Byzantine Empire

HIST 4103/6203 • Spring 2024

This course counts towards the Histories of Global Cultures and Societies & Histories of Knowledge, Belief, and Vision Concentrations


The Empress Theodora - Mosaic from San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, ca. 550 CE

Instructor: Dr. Charles E. Muntz
Time: MWF 10:45-11:35 am
Place: SCEN 203
Dr. Muntz's Office: 408 Old Main
Office Hours: Mon 1-2:30 and by appointment.
Phone: (479) 575-5891

Of the Byzantine Empire the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…There has been no other enduring civilisation so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness…Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…Slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtlety, or some chivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them to frantic riots…The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs, and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.
    W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, 1869.

Learning Outcomes (Undergraduates)

  • Students will be able to evaluate the ancient sources for the Byzantine Empire and the problems with using them.
  • Students will understand the political evolution of the Byzantine Empire and the Emperor over its thousand year history.
  • Students will understand the role of Byzantium on the development of Western Europe and the Near East
  • Students will be able to describe the relationship of Eastern and Western Christianity in the middle ages

Learning Outcomes (Graduates) - all of the above, plus

  • Engage with and evaluate modern scholarship on the Byzantine Empire
  • Assess historiographic trends on the Byzantine Empire


Exams: There will be an in-class midterm on February 26 and a final exam on May 8, 10:15-12:15.  These will consist of essay questions and some short identifications. Study guides will be made available in class prior to the exams. Bring an exam book!

Paper 1: The first paper (1600-1800 words) will compare two ancient sources of the accession of Julian the Apostate, due January 31 by 5pm. 

Paper 2: The second paper (3200-3600 words) will be an analysis of three different accounts of the siege of Antioch during the first Crusade, due May 2 by 5pm.
    Formatting guidelines
    Grading policies

Class Discussion: Certain class periods are set aside for class discussions. Questions based on the primary sources to get things started can be found here, but feel free to raise other issues or questions on your own.  Grading policies for discussions can be found here.

Grading Breakdown:

Paper 1 - 15%
Paper 2 - 30%
Midterm - 15%
Final - 25%
Participation - 15%

Reading Materials

Required Texts (Available in the bookstore, or online):
Hull, Denison B. Digenis Akritas: Two-Blood Border Lord.  ISBN 082140833X
Sewter, E. R. A. Anna Komnene: The Alexiad.  ISBN 0140455272
Kaldellis, Anthony. Prokopios: The Secret History and Related Texts.  ISBN 1603841806
Mango, Cyril. The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453. ISBN 0802066275

Other readings will be made available via handouts or the course website.

Information on transliterating Greek texts


Academic Integrity: As a core part of its mission, the University of Arkansas provides students with the opportunity to further their educational goals through programs of study and research in an environment that promotes freedom of inquiry and academic responsibility. Accomplishing this mission is only possible when intellectual honesty and individual integrity prevail.

Each University of Arkansas student is required to be familiar with and abide by the University’s ‘Academic Integrity Policy’ which may be found at Students with questions about how these policies apply to a particular course or assignment should immediately contact their instructor.

Equal Access:  University of Arkansas Academic Policy Series 1520.10 requires that students with disabilities are provided reasonable accommodations to ensure their equal access to course content. If you have a documented disability and require accommodations, please contact me privately at the beginning of the semester to make arrangements for necessary classroom adjustments. Please note, you must first verify your eligibility for these through the Center for Educational Access (contact 479-575-3104 or visit for more information on registration procedures).

Unauthorized Websites or Internet Resources: There are many websites claiming to offer study aids to students, but in using such websites, students could find themselves in violation of our University’s Academic Integrity and Code of Student Life policies. These websites include (but are not limited to) Quizlet, Bartleby, Course Hero, Chegg, and Clutch Prep, as well as AI such as ChatGPT. The U of A does not endorse the use of these products in an unethical manner. These websites may encourage students to upload course materials, such as test questions, individual assignments, and examples of graded material. Such materials are the intellectual property of instructors, the university, or publishers and may not be distributed without prior authorization. Furthermore, paying for academic work to be completed on your behalf and submitting it for academic credit is considered ‘contract cheating’ per the Academic Integrity Policy. Students found responsible for this type of violation face a grading penalty of ‘XF’ and a minimum one-semester academic suspension per the University of Arkansas Sanction Rubric. Please let me know if you are uncertain about the use of a website.

Unauthorized Recording by Student: Recording, or transmission of a recording, of all or any portion of a class is prohibited unless the recording is necessary for educational accommodation as expressly authorized and documented through the Center for Educational Access with proper advance notice to the instructor. Unauthorized recordings may violate federal law, state law, and university policies. Student-made recordings are subject to the same restrictions as instructor- made recordings. Failure to comply with this provision will result in a referral to the Office of Student Standards and Conduct for potential charges under the Code of Student Life. In situations where the recordings are used to gain an academic advantage, it may also be considered a violation of the University of Arkansas' academic integrity policy.

Recording of Class Lectures: By attending this class, student understands the course may be recorded and consents to being recorded for official university educational purposes. Be aware that incidental recording may also occur before and after official class times.

Unauthorized Use and Distribution of Class Notes: Third parties may attempt to connect with you to buy your notes and other course information from this class. I will consider distributing course materials to a third party without my authorization a violation of my intellectual property rights and/or copyright law as well as a violation of the University of Arkansas' academic integrity policy. Continued enrollment in this class signifies your intent to abide by the policy. Any violation will be reported to the Office of Academic Initiatives and Integrity.

