14.08.09, Moffatt and Tall, eds and trans., The Book of Ceremonies

Main Article Content

Ian Mladjov

The Medieval Review 14.08.09

Moffatt, Ann and Maxeme Tall. Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, 2 vols.. Byzantina Australiensia 18. Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 2012. Pp. xxxviii, 870 . ISBN: 978-1-876503-42-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Ian Mladjov
Bowling Green State University

The Book of Ceremonies is one of the several texts composed or commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Konstantinos VII Porphyrogennetos (913-59) in the mid-tenth century. The work survives in three tenth-century copies of which only one, at Leipzig, is clearly legible and usable (xxiii-iv). It is still most commonly known among Byzantinists by the Latin title De cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae, attributed to it by J. H. Leich in his incomplete eighteenth-century edition. This was edited and published by J. J. Reiske at Leipzig in 1751-4, and republished by R. Niebuhr as part of the Bonn Corpus (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae) in 1829-30. [1] It is the Bonn Corpus edition that has been most commonly referenced by modern scholars, and supplies the Greek text published in the present work. Here Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall have provided, for the first time, a complete translation of this important Middle Byzantine text into a modern language. Apart from the Latin translation that had accompanied Reiske's edition, all previous translations, including those of A. Vogt and N. Oikonomides have included only a portion of the text. [2]

The text of the translation follows the chapter divisions of Reiske, cross-referenced with those of Vogt (who numbered the chapters differently); similarly, the text also indicates the page numbers of both Reiske and Vogt's editions (and likewise those of Oikonomides, for the Kletorologion of Philotheos), greatly facilitating the location of references. The English text appears in the top half of each page, with the corresponding Greek text reproduced in the bottom half. There is much here that could have been done better in a perfect world, such as facing Greek and English texts (as in the Loeb or Dumbarton Oaks series), line numbers within the English text (even if they would have been a little distracting), the setting of the Greek in larger and clearer type, or a higher quality reproduction. Doubtless financial and typographical complications precluded such improvements, and the result is perfectly usable: it is not possible to overstate the general convenience of being able to consult the English and the Greek at a glance in the same volume.

The present two-volume set is above everything else a translation, and includes fairly minimal commentary reflecting textual issues, clarifications, and occasionally brief historical or literary notes. As with any translation, there are bound to be quibbles over literal or idiomatic meaning and whether or not particular points in the text ought to have been discussed more fully in the annotation. Moffatt and Tall indicate that their translation of these largely administrative texts is intended to be faithful to the spirit of the original, even at the expense of English idiom and taste for stylistic variation (xxxiv-v). That this does not in fact seem to be true in each case (for example, the expression "many years" translates idiomatically different Greek phrases at, e.g., 86-7 and 252-3; or the translation of philoi as "guests" rather than "friends" at, e.g., 739-40), but that hardly detracts from the quality and utility of the translation. Similarly, errors are few and far between (e.g., the patriarch Theophylaktos Lakapenos was the brother-in-law, not half-brother of Konstantinos VII, as stated in xxviii).

Apart from the annotation discussing textual and sometimes historical issues and references to the most relevant secondary literature, Moffatt and Tall have enhanced their translation with an informative but not overwhelming introduction (xxiii-xxxviii), two maps covering the Great Palace of Constantinople and the city itself for basic orientation (824-5), a comprehensive glossary of terms, offices, and locales mentioned in the text (826-36), and an extensive bibliography (837-46). The index (847-70), as can be expected, lists primarily names, whether personal, institutional, or geographical. To have extended coverage to include the many offices, acclamations, formulae, and other items listed a myriad times in the text would have been prohibitively complex and lengthy. A particularly useful feature of these volumes is the detailed table of contents (ix-xxii), which allows for a convenient orientation within a work of such length and complexity.

Given the relative difficulty for the non-specialist to obtain a copy of this work, the remainder of the review will focus on its content. Moffatt and Tall's introduction (xxiii-xxxviii) briefly introduces the author and his Book of Ceremonies, its manuscripts and editions and translations. Issues relating to the composite nature of the work and the presence of later additions from the reign of Nikephoros II Phokas (e.g., chapters 96 and 97) are highlighted. The introduction continues with a brief discussion of the work by segments: Book I, Chapters 1-83; Book I, Chapters 84-95 and the added Chapters 96 and 97; the three military treatises included as an appendix to Book I [3]; Book II and its more diverse contents (some of it, again, added after the death of Konstantinos VII). The translators point out that the original Greek title of the work, A compilation and work truly worthy of imperial zeal, was more inclusive and appropriate to the composition as a whole, whereas the modern conventional title fits Book I by itself (xxiv, xxix). The introduction ends with more topical discussions, including the dating and updating of chapters, aspects of the Byzantine court, palace, and Hippodrome, and issues related to translation and transliteration. Specific items include a brief discussion of the numerous terms for silks, and a summary of coins, weights, and measures (xxxvi-viii).

