Lars Brownworth's new podcast called Norman Centuries is also available.
Lars Brownworth gives some reading suggestions on the Byzantine Empire.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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