Audience and Action in Byzantine Ceremonies I: Audience and the Senses
Alfredo Calahorra Bartolomé (Universidad Complutensede Madrid (UCM)-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC))
The Great Palace Mosaic and Its Audience: Towards a Definitive Identification of the Site
The aim of this proposal is to outline the main conclusions of my PhD dissertation regarding the Great Palace of Constantinople. In the last two decades our knowledge of the Great Palace has improved drastically thanks to several excavations and findings. However, the most important complex of ruins inside the imperial residence remains unidentified nearly a century after its discovery. It consists of a triclinium-peristyle compound located to the southeast of the Blue Mosque, that occupies an area similar to that of Hagia Sophia. The floor of the colonnaded courtyard is completely covered by a mosaic pavement with mythological, cynegetic and bucolic scenes. To the north, a cross-shaped church, once painted with frescoes, was also found. The key to identify the archaeological site relies on a study of the audience towards which the mosaic of the peristyle was directed. Although the original reasons behind the construction of this space and its decoration remain somewhat obscure, we will be able to determine how the peristyle was known in the century after its construction. This will allow, us to ascertain its specific topographical location in early Byzantine times and to understand it in the broader context of the Great Palace. With the help of the Book of Ceremonies, we will explain how the audience was intended to interact with the peristyle when court rituals were set in motion, and how this changed several times due to the morphological changes of the complex. Finally, based on the former identification and the archaeological data, we will suggest the most likely patron of the building and the mosaic.
Erik Ellis (Hillsdale College)
Co-organizer and presider
Elisa Emaldi and Paola Novara (Museo Nazionale di Ravenna-Ministero della Cultura)
"The Emperor's New Clothes" of the Archangels and Their "Triumph" in the Mosaic of Sant'Apollinare in Classe
Angels (and Archangels) are present in large numbers in the mosaics of Ravenna. In the sixth-century basilicas their images convey messages that reflect the ideology and expectations of the patrons. In San Vitale, for example, white vests angels are above the arch that frames the apse, presenting a disc with blazing rays, while Archangels with the Silentiary golden staff flank Christ sitting on the Globe at the center of the apse. On the northeast presbytery wall, the three angels accept Abraham's invitation while Sarah stands smiling in the tent, and in the vault of the presbytery four angels lift up the sacrificial Lamb.
The only case in which Archangels emerge from the apse or from the dome or from the vault, making a semiotic leap to parade in front of the community gathered in the nave, is the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. There they are in the apse arch, stripped of the white tunics, they are dressed in imperial chlamys and campagi and carry the military banner that praises the Trinity.
The triumph of orthodoxy, brought back to Ravenna by the troops of Belisarius with the defeat of the Arian Ostrogoths, also seems to take on the guise of military triumph: what kind of celebrations could it echo?
How did the faithful respond to this presence, which has a double meaning, earthly and celestial, theological and ideological? What connections existed in the perception of contemporaries between public ceremonies, such as military parades, and the presence of these figures on the sides of the apse and next to the altar? The communication will examine these questions and try to define the contingent needs that prompted iconographers and patrons to transform the archangels from court officials into powerful defenders at that particular time and in that specific building.
Sofia Pitouli (University of California, Los Angeles)
The Sound of Lamentation: The Heavenly Elevation of the Deceased
Whispering, ordering, bartering in several languages, laughing, mourning, praying, and chanting, along with other human and non-human sounds, instructed day-to-day activities, orchestrated imperial agendas', and animated the Byzantine world. Yet sound waves are momentary, a one-off occurrence in time. How, then, do we approach the acoustical repertoire—urban and rural, secular and sacred, daily and ceremonial—that comprised the sound scape of the Byzantine cosmos? This paper considers an epitaphios oration delivered by the twelfth-qentury writer Nikolaos Mesarites over his brother John’s grave while surrounded by an audience of loved ones and admirers. His speech offers a glimpse into an emotional, spontaneous, and less formally-structured Byzantine society. The lamentation embodies spatial and acoustic information and maps the deceased’s physical and spiritual movement. The oration describes the church of the epitaphios as one with numerous vaults, perhaps even having small domes. Mesarites points to the reverberation sounds manifested by John’s voice and the otherworldly effects they once produced within that location. The church metamorphosizes into the liminal space that accommodates the deceased’s traversing from earthly life to the celestial afterlife. The epitaphios encourages us to probe how Mesarites employed and controlled sound in his speech to direct the audience to experience and understand John’s ascension within the church and beyond. Thus, I inquire about the treatment of speech according to the acoustics of space and the descriptive techniques Mesarites used to refer to sound. When writing and vocalizing the oration, did Mesarites have in mind the audience’s psychological response to the sacred soundscape, factual and constructed? How did the speaker verbally envision John’s progression from the earthly to the celestial? More specifically, I explore how the rhetorical devices exploited in Mesarites’s speech and the church’s architecture reveal to the audience John’s transition, from alive to deceased, to a holy, almost angelic, entity.
