Byzantine Culture in Translation: Abstracts

Lost in Translation: Planudes in Search of Human Reason

Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides
Archaeology, Ancient History and Classics
School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies
Monash University

Maximus Planudes is known for his translations of Latin works into Greek including Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis with the (Neoplatonic) commentary of Macrobius, Boethius’ De consolatio Philosophiae and Augustine’s De Trinitate. Planudes was thoroughly familiar with pagan philosophical traditions and could appreciate their contribution in the expression of the theological debates that lay at the heart of the East-West schism of 1054. Planudes was in favour of the union of the Churches and wrote a now lost treatise on the subject. My paper focuses on Planudes’ translation of passages in the three authors mentioned above that discuss the role of Reason in comprehending divine nature (i.e. Aug.Trin. 4.16-7; 12.3.3 and 12.14.22; Macrob.1.2-6; Boethius 4.6 etc). I argue that Planudes’ interest in the particular texts derived from his intention to reconcile the Aristotelian division of Reason into lower and higher (i.e. NE1166a16-17, 22-23; 1168b35; 1177a17-18) – adopted by Augustine and later Aquinas – with the Platonic and Neoplatonic excessus mentis. Planudes’ translations reflect the preoccupation of contemporary intellectual circles with reconciling the differences of the two Churches and crucially shed light into an unknown chapter in the history of Reason in European thought.


Constantinople as an ‘Imago et Axis Mundi’: The Impact of Near Eastern and Mediterranean Conceptions of the City on the New Rome

Mario Baghos
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney

This paper both engages and inverts the theme of this conference by addressing Byzantine culture as translation; in other words, by analysing the sources of the Byzantine synthesis that was to later contribute so much to its neighbouring civilizations. It will do this by assessing the extent to which Near Eastern and Mediterranean conceptions of the city as both a recapitulation of the cosmos and as the axis of the three levels of reality – including the celestial, terrestrial and subterranean – can be emphatically discerned in Constantinople between the reigns of Constantine the Great and Theodosius II (and beyond). It will begin by defining the way that the founder of the History of Religions, Mircea Eliade, used the concepts of imago mundi (image of the world) and axis mundi (centre of the world), before applying these concepts to a brief cross-cultural analysis of Egyptian cities, the Greek polis, the ancient Jewish disposition towards Jerusalem and finally the eternal Rome. It will then argue that Constantinople was founded as an imago et axis mundi by Constantine and will demonstrate that both he and his immediate successors up until, although not restricted to, Theodosius II, drew upon the relevant symbols from these aforementioned cultures and civilizations in order to do so.


Yeats’s Byzantium: The Image and the Echo

Penelope Buckley
Fellow in the School of Philosophical and Historical Studies
The University of Melbourne

One of Yeats’s greatest poems is ‘Sailing To Byzantium’. The  poem considered his most obscure is ‘Byzantium’ and a third, ‘Wisdom’, has been recently considered as about Byzantium too. There is as well a famous passage in A Vision where Yeats accords Byzantium pride of place in his eccentric historical system, choosing a moment in Justinian’s reign as its pitch point.

These few brief engagements have much interested Yeatsians, who have variously seen Byzantium as representing ‘an ideal form’, ‘the awesone drama of the creative act’, ‘a perfect culture … where men enjoy full unity of being’ and so on. This paper will argue that, eclectically but in specifically powerful ways, Yeats’s ideas about Byzantium fed his dominant poetic interests: those interests being the imagining of social order and tumult, traffic with unquiet ghosts and invocation of the numinous in dialogues with the self. His passion for symbols and his unmatched mastery of rhetoric and rhythm found correlatives in Byzantine images and echoes: timeless music from the ‘golden bird’, mosaics interpreted as icons and the ‘great cathedral gong’. The Byzantine past echoed with a peculiar resonance in him.


