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Preview: 12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of The Byzantine Empire

12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of The Byzantine Empire

This lecture series by Lars Brownworth covers the history of the Byzantine Empire through the study of 12 of its greatest rulers.


Episode 1 - Introduction

Mon, 27 Jun 2005 14:00:00 GMT

What is the Byzantine Empire? Why would a Byzantine citizen call himself Roman and not know what the Byzantine Empire was? In this introduction to Byzantine history, Lars Brownworth describes where Byzantium came from and why defining Byzantium is a murky and difficult task.

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Episode 2 - Diocletian

Tue, 9 Aug 2005 07:12:00 GMT

The Emperor Diocletian was to erase civil war within Byzantium for the next thousand years but walked away from it all to become a cabbage farmer. Who was this military man and how could he just give it all up? Join Lars Brownworth as the story of Byzantium's first great emperor unfolds.

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Episode 3 - Constantine - Part 1

Wed, 30 Nov 2005 01:30:00 GMT

From the chaotic background of the tetrarchy, a vulnerable staff officer would navigate the treacherous waters of the empire and eventually emerge as Emperor. How could such an unlikely man unify the empire under one ruler? In this lecture, Lars Brownworth explores the rise to power of one of Western History's most pivotal figures: Constantine.

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Episode 4 - Constantine - Part 2

Thu, 29 Dec 2005 21:30:00 GMT

Constantine has achieved supreme power and made one of the most momentous decisions in history, that of founding a new capital and rescuing a faith seemingly on the brink of schism. However, his megalomania undid most of his work unifying the church and threatened the very stability of the state. Does such a man truly deserve to be called great? Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the apogee of Constantine's career and his impact on history.

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Episode 5 - Julian

Wed, 25 Jan 2006 20:00:00 GMT

A shy, awkward, Pagan philosopher with no ambitions and no experience is appointed Caesar. How could such an unlikely 23 year old become the head of a Christian empire? Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at Julian, the last of Constantine's dynasty.

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Episode 6 - Zeno

Sun, 19 Feb 2006 10:00:00 GMT

By the middle of the 5th Century the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse. Its emperors were mere puppets, its armies were in chaos, and enemies were closing in on all sides. Unable to sustain itself, the West collapsed, plunging Europe into the Dark Ages. By all accounts, the East should have followed suit, and yet, unexpectedly, the Eastern emperor slipped free of his barbarian master and saved the tottering state. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at Zeno, the unlikely savior of the Byzantine Empire.

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Episode 7 - Justinian - Part 1

Sat, 11 Mar 2006 08:00:00 GMT

As the 6th Century dawned on the tottering Byzantine State, the future seemed to hold only decline and decay, and yet unexpectedly, it was to see a renaissance unmatched in the long history of the empire. On every front, it seemed, were gathered the towering giants of the age- poised and ready to take the empire to ever greater and more dizzying heights. All that was needed was a ruler with enough vision to unite and drive this vast collection of the best and the brightest- a ruler who could dream on a truly imperial scale. He came, surprisingly enough, from the ranks of the great, unwashed masses- risen from poverty to fire the empire with the force of his will. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the stunning rise of Justinian- from shadow ruler to emperor in his own right.

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Episode 8 - Justinian - Part 2

Tue, 30 May 2006 05:00:00 GMT

With the return of relative calm after the reign's turbulent beginnings, Justinian could turn to his most ambitious project, the reconquest of the Western Empire. For this, his most cherished goal, he looked to one man, the young, promising general, Belisarius. Justinian was rewarded with unswerving loyalty and unquestioned brilliance, and yet the road to reconquest was to be a difficult and tragic one for both men. Join Lars Brownworth as the story of Justinian's reconquest of Africa and Italy unfolds.

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Episode 9 - Justinian - Part 3

Mon, 17 Jul 2006 08:00:00 GMT

With the reconquest of Italy seemingly complete and the Persian threat momentarily neutralized by the plague, Justinian could at last afford to rest. But the empire's enemies were everywhere- the plague abated and a charismatic new Gothic king arose in Italy. The empire could ill afford to keep its greatest general in disgrace, and Justinian would once again turn to the man he could never quite bring himself to trust. The final decade of his life would see the fruition of his epic dreams of reconquest, as well as the restoration of the building that still stands as the greatest testament to his reign. It would be the final act of a cast of characters the likes of whom the empire would never see again. Join Lars Brownworth for the conclusion of the reign of Justinian, the last of the Roman Emperors.

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Episode 10 - Heraclius

Thu, 12 Oct 2006 10:00:00 GMT

In the years following Justinian's death, the empire was rocked from within and without. Barbarians pushed in on every border and the empire's ancient enemy Persia ravaged the East unchecked. The empire met this challenge with a series of weak and foolish rulers who squandered what resources they had, and crumbled before the Persian onslaught. By the start of the 7th Century, the emperor was a virtual prisoner in his own palace, the Persians were beneath the walls of Constantinople, and the rest of the empire was in the hands of rebels. It looked as if the end had come at last, and yet, against all odds, an Armenian general was to defeat the Persians, sweep away the old Latin traditions and reform the empire on a Greek model. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at Heraclius, whose reign saw this glittering triumph yet ended in such tragedy.

