The Vienna Dioscurides: A Medical and Scientific Text in Ancient Byzantium

The manuscript was produced around 512 C.E. for the imperial princess Anicia Juliana in Constantinople. By Dr. Courtney Ann TomaselliProfessor of Art HistoryElon University Introduction For many, the term “Byzantine art” conjures otherworldly images of holy figures in golden icons and mosaics. But opening the pages of the large, sumptuously illustrated Byzantine manuscript known as the Vienna Dioscurides (the colloquial[…]

Famous Grammarians and Poets of the Byzantine Empire

Making a grammar book was one of the principal tools of Byzantine scholars to preserve the correct form of Classical Greek. Introduction Overview In the wake of the downfall of the Western Roman Empire and the intellectual collapse of Athens, Byzantine scholars engaged in preserving the Classical Greek language and its literature. Thus they became the guardians of a vanished culture. This article[…]

Miniature Mosaics in the Byzantine World

The Byzantines began creating portable mosaic icons by setting small tesserae into wax or resin on wood panels. Introduction For many of us, the term “mosaics” evokes the soaring golden walls and ceilings of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. But from approximately the twelfth to the fourteenth century, the Byzantines also began creating mosaics that[…]

Medieval Byzantine Secular Art

The Byzantines also created art and architecture with no religious imagery and without explicit religious functions in mind. Religious vs. Secular? Admittedly, classifying medieval art in tidy categories of the “religious” or “secular” is a bit anachronistic, especially in the arts of the Byzantine court, where religious and political elements were often seamlessly blended. For[…]

Byzantine Iconoclasm and the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Who were the players and what was this Controversy all about? Introduction The “Iconoclastic Controversy” over religious images was a defining moment in the history of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. Centered in Byzantium’s capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) from the 700s–843, imperial and Church authorities debated whether religious images should be used in Christian[…]

An Introduction to Icons in the Medieval Byzantine Empire

Christians initially disagreed over whether religious images were good or bad, resulting in the iconoclasm controversy. What Is an Icon? In our time, we often refer to celebrities as cultural icons, pop icons, and fashion icons. Rebels are sometimes labeled iconoclasts. Icons are also the little images that populate the screens of our computers, phones, and[…]

The Chronological Periods of the Byzantine Empire

Introducing the periods of Byzantine history, with attention to developments in art and architecture. From Rome to Constantinople In 313, the Roman Empire legalized Christianity, beginning a process that would eventually dismantle its centuries-old pagan tradition. Not long after, emperor Constantine transferred the empire’s capital from Rome to the ancient Greek city of Byzantion (modern[…]

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453

Constantinople had withstood many sieges and attacks over the centuries. Introduction The city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was founded by Roman emperor Constantine I in 324 CE and it acted as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire as it has later become known, for well over 1,000 years. Although the city[…]

Magical Uses of Imagery in Ancient and Medieval Byzantine Art

These images were sometimes augmented with texts that were used for protective or healing purposes. Introduction Christianity was central to the outlook and personal identity of the average Byzantine; nonetheless, there is abundant physical evidence that some types of popular religious or “magical” practices were widespread from late antiquity to the end of the empire.[…]

The Decline and Collapse of the Byzantine Empire

The rise of Turkish power in Anatolia eventually gave rise to the Ottoman Empire which rapidly conquered the Byzantines. Introduction The Byzantine Empire experienced several cycles of growth and decay over the course of nearly a thousand years, including major losses during the Arab conquests of the 7th century. In the 11th century the empire[…]

The Byzantine Empire: Its Rise, Growth, and Fall to the Ottomans

This great empire lay in two continents, Europe and Asia. It lasted from about 500 to 1453 C.E., when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Introduction At first, the Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the east. In 330 C.E., the Roman emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to[…]

Byzantium and the First Crusade: Three Avenues of Approach

Peter the Hermit Preaching the First Crusade – From the Painting by James Archer / Wikimedia Commons Exploring reasons for misunderstandings between Crusaders and the Byzantine emperor. By Dr. Jonathan Harris Professor of the History of Byzantium Royal Holloway, University of London A recurring theme in the historiography of the First Crusade is that of[…]

Europe, Byzantium, and the “Intellectual Silence” of the Rus’ Culture

Examining the view that the Orthodox Church stifled the development of East Slavic intellectual thought. By Dr. Donald Ostrowski Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Harvard University One of the least studied and most misunderstood areas of European history is the comparative impact the Western Church and the Eastern Church had on their respective[…]

Iconoclasm across Cultures from Antiquity to Modernity

Desecrated Christian icons in Turkey / Photo by Georges Jansoone JoJan, Göreme Valley Open Air Museum, Cappadocia, Wikimedia Commons Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons or monuments, usually for religious or political motives.  In common parlance, an iconoclast is a person who challenges cherished beliefs or traditional institutions as being based on error[…]