Marie-Emmanuelle Torres (Laboratoire d’Archéologie Médiévale et Moderne en Méditerranée—Aix-Marseille University)
The Public Voice in Byzantine Imperial Processions (Tenth through Eleventh Centuries)
Byzantine Imperial processions are always public and sonorous. The people have to stand along the journey and gather at every stop to first listen to the kraktai singing, and then to sing and cheer the emperor with them. The procession is an aural performance, the population a performer and an audience. The public voice is crucial to politics as it expresses the consensus on the ruling emperor and keeps the Roman tradition alive. It must sound powerful, unambiguous and orderly, to demonstrate imperial legitimacy. So, everything is done to hear, stimulate, encourage and control it. The common people must be heard cheering endlessly. The imperial musicians indicate when to sing, what to sing and how to sing, for everything to sound orderly, harmonious and perfect. This voice must also sound spontaneous, even tough it is imposed and controlled by the Imperial musical service.
In fact, the question is: how does this collective voice really sound? How a perfect unison can be created using thousands of voices? More broadly, which aural sensation does this public voice generate? Historians usually describe it howling and unchained, but the authority wants to be near a strong and calm voice. So, how does it really sound? How does the public respond to the ritual?
In this paper, I will focus on Imperial processions, during the l0th–11th centuries, and compare ritual prescriptions with historical descriptions. First, I will look at the audience in the Book of Ceremonies, which seems obedient, always attentive, involved, willing and tireless, but without any «flesh » and emotion. Then, I will reveal the one the historians describe as spontaneous, exalted, agitated, susceptible and suggestible, emotional, always shouting, crying, singing and laughing. By confronting these two visions, I will be able to give flesh and voice to the public audience.
Audience and Action in Byzantine Ceremonies II: Audience in the Text
Daniel James Berardino (Fordham University)
Public Acclamations, Private Oaths: The People as Witnesses in Byzantine Oath Ceremonies
In Byzantine sources, oaths are ubiquitous. Yet, there is surprisingly little scholarship on the role of oaths, and oath swearing in Byzantine political life and culture. While the work of Nicholas Svoronos, Evangelos Chrysos, Angeliki Laiou has touched on the constitutional significance of oaths and their function, further exploration of Byzantine attitudes toward oaths is needed. In this paper, I examine two oaths taken by the emperors Leo I and Anastasius during their coronation ceremonies as described by Constantine Vll Porphyrogenitos in De Ceremoniis. I argue that the idealized role of the people as absent from binding sworn agreements among elites does not represent reality.
In De Ceremoniis, Leo receives oaths from the officeholders and senators that they will not conspire against him, while the senators demand that Anastasius swear to uphold the orthodox faith and act in the best interest of the politeia. Despite their differences, both oaths in De Ceremoniis are sworn in private as part of overwhelmingly public ceremonies of imperial acclamation. This dichotomy between public-acclamation and private sworn agreements recurs throughout Byzantine history with rare exceptions. One such exception is the public oath sworn by Michael V to respect the rights of the empress Zoe in 1041, which resulted in a riot by the people of Constantinople when he violated his oath. Anthony Kaldellis recently elevated this incident to argue that the emperor in Byzantium was ultimately responsible to the popular will. He does not, however, draw sufficient attention to the cause of the crowd’s anger—Michael V’s perjury. By placing the surprising absence of the people of Byzantium as witnesses to commitments made by their sovereign and ruling class in De Ceremoniis in context, we can gain a better understanding of how the people played a role in determining which oaths carried weight in Byzantium.
