Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 August 2021
This chapter assesses the significance of a variety of genres of written and material sources for an understanding of political culture in Byzantium, including narratives and chronicles, encomia, orations, ceremonial handbooks and lists, monuments, silks, coins, archival documents, lead seals and letters. It distinguishes between narratives produced at the centre of Byzantine political life and those produced by outsiders: the former not simply windows into Byzantine political culture but integral elements of that culture, projecting the norms and expectations of the governing elite; the latter offering alternative perspectives, valuable for plugging chronological gaps but also as correctives to the propaganda that characterises so much Byzantine historiography. Few administrative records survive from Byzantium, especially compared to the Latin west, although legions of lead seals point to archives once far richer. Our surviving sources, particularly speeches, suggest that only in the later period were alternatives to the prevailing political order countenanced, and even then, despite a loss in territorial reach, the emperor’s court still formed the focal point of political life.