PEI Faculty Seminar Series Video: Goldilocks in Byzantium – Did More Rain Help a Struggling Empire Survive the Arab-Islamic conquest?

Igor Heifetz ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

John Haldon, Shelby Cullom Davis ’30 Professor of European History. Professor of History and Hellenic Studies. Director, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies.
The eastern Roman empire was the largest state in western Eurasia in the sixth century. Only a century later, it was a fraction of its former size. Surrounded by enemies, ravaged by warfare and disease, the empire seemed destined to collapse, indeed by 700 CE it had lost three-quarters of its revenues and territory to the Islamic Caliphate. Yet it did not die. Why? Several factors played a role – strategic geography, cultural and social-political resilience were key. But changes in climate also played a role, permitting shifts in agricultural production that benefitted the imperial economy. Despite its territorial losses, the empire suffered no serious political rupture. The example of this early medieval state offers a useful case-study in societal resilience.