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Byzantium: The Golden Age, c. AD 850-1050 - 10 credits (HS3329)

Staff: Shaun Tougher

In AD 867 Basil the Macedonian secured imperial power for his family by the ruthless elimination of his patron (and possibly lover), the emperor Michael III. Despite the bloody beginnings of its history, the Macedonian dynasty proved to be one of the longest lived and most successful of the Byzantine empire (the last member of the dynasty, Theodora, died in 1056). Its rule coincided with the political and cultural flourishing of the empire, following a period of crisis and decline. The empire regained territory in east and west, and witnessed the peak of its cultural influence over its neighbours, such as the Bulgarians and early Russians. The module examines this period, often described as a golden age, exploring the political and cultural history of the empire. Social developments of the time, such as the emergence of the aristocracy, are also explored. The rich literary and visual sources of the period are drawn upon to recreate an account of this vital and fascinating phase in the history of Byzantium, the eastern Roman empire.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: spring semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

The period covered will be c. AD 850–1050. The focus will be on the politics and culture of the Byzantine empire, tracing its increasing power and influence. Subjects studied will be:

  • the sources for the period
  • the foundation of the Macedonian dynasty, its ideology and its history
  • cultural trends in Byzantium and the cultural influence of the empire
  • relations with early Russia, Bulgaria, western Christians and Arabs
  • the power of court eunuchs in the period
  • the relations between imperial government and the social elite


To study a period of history in which the Byzantine empire recovered from a phase of decline and attained a peak of political power and cultural influence in Europe and the East, a period which coincided with the existence of the Macedonian dynasty (AD 867–1056).

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the history of the Byzantine empire, c. 850–1050, and an understanding of the political, social and cultural developments of the period.
  • a knowledge and understanding of the most important sources for the period.
  • a knowledge and understanding of key approaches and debates about interpretation of the period.
  • an ability to absorb complex information about the history of the period and deploy it effectively in addressing issues and problems.
  • an ability to apply critically the literary evidence as well as the material evidence in studying the history of the Byzantine Empire in this period.
  • an ability to analyse and discuss the issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.
  • an ability to contribute to group discussions, ask pertinent questions, and co-operate with and learn from peers.

Primary sources

Liudprand of Cremona, The Embassy to Constantinople
Michael Psellos, Chronographia (Penguin: Fourteen Byzantine Rulers), reigns of Basil II, Constantine VIII, Romanos III, Michael IV, Michael V, Zoe, Constantine IX, and Theodora

Preliminary reading

C. Holmes, Basil II and the Governance of Empire (2005)
R. Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610–1071 (1966)
G. Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, trans. J. Hussey (2nd edition, 1968)
S. Runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign (1929)
N. Tobias, Basil I, Founder of the Macedonian Dynasty: A Study of the Political and Military History of the Byzantine Empire in the Ninth Century (2007)
S. Tougher, The Reign of Leo VI (1997)
A. Toynbee, Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his World (1973)
M. Whittow, The Making of Orthodox Byzantium, 600–1025 (1996)

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3307 Julian the Apostate

HS3308 The End of Antiquity

HS3318 The Later Roman Empire, AD 284–602

HS2425 The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity