Notes: Episode 16, The Fall of Constantinople (Part 2)

As with every show, I’ll list any corrections or clarifications here. If there’s anything I’ve overlooked, please contact me by email or in the comments and I’ll edit the notes to reflect the new information.


2:31 – I’m cagey on timeline here because I couldn’t really remember the official founding date of Rome, which is a little embarrassing. The traditional date is 753 BCE for the founding of the kingdom of Rome, 509 BCE for the transition to the republic, and 27 BCE for the establishment of the Roman Empire. The founding of the kingdom is essentially mythical, so that date can’t be well trusted, and the beginning of the republic is a bit shaky as well – the kingdom certainly existed, but its abolishment  is as much a part of the Roman founding myth as is the founding of the city, but is largely dependent on oral traditions. Any attempt to find continuity between this Rome and Byzantium is tenuous at best, as so much changed due to geography, language, religion, and general development, among countless other factors. Personally I find it safe to stretch from 27 BCE to 1453 CE, as you at least have the continuity of the emperors to demonstrate a connection; that puts the tenure at 1,480 years, which is incredibly impressive. Some will stretch the start point back to the foundation of Rome, but if we’re going to do that, we might as well push the end date to the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and call it a full 2,675 year reign since we’re nearly making things up at that point.


3:58 – This isn’t to say that the Roman Empire wasn’t Christian; notably since Constantine the Great, the Empire had frequently had Christian emperors and adopted varying degrees of tolerance or even compulsion towards Christianity. Charlemagne establishing a “Christian” empire was more about beginning anew without the supposed rotten roots of paganism that the original empire had been founded on, and without the pagan influence of conquering tribes. This was an idea based on a world in which the Christian Roman Empire had fallen to the Goths and Huns, who were most decidedly not Christian.


8:13 – Ivan III would have declared Moscow the new Rome, as he was Grand Prince of Moscow – not Kiev. Interestingly enough, Moscow was founded on seven hills just like Rome and Constantinople; however, you have to be pretty generous in your definition of “hill” to make that equation balance, as some are more like gently swelling knolls.


14:35 – Or, alternately, Constantine’s body may have been badly enough mangled by the fighting that his features were not recognizable. There are numerous reasons why a head on a spike wouldn’t be the most recognizable icon.


19:23 – The Greek phrase believed to be the root of the modern name “Istanbul” is “is tim bolin“, which is medieval Greek for “to the city”.


34:45 – It’s really difficult to find out what spices, exactly, were traded over the silk road; it looks like the big ones were things like ginger, cinnamon, pepper, and turmeric. The two I mentioned are a little closer to Europe in origin; oregano from Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean, and saffron from what is now modern day Iran and Iraq. It seems that the easiest course of action is to look up individual spices you’re curious about to find the origin, rather than being likely to find a comprehensive or even particularly useful list of all the spices traded. In general, though, it’s safe to assume that Europeans only had access to salt and whatever herbs happened to grow locally.


39:30 – The Mongols also committed mass murder on an unprecedented scale, killing thousands of people and feeling no guilt because they considered them to be sub-human. I left it out mostly because it has little to do with the stability in the region I wanted to highlight, but that doesn’t exactly let them off the hook for all of the awful stuff they did. It’s easy to forget all the unprovoked slaughter 800 years later, but they were still responsible for it.


49:07 – The short version of the tea story is that it first made its way to Europe through 16th century Portuguese missionaries. While it was almost certainly known before this, it’s also certain that there was no tea trade into the Byzantine Empire. As I stated, the East India Trade Company was mostly focused on spices rather than tea at the beginning.


51:23 – Not 8,300 km short, but rather 10,000 km short. 1/4 of the actual circumference of the earth. There was no possible way that a 15th century European ship could carry enough provisions to sail that far, and if they hadn’t accidentally run into an unknown continent they would certainly have died. They probably wouldn’t even have made that journey if they hadn’t been able to ride the east trade winds – the trip back to Europe was much more difficult. I’m going to say it again: I can’t stand Christopher Columbus.



4 thoughts on “Notes: Episode 16, The Fall of Constantinople (Part 2)”

  1. Tim Agius says:

    I’m way behind (just listened to this one yesterday!) but I’ll catch up slowly! Love your stuff – your keeping me entertained while cycling through Central Asia!

    Good job man!

    1. Adam says:

      That sounds like an amazing trip! Thanks for bringing me along for the ride, in a way.

  2. Samuel Tyroler says:

    Hey I thought I put this comment before but I don’t think I actually posted it. Im a new fan of the show and have been jumping around episodes and I kinda realized that there was one historical misconception I think you repeated that just isn’t true. Its the one about Greece, where you say it was created in 1922 as a product of the treaty of Versailles, and that just isn’t true. Greece was created in 1822, over a century earlier, and then proceeded to have about a century of conflict with the Ottomans trying to retake the rest of what it considered to be its country. Greece was actually a participant in WW1 on the allied side, and the success of the Turkish revolution and establishment of the republic actually led to the collapse of the first Greek monarchy (there was a resurgence later). Greek independence and the Turkish Republic would actually be great topics for you to do on the podcast, as they very much follow that same story behind Italian or German unification though are much less talked about, but obviously I had to point out the correction on that Greek thing which you have mentioned in a few different episodes. I really love the show, and can’t wait to finally catch up and am sorry this correction is on an episode so old (i think I also heard it in the dryfus affair but I didn’t realize it wasn’t a misspeak (cause 1822 and 1922 sound so similar) until I listened to this episode and heard ww1.

    1. Adam says:

      Hey, sorry about the lost comment – might have gotten snagged by filter or something, it can be a bit aggressive sometimes and I don’t check it every single day.

      This comment really threw me for a loop. You’re absolutely right on everything you’ve said here, of course; I’m just wondering just how many times I repeated this error over the years. I do know about Greek Independence now, and I’m very curious to know when I learned about it, because I honestly don’t remember a moment of “oh I had this wrong all along”. It’s a bit surreal! Mainly I’m hoping that I had it right by the time we talked about the Ottoman Empire, because if not that’ll be a disaster to correct.

      Not that it really matters, but I wonder if at some point I conflated modern Greece with Egypt – not that it forgives the error of course, but they had somewhat similar courses in relation to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, with Egypt formally independent in 1922. That or I misread an 8 as a 9 and ran with it for far longer than is forgivable!

      Anyway, thanks for the correction here, as well as the topic suggestion. I truly do appreciate people watching out for me.



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