Book I comprises the remainder of the first volume (3-508). Chapter 1 (5-35) covers the ceremonial involved in imperial processions to Hagia Sophia. Chapters 2-9 (35-61) record the appropriate acclamations to be chanted on the occasions of specific feasts; Chapters 9-35 (61-186) describe the ceremonial and chants appropriate to moveable and fixed feasts over the course of the year. Chapters 36-61 (186-278) cover the processions, court dress, coronation and investiture ceremonial of imperial personages and court officials, ending with the protocol for imperial funerals and birthdays. Chapters 62-7 (278-303) describe imperial receptions for the demes of Constantinople (the Blues and the Greens) in different portions of the palace. Chapters 68-73 (303-69) include festivals, acclamations, and traditional events at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Chapters 74-83 (369-86) contain an assortment of ceremonies, ranging from Latin chants during the emperor's processions to Hagia Sophia (369-70), to army cheers (372-3), wedding acclamations (379-81), and a glossary of Gothic terms related to a ceremonial game of Gothic origin (384-6). Chapters 84-95 (386-433) consist of excerpts from the now lost 6th-century work of Petros the Patrician, including the appointments of various officials, and accounts of the coronations of five early Byzantine emperors, from Leon I (457-74) to Justinian (527-65). Chapters 96-7 (433-43) were added to describe the coronation of Nikephoros II Phokas (963-9) and the appointment of the president of the senate (prompted by the appointment of Basileios Lakapenos as such by Nikephoros II). Book I is followed by an appendix (444-508) consisting of three military treatises, dealing with logistics, ceremonial like the recommended behavior of the emperor towards his troops, and examples of imperial triumphal returns to Constantinople.

Book II comprises most of the second volume. Following an index (509-15) and a preface (516-7), Chapters 1-5 (518-32) deal with palace routines and more appointments, like those of the domestikos of the skholai or the synkellos. Chapters 6-14 (532-66) cover various religious occasions, including the commemoration of Constantine, imperial bathing at the Blakhernai, and the ordination of the patriarch. Chapter 15 (566-98) describes imperial receptions of foreign dignitaries, including particular examples of receptions for the representatives of the caliphs of Baghdad and Cordoba in 946, and for the Kievan princess Olga. Chapters 16-26 (598-627) contain descriptions of ceremonial on various occasions, including triumphs in the Forum or Hippodrome, or the birth or baptism of an emperor's son. Chapters 27-30 (627-31) and 31-7 (631-5) provide various case studies of ceremonial from the reigns of Herakleios (610-41) and Michael III (842-67), respectively. Chapters 38-41 (635-41) begin with a description of the ordination of Patriarch Theophylaktos Lakapenos in 933 and discuss aspects of the patriarchate and imperial ceremonial dress. Chapter 42 (641-9) covers the imperial tombs, including the mausoleums built by Constantine and Justinian and the attached Church of the Holy Apostles.

Book II's Chapter 43 (649-51) includes army acclamations of the emperor during victory celebrations. Chapters 44 and 45 (651-78) cover the preparations, logistics, equipment, and conduct of Konstantinos VII's (failed) expedition against Muslim-held Crete, with asides describing a campaign in Italy under Romanos I Lakapenos (920-44), and the latter's diplomatic gifts to the king of Italy. In Chapters 46-51 (679-702) we turn to diplomacy. Thus, Chapter 47 (680-6) contains samples of foreign ambassadors' greetings to the emperor, and the diplomatic responses by the imperial logothete (the samples include exchanges with representatives of the papacy, Bulgaria, the Caliphate, and subordinate Muslim potentates). Chapter 48 (686-92) consists of samples of address to various foreign monarchs ranging from the pope to the princes of the Pechenegs. The remaining chapters in this section are concerned with monetary rewards and salaries. Chapters 52-3 (702-91) contain the Kletorologion of Philotheos from 899, describing the complex order of precedence at imperial banquets on particular feast days, followed by a description of the distribution of imperial largesse on special occasions. Chapter 54 (791-8) provides an order of precedence for patriarchs, metropolitans, autocephalous archbishops and suffragan bishops, ascribed to Epiphanios of Salamis. Chapters 55 and 56 (798-807) describe the customary gifts given by the emperor to the praipositoi and other members of the palace staff or circus factions.

