Teaching Thursday: Teaching Byzantine History

This fall for the first time since 2007, I’m going to teach an upper level undergraduate history class. I figure once every 5 years is about as often as both the students and my own workflow can handle it. Because another faculty member teaches Greek and Roman history, I have some limits on what I can teach in my specialty. I had prepared and taught a one semester Byzantine history course some years ago so I dusted it off, gave it some thought, and decided to teach it as an overload this fall.

For a textbook, I am using the second edition of Tim Gregory’s History of Byzantium (Blackwell 2011) in part because he was my academic advisor at Ohio State, but also because it is the best single volume history available. 

The course will have five graded assignments. Two primary source papers (3-5 pages each) and a book review of an academic monograph. There will be a midterm and final exam.

The course will be a blend of lectures and discussions of primary sources readings. As readers of this blog know, I have a decidedly ambivalent attitude toward lectures. I enjoy giving lectures and the students enjoy the experience, but so much pedagogical research indicates that lectures – at least in a traditional sense – are an inferior way to engaged students. I keep working toward developing a hybrid form of lecture that both engages the students, but also remains true to some of the longstanding narrative traditions in the discipline. I’ve advertised this course as a traditional course poking gentle fun at some of the more inventive approaches to history. I also misspelled diorama just to keep the students on their toes. (First step of innovative pedagogy is allowing the students to understand that you are more like them then they might expect.)


Week 1
August 27 Tuesday: Introduction
August 29 Thursday: City, Empire, and Christianity
Readings: Gospel of St. John; Acts of the Apostles

Week 2
September 3 Tuesday: Diocletian, Constantine, and Late Antiquity
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapters 1-3
September 5 Thursday: Eusebius and the Constantinean System
Reading: Eusebius, Life of Constantine

Week 3
September 10 Tuesday: Constantine and His Successors
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 4
September 12 Thursday: The Family of Theodosius
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 5

Week 4
September 17 Tuesday: Pagans and Christians
Readings: Pagan and Christian Tombstones of Attica; Mark the Deacon, The Life of St. Porphyry of Gaza; Marinos of Samaria, Life of Proclus; History of Byzantium, Box 4.3, 5.2
September 19 Thursday: Christology and Early Byzantine Spirituality
Readings: Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrinal Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History (selections); St. Athanasius, The Life of St. Anthony; The Nicene Creed

Week 5
September 24 Tuesday: Justinian
Readings: History of Byzantium, Chapter 6; Procopius, The Buildings, Book 1
September 26 Thursday: Byzantine Spirituality: Liturgy and Saints
Readings: John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow; The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Week 6
October 1 Tuesday: Heraclius and the Loss of the East
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 7
October 3 Thusday: The Dynasty of Heraclius
Readings: Theophanes Confessor (selections), Chronicle; The Life of St. John the Almsgiver

Week 7
October 8 Tuesday: Icons and Iconoclasm
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 8-9
October 10 Thursday: Iconoclasm and the Sources
Theophanes, Chronicle (selections), Various Icondule Saints.

Week 8 
October 15 Tuesday: Catch-up Day
October 17 Thursday: Midterm

Week 9
October 22 Tuesday: The Macedonian Dynasty
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 10-11
October 24 Thursday: Byzantine Values and Literature
Reading: Digenes Akritas

Week 10
October 29 Tuesday: Macedonian Renaissance
October 31 Thursday: The Height of Byzantine Power
Reading: Michael Psellos (Books 1-6)

Week 11
November 5 Tuesday: Middle Byzantine Spirituality
November 7 Thursday: Monasticism
Reading: Byzantine Monastic Documents (selections)

Week 12
November 12 Tuesday: The Byzantium in Age of the Komnenians
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 12
November 14 Thursday: The First Crusade
Reading: Anna Komnena, Alexiad (selections)

Week 13
November 19 Tuesday: The Fourth Crusade
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 13
November 21 Thursday: Byzantium and the West
Reading: Niketas Choniates (selections)

Week 14
November 26 Tuesday: The Late Byzantine Revival
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapters 14-15
November 28 Thursday: Thanksgiving

Week 15
December 3 Tuesday: The Intellectual Life of Late Byzantium
Gregory Palamas, Triads (selections)
December 5 Thursday: The Fall of Constantinople
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 16

Week 16
December 10 Tuesday: The Last Romans
December 12 Thursday: The Byzantine Legacy
Reading: History of Byzantium, Introduction

As a final note, my colleague Scott Moore at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and I are teaching this course at the same time. This summer we toyed with some ideas of how both students and the content from the two courses could interact in a way that expands the perspectives of students in both classes. Since our content management systems are “walled gardens”, it seems like we’ll have to experiment with a blog or similar where students from the two classes can interact in a public forum. As we develop these ideas, I’ll post more here. 


  1. Can I sit in on occassion?


  2. Richard,

    Of course!! (You’ll might get a strange sense of nostalgia… though).



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