversion. As a result, the profound impact that Byzantine political thought, art and religion was to have in these centuries, particularly on Eastern Europe and Russia, is still very apparent today.