Nikephoros Phokas as Superhero

John Burke
Senior Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
The University of Melbourne

Much can be lost when a poem is transported out of its cultural context — including its poetry. In the famous epigram on Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969), the people of Constantinople appeal to the murdered emperor to rise from his tomb and deliver them from a ‘Russian panoply’, ‘nations of Scyths’ and enemies looting his city. Scholars have sought to date the epigram’s composition by identifying a corresponding point in history. Lauxtermann (2003) has settled on summer 988-April 989 and characterized the epigram as a piece of plain propaganda for the cause of the usurper Bardas Phokas. The poem has thus been translated into an historical/political document. In this paper I will examine the poetry of the poem and its intertextuality, locating it in relation to other texts referring to Nikephoros Phokas and his murderers, his wife Theophano and his nephew John Tzimiskes. I will argue that Hase (1819) was probably correct in suggesting that the epigram may have been a ‘ludus ingenii’. In other words, that the historical approach has been tone-deaf and that the epigram, rich in irony, can be read as a sophisticated literary parody.


Dorotheus of Gaza Beyond Byzantium

Michael Champion
University of Western Australia

The sixth-century monk Dorotheus of Gaza was a product of various intercultural translations – from classical education to monastic schools, from ancient medicine and philosophy to theology, from the spiritual exercises of late-antique philosophy to the asceticism of Palestinian monasticism. His writings helped to shape later Byzantine monasticism in the hands of figures like John Climacus, Theodore of Studium and Paul Evergetinos. But this paper focuses on how the works produced in this inter-cultural mixing moved out into the Latin west and Russian spirituality. Dorotheus was translated into Latin from at least the tenth century, was widely read in western monasticism, entered Russia through Nilus of Sora and influenced Ignatius of Loyola and early modern Jesuits. His writings are found in the library of Monte Cassino and his influence continues into the present day: Pope Francis turned to Dorotheus’ writings in one of the first two books he published in Italian after becoming Pope and he has also proved influential in the Taizé community. I seek to trace the reception of Dorotheus of Gaza’s Discourses beyond the Greek-speaking world, identify patterns in this process and thereby delineate more precisely the distinctive contribution of Dorotheus of Gaza to traditions outside Byzantium.


‘The Philokalia’ and Its First Translation into a Modern Language

Doru Costache
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney

In gathering samples from a thousand years of ascetical and mystical literature, the eighteenth century collection of The Philokalia represents the epitome of the Byzantine spiritual tradition and so a landmark for modern Orthodox spirituality. Whereas the sinuous history of its publication in Byzantine Greek and Church Slavonic is more or less researched, scholars remain overall unaware of the fact that before both the completion of the manuscript collections in Greek and Slavonic, and their publication, The Philokalia was partially translated into Romanian. Lingering yet unpublished in its original form, the manuscript of the 1769 translation (by monk Raphael), recorded as The Philokalia of Dragomirna, is preserved in the Library of the Romanian Academy as Ms Rom. 2597. Together with offering a brief description of the manuscript, this paper explores the circumstances in which was achieved the first ever translation of The Philokalia into a modern language. This exploration will be supplemented by a sketch of the saga of the complete translation of The Philokalia into Romanian, achieved in successive stages and resulting in the publication of two (almost) independent collections.


Lost in Transition: Equestrian Titles and the Epigraphic Record

Caillan Davenport
School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
The University of Queensland

In the early fourth century, equestrian status was divided into several grades, ascending from eques Romanus to the higher ranks of egregius and perfectissimus. The rank of egregius (kratistos in Greek), which had once been reserved for imperial procurators, was now widely bestowed on municipal aristocrats, whose high status was recorded in honorific inscriptions. However, the titles of eques Romanus and egregius/kratistos largely disappear from the epigraphic record in both the eastern and western provinces after the mid-320s. I will argue that this was the result of a series of inter-related factors, including the demise of the equestrian census qualification and administrative salary grades and the emperor Constantine’s widespread grant of the higher equestrian rank of perfectissimus (diasemotatos in Greek) after his conquest of the east in 324. These developments meant that although the ordo equester continued to exist and membership still conferred some privileges, the titles of eques Romanus and egregius/kratistos lost the prestige they once had and therefore ceased to be recorded on inscriptions as a mark of social status. This was an important moment of transition in the way in which status was represented in the Roman Empire.


