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.
Book production in Byzantium was a long and complex process, requiring a wide range of materials and skills. Every Byzantine book was a "manuscript", that is, handwritten, and mostly in Greek. The books were made primarily of papyrus, parchment, and paper. The typical Byzantine book, or codex, was made of folded and sewn leaves, generally in groups of four, forming quaternions/quires. Exemplars, consumers, and scribes all play important roles in production. Instead of following the macro-chronology of emperors and dynasties, this article examines the micro-chronology of the book-production process in the Byzantine Empire, focusing on major changes over time.
Analysis of brickstamps and mould-made marks can yield important insights into the organization of the brickmaking industry during the Byzantine Era. Brickstamps also serve as a valuable archaeological tool for dating brick buildings. In Byzantium, bricks were often marked with text, monograms, or other signs, either by carving a design into the bottom of the wooden brick-mould or by stamping the moulded brick with an inscribed die of wood or terracotta. There was evidence of stamps in Rome and its vicinity from the first to the sixth century. This article describes brickstamps from Constantinople, Thessalonike, and Rome.
The reign of Herakleios essentially marked the medieval era in Byzantium. In order to adapt to the new conditions, the emperors were forced to modify administrative structures. One of the major changes occurred in the composition of the ruling elite who led the armies and staffed the offices. The Senate was now comprised of old landed aristocracy that subsisted by inheritance. The Byzantine Empire welcomed all "nationalities" who were willing to remain loyal to their new masters and to convert to Christianity. These newcomers were integrated by marriage, thus increasing the number of aristocratic families with foreign blood. This article documents the evolution of bureaucracy and aristocracies in the Byzantine Era, focusing on the period from the beginning to the Middle Ages, the reign of Basil II, the family system of the Komnenoi, and the empire's final transformation (1261-1453).
Byzantine theology owes a great deal to the Christian Scriptures. Among the ideas learned by Byzantine theologians from the Scriptures was the existence of a sovereign God who created the world and rules it through his providence, and who created the cosmos out of nothing. The writings of Dionysios the Areopagite that made their appearance in Byzantine intellectual history in the first third of the sixth century present a view of God and the created order that was hugely influential among the Byzantines. Dionysios introduced into Byzantine theology the term (of Neoplatonic inspiration) "apophatic theology", or theology of negation. Opposed to apophatic theology is "kataphatic theology", the theology of affirmation, which is characteristic of God's revelation of himself in the oikonomia. This article examines the theology of the Byzantine Empire, focusing on debates about Christology, the concept of God and the cosmos, and monastic asceticism.
In the Byzantine Empire, ceramics were used in food preparation, cooking, and dining. Based on classification of tablewares, ceramic production can be divided into four main chronological phases: the early Byzantine period, which covers the fourth to eighth centuries; the period between the eighth and eleventh centuries, when Constantinople was the dominant producer of tablewares; the third phase, which roughly corresponds to the reigns of the Komnenian emperors, and in which glazed pottery production became common in provincial centres; and the fourth phase, which begins at the end of the twelfth century when late Byzantine tablewares developed distinctive regional styles. The Byzantines are believed to be the ones who made pottery of the fourth to eighth centuries found in Greece, Asia Minor, and the Levant. Byzantine pottery has been categorized into hierarchical groups: "international" wares, "regional" wares, and "local" wares. Another class of pottery is known as "white" ware. In terms of fabric and decoration, Polychrome ware is closely related to contemporaneous architectural ceramics.
During the Byzantine Era, a network of philanthropic institutions offered a variety of services, from sheltering travellers and homeless migrants to providing free medical care for the sick, nurturing orphans, and organizing food allotments during famines. Scholars have suggested that charitable foundations in the Byzantine Empire were too few and too small to have alleviated the sufferings of the poor, the sick, and the homeless. However, the emperor Nikephoros Phokas (963-9), thinking that the empire already had enough hospitals to meet its needs, issued a law banning the establishment of new ones. Justinian's laws indicate that there were many welfare institutions in Byzantium. In Novel cxx, Justinian identified the philanthropic institutions in Constantinople and the provinces as hospices, almshouses, hospitals for the sick, and other pious houses (which were different from monasteries). Orphanages were the oldest charitable institutions in the Byzantine world.
A system or systems of chronology and dating most intimately express essential marks of Byzantine identity, combining to place a subject in secular and cosmic order: eventually a Byzantine Era. Byzantines inherited a 24-hour system that would challenge later clockwork horologists because the lengths of twelve hours of light and dark changed daily. Although historical Eras, such as the Seleucid, are common enough, only two cultural traditions, Jewish and Christian, have ventured to apply cosmic eras to everyday calendar use, and only the Byzantine Era envision the big end of time, with a Day of Judgement, on the Eighth Day, Millennium, or Era. Byzantines followed the Roman Julian calendar (Old Style) instead of the Gregorian calendar (New Style). The full Byzantine Era relied on convergent cycles, including the nominal Indiction. The experience of a Russian and Orthodox merchant by the name of Afanasii Nikitin vividly illustrates problems of time and identity faced by the Byzantine Empire on the eve of the last day.
David M. Lewis
Twentieth-century scholarship, guided in particular by the views of M. I. Finley, saw Greece and Rome as the only true ‘slave societies’ of antiquity: slavery in the Near East was of minor economic significance. Finley also believed that the lack of a concept of ‘freedom’ in the Near East made slavery difficult to distinguish from other shades of ‘unfreedom’. This chapter shows that in the Near East the legal status of slaves and the ability to make clear status distinctions were substantively similar to the Greco-Roman situation. Through a survey of the economic contribution of slave labour to the wealth and position of elites in Israel, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Carthage, it is shown that the difference between the ‘classical’ and ‘non-classical’ worlds was not as pronounced as Finley thought, and that at least some of these societies (certainly Carthage) should also be considered ‘slave societies’.
Originally used to refer to all Christians, the word clergy (kleros) included those who were appointed to serve and minister to the laity, or ordinary members, within the Christian Church. Although bishops, presbyters, and deacons formed a threefold hierarchy in the earliest period (first-second centuries