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Intelligible Beauty: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery by Noel Adams
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DESCRIPTION: Softcover. Publisher: British Museum (2010). Pages: 250. Size: Size: 11½ x 8¼ inches; 2¼ pounds. The field of Byzantine jewelry (4th-15th centuries) is a rapidly expanding one and a large amount of important research has been conducted within the last ten years, both by scholars on the continent and in America. The intention of the conference, and subsequently the volume, is to draw together the many strands involved in this research and to publish them in accessible form. This volume represents a rare opportunity to make this crucial work available to a much wider specialist and non-specialist audience in Britain (and beyond). In particular the topics to be addressed by foreign speakers are either not well-known in Britain or are published in largely inaccessible journals. Chris Entwistle has been the curator of the Late Roman and Byzantine Collections at the British Museum since 1985. Dr Noel Adams is an independent scholar who has published widely on the metalwork and jewelry of the Early Middle Ages.
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REVIEW: The field of Byzantine jewelry (4th–15th centuries) is a rapidly expanding one and a large amount of important research has been conducted within the last ten years, both by scholars on the continent and in America. The intention is to draw together the many strands involved in this research and to publish them in accessible form. The papers fall into three discrete areas. The is the issue of centralization as opposed to regionalization and workshop activities within the major metropolitan centers of the eastern empire – Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria.
A further theme to be explored is how and whether it is possible to identify individual workshop production through both art- historical and technical analysis. The second section of papers focuses on the key questions of acculturation and mimesis between Early Byzantium and neighboring cultures such as the Avars, Lombards and Visigoths; and the third section looks at analogous issues between the medieval Byzantine empire and the Slavs, Rus, Turcs and Fatimids. A number of the papers examine the relationships, both technical and stylistic, between Middle Byzantine and Islamic jewelry which will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of the cultural interconnections between these two great medieval cultures.
This volume represents a rare opportunity to make this crucial work available to a much wider specialist and non-specialist audience in Britain (and beyond). In particular the topics addressed by foreign speakers are either not well-known in Britain or are partially published in largely inaccessible journals. Many of the objects featured in the papers are from the British Museum’s collections.
REVIEW: The papers in this volume derive from a conference held at the British Museum and King’s College, London, from 27–29 May 2008. The conference, organized under the auspices of the British Museum Byzantine Seminar, was the fifth in an annual series going back to 2003. The purpose of these conferences is to examine recent research in the field of Late Antique and Byzantine art and archaeology with a special focus on material culture. The objective of this particular conference was to concentrate on the burgeoning field of Byzantine jewelry with specific reference to the work being done by colleagues on the Continent.
Papers delivered at the seminar covered a diverse range of topics ranging from technical deliberations to topics such as the relationship between the metalwork of Byzantium and its neighbors, including interalia the Visigoths, Lombards, Avars, Slavs, Islam and Kievan Rus’. Further papers explored the topic of how we attempt (or not) to identify the jewelry emanating from the capital Constantinople as opposed to regional centers, and what are ‘Intelligible Beauty’ the stylistic and technical criteria employed. All but four of the papers given at the conference are published in this volume.
REVIEW: Noël Adams is the London Administrator and Deputy Curator of the Furusiyya Art Foundation. Prior to 2005 she was a Special Assistant in the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum. Her doctoral thesis on Late Antique and Migration Period garnet cloisonné jewellery was written at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Her primary field of research remains garnet cloisonné, but she has published widely on material culture of the first millennium AD ranging from Late Roman hanging basins to garnet sealstones from the Northwest Frontier of India dating to the Kushan and Hunnic periods. Her curated exhibitions include two on Anglo-Saxon archaeology at the National Trust Visitor Centre at Sutton Hoo, another on Late Medieval seal dies at the British Museum as well as the Thaw collection of Early Medieval objects at the Morgan Museum and Library in New York. Her catalogue for the Morgan library: “Bright Lights in the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Ornaments in the Thaw Collection” was published in 2014.
REVIEW: Chris Entwistle has been the curator of the Late Roman and Byzantine Collections at the British Museum since 1985. Dr Noel Adams is an independent scholar who has published widely on the metalwork and jewelry of the Early Middle Ages.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. The Six Techniques of Pierced Jewellery in Late Antiquity and their Evolution (Balint Laszlo Toth).
2. Some Unconventional Early Byzantine Rings (Jeffrey Spier).
3. Notes on Selected Recent Acquisitions of Byzantine Jewellery at the British Museum (Chris Entwhistle).
4. The Evidence for Jewellery Production in Constantinople in the Early Byzantine Period (Yvonne Stolz).
5. Important Bracelets in Early Christian and Byzantine Art (Aimilia Yeroulanou).
6. Byzantine Jewellery? Amethyst Beads in East and West during the Early Byzantine Period (Jorg Drauschke).
7. Byzantine Belt Ornaments of the 7th and 8th Centuries in Avar Contexts (Falko Daim).
8. Byzantine Influences on Visigothic Jewellery (Barry Ager).
9. Rethinking the Sutton Hoo Shoulder Clasps and Armour (Noel Adams).
10. Byzantines, Goths and Lombards in Italy: Jewellery, Dress and Cultural Interactions (Neil Christie).
11. Sicily and Southern Italy: Use and Production in the Byzantine Koine (Isabella Baldini Lippolis).
12. Byzantine Dress Accessories in North Africa: Koine and Regionality (Christoph Eger).
13. Avar Goldsmiths' Work from the Perspective of Cultural History (Csanad Balint).
14. Byzantium and the Slavs in the Light of Goldsmiths' Production (Bartlomiej Szymon Szmoniewski).
15. Byzantine Jewellery of the Hungarian Conquest Period: A View from the Balkans (Adam Bollok).<> 16. Byzantine Jewellery: The Evidence from Byzantine Legal Documents (Maria G. Pagani).
