A misconception about Byzantium is that its agriculture was not technically advanced. In reality, Byzantine farmers were effective in sustaining the population for more than a thousand years, as evidenced by the stability of the empire and the relative abundance and variety of foodstuffs observed by medieval western travellers to Constantinople. The geography and climate of the Byzantine Empire had a major impact on how farmers responded to the perpetual challenge of food supply. In addition to climate, a range of precursors such as quality of the land, availability of water for irrigation, land-tenure relationships, individual and communal wealth, and local cultural traditions influenced methods of agricultural production. This article explores agriculture and agricultural technology during the Byzantine Era, focusing on tools and traction, crops and cropping technology, presses and press technology, mills and milling technology, and irrigation technology.
Steven J. Garfinkle
This chapter examines the history of the formation of city-states in the Fertile Crescent. It provides a working definition of city-state in both spatial and social terms, and describes the city-state, focusing on the historical periods of early Mesopotamia. The chapter also considers the ideology of the city-state, the administration of an integrated economy, the emergence of kingship and institutions of government, and the replacement of the city-state system with territorial kingdoms.
Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych
This article offers an overview of Arabic literature of the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods. Although a wide range of examples and genres—proverbs, maxims, etiological tales, folk and religious lore—is discussed, the chapter focuses on the preeminent early Arabic literary genre, the originally orally composed and transmitted ode (s. qaṣīdah, pl. qaṣāʾid) of the mostly Bedouin Arab tribes, prior to the coming of Islam. Through its elegiac nasīb depicting the abandoned campsite and lost beloved; the raḥīl, desert journey by she-camel; and its compelling madīḥ, praise of the patron’s virtues, the qaṣīdah encoded and preserved the ethos of the warrior aristocacry of the pre-Islamic period and together with the Qurʾān formed the literary-cultural foundation for the most extensive of the Semitic literatures, that of Arab-Islamic civilization.
The archaeology of the Byzantine Empire has not generated much interest, with Byzantine remains and monuments rarely taking centre stage in the major archaeological sites of the ancient world. Outside of Greece, few universities teach the subject. As a distinctive discipline, however, archaeology has provided important insights into the Byzantine world. Awareness has improved with respect to the significance of the study of buildings, historic landscapes, and material culture, including ceramics. This article describes the character and development of Byzantine archaeology, beginning with a discussion of the history of Byzantine art and architecture. It also examines the chronology and administration of Byzantine archaeology, the approaches used to study it, as well as Byzantine villages, towns, and monuments.
John F. Haldon
The Byzantine armies of the fifth and sixth centuries were divided into two branches: stationary frontier units called limitanei and mobile forces known as comitatenses. The comitatenses were grouped into divisions led by regional commanders or magistri militum, under whose overall authority the limitanei were placed. The limitanei were placed under duces, and in the 560s there were some twenty-five such commands covering the frontiers and their hinterlands. Naval units for maritime and riverine operations were stationed at key Balkan and Syrian ports. Soldiers were supported by various means, including rations. In the last century of the Byzantine Empire's history, civil wars became frequent, draining government resources and making the empire almost entirely dependent upon foreign armies for its survival and for the authority of the emperors at Constantinople. The empire's naval forces were relatively limited in the later Roman period.
Iconoclasm (from the word eikonoklastes, "imagebreaker") can be interpreted in two ways. It may refer to the process of the reassertion of imperial power in the state after a period of decline. It may also be seen as an intellectual debate about the admissibility of imaging God and the holiness of icons that showed Christ, the Virgin, and the saints. Iconoclasm can be traced to 730 (if not 726), when the emperor Leo III issued an imperial edict against the use of icons, and his son Constantine V summoned a church council at the palace of Hieria at Chalcedon in 754 condemning the veneration and production of icons as idolatry. The decrees and definition of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea II in 787, reaffirmed in 843, reflect the profound impact of iconoclasm on the Byzantine Church. This article, which provides a background on iconoclasm, including its causes and its significance, also discusses the extent of iconoclasm, how invisible figural art was during iconoclasm, and whether iconoclasm had any deep impact on Byzantium.
Nancy P. Ševčenko
Liturgical art in Byzantium was known for its polyvalence as well as its ability to function and communicate on various levels and in various settings. Virtually all the arts of Byzantium were in one way or another influenced by the liturgy of the Orthodox Church. Late Byzantine church decoration featured Eucharistic themes and expanded Passion cycles, calendar cycles, and the illustrations of hymns and individual psalms. Elements drawn from the actual performance of the liturgy were incorporated in paintings. Icons played an important role in church interiors, but were not, in the Byzantine period at least, addressed directly, or referred to, in liturgical texts themselves, even in the large monastic corpus of hymns and prayers. Among the various categories of Byzantine works of art, the vestments and the liturgical implements are the only ones whose design and decoration are unquestionably connected with their liturgical use.
In Byzantium, pilgrimage inspired various forms of visual art. These sacred arts span a wide range of image-making from tokens and souvenirs to masterpieces designed to adorn the reliquaries of imperial churches. Some objects or sites were specifically associated with pilgrimage, while others acquired a pilgrimage-related significance in later times. An example of the latter is Hagia Sophia, which was in itself a pilgrimage church but emerged as one of Byzantium's premier venues of sacred travel. In the case of objects, whether mosaics or icons, they came to be regarded as sacred and worthy of the special extra journey implied by pilgrimage. This article examines, in their Byzantine context, four categories of objects of pilgrimage art: those that constituted the sacredness of a site, those that were made to adorn and embellish a site by the people who controlled it, those that were brought to a site as votive offerings and left there, and those that were taken from sites as souvenirs or tokens.
Rhetoric occupied a central place in Byzantine literature. One of the genres of rhetoric is ekphrasis, defined in the ancient rhetorical handbooks as the description of "persons, deeds, times, places, seasons, and many other things". By the late antique period, ekphraseis were commonly devoted to works of art and architecture, and the ekphrastic description of art continued to be a popular literary form in Byzantium until the fifteenth century. Ekphrasis deployed the conventions of ancient rhetoric, especially the use of topoi, or quotations. The Byzantines also composed numerous epigrams either as inscriptions to be written on works of art, or as independent poems that responded to works of art. This article examines Byzantine art and text, focusing on the use of ekphrasis, epigrams, metaphors and symbolic imagery, and synkrisis and antithesis.
Many modern historians and art historians disagree about art and the periphery in the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine writers such as Niketas Choniates argued that Constantinople was the centre of the empire and the driving force from which all else emanated. Meanwhile, Niketas's brother Michael complained of the dullness and ignorance of the provinces. Byzantine art was equated with the art of Constantinople, which was assumed to be of the highest quality and was the most innovative and creative. This view rejects art produced in the periphery—in the provinces of the empire and among its neighbours to the east and west—as inferior and dependent. The debate about centre and periphery had its roots in arguments about the nature and origins of artistic innovation in the Late Antique and Byzantine empires that arose around the year 1900.