History, Culture, Politics, and Travel in the Balkans, Turkey, and Cyprus



The Second Bulgarian Empire: Taking Advantage of Chaos in the Balkans

When Basil II conquered Bulgaria in 1018, he inaugurated over 100 years of Byzantine rule in Bulgaria. But under Basil’s successors the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire began to fall. Although Byzantium briefly recovered under the first three emperors from the Komnenos Dynasty (1081-1180), after 1180 came a string of mostly incompetent emperors. Bulgaria took advantage of a weakened Byzantium, reasserting its independence and then taking advantage of the fractured Balkans region following the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Continue reading “The Second Bulgarian Empire: Taking Advantage of Chaos in the Balkans”

The First Croatia: A Medieval Memory and the People That Never Died

Modern Croatia only became independent in 1991, but although it may be one of Europe’s youngest states, it has existed in some capacity since the 10th century. The medieval Kingdom of Croatia only lasted roughly 200 years (925-1102), but ever since then, Croatia, under foreign kings and emperors and part of multinational states, has persevered. As a people, the Croats never disappeared, like so many other peoples that came and went throughout history. Continue reading “The First Croatia: A Medieval Memory and the People That Never Died”

The Megali Idea: The Dream to Restore Byzantium

Πάλι με χρόνια με καιρούς, πάλι δικά μας θα ‘ναι!

“Once more, as years and time go by, once more they shall be ours.”


Ever since the Ottoman Turks had conquered Constantinople in 1453, Greeks had yearned for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. When that independence came in 1832, it was only a fraction of ethnic Greeks that became free. Only southern Greece was part of the newly independent Kingdom of Greece, while the vast majority still lived under Ottoman rule. The mission to rescue them would consume Greece for the next century. Continue reading “The Megali Idea: The Dream to Restore Byzantium”

Icons, Blood, and Legacy: How Empress Irene Got Past the Byzantine Glass Ceiling

Female rulers were an anomaly in medieval history. Many of the most notable thrones of the Middle Ages were never graced by a female monarch. While there were queens and empresses who had power through their husbands, few ruled in their own right. The Kingdom of France never had a female ruler in its entire history. The Holy Roman Empire was similarly situated (the only exception, Maria Theresa of Austria in the 18th century, was barred from being Holy Roman Emperor due to her gender).

The Byzantine Empire lasted for over a millennium (330-1453), and had three independent empresses. England is only coming up on the millennium mark in the 21st century, and even they have only had five queens (including the long-lived Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II). Although their reigns were relatively brief, the fact that Irene (r. 797-802), Zoe (r. 1042), and Theodora (r. 1042, 1055-1056) could rule at such a time shows the different mores Byzantium held in comparison to most of its medieval counterparts. The longest reigning of these, Irene, shocked the world and illustrated the greater access to power by Byzantine women than their neighbors by becoming the first female “Roman Emperor” in history. Continue reading “Icons, Blood, and Legacy: How Empress Irene Got Past the Byzantine Glass Ceiling”

Greek Independence Day: A Complex History for Just 24 Hours

On March 25th, Greeks across the globe celebrated Greek Independence Day. It has been nearly two centuries since Metropolitan Germanos of Patros raised the flag of revolt at the Monastery of Agia Lavra, the traditional start of the Greek War of Independence. Much like other national memories of independence, fact and myth have become blurred over time. What were the Greeks fighting for then and was it really achieved? Continue reading “Greek Independence Day: A Complex History for Just 24 Hours”

Steady Danger with a Chance of Coups: The Modern Serbian Monarchy

The modern Serbian monarchy was unique among Balkan royalty. Not only was it ethnically Serbian, it was also fiercely contested, with the crown switching back and forth between the rival Karađorđević and Obrenović dynasties. Even in a land of unstable thrones, the Serbian crown was particularly insecure: out of ten monarchs, only one reigned continuously and died of natural causes. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that he only reigned 26 days.

Continue reading “Steady Danger with a Chance of Coups: The Modern Serbian Monarchy”

Beyond the Balkans: Nationalism’s Effect on Immigration

Immigration has at times been an issue for many countries. When a nation gains a large body of immigrants, it almost inevitably raises the question, for better of for worse, of what is that nation’s identity. But when does this self-examination of the nation turn from an understanding of oneself into a rejection of the other in society?

Greeks Emigrating from Patras to the United States, 1910 | Library of Congress

Continue reading “Beyond the Balkans: Nationalism’s Effect on Immigration”

Skanderbeg: Fountain of Albanian National Memory

National myths are an important part of any country’s nationalism, but they have been particularly potent in Balkan countries. Legends of klepths and Kosovo Polje, among many others, have permeated the national histories of Balkan peoples. In Albania, there is one man who rises above all the rest: Gjergj Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg.

Gjergj Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg (1405-1468) | 16th Century Painting, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Continue reading “Skanderbeg: Fountain of Albanian National Memory”

Cyprus: From Crusader Kingdom to Venetian Colony

After being part of the Roman and Byzantine world for over a millennium, Cyprus’ existence in the later part of the Middle Ages was much more global. From a mere Byzantine province, Cyprus became an island on the crossroads of the world. Under the House of Lusignan and then the Venetians, Cyprus became involved in larger enterprises such as the Crusades and Venice’s mercantile empire. Three agreements by outside powers created these situations for Cyprus, its future determined not by its native islanders, but by three agreements by foreigners.

Coat of Arms of the Lusignan Dynasty, in the 14th century Bellapais Monastery | Picture by Wolfang Sauber

Continue reading “Cyprus: From Crusader Kingdom to Venetian Colony”

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