Presenter: Ryan Strickler (Macquarie University)

In 602 CE the general Phocas overthrew the popular Emperor Maurice. His usurpation led directly to a war between the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanid Persians that resulted in significant Byzantine losses, including Jerusalem and the relic of the true cross. Although the emperor Heraclius secured a costly victory in 628, the war had left both empires bankrupt. This left the Byzantines vulnerable to the new and unknown threat of the ascendant Muslim Arabs. By the end of the seventh century significant portions of Byzantine territory had been lost to them. For the Byzantines, whose collective identity had largely been built on the idea that success was evidence of divine favor, defeat at the hands of non-Christian adversaries inflicted a major psychological blow. This was particularly true in the case of the Arabs, whose sudden rise they had initially misunderstood. Many Byzantine authors interpreted contemporary crises through the lens of apocalyptic discourse. For these authors the Byzantines and their enemies were characters in a providential narrative of divine chastisement and deliverance. In this narrative there were, of course, heroes and villains. Heroes could be found in emperors, such as Heraclius, or eschatological figures, such as the Last Roman Emperor of Pseudo-Methodius’s Apocalypse and the Messiah of the Sefer Zerubbabel. While such figures are compelling, this seminar focusses on the villains of seventh-century Byzantine literature. In particular it examines strategies of dehumanization as found in seventh-century documents by Theophylact Simocatta, George of Pisidia, Sophronius of Jerusalem and Pseudo-Methodius.