48th Annual Byzantine Studies Conference

Liber de machinis bellicis, Vat. gr. 1605, fol. 49v, detail. Image: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (https://digi.vatlib.it/mss/detail/Vat.gr.1605). Hanging with Hestia Polyolbus, detail. Dumbarton Oaks (BZ.1929.1). Image: Dumbarton Oaks (https://www.doaks.org/resources/textiles/catalogue/BZ.1929.1)

Conference Date: Nov 03, 2022–Nov 06, 2022 Location: University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA 90095 US Session 1 Title: Private Worship and Domestic Religion in Byzantium (Panel 4A) Session Date: Nov 04, 2022 (4:15 PM - 6:15 PM) Session 2 Title: Diagrammatic Thinking in Byzantium: Between Narrative and Rhetoric, Image and Object (Panel 7A) Session Date: Nov 05, 2022 (2:15 PM - 4:15 PM)


Private Worship and Domestic Religion in Byzantium (Panel 4A)

Eirini Afentoulidou (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

with Claudia Rapp, University of Vienna and Austrian Academy of Sciences

Byzantine Birth and Childbed Rituals: Euchologia (Prayer Books) as Evidence for Domestic Religion

Byzantine euchologia were made for the liturgical use of priests. In addition to the eucharistic liturgies and rituals for baptism, marriage and funeral, they contain short prayers that address a vast array of occasions (‘occasional prayers’).

This paper will begin with an overview of the manuscript tradition and the methodologies for the study of euchologia as sources for daily life and social history, as they are currently being developed by the Vienna Euchologia Project. Based on a few selected examples, it will then demonstrate how the church inserts itself through the priest’s prayers in the daily life of individuals and households. In doing so, the paper will focus on rituals related to birth and the subsequent liminal time of childbed that are well documented in Byzantine texts and artefacts. Traditionally, the ritual experts responsible for these were women, notably midwives, acting in the space of the household. The only priestly prayers related to childbed and included in the Euchologion were prayers for occasions at which the newborn left the private space of the household and approached or entered the space of the church for the first time on the eighth or fortieth day after birth. In time, further prayers were added to be said by the priest on the day a woman had given birth in the house where she had given birth. These have the standard structure of priestly prayers, but they mark a shift from the predominantly male space of the church space to the private space of female agency. Moreover, as the priestly prayers expanded their scope to include concerns related to the private sphere, they also appropriated elements from the non-liturgical traditions that had been addressing and continued to address these concerns.

Darlene Brooks Hedstrom (Brandeis University)

Session chair

Fotini Kondyli (University of Virginia)

Organizer and panelist

Religious Activities between the Home, Street, and Church in Byzantine Athens

Religious activities taking place in the house, ranging from praying and venerating saints to burials within and adjacent to houses to preparation of food and ritual objects for religious festivals, were quintessential religious expressions that brought people together and informed their identities and social roles within their households and broader communities. Such activities also informed important aspects of domestic life, including architecture and spatial organization, daily routines and habits, and the multiple uses and meanings of objects and spaces. 

At Athens, the large number of Byzantine houses excavated at the Athenian Agora by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens provides a rich dataset to reconstruct aspects of domestic religious practices and identify specific objects and spaces within and around the Byzantine house associated with religious rituals. I am particularly interested in burial practices within and around houses and consider the architectural modifications required and the social and religious implications of in-house burials, especially of children.  I also focus on several artifacts, such as bread stamps, ceramic vessels, and spindle whorls which had multiple uses including producing artifacts for religious festivals and for adorning churches and monasteries. These objects’ religious dimensions speak to domestic skills and products which actively participated in shaping public religious spaces and collective religious experiences.

Finally, I take a closer look at building principles in churches that are repeated and reimagined in domestic spaces including the use of cloisonné technique as well as the emphasis on the use of material of different color and texture for specific floor surfaces. While such parallels in construction techniques might be viewed as simply practical, they invite us to pay attention to the intentionality of such actions and the role they might have played in lending protection to these houses and households, enhancing their religious dimension and allowing them to participate in broader urban sacred geographies.

