Fall 2018 - HIST 460 D100

Themes in Byzantine History (4)

Fantasy and Byzantium

Class Number: 8904

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    AQ 5017, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



Familiarizes the student with the main problems in the study of Byzantine social, political, economic and intellectual history. Students will be exposed to the main primary sources available to the Byzantinist and will read articles and books by the most influential scholars in the field of Byzantine studies. Content may vary from offering to offering; see course outline for further information. HIST 460 may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. Students with credit for HS 460 may take HIST 460 for credit only when a different topic is taught. Breadth-Humanities.


Why would a 20th century fantasy writer draw his readers in an imagined world inspired by Byzantium? What makes a modern author paint a Mosaic of Shadows, setting its storyline of murder and intrigue in Medieval Constantinople? Why does Byzantium prove appealing to the Science Fiction author writing about time travel in the 1960s? Since the Enlightenment Byzantium has been a byword for complexity, betrayal, palace intrigue, and theocratic gloom. And yet the art, writing, and history of this long-lived medieval polity over the years proved fascinating for audiences and authors.

Ever since William B. Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium generations of authors have looked to the Byzantine Empire and its culture as a place in which to set stories that resonated with modern audiences. Byzantium therefore allowed discussions about the modern world to be exported to the past. In this course we will read three novels set in Byzantium or in worlds inspired by it. With these novels as gateways into Byzantium, we will explore the time in which their storylines were set, discuss the questions that arise from their study, and ask ourselves what it is that makes modern authors seek inspiration in a long dead medieval polity.

This course is reading intensive and convenes in seminar form once a week. Each meeting three or more students will team up with the instructor for the presentation and discussion of the assigned material. In addition to this responsibility students will submit a graded prospectus outlining the work to be done on their final paper by the mid-point in the semester as well as a longer research paper or a short story with bibliographical essays that will be due at the end of the semester.


  • Informed seminar participation 20%
  • In-class material presentations 20%
  • Prospectus 25%
  • Seminar paper 35%



Guy Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium

Tom Harper, The Mosaic of Shadows

Tom Harper, The Mosaic of Shadows

These three novels set out the parameters of our enquiry. Along with the extended passages from these novels we will also read and discuss modern scholarship and historical documents in translation that will help us better understand the sources of inspiration for the modern author. Those very sources will also provide an entry point into the society itself that inspired them. By comparing the modern author’s imagination to scholarship produced in our times we will attempt to discern the tensions between contemporary sensibilities and the way that those play out in the realm of history and fiction.

Registrar Notes:

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