Please be aware that such class materials that may have already been given to such third parties may contain errors, which could affect your performance or grade. If a third party should contact you regarding such an offer, I would appreciate your bringing this to my attention. We all play a part in creating a course climate of integrity.

Inclement Weather:  If the University cancels in-person classes due to winter weather, I will hold lecture classes via Zoom at the normal time. The link will be distributed by email beforehand. I will record the lecture and make the recording available for a limited time for those who are unable to attend. If it would be a discussion, it will be postponed until the next in-person class, and I will deliver the next lecture by Zoom instead.

Miscellaneous:  Please turn off and put away all cell phones and any other non-course related items and finish any food you might be eating before coming into class.  Drinks are acceptable.  Please remain seated during class - if you need to use the lavatory, do so before or after class.

Daily Topics and Reading Assignments

Week 1
January 17 - Introduction

January 19 - The Empire of Diocletian
    Start reading the Eusebius's Life of Constantine, Book 1 (p. 67-94)

Week 2
January 22 - The Coming of Constantine
    Continue Life of Constantine, Book 1, and start Book 2.61-3.24 (p. 115-131)

January 24 - The Empire of Constantine
    Life of Constantine, 3.54-66, 4.40-75 (p. 143-153, p. 168-182)

January 26 - The Apostate
    Ammianus Marcellinus Book 22

Week 3
January 29 - The Triumph of Christianity
    Ambrose - Letter to Theodosius on the Massacre at Thessalonica

January 31 - Emperors & Barbarians in the Fifth Century / First Paper Due

February 2 - The Rise of Justinian
    Prokopios, The Secret History - Preface & Part 1, start Part 2
    The Nika Riots (pp.136-145 in Prokopios)

Week 4
February 5 - The Reconquest and the Plague
    Prokopios, The Secret History - Finish Part 2, start Part 3
    Related Texts 7-11 in Prokopios (pp. 157-182)

February 7 - Early Byzantine Art
    Mango - The Ideal Church (pp. 24-32); Opposition to Religious Art (41-44); St. Sophia (72-102); Painting (113-119)

February 9 - Justinian and the Church
    Keep reading Prokopios, The Secret History
    Theodora helps Monophysite saints (pp. 145-150 in Prokopios)

Week 5
February 12 - Discussion: Justinian
    Finish Prokopios, The Secret History

February 14 - Heraclius
    Excerpts from the Chronicle of Theophanes

February 16 - An Introduction to Islam 
    Selections from the Koran - The Spoils, Repentance, The Victory

Week 6
February 19 - The Dynasty of Heraclius
    The Tactica of Leo VI, Constitution 18 (Pay close attention to 103-132, but skim the rest)

February 21 - Discussion: Holy War in Byzantium and Islam
    Islamic Texts on Jihad

February 23 - The Influence of Byzantium and the Greeks on Islam

Week 7
February 26 - Midterm

February 28 - The Fight for Survival
    Start Life of Nikephoros

March 1 - Discussion: Iconoclasm
    Finish Life of Nikephoros (make sure to pay close attention to p. 72-119)
    Mango - Justification of Religious Painting (p. 140-1); Iconoclasm (p. 150-177)

Week 8
March 4 - The Later Iconoclasts
    Life of Cyril-Constantine

March 6 - The Macedonian Dynasty
    Excerpts from the Russian Primary Chronicle (pay close attention to p. 95-119, years 6591-6499)

March 8 - Discussion: Missions & Conversions
    Life of Methodius

Week 9
March 11 - Byzantium and Rus
    Excerpts from the Russian Primary Chronicle (same excerpt as from October 13)
    Mango - Byzantine Artsits at Kiev (p.221-224); Byzantine Artists in Russia (p. 255-258)

March 13 - The Great Conquests
    The Embassy of Liudprand of Cremona

March 15 - Byzantine Ceremony
    Book of Ceremonies, II.15
    Liudprand of Cremona, Retribution VI

Spring Break!!!

Week 10
March 25 - The Bulgar-Slayer
    Psellus, Chronographia Book 1 (Life of Basil)

March 27 - Middle Byzantine Art
    Start Digenis Akritas

March 29 - Discussion: The Digenis Akritas
    Finish Digenis Akritas

Week 11
April 1 - Age of Erratic Government
    Start Anna Komnene

April 3Alexius I
    Anna Komnene Prologue, Book 10.5-end of 10 (pg. 3-7, 273-296)

April 5 - No Class, Dr. Muntz will be at a conference

Week 12
April 8 - No Class, Dr. Muntz will be at a conference

April 10 - Discussion: Byzantium and the First Crusade
    Anna Komnene Book 11 (pg. 297-331)
    Selections from Gesta Francorum
    Selections from Raymond of Aguilers

April 12 - The Later Reign of Alexius
    Anna Komnene Book 15

Week 13
April 15 - The Comnenian Dynasty and the Road to 1204
    Start Chronicle of Niketas Choniates, excerpt

April 17 - Schism
    Report of Cardinal Humbert
    Start Geoffrey of Villehardouin, excerpt 
    Continue Niketas Choniates

April 19 - Discussion: The Fourth Crusade
    Letter of Hugh of St. Pol
    Finish Niketas Choniates
    Finish Geoffrey of Villehardouin

Week 14
April 22 - The Empire in Exile

April 24 - Return of the Basileus

April 26 - The Last Byzantine Renaissance
    Mango, Late Byzantine Period (p. 245-259)  

Week 15
April 29 - Byzantine Art and the West 

May 1 - The Fall of Constantinople
    Barbaro - Diary of the Siege of Constantinople

May 2: Paper 2 Due by 5pm

Final Exam

Wednesday, May 8, 10:15-12:15