da hag

Like most people, I come home after a long work day with just one thought in mind: researchin’ facts about the Byzantine Empire.

Here’s what’s up:

  • The Byzantine Empire was a large and powerful successor state to the Roman Empire, and its people considered themselves Romans. The term “Byzantine Empire” was a later term invented by historians.
  • The capital was Constantinople (a.k.a. Byzantium (a.k.a. Istanbul)), named after Emperor Constantine, who moved the capital there from Rome. Because when you’re the friggin’ Emperor, you can totally do that.
  • The Empire lasted a thousand years, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
  • Constantinople itself didn’t have much fresh water, so they had to build a ten-mile aqueduct to the nearest major source. This made them vulnerable to attack in spite of their giant city walls.
  • Surprise surprise, the Empire was a heavily patriarchal society. Infertility was considered shameful for women, and they wore amulets to protect themselves from the infertility demoness Gylou.
  • The Byzantine military used the mysterious substance known as Greek fire. They even made grenades by pouring the stuff into ceramic pots.
  • Eunuchs were a tricky subject. The Church condemned castration, but approved of the (supposed) result: a lack of sexual drive or personal ambition.
  • Only half of infants survived the first few years of life. Even among those who did, most adults didn’t make it past 35, with childbirth in particular taking a heavy toll. Consequently, marriages often came in the early teens.
  • The photo above is the Empire’s main church, the Hagia Sophia (later converted into a mosque, and still standing today as a museum). If you don’t think that’s pretty much the sweetest thing ever, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Half a million people lived in Constantinople at its peak, making it roughly the size of, uh, Albuquerque. What can I say, cities were smaller back then.
  • Byzantine doctors believed many female ailments were caused by the so-called “wandering womb”:

    In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb…closely resembling an animal; for it is moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks…in a word, it is altogether erratic. It delights also in fragrant smells, and advances towards them; and it has an aversion to fetid smells, and flees from them; and, on the whole, the womb is like an animal within an animal.

    Oh yeah. That was a real thing in history.

  • The national symbol was a two-headed eagle. No word on the internal locomotion of female eagle organs.


3 responses to “Byzantrivia

  1. Nice – short and to the point. I came across a few of these facts while reading Dan Brown’s Inferno,

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