Final Public Oral Exam: Lucas McMahon

Information Transmission and the Byzantine State: Geography, Logistics, and Geopolitics, 600-1200
Monday, September 12, 2022, 10:00 am12:00 pm


Event Description


John Haldon, co-adviser
Jack Tannous, co-adviser
Helmut Reimitz
Hugh Elton, Trent University
Jonathan Shepard, Oxford University


Often intangible, abstract, and detectable only through its effects, information is the dark matter that held together pre-modern empires. The following dissertation asks: how can we imagine information flow in the medieval Roman Empire, and how can cutting-edge GIS techniques construct a model that might represent a plausible reality?

The acquisition, transmission, and employment of actionable information is crucial in inter-polity competition. The focus here is on information related to state security, what might elsewhere be termed political, military, or strategic intelligence, but goes beyond that to consider matters that might be considered peripheral, such as an awareness of social structures in other societies that might affect war and diplomacy. Aspects such as short and long-term knowledge and employment of information, cultural familiarity, the crossing of borders, the speed of movement, and the logistics of communication were all instrumental to the process by which authorities in Constantinople collected and acted upon information. That the state operated a professional intelligence service has never been in question, but this dissertation goes beyond the world of spies and informants to look at information flows and intelligence practices. It posits that the majority of those who collected and transmitted information of state security were not members of the intelligence services but rather various functionaries whose duties in other roles nonetheless saw them performing intelligence activities. It argues that information transmission needs to be viewed along the broad and evolving contours of human movement and the controls created by the state to monitor and regulate such movement.

This dissertation seeks to put transport and communication at a more central position in pre-modern history: logistics do not merely undergird how the empire worked, but rather explain much in the way of the quotidian nuts and bolts of imperial functioning. The combined study of information flows, built infrastructure, the physical environment, and attitudes to information define how the empire functioned on the ground.

This dissertation employs a number of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) techniques (least-cost paths, visibility analysis) to explore how time and the environment impacted communication systems.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Questions? Please contact Lee Horinko.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Lee Horinko
Area of Interest
Foreign Relations
Military History
Political History
War & Society
Late Antiquity
6th through 14th Centuries
Scholarly Series
Dissertation Defense