Christina Lamb Chakalova (Hillsdale College)
The S. Maria Maggiore Icon: Byzantine Public Spectacle during the Catholic Reformation
Performed in Rome since at least 1170 through 1566, an annual procession set the most sacred S. Maria Maggiore icon Into motion. Candle- and torch-bearing canons and clerics led this parade of cardinals and bishops, prelates and monks, as well as members of Roman confraternities. The event was well-attended by boisterous crowds whom the Swiss Guard controlled. The goal was to bring the S. Maria Maggiore icon from the eponymous fourth-century Roman church into close physical proximity of the acheiropoietic portrait of Christ from the Lateran palace, which the faithful also carried across Rome. By mobilizing these two holy images that date to the early Christian period, and moreover, behave equally as Icons and relics due to the blessed figures’ enduring presence within their likeness, the ceremony symbolically reenacted the encounter between Christ and the Virgin every August 15th. This grandiose ritual of Byzantine origin offered protection to all in attendance.
To transform the S. Maria Maggiore Icon from primarily a protectress of the papal city into a tool that gained legitimacy for the still controversial cult of saints, relics, and Icons during the post-Tridentine era, Paul V had the icon permanently translated into his burial chapel in the church of S. Maria Maggiore in 1613. This act was preceded by the santo viaggio that echoed the Byzantine procession described above. The Early Modern art-historical scholarship concerning the S. Maria Maggiore icon focuses largely on its meaning to the Pauline Chapel. To expand the discourse on the importance of Byzantine public ceremony to the Church’s defense of the cult of saints, relics, and icons during the Catholic Reformation, this paper will explore the significance of the santo viaggio to establishing the Marian portrait's authenticity, and moreover, to underscoring the early Christian heritage of the papacy and the only true Church.
Nikolas C. Churik (Princeton University)
Co-organizer and presider
Merve Savas (Ohio State University)
Byzantine Parade of Infamy: A Public Ceremony of Humiliation, Its Performance and Audience
The degrading public exposure of a wrongdoer was not an alien performance for the Byzantines, and especially for the populus of Constantinople. The parade of infamy stood out in the penal repertoire as a unique ceremonial practice, a sight worth watching. It directly stemmed from the Roman tradition and broadly refers to a punitive procession used for a wide range of offenses (treason, religious disputes, or moral crimes) by emperors and people, both as a sole or complementary punishment. Its core was the wrongdoer’s humiliating exposure in motion, traditionally in the public space, e.g. the town center or hippodrome, and these spatial choices were by no means arbitrary. The parade of infamy, just like other pre-modern punitive practices, derived its impact from its publicity and the gaze of its spectator. The present paper examines this practice from the perspective of its audience. Firstly, it questions the brief allusions or the absences in primary sources regarding the audience. Secondly, it raises the problems of interpretation both in contemporary sources and modern literature, as the role of the audience was largely interpreted either as passive and coincidental or as a device of Imperial or elite political agenda. This study attempts to nuance our understanding of the audience’s behavior in Byzantine parades of infamy. Instead of approaching its audience as a solid, homogeneous group, it highlights its plurality and diverse, changing roles and motivations.
Tiffany VanWinkoop (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
A Court of One's Own? The Visibility of Women in the Book of Ceremonies
Recent scholarship has re-examined the Book of Ceremonies, the tenth-century handbook of emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, providing in-depth analyses on notable participants and their specific roles in ceremonial statecraft. However, scholars remain puzzled at the role of the empress (augousta) during such ceremonies, often assuming that she was present with the emperor. The courtly women who accompany the empress in the Book of Ceremonies are rarely acknowledged by scholarship. Consequently, these courtly women represent a paradox: they are "public” figures, yet they are still expected to maintain a "modesty” appropriate for women of this era. Thus, my paper aims to illuminate the position and duties of courtly women during imperial ceremonies, and, by extension, unravel the gendered expectations of the empress and her retinue in the tenth century. In particular, this paper reexamines the role of courtly women as their own historical subjects worthy of study, rather than assuming that they are the ceremonial foil to men. Ultimately, this paper challenges what “participation” in ceremonies truly entailed for these courtly women, and how this "participation" was understood for an audience who was well versed in the Constantinopolitan ceremonial milieu. For example, while an emperor’s physical presence was required for him to be “present” in a ceremony, I believe that the invocation of an empress was a socially understood mechanism for women to be “public” figures. By contrasting the tenth century ceremonial templates found in the Book of Ceremonies with the lived reality of imperial and courtly women in the ninth to eleventh centuries, I highlight the gendered role of women within the Constantinopolitan court and provide a nuanced analysis of women’s existence in public life in Byzantium.