Arietta Papaconstantinou

title.none: Eastmond, Eastern Approaches to Byzantium (Arietta Papaconstantinou)

identifier.other: baj9928.0212.015 02.12.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Arietta Papaconstantinou, College de France,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Eastmond, Antony. Eastern Approaches to Byzantium: Papers from the Thirty-third Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, March 1999. Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2001. Pp. xxi, 297. ISBN: 0-7546-0322-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.12.15

Eastmond, Antony. Eastern Approaches to Byzantium: Papers from the Thirty-third Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, March 1999. Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2001. Pp. xxi, 297. ISBN: 0-7546-0322-9.

Reviewed by:

Arietta Papaconstantinou
College de France

The purpose of this collection of seventeen essays, and of the Symposium behind it, was to "bring together new research into the peoples to the east of Byzantium," so as to "build up a greater understanding of each of these neighbouring societies whose history impinged on that of Byzantium," and to "use this knowledge to help to understand Byzantium itself, by examining the nature of the encounters and exchanges" (xvi-xvii). Indeed, the interaction between the various peoples on the two sides of the eastern frontier lies at the heart of this book, partly reflecting the editor's research interests. Antony Eastmond's definition of interaction is large, and includes its absence, because he considers that the lack or denial of relationship can open up the way to new questioning. The reasons why the "Byzantine model" was not adapted to some particular contexts can tell us much about these contexts, but also about the "limits of Byzantium, particularly its self-defined roles as bastion of Christianity and ultimate power on earth" (xvii).

Probably because this was a symposium of Byzantine Studies, and its publication took place in a "Byzantine" series, Eastmond goes out of his way to justify the inclusion of several papers that do not fall into the traditional field of Byzantine studies, by explaining what they can bring to the study of Byzantium. This concern with mainstream Byzantinism becomes embarrassingly apparent in the introducing sentences to Robert W. Thomson's paper on medieval Armenian historians: "The Symposiarch's instructions were explicit. I was to make a contribution on the Armenian tradition of history writing, its aims and methods, so that when Byzantinists read an Armenian chronicle, they might have some idea about the context within which it was written" (89). Helping Byzantinists with their work through a textbook on sibling cultures is one thing, though, publication of new material or sophisticated interpretations of otherwise known sources is another. This collection contains both, which makes it quite heterogeneous, but also likely to appeal both to non-specialists looking for general presentations of specific topics, and to specialists, albeit not necessarily Byzantinists. But the title does not really say what the book is about, so that some of its potential readers may never pick it up.

One more complaint: one would expect, considering the prices of the Ashgate volumes, to find fewer printing mistakes, not only in the "foreign" words, but also in the plain English text.

The seventeen essays have been arranged in six sections that are partly thematic (one on the frontier and another on historiography) and partly cultural (one each for "Byzantines," "Georgians," "Armenians," and "Seljuqs and Turkomans"). This double organisation lacks coherence, and practically every paper in the collection could just as well have belonged in another group. There are several essays on models of power and others on material culture, which could have been put together like the ones on historiography. Or else, purely "cultural" sections would have been preferable.

The six sections are preceded by an introductory paper in which Speros Vryonis, Jr. looks at his book The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization "in the light of subsequent scholarship, 1971-98." This would probably be the most useful essay in the collection for those taking up research on medieval Asia Minor, since it presents recent research in fields as varied as the rise and decline of Christianity, the development of Islam, the fate of cities, the economy and population, as well as military history. However, it does not present a critical discussion of all the works cited, so that, for instance, Frank Trombley's much criticised work on Hellenic Religion and Christianization takes on the allure of a classic.

