Feast, Fast or Famine

Abstracts of papers presented at the Thirteenth Conference of the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 11-12 July 2003, University of Adelaide

Aspects of Eating and Drinking in Skylitzes’ Synopsis Historiarum

John Burke, University of Melbourne

John Skylitzes’ Synopsis Historiarum focuses primarily on ecclesiastical conflicts, political intrigues and military events. But food and drink constantly underlie his account of the years 811-1057. Battles are won or lost because of food and drink, cities fall, nations change religious allegience. The food supply is always a concern, fasting and abstinence assume political dimensions, and ancient laws of hospitality are overturned. This paper explores intertextuality and the rich illustration of the Madrid manuscript for insight into both Byzantium and Skylitzes the author.

Late Antique and Middle Byzantine Cookery: Methods and Utensils

Tim Dawson, University of New England

The urban sophistication of the culture of the early Roman Imperial era had seen a wide range of methods and implements for preparing food and drink. Despite the contraction and relative impoverishment of the medieval empire, this sophistication was far from lost amongst the wealthy. At lower social levels, cookery continued much as it had done for thousands of years. Beginning with some examples from the early imperial era, surviving items, pictorial and literary material will be presented to illustrate the continuity of methods and forms in fixed and mobile hearths, cookware and utensils through late antiquity and the middle Byzantine period. Romans also applied particular ingenuity to serving heated and chilled drinks.

‘Sabaiorum’: What Was Wrong With Beer and Beer Drinking in Late Antiquity?

Danijel Dzino, University of Adelaide

In AD 365 the besieged troops loyal to the rebel Procopius, hurled numerous insults at the co-emperor Valens from the walls of Chalcedon in Asia Minor. One of those insults was particularly mentioned and singled out by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus in his account of the siege as being particularly offensive The rebels called Valens sabaiarius, the word that we may freely translate as ‘beer-drinker’.

cuius e muris probra in eum iaciebantur, et irrisive compellebatur ut Sabaiarius.
Amm. Marc. 26.8.2

Why was this such an offensive remark, worthy of Ammianus’ attention, and what was so wrong with beer and beer-drinkers in late antiquity? This paper will look into the obscure origins, social and cultural significance of sabaia – beer made from barley and water in ancient Illyricum. It will put sabaia into the wider context of the northern European (“beer/spirit” or “dry”) pattern of drinking and beverage production and discuss its conflict with the Mediterranean (or “wet”) wine-drinking pattern, especially in the period of late antiquity. This examination would shed new light on the well-known cultural discrimination on behalf of wine-drinking, city-dwelling, sophisticated Mediterraneans towards rough beer-drinking provincials who defended and ruled the Roman Empire in its last centuries.

(Not Sailing) to Byzantium: Metropolis, Hinterland and Frontier in the Transformation of the Roman Empire

John Fitzpatrick, Flinders University

The question of the emergence of ‘Byzantium’ from the environment of the later Roman empire (and ‘Late Antiquity’ in general) is often framed primarily in diachronic or evolutionary terms, and primarily in terms of a ‘culturalist’ problematic – emphasising literate languages, literary culture, religion, etc. This paper approaches the question primarily in synchronic or structural terms (with some explicit comparisons between the ‘rise of Byzantium’ and the much earlier ‘rise of Rome’), and primarily in terms of a ‘materialist/geopolitical’ problematic. Core themes will be the relationships between warfare, transport logistics and food supply, between food supply, state-making and ‘centre-periphery’ relations, and between the food-producing potential and the ‘military participation’ potential of different ecological regions.

The Rhetoric of Hunger in Twelfth-century Byzantium

Lynda Garland, University of New England

To the Byzantines in the twelfth century little was more amusing or more appropriate as a target for abuse than food-related humour, whether epitomised by depictions of the struggles of penurious literati to acquire a square meal or the excesses displayed by emperors, monks and prominent officials at the dinner table. This overwhelming interest in food and food-abuse becomes in the twelfth century a marked facet of popular and learned literature, in which unpopular and jumped-up bureaucrats or gluttonous abbots can be attacked for their obsessions (often for the most unlikely comestibles), and the denisons of the capital mocked for their lowly tastes and their inability even to purchase the simplest of foods.

