Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.07.11 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.07.11

Falko Daim, Dominik Heher, Claudia Rapp, Christian Gastgeber (ed.), Menschen, Bilder, Sprache, Dinge: Wege der Kommunikation zwischen Byzanz und dem Westen. 2 vols. Byzanz zwischen Orient und Okzident, 1/2.   Mainz:  Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums​, 2018.  Pp. 213; 424.  ISBN 9783884672969 (Vol. 1).  €42.00; €69.00.  ISBN 9783884672976.  (Vol. 2).  


Reviewed by Daniëlle​ Slootjes, Radboud University Nijmegen (d.slootjes@let.ru.nl)

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

The two volumes under review accompanied the exhibition Byzanz und der Westen. 1000 vergessene Jahre , that was held at the Austrian castle Schallaburg in 2018. The theme of the exhibition is closely linked to various current and large research projects, in particular Byzanz zwischen Orient und Okzident of the Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus Mainz in Germany and Moving Byzantium led by Claudia Rapp at the University of Vienna in Austria. Accordingly, many of the contributors to the volumes are somehow involved in these broader projects, supplemented with scholars working on this theme. Central to the exhibition as well as the research projects is the position of Byzantium at the crossroads between East and West.

Both volumes are edited by Falko Daim, Dominik Heher, and Claudia Rapp, whereas Christian Gastgeber acted as the fourth editor of volume one. Together, the two volumes contain 41 contributions (27 chapters in German and 14 in English). While insights into different types of communication between Byzantium and the West can be considered the overarching theme of the volumes, each has its own focus. Volume one with 11 chapters concentrates on images and objects, while volume two with its 30 contributions deals with people and words. Of course, in practice the divide is not so strict, as many chapters work with both textual and material sources.

Volume one, with its emphasis on images and objects, presents interesting case studies that illustrate the more general and well-known notions of connections between Byzantium and the West through exchange. Trade, diplomatic missions, pilgrimage as well as the crusades (in particular the fourth crusade of 1204) led to a widespread exposure of Byzantine artwork and other artistic expressions and traditions such as fashion in the West. Similarly, objects and images from the West ended up in Byzantium. Furthermore, travelling artists both to and from the West gave rise to inspired articulations of mutual influence in newly created objects and images.

The contributions in volume one clearly demonstrate how recent research on the reciprocal incorporation of artistic techniques and iconographic traditions deepens our existing analyses. Two general and interconnected features characterize these contributions: reciprocity and the notion of change and continuity. As Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie points out in her contribution on the work of goldsmiths, scholars need to be more precise in their terminology for describing the meaning of mutual influence and exchange. We tend to use influence or (cultural) transfer to define processes of exchange of objects and ideas, but such general words do not always capture different levels of reciprocity that emerged within these processes. Case studies of specific materials or objects such as jewelry, textiles, organs, or relics lend themselves particularly well to a more thorough and detailed examination of mutual influence. Precisely these case studies can lead to a new understanding of differentiation within mutual influence. In some cases, the contributions show how certain objects ended up in a specific location where they had an impact on existing local practices, whereas others were representative of a larger wave of migration of objects that were spread over a greater- geographical area.

Interwoven in mutual influence is the notion of change and continuity. While encounters with each other’s artistic practices led to modifications to broader and longstanding iconographic programs of images, within each tradition objects and images underwent innovations over time as well. In other words, our modern interpretations always have to take this twofold experience into account.

Volume two picks up various themes that emerged in volume one, but changes perspective from objects and material expressions to people and modes of communication. The thirty contributions in this volume offer a fascinating mixture of discussions dealing with broad notions such as transformations, identity, or exchange as well as case studies of local and specific phenomena that illustrate those broader notions. Some of these more detailed case- studies focus on Byzantine influence on places that are now in Austria, which not only seems quite appropriate for a volume accompanying an exhibition in Austria but is also illustrative of the fact that especially at local level the impact of exchange between East and West was felt directly and is still visible for us in modern Austria. Even though Andreas Rhoby’s article on the daily life of Byzantine princesses who ended up at Austrian courts lacks a lot of solid evidence, it leads to interesting and plausible ideas. Claudia Rapp’s contribution on the legend of a relic that ended up in the little village of Heiligenblut, south of Austria’s highest mountain Grossglockner, exemplifies many of the stories of people from the West traveling to the East and then returning back home with (holy) objects that later claimed a place in local legends and pilgrimage traditions.

