Olivia Remie Constable

title.none: Ciggaar, Western Travellers to Constantinople (Constable)

identifier.other: baj9928.9706.009 97.06.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Olivia Remie Constable, Notre Dame,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Ciggaar, Krijnie Nelly. Western Travellers to Constantinople: The West and Byzantium, 962-1204, Cultural and Political Relations. New York: E.J. Brill, 1996. Pp. x, 396. $142.00. ISBN: ISBN 9-004-10637-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.06.09

Ciggaar, Krijnie Nelly. Western Travellers to Constantinople: The West and Byzantium, 962-1204, Cultural and Political Relations. New York: E.J. Brill, 1996. Pp. x, 396. $142.00. ISBN: ISBN 9-004-10637-5.

Reviewed by:

Olivia Remie Constable
Notre Dame

Despite its title, which suggests that this book will concern itself with western visitors to Byzantium, this volume is actually a study of transit in the other direction. It examines the influence of the Greek East on Latin Europe through the westward import of Byzantine ideas, people, manuscripts, coins, and art. In many cases, eastern influences were brought to Europe by western travellers to and from Constantinople, but rather than looking at these travellers themselves, except in passing, Krijnie Ciggaar concentrates on an analysis of the effect of East-West communication on western art, numismatics, liturgy, architecture, literature, and other aspects of culture. Ciggaar intends her book to be a "bridge" between the study of Byzantium and Latin Europe, and hopes that it "will reveal how much the West owes to Byzantium, in many fields and in many ways" (preface).

In an alliterative vein, Ciggaar notes her choice of "leading motifs" for cross-cultural contact as "money, mercenaries and manuscripts, politics, princesses and presents, travellers, translations and transfers of relics."(19) The "p" category get particularly good play, since the author examines in depth the political intermarriage of royal houses as an important source for cultural exchange and influence. Preeminent among these, was the Byzantine princess Theophano's marriage to Otto II, the arrival of her vast dowry, and her subsequent influence on imperial culture and style, all of which are discussed at length in several chapters. Other Greek princesses married to western magnates are also seen as influential, whereas Ciggaar accords little impact to Latin princesses married into Byzantium.

This vision of unilateral westward influence is emphasized throughout the volume. The western travellers of the title are seen as important for the souvenirs and ideas which they brought home, not for their experiences or influence abroad. Ciggaar begins her discussion with a list of four basic categories of people exposed to contacts between East and West: "1. Byzantines who were willing to accept and introduce Western influence. 2. Byzantines who were unwilling to accept or adopt such influence. 3. Westerners who were unwilling to accept and adopt elements of Byzantine culture, and 4. Westerners who were willing to let Byzantium play a cultural role in their world" (12). Ciggaar notes that the group of Byzantines in the first category "was rather small [and] Western influence in Byzantium was rare and superficial"(13). Members of second and third groups, both hostile to cross-cultural influences, were much more numerous. However, it is the fourth group, "Westerners...who were willing to introduce all sorts of elements and aspects of Byzantine culture"(15) who are really the subject of the book. Ciggaar makes no attempt to estimate the size of this group, but she notes the difficulty of reconstructing their motives and interests, since many "never expressed personal feelings...[and] most of them left no individual memoir or autobiographical details"(15). Given this dearth of personal information, much of the book is devoted to reconstructing the influence of these people through general accounts of travel and contact, and especially through their material and aesthetic legacy in western Europe. Because of the focus on westerners and Byzantine influence in the West, Byzantium itself and Byzantine people remain a rather hazy background to the story.

Ciggaar divides her investigation along regional lines, beginning at the furthest point from Constantinople with a chapter devoted to Scandinavian (and even Icelandic) contact with Byzantium. Here, as in all the chapters, the picture has to be pieced together from scattered bits and pieces of data. Through the medium of sagas, art, tombstones, inscriptions, archeological evidence, and records of travel to the East by rulers, mercenaries and crusaders, Ciggaar draws a broad and varied picture of contact. The cumulative description of influence is comprehensive and convincing, and Ciggaar brings together the findings of scholars working in many disciplines and languages. The next five chapters follow a similar pattern and are devoted to Byzantine influence in Britain (mainly England), France, the Holy Roman Empire, The Italian Peninsula, and the Iberian Peninsula. Except in the last instance, where she devotes a few pages to Byzantine contacts with the Spanish Umayyads, Ciggaar restricts her investigation to contact between Eastern and Western Christians.

Ciggaar draws together a vast quantity of data on Byzantine influence in many areas of western life, from the possible Byzantine precedents for the Domesday Book (143), the introduction of the Cult of the Virgin (219 et al.), and artistic motifs for western coinage, fabrics, ivories, manuscripts, music, metalwork, etc. The volume is extremely useful as a collection of data tracing eastern influence in western art and material culture, and this discussion is aided visually by the addition of twelve pages of plates at the end of the book. These emphasize and shed light on many areas in which the degree of Byzantine-Western contacts has not been widely acknowledged.

Rather surprisingly, Ciggaar devotes very little attention to better known spheres of East-West interaction such as theology and church doctrine. The neglect of these areas may stem from the fact that they do not demonstrate her thesis of Byzantine influence on the West, yet the superficiality of their discussion (in the context of the chapter on the Italian Peninsula) is striking. In the course of barely four pages (261-264) we learn that "several theological debates and disputes, councils, synods and other meetings on controversial theological subjects took place." These are briefly described with remarks such as "Was the Father greater than the Son? Such was the the end no party gave in and the schism continued." Ciggaar concludes: "So much for the world of religion and spirituality." Clearly, religion and spirituality, at the level of high theological debate and schism, are not the theme of this book. On the other hand, Ciggaar's evidence goes a long way to suggest that high-brow disputes over the procession of the Holy Spirit or the use of leavened bread for the Eucharist, both problems which split the two churches on an official level, had very little effect on cross-cultural contact and exchange in ordinary religious life. According to Ciggaar's data, elements of the eastern liturgy were found in western churches, as were eastern reliquaries, crosses, vestments, icons, music, and so forth. Eastern saints were adopted and venerated in the West, and their feast-days became part of the western church calendar. Ciggaar gives credit to Theophano for the cultural easternization of the Holy Roman empire, and for the imperial leanings of her son, Otto III (who insisted on his own marriage with a bone fide porphyrogenita), but she also notes the possible ecclesiastical influence of Theophano's daughters, two of whom became abbesses (218).

This book contains a wealth of information, and should prove an invaluable aid to anybody seeking details on Byzantine influence in Europe. The organization of material, however, may make it difficult to track specific material. The presentation of data is sometimes a bit jumbled, so that paragraphs beginning on one theme frequently end on another. Ciggaar also has a tendency to frame her argument in rhetorical questions, leaving it up to the reader to make the final connections between dispirit bits of data. Although the book is divided into regional chapters, the unity of its theme (and the non-alignment of medieval and modern boundaries and politics) means that there is often overlapping information between chapters. Certain anecdotes come up repeatedly (for example, Otto III's ill-fated marriage arrangements are described on pages 2, 214, and 253). The Brill edition is handsome and clear, though there are minor typographical errors scattered throughout the volume including an odd tendency to write the word "and" with an accent over the "a".