|Empress Theodora in a Byzantine Mosaic|
This series ran on UK television a couple of years ago. The photography is truly stunning. I am going to be reminding myself with this YouTube edition, which by my calculation must sadly be missing some of the footage that was originally screened. It is probably not going to be as enjoyable on the computer as on the full sized telly screen, but still well worth a look.
Don’t expect anything much in the way of detailed analysis of politics or history, this is all about the art, architecture and religion with the history just thrown in as a bit of background. But the story of the look and feel is a story that is well worth telling. It is so familiar that we hardly notice on a day to day basis just how much we owe to the Roman Empire, particularly via the eastern half of it. When you look at London, Paris and Washington the common language of power they all share in their architecture all goes back to the churches and monuments of Constantine’s great city.
One interesting statistic to bear in mind is that when it was built, Hagia Sofia, the church of the Holy Wisdom was the largest enclosed space in the world. It kept that distinction until the late Middle Ages. Today that honour is held by the Pentagon.
My only warning is that it is best to watch this video when you are relaxed and in no hurry. The Eastern Roman empire lasted a thousand years, and this documentary sometimes feels like it is going to last nearly as long. This also means that the narrators love of his subject and enthusiasm for all things Byzantium gets a little grating after a while.
But as a way of getting a feel for the size, scale, look and feel of an empire to which we owe so much and which we all know so little about, it is an unbeatable experience.