At the core of volume two lies the phenomenon of exchange, which is expressed and can be traced through political diplomacy, religious mobility, trade networks, or cultural exchange. Individuals who traveled between Byzantium and the West represented a driving force behind the process of mutual influence. As is to be expected, several contributors (for example, Drocourt, Ganter, Koder, Cheynet, Kolditz, and Preiser-Kapeller) zoom in on the identity and role of ambassadors. These men were carefully chosen, high profile men who mostly came from the upper classes of society or held top positions in the Church. Confidence of the Byzantine emperor, the papal court in Rome, or western rulers in the ability of their ambassadors to respectfully communicate and cultivate relations between East and West was crucial in the effectiveness of their visits. Rightfully, the reader is left with the impression that East and West were closely connected through intense and constant exchange of ambassadors who carried messages, offered gifts, and arranged marriages to solidify the relations between the various courts of Europe.

Religious exchange as expressed through various modes of mobility is highlighted in several contributions (for example, those of Descoendres, Borgolte and Chitwood, Wanek, Burkhardt, Delacroix-Besnier, and Mitsiou). On the one hand, chapters focus on the movement and incorporation of religious practices and expressions into regions where they were previously unknown. On the other hand, some chapters examine people as carriers of religious mobility such as members of the mendicant orders who introduced their traditions to new areas.

Trade represents a different type of exchange, no less vital for solidifying relations between East and West. In our attempt to understand economic life around the Mediterranean in the Byzantine period we need to examine both the presence and functioning of larger trade routes between the various parts of Europe and zoom in on the position of one specific location within larger trading networks. Dominik Heher’s article on Dyrrhachion (in modern-day Albania) combines both these perspectives as he offers an outline of the town’s history from a larger maritime Mediterranean point of view. He demonstrates how one specific location can be linked to many major political and economic developments, not only in its own region, but beyond, in the territories with which Dyrrhachion was connected through trade.

In both volumes, the issue of the level ‘Byzantiness’ in objects, traditions, or people is repeatedly addressed. This is an intriguing though complicated matter, as we cannot of course measure to what extent, for instance, an object found and produced in the West can be considered fully ‘Byzantine’ or should be categorized as displaying Byzantine influence. Annick Peters-Custot gives a wonderful demonstration of this issue in her contribution on the Byzantine influence on the twelfth-century Hauteville kings of Sicily. While characteristics of Byzantine emperorship certainly had an effect on the way in which those kings styled themselves, Peters-Custot shows that they also incorporated Islamic and Western elements into their representation of power.

Overall, these two volumes present an attractive mixture of contributions that are setting the larger stage of the Byzantine world and in-depth studies of particular types of objects, sources, or other phenomena. Both volumes are richly illustrated and offer their readers a wealth of information and a learned view on the state-of-the-art of modern scholarship. The combined bibliography of all the chapters offers an up-to-date set of primary sources and modern scholarship, which is instrumental for both scholars and students who are interested in the mechanisms of interactions and communication between Byzantium and the West. Furthermore, readers less familiar with the Byzantine world as well as Byzantinists, and even those who love modern heavy metal music, will find that the Byzantine world continues to surprise and inspire.

Authors and titles

Vol 1. Bilder und Dinge:
Šimon Ungerman: Frühmittelalterliche Schlaufenohrringe mit Drahtanhängern oder Kettchen -Ulrike Koenen: Auftritt im Westen – Zur Wirkung byzantinischer Kunstwerke
Barbara Schellewald: Transferprozesse zwischen Ost und West – Bildkonzepte und -modelle -Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie: Contact between Byzantium and the West from the 9th to the 15th Century: Reflections in Goldsmiths’ Works and Enamels
Susanne Rühling: Imponieren, Brillieren und Musizieren – Orgelklänge für Gott, Kaiser und den Sport
Arne Effenberger: Reliquienraub und Kunstdiebstahl – Folgen des vierten »Kreuzzugs«
Livia Bevilacqua: Venice in Byzantium: Migrating Art along the Venetian Routes in the Mediterranean (11th-15th Centuries)
Jessica Schmidt: Westliche Einflüsse in der spätbyzantinischen Wandmalerei Kretas anhand eines Fallbeispiels
Martina Horn: Eva als weiblicher Prototyp von Kirchenstifterinnen. Parallele Bildkonzepte im Münster zu Thann und in der Soter-Kirche in Akoumia auf Kreta
Athanassios Mailis: From Byzantine Monasticism to Venetian Piety. The Double Church of Hagios Panteleimonas and Hagios Demetrios at Perivolia (Chania)
Charalampos G. Chotzakoglou: Religious Conflicts between Byzantium and the West Mirrored in the Iconography of Byzantine Lands under Latin Rule

