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Landscapes of Power

Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference

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Edited By Maximilian Lau, Caterina Franchi and Morgan Di Rodi

This volume contains selected papers from the XV International Graduate Conference, highlighting the latest scholarship from a new generation of Late Antique and Byzantine scholars from around the world. The theme of the conference explored the interaction between power and the natural and human environments of Byzantium, an interaction that is an essential part of the empire’s legacy. This legacy has come down to us through buildings, literature, history and more, and has proved enduring enough to intrigue and fascinate scholars centuries after the fall of Constantinople. From religion and trade at the end of Antiquity, imperial propaganda and diplomacy at the end of the first millennium, to culture and conquest under the Komnenian and Palaeologan dynasties – this volume demonstrates the length and breadth of the forays being made by young academics into the still often undiscovered country of the Late Antique and Byzantine world.
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John III Vatatzes: History, Myth and Propaganda

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1

If the reconquest of Constantinople on 25 July 1261 started from Nicaea, much of the credit is due to Emperor John III Vatatzes (1222–1254), undoubtedly a key figure during the difficult years of the Latin occupation. Although he himself would not return to Constantinople, he found his own particular way to remain loyal to the project of Restitutio imperii on which Theodore I had founded his reign.2 Through long years of adjustment and reorganisation, the Empire of Nicaea shook off its liabilities and regenerated with remarkable population and economic growth. As a result of the two-pronged approach of successful military campaigns and effective diplomatic relations, John III expanded the territory under his control and strengthened the role of Nicaea in the Balkans and Asia Minor. He authored important reforms of the organisation of the state and of the economy, encouraging animal husbandry, agricultural production ← 273 | 274 → and trade with the Sultanate of Rûm. He fought rampant corruption in the administration and judicial systems and tried to remedy the flaws in the system of tax collection. He built churches, hospitals, orphanages and hospices with the money he saved and vigorously promoted initiatives for the social rehabilitation of the lower classes. He also gave new boosts to cultural activities and defended the dogmas of Orthodoxy.3

Except for occasional references to his alleged lust and narcissism, all Byzantine texts describe the life and acts of Vatatzes in a consistently positive way. The verses used by Ephraem...

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