Pascalis Romanus’ ‘Liber Thesauri Occulti’ and the Translation Movement of the Twelfth Century

Lola Sharon Davidson
University of Technology Sydney

While Biblical and pagan elements were the major influence on the dream beliefs of medieval Europe, its manuals of dream interpretation were drawn entirely from the Greek tradition. The popular Lunaria and Dream Daniels had been translated into Latin by the seventh century, but a further corpus of dream-related material entered the West with the translation movement of the twelfth century. In this paper I will look at translators working in Constantinople at this period, focusing particularly on Pascalis Romanus, the author of a Latin treatise on dreams. While Pascalis’ other works are all translations, his Liber Thesauri Occulti is a composition based on both Greek and Latin sources, with a dream key selectively compiled from several different Greek sources. It is the only treatise of its kind produced in the Middle Ages and represents a unique attempt to reconcile the scientific, medical and oneiromantic traditions within a Christian framework and to adapt Greek sources to a Latin context. Pascalis’ interest in dreams, however, was not unique for both Leo Tuscus’ translation of Achmet’s Oneirocriticon and James of Venice’s translation of Aristotle’s De sompno were made in Constantinople at this time. This paper will examine Pascalis’ work within the context of the wider translation movement.


Byzantine Religious Tales in Latin Translation: The Work of John of Amalfi (Eleventh Century)

John Duffy
Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Philology and Literature, Emeritus
Harvard University

The existence of a Latin translation of forty-two Byzantine religious tales was discovered in the early years of the eighteenth century. The work, however, under the title Johannis Monachi Liber de Miraculis, received no scholarly attention until 160 years later, when its contents were closely studied by Max Hoferer and published in a Würzburg monograph in 1884. Hoferer examined five Munich manuscripts containing the translation, edited the first story from them and commented in some detail on the style of the Latin version. He also attempted to say something about the life and time of the author, but was unable to present any secure information on the subject. The next study of John the Monk’s translation was completed in 1913 by Michael Huber who prepared the first critical edition of the Latin text, prefaced by an important introduction which threw much new light on the identity and time of the translator.

Going far beyond the meagre information contained in the translator’s prologue, Huber was able to show that this John was a bilingual priest and monk of Amalfi who had spent some time (years?) living at the Zoodochos Pege monastery in Constantinople around second half of the eleventh century. Huber also attempted to trace the possible Greek source text(s) used by the translator and was pointed in the direction of two Paris Greek manuscripts by the pioneering researches of the French scholars Nau and Clugnet in the previous decade. However, he seems to have underestimated the importance of Par. gr. 1596 in this connection.

It will be argued in this paper that, while it is not the actual source text itself, Par. gr. 1596 must be considered the closest we can come to the exemplar used by John of Amalfi. Parts of this manuscript will also be used for the first time to assist in characterizing the quality and style of the Latin version.


Paraphrase and the Translation of Scripture

Andrew Faulkner
Department of Classical Studies
University of Waterloo, Ontario

This paper builds upon recent work on poetic paraphrases of scripture from the fourth and fifth centuries AD in both Greek and Latin (including works such as the paraphrase of St John’s Gospel by Nonnos and paraphrases of the Psalms by Paulinus of Nola), which places them within the context of early Christian views on the translation of scripture. Particular attention in this paper is given to the rhetoric of translation found in the prologue to the Late Antique hexameter paraphrase of the Psalms, in antiquity often attributed to Apollinaris of Laodicea.  I explore how intralingual translation from the Greek prose of the Septuagint to the stylized poetic language of the Hellenic past serves as a vehicle for exegesis and intercultural dialogue.


Princess to Potager: The Presents and Presence of Illustrated Herbals in the Byzantine Court

Yvette Hunt
School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
The University of Queensland

Around AD 512, the people of the Honorata district of Constantinople gave an illustrated codex to the imperial princess Juliana Anicia in gratitude for her gift of the Church of the Virgin Mary.  The content of this book has been interpreted as acknowledging the princess’ position within an intellectual elite at Constantinople.  While this argument has been made on account of the non-herbal content of the codex, I think that the fame of this book and the illustrations which accompanied the medicinal sections resulted in the use of illustrated herbals as important gifts, first within the Byzantine court and possibly in intellectual circles elsewhere afterwards.  By looking at the history of the Juliana Anicia Codex and the spread of illustrated copies of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, I hope to show the importance of illustrated herbals as gifts as they were transferred and translated from the Byzantine court and if this association between perceived scholarship/intellect and gift giving accompanied the dissemination of illustrated herbals.