The Ptochoprodromic poems are particularly valuable in this regard. Narrated from various contradictory stances – the narrator is a downtrodden husband, penurious priest with a numerous family, a much put-upon monk, and an unemployed scholar with a cupboard filled but with useless papers – the assumption of poverty in all cases, particularly focussing on the narrator’s hunger, clearly allows the poet to play on a specific type of humorous situation in which he attempts to entertain by poking fun at his own series of predicaments (ka]n faivnwmai…gelw;n oJmou; kai; paivzwn 1.15). Despite the fictional constructions of identity within these poems, they provide valuable details of life in twelfth-century Constantinople (Oikonomides 1990; Bouras 1982), and of perceptions of the humorous: husbands who can only obtain a decent meal by dressing up in disguise or raiding the pantry, while saleswomen met with in the Ptochoprodromic poems (and women are frequent dramatis personae) either ignore the narrator, or refuse to give him the food he is begging for – often with obscene connotations thrown in for good measure (Alexiou 1986, 1999). Such works are able to enlighten us both as to the gastronomic preferences of the Byzantine capital and the ways in which these could be used to entertain a court audience.

Dining with the Enemy: Peter ‘Patricius’ and Isdigousnas Zich

Andrew Gillett, Macquarie University

Peter patricius and Isdigousnas Zich, senior palatine officials at Constantinople and Ctesiphon in the mid-sixth century, met and negotiated political relations between Rome and Persia on at least five separate occasions over some two decades. Their intertwining careers personify developments in the conduct of affairs between the two late antique super-powers. The first part of this paper will outline the circumstances of their encounters; the second will discuss hospitality and largesse as elements of political communication.

Food, Transport and Movement in Byzantium: The Case of Military Logistics

John Haldon, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, UK

The size of an army is directly proportional to the sum of a number of factors, which could vary dramatically from campaign to campaign: available manpower resources, available agrarian production, dependent in turn upon season, region, climate and types of crop grown; types of livestock employed for transportation; population density of the areas in which the campaigning took place; roads and other aspects of the communications infrastructure; and so on. One of the most important issues is the amount of provisions required by a force of a given size, the rate of consumption, and in consequence the sources of such provisions and the means of transporting them to the army. What do we know about the levels of productivity needed to support transient populations such as campaign forces passing through the provinces or traversing hostile territory, and how did this impact on strategic planning? This paper will look at the sort of evidence we might use to resolve these issues, and deal with such questions as the volume and weight of the bread ration for Byzantine armies, the weight-bearing capacity of pack-animals and cavalry mounts, the fodder requirements of the animals which accompanied an army, and so forth. In other words, I will sketch in the physical and logistical framework for an understanding of logistical matters in general in the period from the 5th to the 12th centuries. In the process, the paper will deal with a number of issues directly relating to the nature of the Byzantine diet, the production of bread and the availability of resources for the population at large.

The Representation of Christ’s Body and Blood as the ‘food of immortality’ in Byzantine Crucifixion Iconography

Felicity Harley, University of Adelaide

The holy altar stands for the place where Christ was laid in the grave, on which the true and heavenly bread, the mystical and bloodless sacrifice lies, His flesh and blood offered to the faithful as the food of eternal life.

The sacramental identity of the body and blood of Jesus was codified in Middle and Late Byzantine representations of the Crucifixion with the addition of such iconographic elements as eucharistic vessels to catch the blood flowing from his side, liturgical veils, or even words of institution from the Divine liturgy. The identity was further expounded through the interior decorative schemes of Middle-Late Byzantine churches, in the placement of Crucifixion imagery above the altar or within the apse of the Church.

This paper will examine the early stages of what Kartsonis has described as the ‘sacramentalisation’ of Crucifixion iconography: the apparent expansion of the historical and theological content of Crucifixion iconography around the seventh/eighth centuries to include pointed visual references to the sacramental realities of Jesus’ death. It will explore some of the immediate consequences of this process of sacramentalisation, for iconography, in the increasing visual connection between Jesus’ sacrifice and the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine, and for Christian worshippers, in the reception of Crucifixion imagery into new visual contexts. And it will comment on the resultant impact these consequences exerted on the wider role of images of the Crucifixion in Christian art before the ninth century.

Fasting and Abstinence: Some Facts of Life in Byzantium

A. Nicholas John’s Louvaris, University of Western Australia

The essentially Orthodox Christian character of Byzantine society was also reflected in its dietary habits. While it was in monasteries and convents that the rules of fasting were most strictly adhered to, in the outside world the observanc of those rules also prevailed to a remarkable degree. Fasting, and abstinence from certain categories of food and drink, as a means of spriritual training, self-discipline or repentance, or as a punishment for serious sins, was not only widely practised by the Byzantines, from the emperor himself down to the most humble labourer, but they also had an important effect on the mores of everyday life and the economy of the Oikoumene, not forgetting their influence on Byzantine cuisine and, in later times, the successor cuisines in Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans.

