Reading Circles and Reading Culture in Seventh-Century Byzantine Monasticism
For some time, the seventh century has been a period of particular interest to Byzantinists. While in the past some have viewed this period as a dark age due to the lack of traditional historiographical sources, it is now widely recognized that this was in fact a period of tremendous literary production. The challenge is to read this literature in a new way, in order to write a new kind of history for this neglected period. One of the most promising areas of research is ascetic literature. This was not limited to a cloistered group but written for a broad audience and in response to the sweeping changes that affected the East Roman empire in this century. This panel will consider circles of ascetic writers and readers and how their texts and ideas were exchanged along a network with wide geographical and social reach.
We will examine how monks read both past and contemporary texts, debating and reinterpreting them so as to make them relevant and edifying for their fellow Christians. This involved reflecting on the interaction between formal doctrine and practical teaching, especially for the purpose of translating the austere asceticism of the desert for lay audiences living in the world. Our combined papers will touch on topics such as the relations of teaching and discipleship in ascetic circles, access to books and copies, school culture in monasteries and cities, the way that genre shaped the use of authorities and topoi, the reception and reinterpretation of older patristic sources, how ascetic texts reflected contemporary polemics, and the interaction of oral and written ascetic culture. The panel will thus investigate the role of reading culture in the formation of seventh- century asceticism, both monastic and lay. Given the prominent place of asceticism in the late antique thought-world, not only within monastic communities but also to varying degrees in the world at large, consideration of the above questions will lead to a more nuanced understanding of the sociology of knowledge and belief in this period.
These different topics form a net, where the treatment of one question is likely to shed light on the discussion of another; and so, bringing them together in a fuller and more accurate image of the culture under discussion. We would prefer to give the papers first followed by questions at the end so that the conversation can be informed by all the contributions.
The Archaeology of Byzantine Neighborhoods
Neighborhoods are multifunctional spaces that facilitate and frame social interactions. They include spaces of religious and civic ritual (e.g. churches and fora), sites of small-scale commerce, points of contact with the state (notaries), and institutions for education and leisure. The formation of neighborhoods and their transformation over time offers a level of spatial and social analysis between the “official” (armature) and the “domestic” (housing). Neighborhoods host and shape daily deeds and rituals that cross divides of status and gender, blur the boundaries between “public” and “private,” and are fundamental to the negotiation of communal identities.
The spatial and administrative organization of neighborhoods and their functions within late antique and Byzantine cities remain understudied. By relying on textual references to monumental patronage, scholars have represented the organization of Byzantine cities as the result of imperial and elite will. In this model, “organic” urban development without official interference is defined (implicitly or explicitly) as undesirable and productive of chaos. The result is a top-down view of urban history that obscures the significance of the practices of daily life in urban development.
As a corrective to this model, we propose to explore the structure, organization, and function of neighborhoods through architectural, archaeological, and textual evidence. Papers in the session present geographically and chronologically diverse case studies, and employ different methodologies and theoretical frameworks. They are united by a shared focus on the range of activities that occur in neighborhoods and the agents and forces that drive their architectural transformation. Furthermore, multiple papers reframe the relationship between religion, sacred spaces, and communal identity by examining the centrality of churches in neighborhood formation and demarcation. Our ultimate goal is to provide a new perspective on Byzantine cities both as built environments and as spaces of social and political interaction.