Translating Byzantine Literature in Pre- and Early Modern Poland

Przemysław Marciniak
University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland

The relationships between Poland and the Byzantine Empire were rather incidental. Byzantine texts were equally rarely adapted and translated into Polish. Perhaps the very first example of the translation of the Byzantine literary tradition is the oldest Polish religious song – Bogurodzica (lit. Mother of God) composed some time between the tenth and thirteenth centuries and, according to some researchers,  inspired by the Byzantine hymnographical tradition.

My paper seeks to show how Byzantine texts were translated and adapted in pre-modern and early modern Poland. I have chosen two examples: the first one is the translation of the letters of Theophylact Simocatta by Nicolaus Copernicus and the second one is the virtually unknown translation/adaptation of the Amicitia exulans by Theodore Prodromos authored by a Polish  nobleman Stanisław Witkowski  in 1605. While Copernicus’s translation seems to be a result of personal interests of the great astronomer, Witkowski’s adaptation of the Prodromic text should be seen as a part of a larger European phenomenon. Roughly at the same time two other translations into Latin and one into French had been done. My paper intends to show how the Polish text differed from the other versions and to what purposes it was created.


Translations from Greek into Latin and Arabic During the Middle Ages: Searching for the Classical Tradition

Professor Maria Mavroudi
Department of History
University of California – Berkeley

Narratives on the development of world civilization generated in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and largely not replaced since) accord a central position to the “classical tradition” as a constituent element of modern “Western” identity and assign to Byzantium the marginal role of preserving this tradition immutable without innovation or creative elaboration. However, a survey of medieval translations of originally Greek material into Arabic and Latin reveals that Byzantium’s contemporaries viewed its literary culture under a very different light: medieval Latin and Arabic translations of Greek texts are not limited to the ancient classics but extend to Biblical, patristic, hagiographical, liturgical and legal texts. This indicates that Byzantium’s contemporaries were vividly interested its older Christian and Roman traditions. As for its “classical tradition”, when pagan Greek texts were translated they were received within a Byzantine interpretative context for reasons of convenience: successive generations of Byzantine commentators and adaptors had smoothed out the internal inconsistencies of the great scientific and philosophical corpora of antiquity and had found ways to by-pass the disagreements of pagan thought with Judaic, Christian and Muslim monotheism. The reception of Byzantine literary culture by its Arabic- and Latin-speaking neighbors, when investigated simultaneously with the reception of Arabic and Latin literary culture by Byzantium, suggests that different parts of the medieval world were simultaneously interested in the same larger philosophical and scientific questions and occasionally sought each other’s ideas in order to illuminate them.


Medieval Seals from the Fortress ‘Kale’ in Skopje

Robert Mihajlovski
La Trobe University

The sigillographic material from the fortress of ‘Kale’ in Skopje is a source of Byzantine culture in translation and communications with their neighbours and within the Eastern Roman Empire.  This paper aims to follow up my research studies on the Byzantine lead seals discovered during the archaeological excavations at the Medieval fortress of ‘Kale’ in Skopje (Republic of Macedonia) in the period between 2007 and 2012.  A preliminary report of this material was presented at the 22th International Byzantine Congress in Sofia, Bulgaria, 22-27 August 2011.

In the various sections of the fortress ‘Kale’ and at the Southern Gates numerous Byzantine seals were discovered indicating the presence of an administrative or a military office.  A small number of ecclesiastical lead seals were found denoting a possible church centre.  Some of the seals are pointing towards a correspondence with the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Venetian imperial offices.  In the period between 1018 and the beginnings of the thirteenth century the fortress was the capital of the Byzantine theme named Bulgaria, having a status of Catapanate and later as Doukaton. The stronghold was located at the strategic passage over the river Vardar and on the crossroads of the Vardar-Morava corridor connecting the Via Militaris on the east and the Via Egnatia on the south-west.