Danai Thomaidis (Simon Fraser University)

Icon Display among the Venetian Working Class

Icons have been one of the most crucial material expressions of Byzantine religiosity. Following the Fall of the Byzantine empire, these media migrated en masse towards northern regions. Venice became one of the main receivers of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons, which were quickly incorporated into the daily life of the Venetian population. However, scholarly attention has been mostly attentive to the examination of a limited number of public icons that were exposed in the city’s churches, or to those that were included in the private collections of the noble class.

On the other hand, despite constituting the 90% of the Venetian population, the popolani have not yet attracted the attention they deserve. One of the motives for such neglect lies in the lack of archival material that could contribute to the reconstruction of their lives, habits and ideals. As is often the case, the sources are much more generous about lords, nobles and aristocrats, leaving the lower social strata of society more or less in a mysterious status. However, thanks to recent archival research, it has been illustrated that the popolani of Venice were no less active then the nobles in the acquisition and display of religious paintings, among which a protagonist role was reserved to Byzantine icons.  By displaying icons in their houses and workshops, these workers expressed their needs, hopes and perception of the self. This contribution examines the exposition of icons in the homes and workplaces of the Venetian working class, with a focus on the display arrangements that were adopted in these habitats and the messages they conveyed.

Elizabeth Dospel Williams (Dumbarton Oaks)

At Home with Hestia: A Late Antique Furnishing Textile in Context

Although numerous fragments of large-format textile furnishings survive from late antique Egypt, an example depicting a richly adorned, enthroned woman labeled as Hestia, goddess of the hearth, stands out as a unique survivor (Dumbarton Oaks, BZ.1929.1). Scholarship on this work has addressed the image’s ancient mythological sources and its iconographic parallels with Christian depictions of the Virgin. These arguments have implicitly and explicitly posited cultic use in a public setting due to its size, monumentality, and current semi-circular appearance suited for a niche setting.

This paper, however, reconsiders the function and setting for this work in a domestic context. Recent technical analyses of the textile’s edges reveal that its current, semicircular form is in fact a later dealer’s intervention, fundamentally recasting what the original artifact might once have looked like and making a monumental setting less plausible. Another important clue is the iconography itself, which depicts a domestic divinity and portrays images of household (particularly women’s) wealth, such as plate, jewelry, and textiles. In this sense, the depiction of Hestia is better seen as part of a long tradition of mythological figures on furnishing textiles associated with domestic social entertainment and dining habits, rather than as a precursor for ceremonial or liturgical furnishings intended for use in church. Lastly, considering archaeological evidence of extant wall paintings from late antique Egyptian sites adds further nuance to the discussion, suggesting the range of contexts in which such a furnishing textile might have once served. By realigning evidence and situating previous scholarly debates in historiographic context, it becomes possible to instead reconsider this famous textile’s function and open up the possibility that it may have served many uses over its lifetime. The discussion will highlight the amorphous boundaries between public and private, devotional and other domestic social practices, and Prechristian and Christian belief systems typical of late antique Egyptian practice. 

Diagrammatic Thinking in Byzantium: Between Narrative and Rhetoric, Image and Object (Panel 7A)

Roland Betancourt (University of California, Irvine)

From Plane to Space: The Narrative Arc of Diagrammatic Representation in the Geodesia

The Parangelmata Poliorcetica is a mid-tenth-century treatise on how to lay siege to enemy cities and how to defend from such attacks. The text was composed for high-ranking military officials in the Byzantine Empire, most likely during the reign of Romanos I Lekapenos and Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. The Poliorcetica surveys, excerpts, and glosses a host of ancient and late-antique texts on siege craft, artillery, and other military phenomena with the hopes of translating this material into a more succinct and comprehensible presentation of the information, which has also been updated alongside contemporaneous Byzantine practices and newly developed military technologies. At the end of the treatise, there is a short manual on mathematical calculations, known as the Geodesia. While both texts date to the mid-tenth century, the extant archetype of their manuscript tradition is found in an eleventh-century copy, now at the Vatican Library (Vat. gr. 1605), which features extensive illustrations of the siege machines and concepts elucidated in the text.

