The Empire of the Palaiologoi: Ruin or Renewal?, session at Leeds International Medieval Congress, July 6–9, 2015
The entry of Michael VIII Palaiologos into Constantinople in 1261 seemed to herald a new beginning for the Byzantine empire, consigning the shattering experience of the Fourth Crusade to the past. Initial hopes were soon dashed as the empire faced more enemies while disposing of fewer resources than ever before. Political, military, economic and ideological challenges were presented by the Latin west, the rising powers of the Muslim east and the newly independent nations of the Balkans. How successfully did Byzantines meet these challenges? Although it is easy to point to the empire’s ultimate demise, more recent scholars have shown that old narratives of decadence and decline are misguided. Astonishing feats of diplomacy and adaptation can be seen, as well as periods of intense intellectual, literary, theological and artistic energy. It was a period of new ideas, self-examination and unprecedented cultural engagement. But was the restoration doomed by unfavourable circumstances in a rapidly changing world, or were poor decisions by Byzantine elites to blame? How far were the Palaiologoi themselves, the most tenacious of all Byzantine dynasties, responsible?