The Orient Express: Ravenna-Constantinople

Ann Moffatt
Australian National University

Towards the middle of the ninth century Agnellus of Ravenna produced an account of the bishops of his native city down to his own day. The starting-point for this paper is his story of an express trip in ca AD 700 between Constantinople and Ravenna. Damian was the archbishop, consecrated by the Pope, and the city was still ruled from Constantinople through a locally stationed exarch.

John, abbot of the monastery of St John in Ravenna’s port city of Classe, went to Constantinople to gain imperial support in a dispute he was having with several people over his monastery’s property. Having acquired from the emperor the documents he needed to present his case to the exarch back in Ravenna, John succeeded in returning in just one night on a ship conjured up by three men dressed in black. After a terrifying night at sea, at cockcrow he found himself on the roof of his monastery.

Elements of this tale occur in Greek hagiography, but in engaging with his local audience Agnellus included, besides fact, folklore and moralising, some delightfully humorous touches.


Translating Byzantine Dreams from West to East

Bronwen Neil
Australian Catholic University

The tenth-century Arab Christian dreambook known as the Oneirocriticon of Achmet is evidence for the common roots of Byzantine Christian and Islamic dream interpretation (Mavroudi 2002). Other evidence of cultural cross-over appears in early medieval and Byzantine dream accounts, which appear in many different literary genres. Taking as my starting point the sixfold taxonomy developed by Kenny (1996) for dream accounts in ninth-century Byzantine hagiography, I will test whether this division can be mapped onto other genres of Byzantine literature, such as the Synagoge of Paul Evergetinos. I will also consider how Kenny’s taxonomy applies in other cultural and religious contexts. The first corpus for comparison is early medieval Latin hagiographic literature pertaining to dreams, exemplified by the Dialogues of Gregory the Great (590-604). The second corpus is early medieval Islamic literature about dreams and dream interpretation. In this way I hope to uncover how (or whether) other religious traditions understood and taxonomised dreams in the same way as Byzantine Greeks.


Hounding the Churches: Julian and the ‘Khwāday-nāmag’

Matthew O’Farrell
Macquarie University

Much Persian and Arabic historiography of Late Antiquity descends from a lost Middle Persian historical tradition known as the Khwāday-nāmag, probably first compiled in the sixth century. This presented a history based on a legendary past attached to the deeds of the kings of the Sasanian dynasty (c.224-650). Though written from an “official” perspective, the Khwāday-nāmag tradition sometimes shows the influence of foreign material, most famously that of Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexander Romance.

Nöldeke’s (1879) edition of Tabari notes one polemic directed at Julian the Apostate – a Syriac novel celebrating his death – that had an extensive influence over Arabic historiography of the Sasanian Shāhānshāh Shapur II (c.309-79). The ubiquity of this story is testament to the power of Julian’s memory to arouse hatred across the Christian oecumene. It also raises questions about how the Sasanians constructed it in their historiography.

This paper argues that, despite centuries of recompilation, traces of what might be the original Sasanian story may still survive, most noticeably in Ferdowsi’s eleventh-century epic, the Shāhnāmeh. These suggest that the Sasanian story was a firmly anti-Christian and anti-Roman episode – possibly developed in opposition to widespread Syriac accounts of the death of Julian and the fall of Nisibis that show Shapur as friendly to Jovian and respectful of churches.


From Greek to Syriac to Sogdian: Byzantine-Rite Christians (Melkites) Beyond the Borders of the Byzantine Empire

Ken Parry
Senior Research Fellow, Department of Ancient History
Macquarie University

We have still much to learn about the history and settlement of Byzantine-rite Christians or Melkites outside the Byzantine empire, particularly in Persia and Central Asia, first under the Sasanians and then under the Arabs, during the first millennium of the Common Era. What we know so far mainly concerns Christians from the Church of the East (mistakenly called ‘Nestorians’) because most of the documentary and archaeological evidence relates to the presence of this community. However, even though the archaeological record for Melkites is meagre compared to that of the Church of the East there is sufficient documentary evidence to say something about their presence east of the Euphrates. It was largely as a result of deportation and relocation that Melkite communities were established beyond the borders of the Byzantine Empire and this paper will offer an overview of the evidence relating to their settlement and their linguistic affiliation. The Melkite communities owed allegiance to the patriarchate of Antioch and were cut off from their Byzantine patrimony in Constantinople, thus they represent a largely forgotten episode in the history of Byzantine Christianity.