The first section on the frontier is focussed on military and administrative matters. Imperial policy concerning stability or expansion, and the related question of what the frontier represented to the Byzantine power centre, is the subject of papers by Jonathan Shepard, who concentrates on Constantine VII, and Jean-Claude Cheynet, whose diachronic analysis of the attitudes of different emperors from the ninth to the thirteenth century brings to light how changing circumstances were essential to the construction of the Byzantine version of the limes. A third essay by Catherine Holmes is turned towards the administration of the newly conquered territories, with some interesting insights on ethnic relationships in the frontier zone. These contributions all demonstrate how difficult it is to define such a flexible notion as the frontier, be it materially or conceptually.

Section II on "History writing in the east" contains three essays on Seljuq, Armenian and Georgian historiography, of which the first two, by Carole Hillenbrand and Robert W. Thomson, are the most textbook-like of the collection. Hillenbrand's "reflections on Seljuq historiography," bears a slightly misleading title, "Seljuq" being understood as "about the Seljuqs" and not "of the Seljuqs." The eleventh- and twelfth-century texts she presents, although they concern the Great Seljuqs, were written in Persian and Arabic within their own historiographical traditions, and they tell us as much -- if not more -- about the construction of a stereotyped image of the Turks in the Persian and Arab courts as they do about the history of the Seljuqs. The chapters on Armenian and Georgian historians, respectively by Robert Thomson and Stephen H. Rapp, Jr., focus roughly on the same period (tenth-thirteenth centuries), and thus highlight the similarities and differences between the two traditions.

The "Byzantines" of the next section are quite different from each other. Liz James's theme are "imperial relic-hunters abroad," among whom she notes the high number of empresses. This might be partly due to the fact that the founding figure of relic-hunting was Constantine's mother Helena. James also highlights the various "motive forces beyond 'simple piety'" that were often a driving force for such expeditions. Against John Wortley's hypothesis that relics and icons knew a similar fate and a growing popularity after Iconoclasm, James argues convincingly that the importance of relics declined as objects of veneration in the wake of the "triumph" of icons, even though there were many of them in the imperial palace. While James concentrates on imperial policies of power and on broad religious changes, Catherine Jolivet-Lévy discusses previously unpublished thirteenth-century paintings in Tatlarin, showing how involved the church patrons of Cappadocia, "Byzantines abroad," still were in the theological controversies of the empire to which they no longer belonged.

In the section on "Georgians," Zaza Skhirtladze publishes newly discovered paintings from rock-cut monasteries of of the eighth to tenth centuries in the Gareja desert, and Brigitta Schrade gives an interesting and intriguing picture of the cult of saints in Svanet'i, based on pictorial representations, although she uses a variety of other sources. Predictably, St George emerges as a popular Georgian saint, but so do St Quiricus, St Barbara and the Archangels, especially Michael. Giorgi Tcheishvili's paper on the changing attitudes to Byzantium in eleventh- and twelfth-century Georgia shows how these reflected varying political and religious relations. The final contribution by David Buckton considers the fate of a number of false enamels from the Botkin collection in St Petersburg, some of which found their way to the Georgian State Museum of Fine Arts; however, despite its interest, the text hardly fits into this volume thematically.

The two articles on "Armenians" concentrate on questions of royal power and political ideology. Lynn Jones focusses on the "visual expression of power and piety in medieval Armenia," through a study of the iconography of king Gagik Artsuni's tenth-century palace and palace church at Aghtamar), while Helen C. Evans studies the "imperial aspirations" of king Levon Het'umid of Cilicia in the thirteenth century. The quite different contexts allow for two contrasting situations where royal imagery is caliphal in Aghtamar and Byzantine in Cilicia.

Two essays on "Seljuqs and Turkomans" close the volume. One more piece on the ideology of power comes from Rustam Shukurov, who gives an analysis of the Greek inscriptions on Danishmendid coins, with special attention to the title of "Grand malik of the entire Rhomania and the East" given to Amir Ghazi's son Muhammad in the first half of the twelfth century. Finally, Pamela Armstrong draws on the distribution of ceramics in and around the Xanthos valley to map the presence of nomadic Seljuq tribes in the region a century and a half before the Seljuqs "officially" took over these areas of Asia Minor in the thirteenth century.