Moffatt and Tall have followed the translation of the Leipzig manuscript with three addenda that provide a more complete version of the text. Addendum 1 (809-10) supplies the second half of Book I Chapter 55, an early draft for the appointment of a demarch; although part of the Leipzig manuscript, this was relegated by Reiske to his commentary. Addendum 2 (811-9) contains a reconstruction of what once was intended to be (judging by chapter headings) Book II Chapter 42, but did not appear as such in the Leipzig manuscript. This is an annotated list of Roman emperors from Constantine (306-37) to Romanos II (959-63), from the Chronicon Altinate, where this portion of the Book of Ceremonies survives in Latin translation. Addendum 3 (820-3) fills a missing portion of Chapter 54 from two other texts of Pseudo-Epiphanios.

The specialists, non-specialists, or students dealing with this text will be very well served by Moffatt and Tall's translation. But anyone who has not yet had extensive experience with the Book of Ceremonies should exercise some caution. As an extensive compilation, this composition is rather uneven. For example, while Book I Chapter 38 (191-6) supplies what might seem to be a standard imperial coronation, it is really a model example. Actual coronations, like those described in Book I Chapters 91-6 (410-40) are another matter, and they betray the customizable and variable nature of this seemingly most formal of ceremonies. [4] Similarly, Book II Chapters 47 and 48 create the impression of excerpts from actual diplomatic exchanges, but there is reason to be skeptical. The information is uneven and incomplete. Consider, for example, Book II Chapter 48 (686-92), where the value of the gold seal attached to missives sent to different foreign powers is supplied in some but not all of the cases.

A more complex cautionary case involves the status of the ruler of Bulgaria, which had been re-negotiated during the minority of Konstantinos VII himself. At the beginning of Konstantinos' reign, in 913, Simeon I of Bulgaria (893-927) had secured for himself a coronation as emperor (of the Bulgarians!) at the hands of Patriarch Nikolaos I Mystikos; actual letters sent to him by the Byzantine emperor Romanos I Lakapenos named him "emperor" (basileus) and "brother." [5] In Book II Chapter 47 (681-2) we read that the "king" (arkhon) of Bulgaria has been promoted from "spiritual grandson" of the Byzantine emperor to "spiritual son," while in Book II Chapter 48 (690), the ruler of Bulgaria, a "spiritual son" of the Byzantine emperor, has been promoted from "king" to "emperor." The protocols, as they stand, suggest changes during the reign of Konstantinos VII and his son Romanos II (i.e., after 945), but then the titles involved make no sense. The only circumstances in which a Bulgarian ruler could have been called "spiritual grandson" of the Byzantine one would point to the reign of Romanos I Lakapenos (920-44), whose granddaughter Maria married Simeon's son and successor Peter I (927-69). The change from "spiritual grandson" to "spiritual son" could denote the generational change on the Byzantine throne after the deposition of Romanos I. However, at no point after the mid-920s could the Bulgarian ruler be described as anything other than "emperor" in an official address. Clearly, at least this set of diplomatic protocols has been distorted by conscious or accidental manipulation, and we need to approach this type of evidence with due caution.

The complexities of the Book of Ceremonies notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that Moffatt and Tall have filled a major gap in the resources available to English-speaking scholars who may wish to consult this important compilation. [6]



1. J. J. Reiske (ed.), Constantini Porphyrogeniti imperatoris, De cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae libri duo, 2 vols. (Bonn 1829-30).

2. A. Vogt, ed. and trans., Constantin VII Porphyrogénète, Le livre des cérémonies, 2 Vols. (Paris 1935 and 1939), contains only the bulk of Book I, while N. Oikonomides, Les listes de préséance byzantines des IXe et Xe siècles (Paris 1972), included only the Kletorologion of Philotheos.

3. These were included in the Leipzig manuscript preceding the text of the Book of Ceremonies, but, although one of them has a preface by Konstantinos VII, they were printed by Reiske as an appendix to Book I. The treatises have already been translated by J. F. Haldon, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Three Treatises on Imperial Military Expeditions (Vienna 1990).

4. This subject has been discussed at length by G. Dagron, Emperor and Priest: The Imperial Office in Byzantium (Cambridge 2003), esp. 54-83.

5. J. V. A. Fine, The Early Medieval Balkans (Ann Arbor 1983), 144-8. The main sources are I. Dujcev and R. Jenkins, "On the Treaty of 927 with the Bulgarians," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 32 (1978): 217-95, and J. Darrouzès and L.G. Westerink, Théodore Daphnopatès, Correspondance (Paris 1978), nos. 5-7, pp. 56-85.

6. In addition to the scholarship listed above, important studies on or involving the Book of Ceremonies include those of J.B. Bury, "The Ceremonial Book of Constantine Porphyrogennetos," The English Historical Review 86 (1907): 209-27, 417-39, L. Bréhier, Les institutions de l'empire byzantin (Paris 1949), A. Toynbee, Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his World (London 1973), and M. McCormick, Eternal Victory (Cambridge 1986).

Article Details

Author Biography

Ian Mladjov

Bowling Green State University