“The priests must either keep quiet or die”: The Bishops of Constantinople and the Monastic Menace

Justin Pigott
Centre for Early Christian Studies
Australian Catholic University

Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon is commonly assumed to have brought to an end a period of intense Alexandrian interference at Constantinople which spanned seven decades and led to the depositions of John Chrysostom, Nestorius and Flavian. However, this paper argues that it is wrong to place Alexandrian jealousy centre stage in the failure of these bishops as it sidelines far more compelling pressure that were internal to Constantinople. Early Constantinople was unique amongst the ecclesiastical centres of the East. The instability of the Nicene church there and the strength of the urban monasteries meant that the increasing Empire-wide tensions over the position of the monk within society were transported and played out at Constantinople. With a particular focus on the tenures of Chrysostom and Nestorius, I argue that Canon 4 of Chalcedon, which placed monks under the direct authority of their bishop, is far more revealing of the situation that saw so many Constantinopolitan bishops ousted from office than the vagaries of Alexandrian envy.


Narrating the Reign of Constantine in Byzantine Chronicles

Roger Scott
The University of Melbourne

Twenty years ago in New Constantines: The Rhythm of Imperial Renewal in Byzantium 4th-13th Centuries ed. Paul Magdalino (1994), I examined how and why the depiction of Constantine the great and his reign changed from the sixth to the ninth century in the chronicles of Malalas and Theophanes. This paper will extend that discussion by examining the further changes to his representation (and trying to explain the reasons for them) in the later ninth-century chronicle of George the Monk and the late-eleventh-century chronicle of Kedrenos and possibly (time-permitting) that of the twelfth-century Zonaras.


At the Nexus of Greek-, Syriac- and Latin-speaking Christianity: Basil of Caesarea’s ‘Small Asketikon

Anna Silvas
University of New England

Ever since the late fifth century the Questions of the Brothers has lain in manuscripts. This was the fourth-century Syriac translation of Basil’s Great Asketikon, a seminal work of early Christian monasticism. Originally published in Greek, it only survives in a fourth-century Syriac translation and a Latin translation by Rufinus of Aquileia. This paper reports on the work undertaken to publish the first edition of the Questions. The genesis of the author’s research is recounted; the importance of the prior scholarly work of Gribomont and Fedwick discussed. The five major manuscripts used for the collation are described and a brief account given of the criteria used in discerning the text. Since the Syriac translator made generous glosses and inventions of his own, it is possible to build up a profile of his character and on that basis even to identify a possible contender. Finally, the icon commissioned for this book is shown, which celebrates a special moment in history when the Christian churches from the Greek-, Syriac- and Latin-speaking traditions collaborated in a common cause around Basil’s Small Asketikon.


Reception of the Emperor Augustus in Byzantine Tradition

Kosta Simic
Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University

Christianisation of the figure of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his insertion into the history of salvation began very early. Correlating the notions of Roman and Christian universalism and highlighting their concurrent emergence, Christian authors argued that the Roman Empire and its first emperor had a place within the larger framework of the divinely-conceived unfolding of human history. By focusing on the evidence of Eusebius of Caesarea’s writings, Greek chronicles and hymnography, the aim of the present paper is to shed some new light on the question of reception of the Emperor Augustus in Byzantine tradition up to the ninth century. The treatment of Augustus in Byzantium will be scrutinized in relation to three critical periods of the Byzantine history, namely the formative stage of the Christian empire in the first half of the fourth century, the epoch of its peak in the sixth century and the era of the imperial revival in the ninth century. Special attention will be paid to the utilisation of his ‘Christianised’ figure in the Byzantine concepts of rulership and theories about the rapport between the imperium and sacerdotium.