Procopius of Caesarea: A Case Study in Imperial Criticism

Procopius of Caesarea, Creative Commons It has been a subject of much debate what Procopius actually thought of the events that he narrates. By James Michael Gilmer Cardiff University Edward Gibbon once said of Procopius that the man “successively composed the history, the panegyric, and the satire of his own times.”[1] Consequently, it has been[…]

Myth and Miraculous Performance: The Virgin Hodegetria in Byzantine Iconography

“She Who Points the Way.” Wall Fragment with the Virgin Mary and Coats of Arms, mid-1400s, made in Athens. Pigment on plaster, 44 1/8 x 60 5/8 in. Image courtesy of the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, inv. no 1111 This icon of the Virgin Mary has a fascinating story, closely intertwined with the history[…]

Byzantine Music and Musical Manuscripts

Music has played a central role in Greek Orthodox services for centuries. Nicolas Bell describes the manuscript evidence for this music in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras. By Dr. Nicolas Bell College Library Trinity College Cambridge The Byzantine Empire fostered a very rich musical tradition. The music used in church services is exceptionally well preserved[…]

Byzantine Historiography from the End of Antiquity to 1453

Byzantine Constantinople (modern Istanbul), c.1000 CE / Wikimedia Commons Surveying the many written sources for Byzantine history. By Dr. Dimitris Krallis Associate Professor of Byzantine History Simon Fraser University The role of historiography in Byzantium In Byzantium, historiography (the writing of history) was mainly a pastime for highly educated civil servants, some active in administration, the[…]

Bookbinding in the Byzantine World

Sammelband of three books, edge shown with clasps / Science History Institute, Wikimedia Commons Ann Tomalak provides an overview of the distinctive features of Byzantine bookbinding. By Ann Tomalak Former Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project Conservator British Library A Byzantine binding is not defined primarily by where or when it was made, but by how it[…]

Paper in Byzantium

Jaharis Byzantine Lectionary / Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons The transition from parchment to paper as the preferred writing surface happened slowly in the Byzantine Empire. James Freeman outlines this process and addresses some of its key features. By Dr. James Freeman Medieval Manuscripts Specialist Cambridge University Library A shortage of paper In the[…]

Scribes and Scholars in Byzantium

From Lucian of Samosata by Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt, 1697 Byzantine manuscripts were created by and for educated men both in Constantinople and further afield. Georgi Parpulov explores the lives and works of some of these figures. By Dr. Georgi Parpulov Research Fellow, CATENA Project Department of Theology and Religion University of Birmingham In Antiquity and the Middle Ages, educated[…]

Book Collections and Libraries of Byzantium

Seventh ecumenical council, Icon, 17th century, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow / Photo by shakko, Wikimedia Commons Byzantine scribes and authors refer repeatedly to book collections and libraries. Georgi Parpulov outlines what private, monastic and imperial libraries were like in medieval Byzantium. By Dr. Georgi Parpulov Research Fellow, CATENA Project Department of Theology and Religion University of[…]

Michael Psellos: Byzantine Historian, Writer, Pyschologist, Intellectual

A 12-13th century CE illustrated manuscript depicting the 11th century CE Byzantine scholar and minister Michael Psellos and Byzantine emperor Michael VII. (Pantokrator Monastery Library, Mount Athos) / Wikimedia Commons His texts – the most famous being Chronographia – combine theology, philosophy, and psychology. By Mark Cartwright / 12.14.2017 Historian Michael Psellos (1018 – c. 1082 CE) was a Byzantine historian, writer, and intellectual. Michael[…]

Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George in Byzantine Art

Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George, sixth or early seventh century, encaustic on wood, 2′ 3″ x 1′ 7 3/8″ (St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt) By Dr. William Allen Professor of Art History Arkansas State University At Mount Sinai Monastery One of thousands of important Byzantine images, books, and documents preserved at[…]

Slavs: The Byzantine ‘Sclaveni’, Barbarian Enemies of Rome

Painting by Laurits Tuxen showing a Christian Bishop displacing an image of the pagan Slavic deities during the Christianisation process of the Slavic culture. Most the Slavic mythology and lore was lost during this time. / Photo by Laurits Tuxen, Wikimedia Commons The Slavs are the least documented group among the so called “barbarian” enemies of Rome during late[…]

What Did Byzantine Food Taste Like?

Portrait of Alexios III Komnenos in The Romance of Alexander the Great, 1300s, made in Trebizond, Turkey. Tempera, gold, and ink, 12 5/8 x 9 7/16 in. Image courtesy of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Postbyzantine Studies, Venice, cod. gr. 5 An art historian embraces her foodie side to uncover the tastes of the Byzantine Empire.[…]

What Did the Byzantine Empire Smell Like?

Byzantium in a bottle (or two) Sniffing out the scents of medieval Constantinople. By Saskia Wilson-Brown / 07.03.2014 Artist, Film Producer, Founder Institute for Art and Olfaction Humans have long sought to harness nature—and scent is no exception. Attempts to master our olfactory surroundings date back thousands of years. We have tantalizing hints of early efforts at[…]