Vol. 2. Menschen und Worte:
Walter Pohl: Transformation des Römischen Reiches in Ost und West
Werner Seibt: War Österreich auch einmal byzantinisch?
Roland Steinacher: Byzanz und die afrikanischen Vandalen
Georges Descœudres: Spiritualität aus der Wüste. Die Wüstenväter als Vorbild des lateinischen Mönchtums
Michael Borgolte and Zachary Chitwood: Herrscherliche Klosterstiftungen im Westen und in Byzanz. Ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Reformforschung | Royal Monastic Foundations in the West and in Byzantium. A Contribution to Comparative Scholarship on Reform
Wolfram Brandes: Byzantinischer Bilderstreit, das Papsttum und die Pippinsche Schenkung. Neue Forschungen zum Ost-West-Verhältnis im 8. Jahrhundert
Nicolas Drocourt: Ambassadors as Informants and Cultural Brokers between Byzantium and the West (8th to 12th Centuries)
Christophe Erismann: On the Significance of the Manuscript Parisinus graecus 437. The Corpus Dionysiacum, Iconoclasm, and Byzantine-Carolingian Relations
Clemens Gantner: Kaiser Ludwig II. von Italien und Byzanz
Nina-Maria Wanek: Missa graeca: Mythen und Fakten um Griechische Gesänge in westlichen Handschriften
Johannes Koder: Erfolglos als Diplomat, erfolgreich als Erzähler? Liudprand von Cremona als Gesandter am byzantinischen Kaiserhof
Peter Schreiner: Translatio Studii: Byzanz als Vermittler von Wissen in den Westen
Roland Scheel: Jenseits der »Warägergarde«: Skandinavien zwischen Byzanz und dem Westen
Dominik Heher: Dyrrhachion/Durrës – an Adriatic Sea Gateway between East and West
Friedrich Hild: Niederlassungen der Italiener und Johanniter an den Küsten Kleinasiens im Spiegel der mittelalterlichen Portulane und Portulankarten
Jean-Claude Cheynet and Alexandra-Kyriaki Wassiliou-Seibt: Adelige aus dem »Westen« in Staatsapparat und Gesellschaft des byzantinischen Reiches. Das Vermächtnis der Siegel -Lukas Clemens and Michael Matheus: Troia und Tertiveri – Transformationen byzantinischer Bischofssitze in Süditalien
Annick Peters-Custot: »Byzantine« versus »Imperial« Kingdom: How »Byzantine« was the Hauteville King of Sicily?
Stefan Burkhardt: Ut sit unum ovile et unus pastor. Das Vierte Laterankonzil und die Vielfalt der östlichen Christenheit
Andreas Rhoby: Austriaca Byzantina. Weitere Bemerkungen zu Byzanz und den Babenbergern im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert
Lutz Rickelt: Im Westen Grieche, im Osten Lateiner: Theodoros Palaiologos von Monferrat
Claudine Delacroix-Besnier: Mendicant Friars between Byzantium and Rome – Legates, Missionaries and Polemists (XIIIthXVth centuries)
Johannes Preiser-Kapeller: Spielzüge am Bosporus. Unionsverhandlungen zwischen Byzanz, Armenien und Westeuropa in den 1320er und 1330er Jahren
Ekaterini Mitsiou »I believe what the Great Church believes«. Latin Christians and their Confessions of Faith in 14th Century Byzantium
Sebastian Kolditz: Gesandte, Gelehrte und Besucher: Byzantiner in Italien im späteren 14. und im 15. Jahrhundert
Miriam Rachel Salzmann: (Re)constructing Aristocratic Religious Identities in 15th Century Cyprus
Claudia Rapp: Zwischen Konstantinopel, Salzburg und Venedig – Heiligenblut in Kärnten
Christian Gastgeber: Wien und das neu begründete imperium Romano-Byzantinum (1720-1738). Der selbsternannte Großmeister des Konstantinischen Ritterordens des Heiligen Georg Iohannes IX. Antonius I. Flavius, Angelus, Comnenus, (Ducas), Lascaris, Paleologus
Jean Michel Spieser: Die Rezeption von Strzygowski (und Riegl) bei den französischen Byzantinisten zwischen 1900 und 1940
Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie: Heavy Metal Meets Byzantium! Contact between Scandinavia and Byzantium in the Albums »The Varangian Way« (2007) and »Stand Up and Fight« (2011) by the Finnish Band Turisas
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