Self-Definition Through the Other: Byzantines in the Court Poetry of Sayf al-Dawla

Claudia Sirdah
University of New South Wales

From the very beginning of Arab-Byzantine relations, Byzantium functioned as one of the principal sites of Otherness by which Arab-Muslims defined themselves. In their collective imagination, inspired by the constant warfare and enmity that existed between the two powers, the Byzantines were perceived to be the non-Muslim ‘Other’ who threatened every aspect of Arab-Islamic life: religion, culture and even survival. This mentality is perhaps best exemplified by court panegyrics in praise of Islamic rulers. This paper explores this mentality within the court poetry of Sayf al-Dawla, the self-fashioned Emir who established an independent state at Aleppo following the disintegration of the Abbasid Empire in the tenth century. Using the work of his two favourite poets, al-Mutanabbi and Abu Firas, I will explore how the Byzantines feature in their poetry and how this depiction of the Byzantines is an exercise in defining the Arab-Islamic use of the ‘Other’. Two major themes I will introduce are, firstly, the perception that the Byzantines embodied all the negative traits that the Arab-Muslims detested and, secondly, that those shortcomings created a platform to assert their own superiority.


The Performative Function of Column Monuments in Constantinople

Rebecca Smith
University of Queensland

On 11 May AD 330 the city of Byzantium was refounded as Constantinople in a ceremony which involved the transportation of a statue of Constantine from the Capitol to the emperor’s new forum where it was ceremoniously placed on top of a porphyry column.  Column monuments were a form of imperial commemoration inherited from the Classical past and many of such monuments constructed in the new imperial city clearly sought to imitate and even replicate those of Rome.  However, the column monuments of Constantinople from the very beginning took on a new layer of meaning, developing a performative function which reflected the emphasis placed on ceremony and ritual in late antiquity.  But it was not necessarily the actual occurrences of these ceremonies which various aspects of the columns’ ornamenta sought to reflect, but rather their result; that is, the establishment of the imperial presence in the capital.  This paper seeks to examine the various column monuments of Constantinople constructed between the fourth and sixth centuries, such as the Obelisk of Theodosius and the Column of Arcadius, and to demonstrate that they differed significantly from their Roman predecessors in the way that they played an active role in the ceremonial life of the city.


Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy, 400-620

Michael Stewart

Eunuchs are one of the most recognizable and remarkable features of Byzantine civilization.  Certainly, the Byzantine period is marked by the essential role that eunuchs played at all levels of court society. Though their primary function throughout the Byzantine era continued to be service within the imperial palace, eunuchs led Byzantine armies and served within the Church as well. Though these essential positions were largely accepted in the Eastern half of the Empire, one finds generally a more hostile view in Western sources composed at the opening of the fifth century. Yet, though seen as an innovation of the “East”, these same sources also provide us with examples of eunuchs playing an increasingly important role within Italian society.

This paper examines some of these eunuchs from the opening the fifth century to the victories of the most famous Byzantine eunuch, the commander of the Eastern Emperor Justinian’s reconquest, Narses, in the middle of the sixth century. It suggests that the important functions that eunuchs had held in the fifth-century Western Empire had led to a lessening of hostility towards castrates. This growing congruence between Eastern and Western attitudes towards eunuchs from the fifth century helps to explain some of the positive attitudes concerning Narses found in Western sources.


The “Wolves of Arabia”:  Apocalyptic Discourse in ‘Epistula 8′ by Maximus the Confessor

Ryan W. Strickler
Australian Catholic University

Recent scholars have drawn attention to the impact of the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition on Western literature.  Bernard McGinn, Paul Alexander, Gerrit Reinink and András Kraft have brought this phenomenon into focus.  The most famous product of this tradition, the late seventh-century Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, written in Syriac and translated into Greek, Latin and Slavonic, was among the most travelled texts in medieval and early-modern Europe.  Pseudo-Methodius was excerpted by the Russian Primary Chronicle and its most famous character, the “Last Roman Emperor”, would give hope to fifteenth-century Constantinople and influence nineteenth-century German nationalism.

