Aspects of Byzantine Culture

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EIS501 Aspects of Byzantine Culture

Professor: Christos MERANTZAS

The course follows the establishment, expansion, and decline of the Byzantine Empire through a series of thematic sections. Byzantium, with Constantinople as its capital, dominated in the eastern part of the Mediterranean for eleven centuries (324-1453). This was a theocratic and strictly hierarchical empire, with strong logistics, central government and strong currency. The Byzantine culture was born Roman and at the peak of its glory became intensely Greek. But the Byzantine civilization owes a big part of its splendour to the diversity of contacts, peaceful or hostile, with the Sassanian Iran, Islam, the kingdoms of Armenia and Georgia, the Slavic states, the western Europe.

In an effort to highlight the special character of the Byzantine civilization are considered: 1. The establishment of Constantinople and its urban organization, 2. The theological disputes and the Ecumenical Synods, 3. The development and importance of monasticism, 4. The established faith of the Byzantine empire, 5. The economic organization of the Byzantine empire, 6. The imperial court, 7. The two Iconoclastic periods, 8. The relationship of the imperial ideology to the ecclesiastical authority, 9. The contacts of the Byzantine culture with foreign cultures, 10. The Great Schism of the Church, 11. The eminent personalities of Byzantium through the sources (Patriarch Photios and Theodore Metochites) and the educational system in Byzantine Empire, 12. The Crusades, the Latin occupation of Constantinople and the regional empires of Trebizond, Nice, Arta and Mistras, 13. The unifying and anti-unifying policies of Byzantium, 14. The Fall of 1453, 15. The representation of the body and the motions in Byzantine art, 16. Additionally, significant aspects of the evolution of material culture (mural paintings, icons, manuscripts, mosaics, works of silversmith and ceramics) are treated.

In the tutorial hour we examine issues of the early Christian and Byzantine architecture. In particular, the evolution of Byzantine architecture (secular and religious) from the time of Constantine until the Fall (324-1453). We consider the architecture of the early Christian period (4th-7th c.), of the so-called “dark ages” (7th-8th c.), of the Middle Byzantine period (9th-12th c.) and of the Late Byzantine period (13th to 15th century). Byzantine architecture is approached through various perspectives: 1. The economic and social conditions, 2. The typology of monuments and the evolution of architectural types, 3. The urban organisation, 4. The relationship between functional and architectural practices, 5. The construction activity in the capital of the empire and in the provinces, 6. The role of donors and craftsmen, 7. The building materials, the architectural decoration and the aesthetic experiences, 8. The contribution of written sources to architecture.

Upon successful completion of the course, the student will be able to:

a. Perceive the ecumenical dimension of Byzantine culture and the conditions of its constitution, as well as the factors that contributed to its coherence; b. Understand why this civilization lasted and survived even after 1453, a year in which its political substance could be destroyed but its religious status survived through the recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate within the new civilization that succeeded the Byzantine, namely the Ottoman.

Course outline