Thursday, October 22, 2009

The History of Byzantium - One Twitter post at a time

An interesting and innovative project is underway that brings together microblogging and the history of the Byzantine empire. Cry for Byzantium is an attempt to write over a thousand years of history through the popular social network website Twitter.

Cry for Byzantium was started in July 2009 by Sean Munger of Portland, Oregon. The idea is to post, in chronological order, a little piece of the history of the Byzanntime Empire. The project started with the accession of Constantine I (Constantine the Great) in 306, and plans to continue until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

In an interview with, Munger explains that this "project is mainly just an experiment to see if social networking tools like Twitter can be used to interest people in history."

The Tweets, which can only be 140 characters long, are posted about four times each day. At this point, Munger has made nearly 450 posts, which has carried the history of Byzantium up to the year 479. An example of one Twitter post is "Fall 394. I’ve sent for Honorius to join me here from Constantinople. He is going to take over the Western Empire."

The posts are written as if they are coming from the Emperor himself (or herself), and Munger notes it comes "complete with their own biases and viewpoints--certainly emperors differed in their own approach to religion, and naturally their views showed through in their actions and words."

Munger often adds a little humor to the posts, such as this one: " 28 August 388. Maximus has been executed. Shame, I was about to pardon him. Oh well. No use crying over spilt blood!"

At this point, Cry for Byzantium has over a hundred followers, and Munger says that reception he has received so far has been, "Extremely positive on the whole. People don't comment or @ reply as much as they do to 'normal' Twitter users, but judging from the feedback I've had people enjoy the story as it goes along and occasionally learn something surprising. What has surprised me (pleasantly) is how many followers come from Greece and Turkey, and also how many are from religious communities both Catholic and Orthodox."

He adds, "People have sent me links to articles, scholarly papers and other items of interest. For instance one person sent me a link to a paper on Constantine's "vision" before the Battle of Milvian Bridge which was fascinating."

Munger, who works as a lawyer, plans to continue his interest in history by enrolling in graduate school with hopes of becoming a teacher at a community college or university. He is also a novelist, whose books include All Giamotti's Childrenand Romantic, Memoirs of a Great Liner. This fall he will release Beowulf is Boring, which he describes as "a spoof/comedy [which] doesn't purport to be historically accurate, although I do mention a great deal of medieval history and mythology, everything from Beowulf and the Arthur legend to the Norman Conquest of 1066, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Crusades, etc. And I couldn't resist putting one Byzantine character in it!"

You can follow Cry for Byzantium by clicking here.