posted on 11/05/21
These six talks will explore the fortunes of six different rulers within the context of their palaces between the Late Roman Empire and the Age of Crusades. We will encounter the greatest Roman tetrarch in Trier; an imperial power couple in Constantinople; a formidable Dark Age king in Yeavering; a Frankish war leader of genius in Aachen; an Umayyad Caliph in Madīnat al-Zahrā; and a Norman duke-king in Palermo.
The layout, fabric and decoration of their palaces, both in the surviving remains and as reconstructed by archaeologists and art historians, provide a revealing and gripping commentary on the workings of rulership and the power of place over more than 800 years.
They take place every Thursday from 22 July to 26 August at 4.30pm GMT+1 (11.30am EDT) and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (21 October).
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Constantine (306–337), acclaimed Augustus at York in July 306, ruled his share of the Roman empire from Trier, on the banks of the Moselle, between 307 and 315. Like his fellow co-emperors in their own capitals, Constantine was keen to impose his authority on the city through great monumental works. Among these was the transformation of the existing imperial headquarters into a palace befitting his new rank and his new ambitions. The discovery, in 1945, of panel paintings from his wife’s chamber in the palace has revealed the scale and beauty of this transformation.
For almost all of his long and dramatic reign, the Emperor Justinian (527–565) and his equally remarkable empress, Theodora, exercised power from their palace in the city of Constantinople. While Roman armies reconquered, lost and regained vast swathes of territory across the Mediterranean, the emperor set about refashioning the city of Constantine in his own image. No emperor did more to shape the physical environment of the Queen of Cities, including, and especially, the imperial palace.
Eadwine, member of a Deiran princely family, survived exile, war and assassination to become one of the most powerful kings of post-Roman Britain (616–633). His heroic fortunes would eventually lead him to embrace the religion of the Christ-God, as narrated in dramatic detail by the Northumbrian monk and historian, Bede. Eadwine’s royal vill at Yeavering in Northumberland, excavated in the 1950s and 1960s, was the venue for many of the remarkable events narrated by Bede, including the conversion of the Bernician warrior élite.
Charlemagne, king of the Franks (768–814), forged a western empire through relentless campaigning, ruthless action and brilliant consensus-building. Such imperial ambitions required a fitting seat of imperial authority, and in the decade before his coronation as emperor at Christmas 800, Charles set about fashioning such a seat at the former Roman settlement at Aachen. What emerged was one of the most sophisticated palace complexes in the west since the reign of Constantine.
In 929 ‘Abd al-Rahman III (912–961), the Umayyad ruler of al-Andalus, had himself declared Caliph and awarded the caliphal title of al-Nāsir (‘the Victorious’). His decision reflected no more than the success of his efforts in reversing the misfortunes suffered by his ruling family and rebuilding its power within Iberia and North Africa. A decade later he set about founding his immense palace complex – his ‘shining city’ – of Madīnat al-Zahrā, to the west of Cordoba, what some historians have described as an Andalusian Versailles.
When he claimed the duchy of Apulia in 1127, the Norman prince, Roger II (1127–1154), faced a broad range of rebels, rivals and opponents. By 1139, he had triumphed over his enemies and established himself as the undisputed ruler of a united southern Italy. An important stage in this struggle was his coronation as king of Sicily in Palermo on Christmas Day 1130. Over the course of his reign Roger would convert the fortress residence of Palermo into one of the most remarkable palaces of the 12th-century Mediterranean world.