Byzantium conjures up an image of opaque duplicity: plots, assassinations and physical mutilation, coupled with excessive wealth, glittering gold and jewels. During the Middle Ages, however, the Byzantines had no monopoly on complexity, treachery, hypocrisy, obscurity, or riches. They produced a large number of intelligent leaders, brilliant military generals, and innovative theologians, who are much maligned and libelled by such ‘Byzantine’ stereotypes. They never developed an Inquisition and generally avoided burning people at the stake. But there is a mystery associated with this ‘lost’ world, which is hard to define, partly because it does not have a modern heir. It remains hidden behind the glories of its medieval art: the gold, mosaics, silks, and imperial palaces.
—Judith Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (via fuckyeahbyzantines)
“A ceramic Byzantine bread stamp, 500-900 AD, which, when pressed into a loaf of dough, would leave the mark ‘Jesus Christ Victorious’; it would have been used to make the consecrated bread of the Eucharist.”
And yet this most indisputable and central fact, that the Byzantines firmly believed themselves to be Romans, has not received in scholarship the attention and emphasis that it deserves. That is because both Greek and western European scholars have had an interest in downplaying it, the former, as we will see at the end of this chapter, because they desire to find a core of national ‘‘Greekness’’ behind what they take to be only a Roman facade, while the latter hold that the Roman legacy is fundamentally western and Latin and cannot bring themselves to accept that Byzantium ‘‘really was’’ Roman. In doing so both sides have perpetuated the western medieval bias against the eastern empire, according to which the Byzantines were only Greeklings, not true Romans. Rome belongs to the West, it is instinctively assumed, and to the Latin-speaking world, and so other ‘‘essences’’ have had to be imagined for Byzantium, for example
Greek Orthodoxy or Ecumenical Orthodoxy or oriental despotism or even medieval Hellenism. For many western historians Rome also belongs to antiquity and so anything later than it can at best constitute a ‘‘reception,’’ despite the fact that in the case of Byzantium alone are we dealing with direct political, social, and cultural continuity from Julius Caesar to Konstantinos XI Palaiologos. But the existence of a single state and political community with a continuous history lasting over two thousand years defeats scholarly specialization. Periodization, in this case arbitrary, requires new names such as ‘‘Byzantium’’ and new names suggest a different ‘‘essence.’’
—from Anthony Kaldellis’ Hellenism in Byzantium (Greek Culture in the Roman World). (via rumelia)
Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus III and his wife Maria of Alania, 1074-81
—A Hymn of Thanksgiving
A Hymn of Thanksgiving - Byzantine Music of the Greek Orthodox Church
Still another thing for a long time deferred my passion to relieve myself of this untold tale. For I wondered if it might be prejudicial to future generations, and the wickedness of these deeds had not best remain unknown to later times: lest future tyrants, hearing, might emulate them. [ … ] For who now would know of the unchastened life of Semiramis or the madness of Sardanapolus or Nero, if the record had not thus been written by men of their own times?
—Procopius, Historia Arcana (c. 550 AD). (via emanationsoftheyellowsign)
Fires after a bombing of Stalingrad
Faithful Unto Death, Sir Edward John Poynter
The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, has a painting of a Roman soldier faithfully standing guard in ancient Pompeii. The painting was inspired by an archaeological discovery in Pompeii of an ashen-encased Roman soldier in full military gear. The volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD covered the city in lava, capturing the people and their culture in a moment of time. The painting Faithful Unto Death is a testimony to the sentinel’s continuing vigil even as his world was being engulfed in fiery death. [x]