References – Part 2: Metropolis

29: New Rome

My understanding of the history of Istanbul (Constantinople), and the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, is largely drawn from John Julius Norwich’s three books about the Byzantine Empire (The Early Centuries, The Apogee, The Decline and Fall), Steven Runciman’s three-part History of the Crusades and Jason Goodwin’s Lords of the Horizons.

Regarding Dioletian and cabbages: Dioletian was from Dalatia (modern Croatia); he became Roman Emperor in 284 CE; instituted the ‘Tetrarchy’ system where the Empire was ruled by two emperors (each with their own co-emperor); oversaw the last Roman persecution of the Christians; and was the only Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate the position. Diocletian retired to his palace on the Dalmatian coast, where he tended to his vegetable gardens. That palace became the core of the modern-day city of Split.

On being asked to return to the throne, as the Empire later fell towards chaos, he is quoted as saying:

If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn’t dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed.


30: Outdoing Solomon

Detailed and appropriately harrowing accounts of the catastrophic sacking of Constantinople by the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 can be found in Runciman’s History of the Crusades and Norwich’s three-part history of Byzantium (as per subchapter 29, above).

Dandolo preaches the Fourth Crusade

For readers unfamiliar with that period of east-Mediterranean history, here are the essentials of the event’s context. During the Crusades, Constantinople was the stopping-off point for European soldiers heading east to the Levant. Those of the Fourth Crusade were being transported by Venetian ships. In part due to the machinations of the (brilliant, blind, octogenarian) Dandolo, on whose grave I danced, the Venetians refused to transport the crusaders on towards their supposed destination. Dandolo eventually goaded them into sacking the city which had been playing host to, and feeding, them.

The crusaders sacked the city for three days, in an orgy of brutality and chaos. Many works of art which had survived from ancient Greece were lost to posterity in the destruction. The city’s holy sanctuaries were systematically desecrated. The city’s nuns were raped and murdered in their convents. A prostitute was enthroned on the Patriarch’s chair. The Library of Constantinople was destroyed. The bronze horses from the Hippodrome were sent back to adorn the facade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Eight hundred years later, Pope John Paul II wrote “How can we not share, at a distance of eight centuries, the pain and disgust.”

While the Eastern Roman Empire would officially live on until 1453, it was crippled from that point on. Almost none of the crusaders ever made it to the Holy Land.

One affect of the sacking was that the artists and intellectual living in and around Constantinople decamped to the Italian peninsula. This was almost certainly partly responsible for kicking-off the Renaissance.

Regarding the population of World Cities in 600 CE, these are taken from World History: A New Perspective, by Clive Ponting, p298.


In the city

31: Urban Geography

I don’t know where I originally sourced the budget for ITER (the experimental fusion reactor), but here is an article in the New Scientist which quotes it.

The circumnavigation of the globe my great uncle John Donnelly undertook on a tall ship in the 1930s was recorded in a book – The Voyage of the Cap Pilar – written by Adrian Segilman (the ship’s captain), and regarded as a sailing classic. John Donnelly was later a lawyer and property owner in Colchester, and was imprisoned during the war for being a conscientious objector. I have only hazy memories of him, as I was six years old when he died. I did, however, wholeheartedly embrace the tradition of adventure travel he partly founded.


32: Marmara Road Trip

The economic and demographic numbers for Turkey come from the 2005 version of the CIA World Fact Book (accessed 9 November 2005).


33: Nelly No More

The number of days the Spirit rover had been active on the Martian surface came from the NASA website.


34: Istanbul Character Diaries

I didn’t recall where I got my original banana statistic from, but here are two sources which quote that number.

Tarik by the Golden Horn

The story about Tarik is only one observation I enjoyed from this wonderful and intelligent man. The two main areas where his insights shaped my thoughts – and the book’s thesis – were: economics (Global Musing VI, p328) and how much people love to think up clever ways of justifying to themselves telling other people what to do (Global Musing I, p262).

Here is one of Tarik’s stories about economics …

There are two sets of two islands. In the first set, one group of islanders are poor and the other are rich. The reason for this is that the people from the rich island paddle canoes across to the poor island, and steal their food and goods, keeping themselves rich and their neighbours poor.

In the other set of islands, one set of islanders are also poor and the others are also rich. In this case, there is no contact between the islands and no one ever travels between them. But on the rich island the people work very hard and have become rich through their own efforts, while on the poor island they do not cooperate effectively, so they remain poor.

The whole world – and the reasons that some parts of it are poor and others rich – is a mixture of those two scenarios.


Musings – The Crush

In addition to the stack of poems I wrote going across Europe, I also did a few in Istanbul. Have a look at them here, with a few notes. I won’t share the ‘forlorn’ ones.


36: Byzantine Twilight

The ‘American Empire’ quip was supposed to be inflammatory. In hindsight, it was a cheap shot.


Say it like you see it


37: The Planetary Adolescence

The American casualties in Iraq numbers were taken from ICasualties.

Regarding the Mongol conquests: the number of casualties (30,000,000) I quoted is at the low end of mainstream estimations for this bloody episode in human history. Click here for the site of a guy called Greg Brecht, whose done some interesting work on the subject.

Given my mission to invite people to see current affairs in terms of an expansive historical context, I have some things to say about the Mongol conquests.

First, when people in the media, the blogosphere and the social media-sphere spout hysterical hyperbole about the latest complexity of being evolved fallible apes on a planet (something they do constantly), let’s remember what really bad things look like.

The Mongol invasions of the twelfth century caused catastrophic destruction (arguably beyond anything in modern history) across huge tracks of Eurasia. They destroyed the irrigation infrastructure of Iran and Iraq, setting them back by centuries – in fact it’s sometimes said that those regions have yet to truly recover. Song China was close to the verge of an industrial revolution of exactly the sort experienced by Britain 500 years later. It was stopped in its tracks by the Mongols. The body count of the conquests was on nearly a par with World War II, but at a time when the world’s population was a fraction (about a seventh) of what it was in the twentieth century, and its stability far more tenuous.

That’s what a serious setback looks like. We should be grateful our problems are so trivial by comparison, and contextualise them accordingly.


38: Lord Byron’s Footsteps

The original email said 4°C, but I couldn’t find a source for that number. The 9°C is from this article on the hydrology of the Black Sea. It can also be found in this article about the Black Sea in

By way of self-justification, I’ve swum in the North Atlantic and North Sea as late as October and the rivers of East Anglia as early as February. The Bosporus was much colder.


39: Istanbul Endgame

My weather facts about London, Istanbul and Bangkok were taken from the BBC website (accessed 2 December 2005).


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