Byzantime – a historical snippet for every minute of the day

oldbookA couple of days ago, a colleague remarked how his wife was able to relate the time in the morning to a year in the life of the Byzantine Empire….

“0811 [pause]. Year of the Bulgarian massacre of the troops of Nicephorus I”

I needed a little project, and so Byzantime was born – for every minute of the day, it will display a historical event by interpreting the time as a year.

Under the hood

While it’s fun in itself, what I really wanted to play with was Silex. This is a microframework based on Symfony components, aimed at making single-file apps like this concise and testable.

We’ve been using Symfony at Alexander Street Press for over a year, and I’m impressed at how it’s really helped us raise our game when it comes to quality of engineering. But when you need to make something smaller, it feels like overkill.

So, I gave Silex a try. I’m pretty impressed with the results. It’s certainly concise – to give you an idea, the page needs to request some JSON containing events for the current hour. Here’s how the routing for that is handled using Silex:

$app->get('/event/{year}', function (Silex\Application $app, $year) {


    $events=$app['historian']->getEvents($start, $end);

    return $app->json($events);

})->assert('year', '\d+');

Only 6 lines of code, but a lot is going on here. Firstly, we’re defining the route for our AJAX request defined as /event/yyyy, where yyyy is the year we’re interested in. This parameter is passed to our handler closure..

The next two lines just do a little arithmetic.

Then we reference $app['historian'], which obtains a previously configured service class from the Pimple dependancy injection container provided by $app. Much like a Symfony service, if we never use it, it won’t be created. Having got the service, I obtain an array of events.

We want to return that data as JSON, and Silex provides a hander helper to do just that.

Finally, you’ll see theres a chained call to assert our year parameter is numeric. If it’s not, the closure would not be executed.

Look at that – it look far longer to describe in English!


I recently dusted off the original code to stick up on github. While PHP gets a fairly bad rap, when I compare old code like that to something taking advantage of current technologies like Silex, Composer and Doctrine, it makes me smile. This is a good time to be working with PHP!

Comments on Byzantime are welcome, I think I’ll probably use it as the basis for further experiments…