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Episode 11 - Irene

Thu, 9 Nov 2006 07:00:00 GMT

When the weak, ineffectual emperor Leo IV died in 780, he left the empire divided and in the hands of an orphan from Athens; the beautiful and grasping Empress Irene. 17 years later she was crowned as sole ruler after murdering her own son to take his place. It was hardly an auspicious start, beset by enemies on every border, the empire was now facing its most serious internal threat; the terrible iconoclastic controversy. Successive emperors had neglected the frontiers to concentrate on the war against icons, and in the process had not only weakened the state, but had destroyed some of the finest works of art the Byzantine world ever produced. Even worse, an emperor had at last returned to the long vacant throne of the West, to challenge Byzantium's claim of universal temporal domination. If ever the empire had needed strong leadership, it was now. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the reign of Irene; the only woman to rule the empire, not as Queen or Regent, but as a King.

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Episode 12 - Basil I

Sat, 2 Dec 2006 09:00:00 GMT

Basil I was hardly a promising candidate to usher in a new golden age to the Byzantine Empire. A poor, illiterate Armenian peasant, he was kidnapped by raiding Bulgarians as a boy, and only managed to escape in his mid twenties. Renowned for his great strength and skill with horses, he found work as a stable hand and grew into a violent, ambitious man, whose thirst for power led him to commit two of the foulest murders that even Byzantine history has to offer. And yet, against the odds, his reign was the most successful of the century, and the Macedonian dynasty that he would found, would bring the empire to the height of its power and prestige. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the reign of the emperor Basil the Macedonian.

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Episode 13 - Basil II

Sat, 1 Jan 2007 12:00:00 GMT

By the time Basil II was crowned at age two, the Macedonian Dynasty had led the Byzantine Empire to seemingly endless military victories and unprecedented heights of glory. However it was not the emperors who had accomplished so much, but their powerful generals. In fact Basil's dynasty seemed to be in danger of becoming purely ceremonial or disappearing completely. The young emperor, dominated completely by his regents, seemed unlikely to change things. There was no trace of the heroic about him, no charisma or sparkling personality, and yet he was to emerge as the greatest emperor of his dynasty- bending the army, the empire, and foreign princes alike to the force of his will. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the reign of Basil II, the last great conqueror Byzantium ever produced.

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Episode 14 - Alexius

Mon, 19 Mar 2007 9:00:00 GMT

When the 24 year old Alexius Comnenus came to the throne, the glories of the Empire seemed long gone. Its "invincible" army had been smashed at the battle of Manzikert, the frontiers were collapsing, and enemies on every side threatened to overwhelm what was left. It would take an extraordinary ruler to salvage something from the wreckage much less restore Byzantine prestige. Join Lars Brownworth as he takes a look at Alexius Comnenus, the man who did just that, even as the First Crusade erupted around him.

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Episode 15 - Isaac

Mon, 13 Aug 2007 22:00:00 GMT

Isaac Angelus was never meant for the throne. He should have lived out his life in comfortable obscurity, but instead found imperial power thrust upon him as Alexius I's brilliant dynasty came to a bloody and decadent conclusion. Unfortunately he and his son were to prove completely unfit for the office, inviting one of the greatest calamities in history down upon their heads, fatally weakening the empire. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the reign of Isaac Angelus as it inexorably descended into the tragedy of the Fourth Crusade.

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Episode 16 - Constantine XI

Mon, 24 Sep 2007 23:00:00 GMT

The 14th century was not a kind one for Byzantium. The Fourth Crusade had left it a hollow shell of itself, fatally crippled in the face of Turkish aggression. A series of forgettable rulers did what they could, but by the middle of the next century all hope was lost. Surrounded on all sides by the hostile Turks, the once vast empire had shrunk to little more than the city of Constantinople itself. Led by the indomitable Constantine XI, the Byzantines faced certain destruction and fearsome new weapons of war with dignity and courage, determined to go down fighting with heads held high. Join Lars Brownworth as he talks about the last of the Byzantine Emperors, Constantine XI whose heroic final defense of the city earned him recognition as the first Greek National Martyr.

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Episode 17 - Conclusion

Tue, 29 Jan 2008 20:00:00 GMT

With the death of Constantine XI, the Byzantine Empire drew to a close. But that was not the end of the story. From the Orthodox Church, to the Russian Empire, their spirit survived, and offers enduring lessons for the modern world. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at their immense legacy, and reflects on why Byzantine History matters.

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Reading Suggestions

Tue, 12 Feb 2008 08:00:00 GMT

Lars Brownworth gives some reading suggestions on the Byzantine Empire.

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Norman Centuries Podcast Teaser

Thu, 24 Sep 2009 08:00:00 GMT

Lars Brownworth's new podcast called Norman Centuries is also available.

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