Empire Forever - Rediscover the incredible people of 9th Century New Rome
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Basil I - pauper to prince of power - fiction vs. history
Launch of Queen of Lies hypertext edition
Riots, economic stagnation and political malaise - what's new?
Is Byzantium a dirty word?
Better the Sultan's turban than the Pope's tiara - Part 2


Byzantium - personal impact
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Imagine Byzantium!


Basil I - pauper to prince of power - fiction vs. history

Would you "clean up" the family tree if you were concerned that your ancestry was not as noble as one might expect?
Basil I being crowned by Michael III, from the Skytlizes manuscript
Well, that is what Constantine VII Porphyrogennitus may have done for his grandfather, Basil I, easily one of the most incredible people of 9th Century New Rome.
What we do know for sure is that Basil started off life as an impoverished peasant, and ended it as the founder of a new Imperial dynasty. But we know very little about his origins or his ascendancy to the Throne.

Launch of Queen of Lies hypertext edition

As part of responding to everyone who has read and commented on Queen of Lies, there is now a new Kindle version with both inline and internet links.
Readers wanted more help with getting to grips with the subject matter and more background information, and I hope that this will supply them with a growing source of this information.
More details on my Novel page along with some recent reviews.

Riots, economic stagnation and political malaise - what's new?

Does some of that sound familiar?
It should. It's a description of large parts of grief-stricken Europe today. But these problems are as old as humanity itself. And their solutions are pretty much the same too.
The 9th century saw a period in which the Byzantine empire had shrunk and with it the economy. Taxes claimed from distant territory diminished as the provinces oscillated between control by Constantinople and rule by outsiders. Michael III's choice of the scholar Photios as Patriarch was a catalyst for riots to break out across the Near East, even after Michael's mother, the

Is Byzantium a dirty word?

Inspired by personal responses to my earlier blog on Middle Eastern innovation in the 9th Century, I penned this short piece on modern takes on Byzantium. Thanks to Helen Hollick for posting it on her blog!

Boys ... just work it out!

David Bowie's quirky observation is  nowhere more apparent than in the extraordinaryrelationshipof Vassilis and Michael, the first a peasant, the other a scion of the Amorion dynasty of New Rome, and their connections with court starlet Ingerina.
There must have been many agendas. Vassilis, already a chamberlain, yearned for power of some kind. The beautiful Eudokia Ingerina, thwarted as she must have been by the decisions of those in power (the Regent and the Eunuch Logothete decided she was not to wed Michael in a Bride Show) must have had similar ambitions.

Inching closer to publication

Just thought I'd let my fans know that I have released a trailer for King of Lies and the near-final edit of the first three chapters.
Please sign up here if you want to be notified of final release, expected in the fall. 

A Tale of Two (possibly Three) Mothers

It's thanks to two women in the late 8thto 9th centuries that Iconoclasm never made it big. And it's thanks to a third, that New Rome was able to pull itself out of the ordure it had got stuck in, and make it to the big time again.
I am talking about the Empresses Irene, Theodora, and Ingerina. Their stories are textbook cases in what it mean to be a woman struggling for survival and control in the very male medieval world.
But first - why should we care today about Iconoclasm today?

Let him who is without religious baggage cast the first stone

How long has Jihad been around? Christian Jihad, that is?
In light of the political unrest in many Middle Eastern states there is much polemic in the West about the social failings of Islam and, almost in the same breath, much derision of the warlike character of the Muslim message. Let us look briefly at the historical context of this through the lens of Byzantium.
It is tempting to look at the many periods in the past when Christianity and Islam "came into conflict" and what the call of Jihad meant, in fact, for both religious groups.

I'm just a poor boy ... nobody (real) loves me.

This is my tale of a certain Michael inspired by the many similarities with the beloved pop-star hero shown here.
If you know anything about Michael III of Byzantium, then reward youself with a smug sense of satisfaction and go to the front of the class. That's largely because history has chosen to neglect him or, when it refers to him, to write disparagingly.
Let's start at the end, my favourite place for getting to know someone.
Michael was murdered by those answering to the man who was both his chamberlain and companion in arms.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem ... dry bones!

Let's bust up a few bones of contention today. One of my favorite being that the Papacy should think there is historical precedent for its self-appointment to the Vicarage of Christ on Earth.
There are several myths supporting this one. Let's take them out one by one. It should become clear by the end of it that theprimacy of the Papacy is based on a pack of lies.
This post is also for those of you out there who labor under the misconception that the Church split in the ninth century for purely doctrinal reasons.

A Holy Duality: King and King

By now I hope I have made it clear how I am trying to explore the assumptions on which we build our lives through the lens of Byzantium.
Why Byzantium? Because it's a world so alien in some ways that it could almost be something out of a Robert Heinlein or J R Tolkien novel. So it has the virtue of being something we can look at fresh, and use as a mirror of our very twentieth century viewpoints and givens.
But it also has the virtue of being the truth - what happened, in many ways, reflects so much of what we are as people - regardless of our backgrounds.

What's (romantic) love got to do with it?

Love, affection, sex, sexuality - how do all these fit into our emerging picture of what Byzantium, indeed most of Late Antiquity was about.  
Was sexuality, as I am wont to claim - nothing more than lust and obsession, not fondness or tradition? We know that much of marriage was about political power or contractual agreement in order to seal relationships, frequently involving property or assets of some kind or simply to reinforce political alliances.

Better the Sultan's turban than the Pope's tiara.

This was really the sentiment of Byzantines for centuries after the destruction wreaked by the Crusades. Even though the Byzantines looked to the West for military support and affirmation, they were actually far more at home with their cultural siblings in the Near East. It's that Mother Asia thing, I guess...
I know - John Paul II issued an official apology for the Crusades. It is about a millenium too late but - hey - at least it came through eventually. So one could argue that there is no point in unearthing old divisions and dwelling on them.

What's in a name?

Practically everything, if you espouse the principles of post-modern thought.
By putting labels on things we not only confine them nicely within the box of our (naturally) limited consciousness, but we also take control of them. Sonames define reality.And, by extension, the languages we use to define those names also constrain the way we define reality. What I am also saying is thatyour choice of language goes some way to defining who you are.(Look up Noam Chomsky if you suspect, at this point, that I am going completely bonkers).

The debt we don't owe to Christianity

At the heart of Byzantine and indeed modern Christianity is the strugglebetween between the God archetype and being human.
Icon worship is key to understanding both Orthodoxy and Catholicism (although somewhat more muted in modern Catholicism which has gone through the religious art transformation of the Renaissance). The Iconoclasts were a series of Emperors in the first millenium who sought to suppress the worship of images of God and the saints  - and lost.