Most scholarship on the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition has focused on generic apocalypses, which found their “golden age” in the seventh century with the decline of Roman hegemony and the rise of Islam.  However, focusing on generic apocalypses neglects the extent to which apocalyptic discourse permeated seventh-century Byzantine imperial literature and cultural currents which influenced their popularity.  In the seventh century many genres, including liturgical and panegyrical poetry, historiography, literary dialogues, hagiography and occasional epistles employed apocalyptic discourse to discuss contemporary events.  This paper examines this phenomenon, using Epistula 8 by Maximus the Confessor, one of the most prolific writers of the seventh century, as a case study.


Restoring Byzantium? Two Greek Writers in Seventeenth-century Wallachia

Alfred Vincent
Honorary Affiliate, University of Sydney

Among the best-sellers of early modern Greek literature was a book published in 1638, containing works in verse by Stavrinos the Vestiary and Matthew, Metropolitan of Myra. Both were born in Epirus but settled in Wallachia, in what is now southern Romania. Stavrinos’ Valiant deeds of the most pious and valiant voivode Michael chronicles the anti-Ottoman struggles of this Wallachian prince (1593-1601), in whose court he served. Matthew, abbot of the Dealu monastery, continues Wallachia’s history up to 1618, adding two further texts: Spiritual advice to voivode Alexander Iliaş and all his successors, and Lament on Constantinople.

Byzantine cultural influence had reached Wallachia and Moldavia in earlier centuries.  Now, around 1600, Greeks were becoming increasingly prominent in the church, the economy and government — not without some adverse reactions from the local population. Stavrinos and Matthew witnessed, from different perspectives, what might be termed the pre-history of Phanariot domination in the Danubian principalities. Both nourish a dream of Byzantine restoration, achieved, however, by very different means. How and why do the two differ in their approach? What light do their works throw on Iorga’s famous concept of “Byzance après Byzance”?

(Handouts will include extracts, with English translations.)


The Translation of Constantinople from Byzantine to Ottoman, as Revealed by the Lorck Panorama of the City

Nigel Westbrook
University of Western Australia

The sixteenth-century Panorama of Constantinople by the Danish artist Melchior Lorck depicts a prospect of the Constantinople peninsula as viewed from the northern shore of the Golden Horn – a city that, on the surface, shows very little of its Byzantine past. The skyline is dominated by the great mosques of Süleymaniye and Fatih among many others while, to the left, the Topkapı Palace rises on what had been the acropolis of Byzantion, then probably the Forum of Leo. It will be argued, however, that the Panorama, the most accurate graphical record of the city at this time, can tell us a great deal about the pre-Ottoman city, while allegorizing the Early Modern cultural exchange between East and West. Extending the planimetric analysis of Wulzinger (1932), this paper proposes new methods of digital analysis to map elements of Lorck’s drawing onto a topographical model of the present city and thus to reconstruct, in localized sections, the layout of central Constantinople in the mid-sixteenth century, including otherwise unknown topographical locations and structures known only through textual references. It further argues for a less drastic transformation of the post-Conquest city than the Panorama may initially suggest.


Byzantium After Byzantium: Colour-coded Imperial Court Ceremonial in Muscovite Russia as a Reflection of Byzantine Imperial Courtly Hierarchy

Zdenko Zlatar
Honorary Reader in History (SOPHI)
University of Sydney

In the tenth-century Book of Ceremonies attributed to Constantine Porphyrogennetos the members of the court are arranged at the reception according to the color and pattern of their garments. While the fourteenth-century Pseudo-Kodinos limits his references to the topmost ranks of the official hierarchy as to the color of their caftans, the hat now indicated one’s place. The shift from the garment to the hat as the primary indicator of one’s rank in court hierarchy was a late, Palaiologian development. Since Kievan Rus’ adopted the Byzantine court costumes after the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity, Muscovite Russia (1480-1700) followed the earlier practice of indicating rank by the colour of courtly dress. Scholars have been rather vague in assigning a definite rank to a particular colour of dress as no hierarchy of colour-coding has been advanced so far.

Basing itself on the assigned place of colours in the early Muscovite icon of the Old Testament Trinity and the Byzantine portrayal of the colours in the miniatures and mosaics, a hierarchy of colours is established and its Byzantine use is compared with the Muscovite one depicted at the time of the election and coronation of Mikhail Romanov in 1613.