Reviewing Emperors of Byzantium

Image Credit: Haefen Hassinger

A picture paints a thousand words. And so it does with Emperors of Byzantium (EOB), a dramatized historical web comic set during the Byzantine era. I am thrilled to have discovered this website by chance on Reddit. Being a diehard fan of Byzantium, I am grateful for yet another medium by which I can enjoy the stories of my favourite empire.

The talented artist Haefen Hassinger and her dad maintain EOB. According to her dad, Sebastian, Haefen came up with the idea for EOB and roped him in “to help with lettering, setting up the website, and occasionally brainstorming dialogue and story.” According to her website, she engages in many different pursuits from horse riding to video games. Such varied interests will definitely help her ability to create the rich stories which I love.

The aim of EOB is to describe the events of the Byzantine Empire in a light-hearted and humorous manner. From the 52 pages that I have read and reread so far, I think that EOB has succeeded. Read on to find out why this is so.

Good storytelling and artwork

The strengths of EOB lie in its storytelling and artwork to help our imaginations along. Take chapter 4 for example. Constantine was famous for his murder of his son Crispus and his wife Fausta. But the reasons for their executions are uncertain. In pages 41, 42 and 43, EOB does an excellent job of looking at the incident from the people’s point of view. Given the secrecy surrounding the deaths and the stature of Constantine, there must have been lots of gossip involved. The secretive atmosphere that surrounded these ghastly events is captured nicely here.

Another interesting point for me is the building of Constantinople. Constantine made the ancient town of Byzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire. From 324 onwards he began massive building projects to develop the city. Book 5 expertly conveys the haste and grandiose scale of Constantine’s building projects. Page 48 is a nice summary of the important buildings in the city.

Easy understanding of complex events

EOB depicts complex events, like the Crisis of the 3rd Century and Diocletian’s Tetrarchy, in a manner that is easy to understand. Take page 14 for example. In just one page, the reader immediately comprehends the situation after Diocletian’s voluntary abdication. A few panels are all it takes to make the major players and their private quarrels crystal clear

In EOB book 1, chapter 3 regarding Arius and Arianism is my favourite. The Byzantines were famous for their theological subtleties and disputes. This is why I like the condensed version of events regarding Arianism in this chapter. The whole religious controversy and Constantine’s part in it is simplified and easily understood. It was all because of an extra “I.”

Memorable characters

I am not a fan of the long drawn out theological disputes in the Byzantine Empire. Normally, I pay more attention to emperors and generals than I do to theologians and bishops. I am not sure how Haefen did it, but I actually revised my opinion of Arius thanks to her. It could be due to the comical way she depicts Arius. Now every time I think of Arianism, I remember Arius’s catchy tune, “Jesus was a dude.” Thanks Haefen!

Another memorable character is Constantine the Great. To be honest, he is not on my favourite list of Byzantine emperors. While I admire his ability to overcome obstacles to achieve his ambitions, I don’t approve of his character or some of his methods. Haefen’s portrayal of Constantine will not change my opinion of him. But at least she softens my dislike of him. Page 34 aptly yet comically shows his naiveté and instability.

Light-heartedness retelling of events

Light-heartedness is the enduring trademark of EOB. I have read of Diocletian and his farming pursuits during his retirement. The history books describe how Diocletian refused to return to power because he loved growing cabbages. But page 17 is a funny take on what may have seemed like madness to those around him.

I particularly enjoyed the panel on page 49 which cheekily addressed Constantine’s claim to be the 13th Apostle. Flanked by pictures of the Apostles behind him, Constantine shamelessly implied that he was one of them. This induced his bishops to develop coughing fits. Constantine’s innocent expression amused me because he believed that he was truly equal to Jesus. In reality, this may have been true given his megalomania which these few panels depicted in a humorous manner.

How Haefen’s comments enhances the appreciation of EOB

As a huge fan of comics, I have always been curious about the work that goes on behind each panel. By posting a little snippet under each page to explain the whys, EOB satisfies this craving of mine. This allows a glimpse into the effort and preparation that goes into each page. Haefen also encourages interaction with her friendly replies. On page 25, she kindly explains how she produces the comics. It is these little things that enhance the value of the end product.

For example, page 23 illustrates the Battle of Milvian Bridge. But there is also a discussion that goes a little deeper into how Maxentius’s defeat came about. Thanks to one reader, Pedant, we have an interesting account of how the collapse of the bridge may have happened. The end result is a longer lasting impression of this battle.

Image Credit: Haefen Hassinger

Reflections of the Vizier

Thus far, EOB has stopped at the death of Constantine the Great in 337. But the first book and its five chapters is a good indicator of what we may expect. I personally look forward to what EOB has to offer in the future.

For those of you who appreciate Haefen’s work, Book 1 is out now!

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15 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Thanks for the great review of Haefen’s comic! To set the record straight, EOB was all Haefen’s idea from the start. My role has been to help with lettering, setting up the website, and occasionally brainstorming dialogue and story.

  2. Nina says:

    I’m so very happy to read that you can appreciate Haefen’s creativity. This work is entirely hers though. I happen to know Haefen personally, lucky me =) She decided not to attend high school and began to “unschool” herself by immersing her love of art and reading into EOB. Can you even imagine the Byzantium era being taught in American HS???

  3. [...] 25, 2009 And a glowing one at that! Irving ‘The Vizier’ of http://neobyzantium.com/ has been kind enough to write up a full [...]

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Israel Gat, Sebastian Hassinger. Sebastian Hassinger said: Reviewing Emperors of Byzantium http://bit.ly/84rubB via @AddToAny [...]

  5. The Vizier says:

    Hi Sebastian,

    Thanks for the clarification, I have made the necessary adjustments to my review.

    It was my pleasure to write the review for her comic because I enjoyed it. :)

    I look forward to what Emperors of Byzantium has to offer in the future!

  6. The Vizier says:

    Hi Nina,

    It wasn’t difficult to appreciate Haefen’s creativity since I love the Byzantine Empire myself.

    I have to admit I admire her courage for “unschooling” herself. I think her dad has done a great job supporting her and her decisions. I look forward to seeing where she goes on this path she has taken.

    No, I can’t imagine the Byzantine era being taught in American HS since I’m from Singapore haha!

  7. Adriana says:

    This is probably the most interesting way to learn about the Byzantium era.. Very fascinating in a beautiful way.

  8. The Vizier says:

    Hi Adriana,

    I’m glad that you like it. Do stay in touch to learn more about the Byzantine Empire because things are just getting started.

  9. Hey, I just hopped over to your site via StumbleUpon. Not somthing I would normally read, but I liked your thoughts none the less. Thanks for making something worth reading.

  10. The Vizier says:

    Hi Tobi,

    Glad you liked it!

  11. Rico Piccoli says:

    This is certainly my initial stop by and I really like what I’m seeing. Your weblog is so much fun to look over, quite compelling as well as informative. I’ll undoubtedly recommend it to my friends. Nevertheless, I did have some problem with the commenting. It kept giving me an problem whenever I clicked on publish comment. I hope, that can be fixed. Many thanks

  12. The Vizier says:

    Hi Rico,

    Thanks for the compliments and the feedback, I’ll look into the problem and see what can be done about it.

  13. [...] it. Fulfilling a pre-battle vow, he converts to Christianity, taking all of the Empire with him. …Reviewing Emperors of ByzantiumWebsite review of Emperors of Byzantium. Learn how this dramatized historical web comic depicts the [...]

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