Gwybodaeth Modiwlau

Module Identifier
Module Title
The Byzantine Empire: from Heraclius to Basil the Bulgar Slayer, A.D. 641-1025
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 2,000 word essay  50%
Semester Exam 1.5 Hours   1 x 1.5 hour exam  50%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 2,000 word essay  50%
Supplementary Exam 1.5 Hours   1 x 1.5 hour exam  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Demonstrate an understanding of key themes and approaches in the history of the early medieval Byzantine empire.

Demonstrate an understanding of both the internal features and external relations of the Byzantine empire and how these interacted.

Evaluate a range of relevant primary sources relating to the early medieval Byzantine empire.

Evaluate the main historiographical trends relating to the history of the Byzantine empire


To introduce a Byzantine subject area within the Medieval and Early Modern degree scheme.

To introduce students to topics which they may want to explore in more detail in future modules.

To provide students with a good understanding of Byzantine history from the 7th to 11th c.

To make students aware of the political and cultural relationship between the Byzantine empire and the rest of medieval Europe.

To develop students’ familiarity with the relevant primary evidence and historiographical debates.

The Byzantine world of scheming emperors, empresses and eunuchs, mad monks, ferocious generals and Greek fire is one of fascinating paradoxes. Heir to Classical Greek and ancient Roman civilisations, Christian in religion but eastern in outlook, its mysterious nature may explain why it tends to be ignored in early medieval history courses. And yet it played a significant role in shaping the post-Roman medieval world, serving as a crucial bulwark against the expansion of Islam into Europe, influencing forms of kingship and political ideology in the West and spreading Christianity and the Cyrillic alphabet throughout Slavic speaking eastern Europe. Monasteries, churches, mosaics and paintings form part of the rich cultural legacy it has bequeathed to Slavic and Greek Orthodox Christian countries today. This module will introduce students to the history of the Early to Middle Byzantine empire, examining textual and material evidence for its wars and political relations with the northern, Islamic, and western Christian worlds, bureaucratic and military infrastructure, political ideology, economy and Orthodox Christian religious culture.

Brief description

By 641, the East Roman empire had been crippled by the devastating final great war of antiquity with the Sasanian Persian empire and its eastern provinces were being swallowed up by the armies of Islam. The growing might of the Arabian armies resulted in their annihilation of the Sasanian Persian empire and it seemed inevitable that the remnant of the East Roman empire would be next. But over the following centuries, this Christian, Greek-speaking state, centred on Asia Minor and the southern Balkans, survived and evolved into what is now known as the Byzantine empire. This module will introduce students to the early medieval history and the textual, material and artistic evidence on which modern Byzantinists rely. Students will be encouraged to question how the Byzantine state survived in spite of its territorial and economic inferiority to the Umayyad and Abbasid Islamic caliphates, how its relationship with western European groups such as the Carolingian Franks developed and how it exerted cultural and political influence throughout eastern continental Europe.


1. The decline and fall of the East Roman empire and a modern historiography of Byzantium.
2. Islam rises and Byzantium survives, A.D. 641-718.
3. The Isaurian dynasty, iconoclasm and the empress Irene, A.D. 717-802.
4. Khan Krum, the second iconoclastic age and Michael III ‘the Drunkard’, A.D. 802-67.
5. The Rise of the Macedonian emperors, A.D. 867-913.
6. Emperor Constantine VII ‘the Purple-born’ and the soldier-emperors A.D. 913-76.
7. Byzantine renovatio: the conquests of Basil ‘the Bulgar Slayer’, A.D. 976-1025.
8. Emperors, empresses and imperial ideology.
9. Administering the empire.
10. The Byzantine army: fortifications, themes and Greek fire.
11. Settlement patterns and the economy.
12. Christianity (i) Church and State.
13. Christianity (ii) Byzantine monasticism.
14. Social life and cultural legacies.
15. The Byzantine commonwealth.
16. Byzantium and Islam.
17. Byzantium and the West.
18. Conclusion.

1. Christian chronicles and iconoclasm.
2. The Macedonian dynasty through the eyes of Leo the Deacon and Michael Psellus.
3. The works of Constantine VII and Byzantine political ideology.
4. Orthodox Christianity: texts, art and archaeology.
5. Society and economy: texts, inscriptions, seals and coins.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number NA
Communication Written communication skills will be developed through the coursework and written examination; skills in oral presentation will be developed in seminars but are not formally assessed.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be advised on how to improve research and communication skills through the individual tutorial providing feedback on submitted coursework.
Information Technology Students will be encouraged to locate suitable material on the web and to apply it appropriately to their own work. Students will also be expected to word-process their work and make use of Blackboard. These skills will not be formally assessed.
Personal Development and Career planning Students will develop a range of transferable skills, including time management and communication skills, which may help them identify their personal strengths as they consider potential career paths.
Problem solving Students are expected to note and respond to historical problems which arise as part of the study of this subject area and to undertake suitable research for seminars and essays. This is to be done more specifically, by using primary and secondary works to reach conclusions regarding the relationships between political, social and economic developments in different parts of the Byzantine Empire and beyond its frontiers.
Research skills Students will develop their research skills by reading a range of texts and evaluating their usefulness in preparation for the coursework and the written examination.
Subject Specific Skills Students will develop knowledge of sources and historical literature relating to the history of the Byzantine Empire.
Team work Students will be expected to play an active part in group activities (e.g. short group presentations in seminars) and to learn to evaluate their own contribution to such activities.


This module is at CQFW Level 4