Communal Meals in the Late Antique Synagogue

Matthew J Martin, Melbourne College Of Divinity

In this paper I examine the phenomenon of communal meals held in synagogues in the late antique period. This issue is of particular interest insofar as the Rabbinic tradition contains statements expressly forbidding the eating of meals in the synagogue (e.g. T.Megillah 2:18; B.Megillah 28a-b). Nevertheless, archaeology (e.g. the triclinium of the Stobi synagogue), non-Rabbinic Jewish sources, and even elements of the Rabbinic tradition itself (e.g. Y.Berakhot 2,5d; Y.Nazir 7,1,56a), indicate that communal synagogue meals, festive and otherwise, were a common feature of the life of many Jewish communities, both inside and outside Palestine, certainly for the 3rd to 5th century period. This phenomenon would appear to be a continuation of a practice known from the late Second Temple period (c.f. the first century Theodotos inscription from Jerusalem).

This phenomenon has very important implications for the question of Rabbinic authority in the late antique synagogue. The reality of communal synagogue meals in the face of Rabbinic rulings forbidding such activities may be added to a list of similar discrepancies between Rabbinic legal rulings and actual practice – such as the use of pictorial art in synagogues – which indicate that Rabbinic authority in the institution of the late antique synagogue was perhaps not as powerful and pervasive as much modern scholarship – and the Rabbinic tradition itself – would like to suggest.

In this way, the synagogue meal issue – particularly when the function of communal dining in shaping group identity is taken into account – becomes an important piece of evidence in support of the thesis questioning the authority of the Rabbi’s in Judaism of the pre-Mediaeval period recently espoused by Seth Schwartz in his “Imperialism and Jewish Society” (Princeton 2001).

Food and Drink in Early Byzantium: A New Web Resource

Wendy Mayer, Australian Catholic University

The more than 800 authentic homilies of John Chrysostom offer a window onto the daily life of people who lived in the cities of Antioch in Syria and Constantinople in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Anecdotes and exempla include information about the diet of infants and of small children and adults, drinking parties, dinner parties, food production, tableware, the effects of too much food or drink, ascetic diet, special diets prescribed patients and a great deal more. This paper offers a tour of the new web knowledge-base being constructed by a team at the Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University. The knowledge-base aims to make searchable all of the information about daily life contained in this important corpus, which includes a reasonable amount of information concerning food and drink.

What John VIII Palaeologus Had For Lunch in July 1439

John Melville-Jones, University of Western Australia

On July 27 1439, after concluding his business at the Council of Florence, John VIII Palaeologus visited some neighbouring places with the aim of viewing the holy relics that they possessed. Returning from one visit, he stopped for a while at the small town of Peretola near Florence. A record survives of the midday meal that he ate that day, written by a fascinated Peretolan.

Feeding a Late Roman Field Army: The Caesar Julian in Gaul AD 355-361

David O’Donnell, University of New England

One of the reasons for Julian’s military success in Gaul between AD 355-61 was that he comprehended how important logistical support was for an army on active service. The adequate provisioning of the Gallic field army by various means meant that it could undertake the arduous tasks of expelling the German invaders, namely the Alamanni and the Franks, from imperial territory and restoring the integrity of the Rhine frontier. The Late Roman field soldier that Julian commanded whether he was a Gaul or a German could perform well under pressure provided he received adequate sustenance. In fact, one of the few times that the Gallic legions turned their fury against Julian was when he commandeered a portion of the soldiers’ rations to provision some forts that he had restored and presumably garrisoned. The troops, toughened by years of hard campaigning, could endure most deprivations, but the spectre of hunger was too great a burden even for them.

Julian appropriated these rations because he expected to make good the shortfall from German sources. Unfortunately in this instance the enemies’ crops were not fully ripe. However, the incident reveals that the Caesar was resourceful enough to augment his army’s food supplies from a number of different sources and sometimes this strategy paid off. During a punitive expedition into Germany an Alamannic king was granted peace on the condition that he kept the Roman army provisioned and so he was thus reduced to the status of a common contractor. The fact that Julian was able to keep his troops adequately provisioned not only kept them loyal, but also gave them an advantage over the Alamanni and the Franks who had no organised supply system. Indeed, some of the German raiders that Julian encountered during his first campaign In Gaul were starving because they had exhausted the foodstuffs in their immediate vicinity.

