This article, originally posted May 29, 2016, was updated on August 14, 2016. Scroll to the end for the update.
Today is May 29, 2016, the 563rd anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. This event, one of the most consequential in world history, ended the history of the Byzantine Empire, and I’ve observed it several times on this blog. It’s fitting that I use the occasion to comment on an announcement I made last week on my special Twitter feed for Byzantine history, @CryForByzantium: the long arc of Byzantine history which I tell on that account, in order, is nearing its end with the story of that final siege about to begin. Once I reach the end of the final siege, which will probably be a few weeks from now, unlike what happened in January 2013–the last time I neared this juncture–I have decided not to re-start the story and do it all over again. In simpler terms, after nearly seven years of operation @CryForByzantium will soon be ending.
Why? There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, after seven years and nearly two complete cycles of Byzantine history–the story takes about 3 1/2 years to tell from beginning to end, in daily tweets spaced six hours apart–I’m rather weary of feeding my pre-written tweets into the app that disseminates them, which I have to do periodically or the feed will run dry. These days I use an app called Twuffer, but over the past seven years I’ve used several, some more cumbersome than others. Keeping @CryForByzantium going is not unlike feeding a pet that eats sporadically and periodically, like a python or tarantula. Every time I go on vacation, for example, I have to load tweets into the app to keep the story going until I know I’ll be back and able to tend to it again. After seven years of this constant attention, it would be nice to be done with it.
The Golden Gate is the archway barely visible here in the old Theodosian walls of Constantinople. For centuries emperors proceeded through it in triumph, but it was already bricked up by the end of Byzantine times.
Secondly, after seven years and two complete cycles, I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Thousands of people have read and enjoyed Byzantine history. I feel like I’ve taught a little, enlightened people and entertained them, and given all the very kind responses from fans and followers this week, I’m gratified to see that @CryForByzantium is as beloved as it is among its fans. I have no idea how many followers have stuck with me since before the beginning of the current cycle, but it’s wonderful that they have. The experiment that this idea started out to be has been validated. Restarting the cycle again would be signing up for another 3 1/2 years, which would take me perhaps to the end of 2019 or even into 2020. What more could I do in that time that I haven’t already done?
There is a third reason, and one that involves some responses that have not been so kind. Since the very beginning @CryForByzantium has attracted trolls of various stripes. I won’t dwell on this phenomenon, but various people, whether religious zealots, anti-Muslim bigots or extreme Turkish nationalists, have sometimes descended on my Twitter mentions–on at least one occasion in an organized campaign–seeking either to co-opt me into some (pardon the expression) crusade against their perceived enemies, or else to push back against what they erroneously perceive as some sort of crusade by me. People sometimes make strange assumptions about my motives in running @CryForByzantium. I am neither Christian nor Muslim, I am not biased toward (or against) modern Turkey or Greece, and the history I write about is, at a minimum, over 560 years in the past. Yet to some, even history this old is a convenient stone against which to grind a modern axe. This sort of activity, especially anti-Muslim bigotry, has been increasing lately. It’s gotten to be where scrolling through my @ responses makes running the feed more of a chore than a pleasure. This too tells me it’s time to move on.
These ancient stones with Greek writing have stood for centuries outside Hagia Sofia, which was the cultural and religious center of the Byzantine world.
But, the majority of my interaction with the feed has been positive, and I’d like to leave it on a positive note. I will always love the history of the Byzantine empire, its people, culture, art, theology and civilization. It’s one of the great stories of history and a little-known one comparatively speaking. I’m blessed to have met such great success with @CryForByzantium over the past seven years. All good things must come to an end, as perhaps the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus, realized as he was about to go into battle for the last time 563 years ago this morning. Unlike him, I depart my beloved empire peacefully. I go into the west, and hope you’ll always remember Byzantium.
Update 14 August 2016
CryForByzantium is not going away after all. As a result of this article, Michael Birlin has stepped forward to take over the account, and I’ve been spending the intervening months getting him up to speed. As of August 14, 2016, I will now be a spectator rather than the curator. I’m so glad to see the project continue!