17. Elegance over the Borders: The Evidence of Middle Byzantine Earrings (Jenny Albani).
18. 'Temple Pendants' in Medieval Rus': How were they Worn? (Natalija Ristovska).
19. Jewellery from Princely Kiev and Byzantine Influence (Ljudmila Pekarska).
20. A 13th-Century Jewellery Hoard from Thessalonica: A Genuine Hoard or an Art Dealers' Compilation (Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie).
21. Some Aspects of the Finger-Rings in the Chalcis Treasure at the British Museum (Bet McLeod).
REVIEW: Stunning photography, erudite textual information. Clearly one of the “must have” publications if you are a professional or enthusiast of Byzantine, Eastern European, and Medieval jewelry/.
REVIEW: "Intelligible Beauty" is, as advertised, a collection of recent research on various aspects of Byzantine jewelry. However, it also has a wealth of beautiful, full-color photographs of many jewelry finds, many of which have not appeared in print before. These aspects make it both a resource for the expert, as well as a fascinating education for the re-enactor.
REVIEW: Fabulous articles and stunning photography!
ANCIENT JEWELRY: The art of the jeweler. Metalsmiths' shops were the training schools for many of the great artists of the Renaissance. Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghi-berti, Pollaiuolo, and Luca della Robbia all were trained as goldsmiths before they embarked upon the higher arts. The goldsmith made silver vases for the dinner tables of cardinals; knights sent sword blades to be mounted in rich hilts; ladies came to have their jewels set; princes needed medals to commemorate their victories; popes and bishops wished to place chased reliquaries on the altars of their patron saints; and men of fashion ordered medallions to wear upon their hats.
Although many materials-including iron-have been used for jewelry, gold is by far the most satisfactory. One could not expect the same results from any other metal, for the durability and the extraordinary ductility and pliancy of gold and its property of being readily drawn out or flattened into wire or leaf of almost infinite fineness have led to its being used for works in which minute-ness and delicacy of execution were required. Gold may be soldered, it may be cast, and any kind of surface, from the rough to the highest possible polish, given to it. It is the best of all metals upon which to enamel.
Gold was easily retrieved from the gravel of river beds, where it was washed from the eroded rocks; hence it is one of the oldest metals known. Unlike most metals, gold does not tarnish on exposure to the air but remains brilliant. Pure gold is too soft for general use, but it can be hardened and toughened by alloying with most of the other metals. Color is one of its important qualities. When the metal is pure, it is nearly the orange-yellow of the solar spectrum. When it contains a little silver, it is pale yellow, or greenish yellow; and when alloyed with a little copper, it takes a reddish tinge-all so effective in varicolored jewelry.
These alloys have an ancient history, electrum, an alloy of gold and silver which assured beautiful hues, having been used by the Egyptians, Greeks, and other ancient peoples. The ancients, from the most remote times, were acquainted with the art of beating gold into thin leaves, and this leaf was used for other purposes besides personal adornment. Gold leaf was used in buildings for gilding wood, and Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were adepts in applying it. It was no great departure to introduce gilded backgrounds to paintings or figures in mosaic and finally to illuminated manuscripts.
In the use of gold Byzantium went beyond Rome or Athens. When more skill was attained by painters, backgrounds in perspective took the place of those in gold. Early examples of leaf work in this exhibition may be seen in the headdress and jewelry of Queen Shubad's ladies-in-waiting from the excavations of the royal tombs at Ur in Mesopotamia. They date from a period between 3500 and 2800 B.C.
A second step was the cutting of gold leaf into thin strips to make wire. It is still a question whether the art of wire-drawing was known to the ancients. Plaited wire-work, as used in many places and over a wide period of time, is well represented in ancient history. Fusing and soldering are also ancient techniques. Granular work, the soldering of minute grains of gold one beside the other in a line or disposed ornamentally over a surface, was known to the ancient Egyptian jewelers, as well as to the classical, oriental, and barbarian gold-smiths. This traditional technique can be traced through the centuries, splendid granular work of the ancient and modern civilizations being well represented in archaeological finds.
Filigree, the arranging of wires in patterns, usually soldered to a base, is often associated with granular work. The oriental nations, especially the Moors, knew how to execute filigree with rare delicacy and taste, this technique adapting itself particularly to their designs. Embossing and chasing are techniques of widespread use. The relief effect of embossing is produced by various means. A thin pliable sheet of metal may be pressed into molds, between dies, or over stamps, or it may be molded free hand. An excellent example of an embossed gold sheet which was pressed or hammered may be seen in the Greek sword sheath from South Russia. In handwork the sheet of metal is placed against a ground with a yielding surface and the design is raised from the back by a series of punches.
