(Many essay experts use our book reviews as a basis for plot analysis, including those writers who rarely explore such topics.)
In 476 CE, according to the chronology most of us learned in school, the Roman Empire fell and the Dark Ages began. That’s how textbook chronologies work: one day you’re studying the Romans, and next day you’re deep in early feudal Europe, as if a fairy godmother had waved a magic wand.
Reality is more complex. The Fall of Rome affected only the western territories of that great world power, which had in fact been weakening for some time. The Eastern Roman Empire—later known as Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire—survived for another thousand years. Recast under Turkish rule as the Ottoman Empire, it lasted five hundred years more.
But the Eastern Roman Empire endured shocks and fissures of its own, and its survival was far from assured. Under the rule of Emperor Justinian I and his empress, Theodora, it entered a crucial phase. Justinian began life as a swineherd, Theodora as a bear keeper’s daughter, yet they fought their way to the pinnacle of power in Constantinople and, once there, established a new set of governing principles that for a while almost restored the empire that Rome had lost. In The Eagle and the Swan (Erudition Digital, 2013), Carol Strickland traces the first part of Justinian’s and Theodora’s journey. Listen in as she takes us through the circuses, streets, brothels, monasteries, and churches of early sixth-century Byzantium, all the way to the imperial court.