It has been a while, so I suppose that I ought to give an update to prove that I am still alive. I’m currently back in northern Alberta after doing a tour in Latin Palaeography; I mean, a semester of graduate school. I’m now doing my MA in late Roman history at the University of Ottawa, where I have the opportunity to work under a very renowned scholar who has also turned out to be an incredible supervisor. It’s been pretty good. My research methodologies course enjoyable, and gave me an opportunity to read some literature I had not yet gotten into, as much of my personal reading belongs more properly to medieval Byzantium. My living accommodations are less than satisfactory (but very cheap, which has resulted in runaway book buying) and I ended up getting stuck in a Latin palaeography course (which was fascinating, but hellish.) Currently, I’m working on two main research topics. The thesis topic has yet to consume a great deal of my time but will with the beginning of the New Year; I am looking at the specific terminology used to refer to barbarians in Roman service with the goal of determining just who the foederati were. Just over a century ago a French scholar noted that we do not really know what the word means, and although some attempts have been made to come to a definition scholars continue to throw around the word without much understanding. My project is to gain some insight on how the foederati related to the symmachoi, amongst other terms.
My secondary area of research has been for a series of conference papers and revolves around Byzantine “foreign policy” towards the Arabs and the Arab response, ca. 640-717. These dates have been selected because 640 means I can avoid the conquest of Syria and Palestine, and in 717 I see a new diplomatic parity after the failure of Maslama to take Constantinople with what seems to have been a massive expedition. The emperor Constantine VII noted in a 10th c. document that following this siege a mosque was built in the praitorion in Constantinople, and I have seen some evidence of a redefining of early Islamic eschatology after repeated failures to the take the city. This is a topic I have every intention of turning to when I get the time, but first I need to figure out just what happened in between these two dates. The chronology is a complete mess for this entire period and I have no pretensions about resolved it. We need some people who can read Armenian, Arabic, Syriac, Greek, and Latin.
The main research I have been doing is on how the two powers of the eastern Mediterranean squared off with each other when both seems to have still believed the annihilation of the enemy was possible, which I see a coming to an end in 717. I gave a paper in Ottawa on Arab campaigns beyond the Taurus, arguing that the main goal was to win a decisive battle, something the Byzantines never gave them the opportunity to fight. The research for this simply opened up a wide variety of new questions, new areas for research, and more conference papers. In the February I’ll be making the journey out to Oxford to give a paper at the Oxford Byzantine Studies Graduate Conference. Looking at the same chronological period, I’m switching from the campaigns of the Arabs to the campaigns of the Byzantines. Byzantium still managed to put together a number of large imperial campaigns during that period, but they typically were not against the Arabs. I’m arguing that this was an attempt to shore up the western and northern frontiers while hoping for a Herakleios redux, ie: arranging a large amount of foreign military aid like Herakleios managed to secure from the western half of the Gok Turks while in the Caucasus. Of course, this could all change since I have yet to do all the research. Several books and a good 300 printed pages are waiting for me, and that’s just on Constans II. Following this I’m planning on giving another paper in Calgary although I have yet to hear back from this conference. For this one I’m turning to the war at sea and arguing that although the Muslims could win in a decisive naval battle, they did not have the resources or the desire to the turn to the sea to create an effective coastal defence to stop Byzantine raiders, who were quite successful in temporarily re-occupying numerous coastal cities. In response to the Arab unwillingness or inability to defend their coastlines, we see their fleets deployed against Byzantium in two roles: the conquest of Constantinople or support for soldiers attempting the conquest of Constantinople. The new Arab capitals were also in locations where they were in much less danger from Byzantine raiding forces. Whether the Byzantine raids were the primary impetus for moving the capitals further inland is a question I’m hoping to address somewhat, because we also have the glaring examples of the qasr and the convenient use of Mu’awiya’s Damascus, both of which just happen to be located in areas where access to the periphery (and at least in early Umayyad Syria, the source of the caliph’s military power) is better than in somewhere like Alexandria or Carthage.
Christmas holidays are somewhat abbreviated this year despite getting to go home for longer than ever before due to all of the research that needs to get done. Still, now that I am free from medieval palaeography I can return to the historical research that I do best, and those dark ages that I love so much.