In its stated methodology, the anonymous author of both texts demonstrates a fixed intent on making accessible the obtuse military and mathematical principles, representing them here with simplified and clear language and ensuring their legibility to most readers through the use of extensive illustrations. While the same impetus is found in the text of the Geodesia, the challenge of visualizing geometrical models and mathematical calculations presents a fascinating challenge to the text’s author and illustrator.

Merih Danali (Wake Forest University)

Co-organizer and panelist

Diagrammatic and Pictorial Interplay: Harmonizing Intellect with the Senses

This paper explores the interplay between diagrammatic and pictorial elements in Marc. Gr. 516 (=904), a scientific miscellany donated by Cardinal Bessarion to the Republic of Venice. On folio 141r we find a representation of the harmonic-tone system, or the “canon” attributed to Pythagoras, which appears consistently in Byzantine codices of Manuel Bryennius’s Harmonics (d. 1300). Fitted snugly between the graph and the outer edges of the folio are three miniscule human figures, who are reminiscent of the marginal figures found in Western medieval codices so lovingly studied by Michael Camille. The folio belongs to a larger image cycle inserted into the codex, which includes commentary on the musical theory of Pythagoras and Ptolemy.

Notably, the Marciana diagram displays an exceptional pictorial quality and is thus distinguished from its purely diagrammatic counterparts in other musical treatises. The application of subtle gradations of color on the arches suggests three-dimensionality, and the illustrator cunningly transforms the curved lines of the diagram into a string—an object, the dangling ends of which are secured by two human figures on either side of the diagonal pole. The seated figure on the edge of the pole is unidentified but may be Palamedes. His weight, supported by the pole, further underscores the “thingness” of the image-cum-diagram. These visual strategies convey the illustrator’s desire to suggest materiality and represent both a diagram and a physical object, namely a monochord, the instrument used for measuring intervals.

Two figures on the lower margin of the folio flank the diagram. The figure on the right is “the most wise Pythagoras” (ὁ πάνσοφος Πυθαγόρας), who stands on a large vessel with tiny measuring tools hanging from his left arm. On the lower left corner stands the personification of Sound (ἡ φωνὴ), or Musical Key (ὁ τόνος) (this figure bears two titles). Sound is shown cupping his mouth so as to project his voice. These two individuals represent respectively the two cognitive faculties employed in the study of harmonics: sense perception and the intellect. Their juxtaposition serves as the visual analogue to the foundational theoretical principle that underlies Ptolemy’s Harmonics, namely, the reconciliation of empiricism and rationalism: “a commitment to the authority of mathematical principles with a healthy respect for the data of perception (things that were simply ‘sensed’),” in the words of one scholar. Therefore, the figures have a semantic function related to, but independent of, the diagrammatic content.

On the other hand, the center of the folio illustrating musical harmonies simultaneously serves as a diagram of the canon and the monochord, thereby blending theory with practice, the act of reasoning (calculation) with the act of sensing (hearing audible sounds). The relationships between the two modes of representation, namely the diagrammatic and pictorial, therefore exemplify the interplay between art and science and the multifarious ways in which pictures and diagrams, and their modes of interaction, signify sense-perception in scientific contexts.

Divna Manolova (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

Scientific Illustrations in Late Byzantium: A Case Study of Eclipse Diagrams

According to some strands of Byzantine iconophile theory, color is what makes things visible and thus an intrinsic feature of the natural world. Some writers during the Iconoclast Controversy, however, also juxtapose the use of colors (e.g., in icons and frescoes) to monochromatic line drawings lying beneath the image. Yet, the scientific diagram more often than not is a line drawing, or σχῆμα, defined by the geometric idiom it employs. In this sense, it differs from the image (εἰκών) since its aim is not to embody reality but rather to abstract from it. Nevertheless, a solar eclipse diagram is still a representation of an object in Creation. Thus, a diagram may not embody reality, although it does make real things “visible” and thus subject to description and representation for the purposes of memorizing, teaching, and learning. This line of thinking is especially true for phenomena that one can imagine, think of, and understand, while at the same time not being available to direct observation, such as the entire universe or the finest particles of matter. Finally, as a vehicle for the delivery of a scientific argument, the disembodied and abstracted diagrammatic figure makes a truth claim about the universe. Hence, it acquires meaning in the context of the creation of knowledge and its transfer.

