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  • Writer's pictureLynne Hill-Clark

An Often Forgotten Time

An Often Forgotten Time

Hello Fellow Readers!

I hope this post finds you well! People seemed to enjoy my post about the real story of Vlad the Impaler. If you missed it, it can be found on this blog under the heading, "Separating Fact from Fiction."

Many of my readers also state that they enjoyed the historical setting of the Lords and Commoners Series. They take place in medieval Europe. Vallachia’s and Teller’s stories begin at the end of the ancient Byzantine Empire. And we got to ride along with them as they watched their empire fall.

Would you like to see how much you remember about Eastern European History?

How about another game of True of False…

1. Historians call it Byzantium but the people of the time would have called themselves Romans. True or False?

2. Like Western Europe at that time, Byzantium did not educate its women. True or False?

3. However, women were allowed to perform in the theater, were as, this was forbidden in Western Europe. True or False?

4. The Byzantines were Catholic. True or False?

5. The former capital of the Byzantine empire is now under Muslim rule. True or False?

6. Only Men ruled Byzantium. True or False?

7. In Western Europe they were called Kings and Queens but in the East they had Emperors and Empresses. True or False?

8. Red was deemed a royal color and was only allowed to be worn by the highest of nobility. True or False?

The Answers

1. True. When the Roman Empire fell, or at least dissolved as the big powerhouse it once was in the 4th century. Constantine the Great moved to a city named Byzantium and renamed it after himself, Constantinople. Constantine claimed that he was the Caesar of the New Roman Empire. For the next 1,100 years people in this region would call themselves Roman’s. The culture evolved, as all places do. So by the time the Empire fell in 1453 AD its languages, dress, customs, etc. no longer resembled ancient Rome. Yet, it was still considered the Eastern Roman Empire (Brownsworth, 2009).

2. False. Girls where educated along side boys. If a family was wealthy then they often hired private tutors for all their children. At the height of the Empire there was organized public school systems for boys AND girls. Education was highly valued in this culture.

I often mentioned Princess Anna’s copious historical writings in my novels. The barbaric West was not this advanced at this time. In which only very wealthy males tended to be educated.

3. True. There were female actresses in Eastern Europe, while in the West men would have to dress in drag to perform the female roles in a play.

This may not be as progressive as it sounds. The women who took part in theater had a reputation for being ladies of the night. It’s rumored that after the “play” men would bid on which “actress” they wanted to keep them company for the night. (More on this below.)

4. False. They were Eastern Orthodox. There was always a great point of contention between Roman Catholics and the Orthodox people of the East.

5. True. Constantinople became Istanbul in 1453. Did you ever sing this jingle in school? I did. 

6. False. There were a handful of women to rule Byzantium without a husband at their side. Empresses, if so inclined, often had more opportunities to become involved in politics. More so than say the Middle East or even Western Europe.

7. True.

8. False. It was the color purple (not red) that could only be worn by the Emperor and his family. Purple was deemed the royal color as it was hard to come by and, therefore, expensive. It was made from grinding up shellfish.

How did you do?

If you got …

6-8 correct, then great job! You know your history.

3-5 correct, then not TOO bad. There were some trick questions.

1-2 correct, well … better luck next time.

Don’t worry if you didn’t do well. Eastern European history is, unfortunately, an often forgotten part of our past. It tends to be overshadowed by Western European History. There is still a great divide between the East and West. Today, Eastern Europe tends to have less wealth than some Western countries. It may even be viewed as backward, old fashioned or poor.

This was not always the case, at one time Eastern Europe far outshined the West. It was more progressive in just about every way. They considered Westerners barbaric.

This shift may have been due to the fall of Byzantium, followed by the Renaissance, in which Western Europe took off as a leader in the arts, sciences, social justices and more. Much of Byzantine wealth was stolen by Western barbarians, oh I mean, Christian “crusaders.” Some of it’s greatest treasures landed in Venice and have been there ever since.

Brownsworth (2009) used a classic quote to summarize Byzantine culture:

It had “a Roman Body, a Greek Mind and a Mystic Soul.”

