Department or Program



The Politics of the Gate: Byzantine City Walls and the Urban Negotiation of Imperial Authority

My thesis will argue that Byzantine city walls were political arenas in which rulers and communities contested their allegiances and interests. Modern scholars often assume that fortification walls are inherently divisive, oppressive and detrimental to political liberty, but in the Byzantine Empire – a pre-modern monarchy – the strength of their walls gave beleaguered cities the breathing room to protect their own interests and sometimes even a say in who their ruler might be. Historians have tended to partition amicable and hostile interactions at walls into different historical categories, putting triumphal, ritualized entrances by rulers into the category of ceremonial, political history while placing the violent confrontations of siege warfare into the domain of military history. A more synthetic analysis shows, however, that cities’ hospitable welcomes and defiant rejections to rulers were actually two sides of the same coin. Walls gave communities a basic choice: to open the gates or shut them. The capacity of walls to allow or deny a ruler access to the area she claimed to rule made a community’s allegiance collectively binding in a way that is difficult to comprehend in the modern, unwalled world. The same political dynamic was at play in all engagements at walls: the ruler’s attempt to perform and prove to the community his legitimacy, authority and power. Whether he sought to prove this by rhetoric, ceremony, intimidation, negotiation or simply brute force, both his message and his audience were the same.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Jones, Michael

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2014

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.