The Eastern Romans (Byzantines) were famous for their cleverness. In addition to the mysterious Greek Fire (we still don’t know exactly how they made it), they had an early form of air conditioning, hydraulic powered doors, and ‘automatons’- powered statues of lions and birds that could roar or sing at the touch of a lever. Find an example of something extrodinary invented or discovered by these ancient people and describe why it's so incredible.
The term Byzantine was coined by a historian trying to discredit Constantinople by saying it wasn’t Roman. Though the historian is long forgotten, the nickname stuck and the eastern half of the empire has been largely ignored. Is that beginning to change today? Do some research about the term. Describe it's origins and how it's been used thorughout history. Why do we use the term today?
For a podcast overview of the Byzantine empire look for 12 Byzantine Rulers on iTunes. This site also has excerpts which are not available through iTunes. These include Vlad the Impaler’s relationship with Byzantium, who was the last emperor of Rome, and the separation of Church and State among others.
For general histories of Byzantium in book format try Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Saved Western Civilization, or John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium Trilogy.
For a visual look at Byzantium in the 13th century, visit the excellent Byzantium 1200 website: http://www.byzantium1200.com/
For Primary Byzantine sources go to the Medieval Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook1c.asp
And finally, to find out how a Byzantine soap dish changed history see: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203917304574412984059644024.html