In this paper, I interrogate how diagrams operate as scientific illustrations in the late Byzantine book as well as in the larger social context, looking in particular at how eclipse diagrams (both solar and lunar) function as vehicles for knowledge transfer. Focusing on a sample of diagrams found in Byzantine cosmological and astronomical miscellanies from the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, I discuss, first, what seems to constitute an eclipse diagram. To this end, I provide an overview of the main graphic and aesthetic conventions that allowed an eclipse diagram to be understood. Second, I examine how an eclipse diagram encodes and organizes knowledge about light and shadow, line and color, as well as about relative distances and magnitudes involving the earth, the sun, and the moon. Finally, I analyze how eclipse diagrams relate to corresponding narrative explanations of eclipse occurrences. My principal goals in this final part of the paper are to explore whether diagrams play a specific role and offer a contribution distinct from that of narrative in forming, structuring, preserving, and transmitting knowledge about astronomical phenomena (e.g., eclipses); and to ask whether by studying diagrams one might elucidate the “obscure” place that is the so-called late Byzantine classroom.

Vessela Valiavitcharska (University of Maryland)

The Chiastic Diagram as Exegesis

The copy of the Hermogenean corpus contained in the tenth-century Byzantine rhetorical compilation Par. gr. 1983 (Bibliothèque nationale de France) is prefaced with several large diagrams, illustrating the more prominent rhetorical figures peculiar to Hermogenes of Tarsus (fl. late 2nd century CE). Among them are two drawings of the figure of the “chiastic period,” which receives an extraordinary amount of attention from Hermogenes’ later commentators. While the diagrams in Par. gr. 1983 occupy a conspicuous place and are well-executed, they are by no means unusual. X-shaped representations are a frequent feature of Byzantine marginal commentary in didactic manuscripts containing treatises on rhetoric and logic.

Chiastic diagrams most likely derive from Aristotle’s De Interpretatione. In that text, the ancient philosopher introduces the concept of the “square of opposition” in order to represent relations of contradiction and contrariety among four basic categorical propositions. However, in Byzantine logic, the use of the Aristotelian “square” is extended beyond propositions to include single terms and their relationships, whereas in Byzantine rhetoric, the chiastic diagram becomes a vehicle for representing relationships of opposition and complementarity.

For example, the tenth-century commentary of Arethas on Porphyry’s Isagoge and Aristotle’s Categories (both contained in Vat. Urb. gr. 35) reflects a mature sense of how to use chiastic visuals in order to sketch out the ways in which numerous terms—such as “animate/ inanimate” and “perceptible/ imperceptible” or “essence/ accident” and “universal/ particular”—relate to each other. Arethas’ diagrams indicate clearly how pairs of terms can be compatible or incompatible, or whether they are (in Aristotle’s terminology) “in the subject” or “of the subject.” In later rhetorical manuscripts, the “twin” relations of incompatibility and accompaniment appear as an exegetical tool. For example, the eleventh-century codex Vat. gr. 1340, which contains a copy of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, interprets one of Aristotle’s passages on “justice” and “the good” by placing them within a chiastic relationship with “injustice” and “evil.” This visual interpretive tradition proves remarkably stable, as it is also found much later. The late fourteenth-century codex Par. gr. 2986 has a chiastic representation of a passage from Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, in which “flattery” is shown to insinuate itself into “legislation,” “justice,” “cosmetics,” and “medicine.” The customary places of affirmative/ negative and universal/ particular allow interpretive inferences about relations between gymnastics and politics and soul and body. In other words, the chiastic form itself suggests a type of exegesis.

Justin Willson (The Cleveland Museum of Art & Case Western Reserve University)

Co-organizer and session chair