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.[…]

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[…]

The History of a Byzantine Engagement Ring

Engagement Ring with a Greek Inscription, about A.D. 1175–1300. Gold and enamel, 1 3/16 in. diam. Image courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens Separated by centuries, two women had the privilege of handling the same Byzantine engagement ring. By Ashley Hilton / 07.11.2014 At different moments in its history, two wealthy women from prominent[…]

Uncovering the History of a Long-Buried Byzantine Treasure

Pair of Wristbands with Birds and Palmettes, Greek, made in Constantinople, 800s–900s. Gold with granulated decoration and enamel, each 3 3/8 in. wide. Image courtesy of the Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, inv. no BKO 262/6 Buried twice over the centuries, a precious gold cuff from Thessaloniki, Greece, is a document of Byzantine history. By[…]

Byzantine Amulets and Jewelry: Status and Protection from Evil

Gold Chain and Amulet (detail of amulet), A.D. 600s, Byzantine, made in Lesbos, Greece. Gold. Image courtesy of the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens A gold amulet from medieval Byzantium reveals a long tradition of wearing jewelry not only for status, but also for protection from evil. By Tiffany Payne Malkin / 08.06.2014 Imagine a[…]

Hidden Beneath the Ruins of Eleutherna

Plaque with the Life of Achilles (one of three), about A.D. 300–350, made in Constantinople or Thessaloniki; found in Eleutherna, Crete, Greece. Ivory, 3 3/4 x 15 9/16 in. Image courtesy of the Rethymno Archaeological Museum Buried during the catastrophe that felled a city, a recently rediscovered collection of ivory plaques provides a glimpse into[…]

A History of the Byzantine Empire: Rome in the East

The Justinian Mosaic / Creative Commons Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.21.2018 Historian Brewminate Editor-in-Chief 1 – Byzantium: The New Rome 1.1 – Naming of the Byzantine Empire While the Western Roman Empire fell, the Eastern Roman Empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, thrived. 1.1.1 – Introduction Map of Constantinople: A map of Constantinople,[…]

Rome in the East: Art and Architecture of the Byzantine Empire

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (then Constantinople) / Photo by Arild Vågen, Wikimedia Commons Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.15.2018 Historian Brewminate Editor-in-Chief 1 – Early Byzantine Art and Architecture 1.1 – Introduction The Byzantine Empire began as a continuation of the Roman Empire but gradually became distinct through cultural changes. 1.1.1 – The East-West Schism[…]

The History of the ‘Green Man’ in the Greek and Byzantine Worlds

Keystone in the Shape of a Foliate Face, about 1225–36, made in Stymphalia, Greece. Stone, probably sandstone, 14 9/16 x 20 1/16 x 17 11/16 in., 176.368 lb. Image courtesy of the Chloumoutsi (Clermont) Castle Museum, Ilia An unusual carved stone from Greece reveals the changing political landscape of the Byzantine world in the thirteenth[…]

Iconoclastic Controversies in Early Christianity

Apa Abraham, c. 590-600, watercolor on panel, Egyptian (Bode Museum, Berlin) By Dr. Davor Džalto / 08.08.2015 Associate Professor and Program Director for Art History Program Director for M.A. Peace Studies Program Director for M.A. Arts Management The American University of Rome The word “icon” refers to many different things today. For example, we use[…]