Byzantine had brave worriers (like the Rome of old) who led numerus crusaded into the Middle East and even against the West. They valued education as the ancient Greeks did and they had strong beliefs in Orthodox Christianity, hence the mystic soul. It helped to shape our culture and who we are today, so let’s keep Byzantium alive in our memories.

Now, if you’ll allow me to recount the story of two VERY different women. One is the story of a of pious ruler of the Byzantine Empire and the other is quite the opposite. The first one appears in Of Gods and Goddesses and is mentioned several times in Of Princes and Dragons

Empress Theodora

Theodora came from a humble and … well, a less than respectable background. You see, she was an “actress”. One account states that her desperately poor parents sold her to the “theater”. The lovely young girl was most likely worth quite a sum. I really wish I knew how she came to meet the heir to the throne, the future Emperor Justinian. If only I were a time traveling fly on the wall (Ooh, story idea). Was the heir to the Empire frequenting the theater, which was essentially a whore house? Surely not!

It’s said that this mosaic doesn’t capture her true beauty

It’s largely agreed upon that Theodora’s beauty drew Justinian I to her the moment they met.

At that time, the law was clear; royalty were only worthy of marrying noble blood.

“Wait just a damn minute. Am I the heir to the throne or not?” Justinian must have thought. He convinced his Uncle, the Emperor, to change the old law. From that day forward nobles were allowed to wed whomever they chose (apparently this included whores).

Thus, Theodora and Justinian were married. Theodora was not content to set about in her silk gowns and let her servants wait on her. No. She took full advantage of her new position. She convinced her husband to abolish the theater. Which to her, represented nothing more than child sexual slavery. Theaters all over the Kingdom were forced to close (which means they went underground). She was the largest donor to the Orthodox Church. Many cathedrals were refurbished, expanded or built in her name.

She was beloved by many of her people. After all, she was one of them. At the very least she had the church on her side. That’s not to say that there weren’t dark times during their reign (but that is for another post or maybe a short story). Theodora’s life was fascinating from start to finish. She was a strong leader, even more so than her husband. It was she who convinced her husband not to abandon the city and his throne when riots broke out.

Empress Irene

Next up, we have Irene the malevolent. I gave her this moniker. She took control of the Byzantine throne after her husband died “unexpectedly” … at a young age … possibly of poisoning (I’m just saying…).

Irene was to hold her son’s place as ruler until he was older and ready to become the next Emperor. When her son approached her about taking over the throne, Irene ordered that he be severely beaten and imprisoned.

She remained in control, much to her court’s dismay. Her obsession with power and her cruelness lowered the morale of those around her; including her soldiers and her people. Due to her mismanagement of funds and an army that did not want to fight for their Evil Empress, the Empire suffered a major lost to Muslim forces. The Commander in Chief demanded that she step down.

I would love to know why Irene obliged (again, the time-traveling fly on the wall). It was surprising that she didn’t have the Commander killed for daring to defy her. After all, this would have been more her style.

Her son was crowned Emperor but the poor abused fellow proved to be too weak to rule. He was incapable of making even minor decisions for the Kingdom.

As in… “What would Your Majesty like for dinner?”

“I don’t know, ask my mother.”

So he reinstated his mother as ruler. She demanded to be called Senior Emperor. (Wow…Really?). Talk about a woman on a power trip.

Wait! … It gets worse. Irene decided to take care of her pesky son once and for all. She had his eyes burned out with hot pokers. The wounds eventually killed him.

I suppose, a ruler can’t get much worse than that. The people of Constantinople were appalled but not enough to revolt. Yet, what little support her people may have had for her vanished like a late spring snow.

Afterall, beating your children was okay. Sometimes they needed that. But killing them… what kind of a mother would do that?

A psychopath? Yes. That is a diagnosis that Irene fits quite well.

The point being, women can be ruthless, like some men AND women can be benevolent rulers, more like Theodora.

This fits with the theme of my current series, A Woman’s World. What do you think, do women or men make better leaders (on average)? Why do you feel this way?

It was immensely entertaining to learn about the often forgotten history of Eastern Europe for the Lords and Commoners Series. I hope you enjoyed this brief refresher!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

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