Bread From Heaven: Vegetarianism in Byzantium

Ken Parry, Macquarie University

There are two main sources for the study of vegetarianism in Byzantium. One source is monastic typika and writings on the spiritual life and the other is writings relating to heretical movements. The practice of non-meat eating in the monastic life is sanctioned by a variety of authorities whereas the practice among heretical groups arises from a different theological perspective. The motivating force of the two traditions is therefore quite different and this paper will examine the distinct nature of this alimentary phenomenon in the two sources.

The practice of vegetarianism in the Neoplatonic schools of Late Antiquity requires examination in relation to the emergence of Christian vegetarianism as part of the monastic life. This topic has not been sufficiently covered in the transition from paganism to Christianity and the acceptance of non-meat eating as part of Christian asceticism. Such an acceptance would imply a certain attitude towards the animal kingdom and the rejection of meat eating from a moral point of view. The monastic promotion of vegetarianism, however, seems to be for reasons of discipline rather than compassion for animals. This raises questions in relation to the criminal prosecution and punishment of animals in Byzantine law. The Christian condemnation of animal sacrifice among pagans and Jews does not appear to have resulted in a Byzantine concern for animal rights. The use of animals in the hippodrome bears witness to this attitude.

In contrast to the mainstream monastic tradition of non-meat eating the adoption of the practice by heretical groups is of considerable interest. Starting with the Gnostic and Manichaean movements in the second and third centuries vegetarianism became associated with a more advanced spiritual and ascetic life. It reflected a highly structured mythology and theory of rebirth which prohibited the eating of meat on strictly religious grounds. However, the denunciation of animal slaughter and the eating of meat by heretical Christian dualists groups, such as the Paulicians and Bogomils, seems to have another dimension. The rejection of meat eating in social and religious dissent has not been sufficiently studied and this paper will attempt to draw out the implications from an historical point of view.

Eustathios of Thessaloniki and the Wedding Banquet for Prince Alexios (1180)

Andrew Stone, University of Western Australia

In 1179 the emperor Manuel I Komnenos secured a new alliance with King Louis VII of France through the betrothal of Agnes of France (aged nine) to his son Alexios Porphyrogennetos. The nuptials were celebrated on March 2 of the following year, at the same time as those of Alexios’ elder half-sister, who was married to the Italian noble Renier of Montferrat. Eustathios, who had travelled from Thessaloniki to Byzantium to see the disembarkation of Agnes, and stayed for the double wedding, delivered an oration to celebrate it, at the public banquet granted by the emperor to the populace. The venue was the Hippodrome, with tables erected for the occasion, and the people thronged among them, to be plied with meat and wine at the emperor’s expense. In true Eustathian fashion, the rhetor uses classical allusions (the Table of the Sun in Ethiopia, Harpies, Trapezon in the Peloponnese), but perhaps with a little more humour than is usual for him.

Calypso’s Cauldron: The Ritual Ingredients of Early Byzantine Love Spells

Silke Trzcionka, University of Adelaide

Incantation over an apple (melon). Say it three times: “I shall strike with apples … I shall give this pharmakon – always timely & edible – to mortal men and immortal gods. To whichever woman I give or at whichever woman I throw the apple or hit with it, setting everything aside, may she be mad for my love – whether she take it in her hand and eats it … or sets it in her bosom – and may she not stop loving me. O Lady Cyprogenia, bring to perfection this perfect incantation” (SM 72.i.5-14).

In the Greco-Roman world there were charms to increase charisma and affection, viagra potions, aphrodisiacs, spells that led their victim to the instigator, and binding spells that made certain of the impediment of rival suitors or even a third party in a love triangle. Food, drink, and spices played an integral part in the supernatural rituals which aided these “romantic” intentions. Apples could be thrown at a potential mate, the aphrodisiac properties of wine could be utilised for seduction, and various simple or elaborate offerings of food and spices could be presented to eros in order to drive an individual wild with lust. This paper will discuss such uses of food and drink in Byzantine rituals of desire. Furthermore it will consider these actions within their social context, focussing particularly on aspects of gender. Thus it will be proposed that in both the ritualised ingredients and actions of desire can be seen a reflection, and even inversion, of social perceptions and expectations of feminine and masculine behaviour.

Steak à la Hun: Food, Drink and Dietary Habits in Ammianus Marcellinus

Paul Tuffin and Meaghan McEvoy, University of Adelaide

Ammianus Marcellinus makes relatively frequent reference to food and drink and to dietary habits. This paper will explore such references with a view to ascertaining whether they simply represent an area of interest for the historian or whether their inclusion serves a purpose (or purposes) that gives them greater significance, in particular in relation to Ammianus’ value system.