The work of the chaser is closely related to that of the sculptor, the ornament on the face of a casting or an embossed work being finished with chisels or chasing tools. Jewelry was often enriched by stamping, a simple process by which a design is made in depression with a punch., and the gold fixed by heating to redness; and the surface finally burnished. In all countries the work of the lapidary was combined with that of the goldsmith.
Much jewelry depended for its splendor of effect chiefly upon its inlay of brilliantly colored stones, jaspers, agates, lapis lazuli. Much of the commoner kinds of jewelry, such as buckles for the belts of warriors or brooches for the vestments of ecclesiastics too poor to buy silver or gold, were made of bronze, enameled and mercury-gilded. Mercury-gilding is a process of great antiquity. The object was first carefully polished and rubbed with mercury; thin gold was then laid on and pressed down, the mercury being subsequently volatilized, and so forth, or upon colored glass inlays.
The Egyptians and Greeks were incomparable artists in intaglio (cutting concave designs or figures) in gold, and one notes with astonishment the mastery they possessed over the stubborn hard stones, including the sapphire. A Greek gold ring with an intaglio engraving of a girl stretching herself is one of the finest in ancient history. The engraver's art both in cameo and in intaglio attained a high degree of excellence about 500 B.C., which lasted until about the third or fourth century A.D. The classical artists used rich and warm-tinted oriental stones, the increased intercourse with the East after the death of Alexander the Great having a marked influence on the development of the art.
In gem-engraving the ancients used essentially the same principle that is in use today, that is, drilling with a revolving tool. They also used a sapphire or diamond point set in a handle and applied like a graver. In early medieval times gem-engraving was little practiced, but antique cameos were held in peculiar veneration on ac-count of the belief, then universal, in their potency as medicinal charms. With the Renaissance, the art of gem-engraving was revived, and engravers from that time onward have produced results equal to the best ancient work.
Glass in ancient times was so precious that some nations demanded tribute in this fragile material instead of gold. It is said that a citizen invented a method for making malleable glass and was invited to visit the Roman Emperor Tiberius. He brought a vase, which was thrown to the ground but only dented. A hammer again rounded it into shape. Tiberius then asked whether any other man knew the secret of manufacture. The artisan answered no, whereupon the emperor ordered him beheaded.
Glass inlay, widely used from Egyptian times, is often wrongly called enamel. It is not enamel, which, although a vitreous material, is employed in the powdered state and always fused into position by heat, whereas the glass inlay was always cut or molded and cemented into position. This glass inlay is often referred to as paste, which in the modern sense means glass with a high refractive index and high luster employed to imitate the diamond. Good examples of paste may be seen in some eighteenth-century English and French.
For centuries Egypt was the “promised land” of the ancient civilized world, for the Pharaohs had at their disposal enormous stores of gold. The Egyptians excelled in metal-work, especially in gold, and many techniques employed by goldsmiths today can be seen in ancient Egyptian jewelry, particularly for instance the treasure of el LThuin, which was recovered in its entirety and in nearly the same perfect condition in which it had been placed in the tomb; or the jewelry which had once graced the person of the Princess Sit Hathor Yuinet, daughter of King Se'n-Wosret II, who reigned from 1906 to 1887 B.C. and near whose pyramid, at el Lahfin, she was buried.
Her girdle, one of the outstanding pieces of ancient jewelry, is of amethyst beads and hollow gold panther-head ornaments, inside which pellets tinkled whenever the wearer moved. From the same treasure there is the neck-lace with a pectoral of King Se'n-Wosret II. On either side of the pectoral the hawk of the god Horus supports the cartouche of the king and a group of hieroglyphics which signify, "May King Se'n-Wosret II live many hundreds of thousands of years." The pectoral is gold inlaid with lapis lazuli, car-nelian, and turquoise, and the eyes of the shape made of actual flowers, fruits, and leaves, which were presented to guests to wear at banquets and other festivities.
Brilliant color is one of the most attractive characteristics of Egyptian jewelry. It had its origin in the beads, both of semi-precious stones and of faience, which were widely worn during the Old Kingdom (2800-2270 B.C.). Beads of faience of different colors were also in fashion during the XVIII Dynasty. The composition of the broad collars of faience of this period was derived from ornaments of the same engraving, soldering, and metal intaglio.
The Greek jeweler, like the Egyptian, excelled in the arts of embossing and chasing. Greece had little access to precious stones before Alexander's Eastern conquests, and so from the sixth to the fourth century B.C. the jeweler specialized in metalwork. He was a master of both granulated and filigree decoration, and he did exquisite work in plaiting gold into chains and in modeling it into little figures, both human and animal. Much of the best of Greek jewelry is sculpture in little. Ornamental goldwork naturally required more minute workman ship than sculpture in bronze and marble, and excellent modeling often makes little objects impressive as well as intricate.
A few famous examples of ancient Greek jewelry, such as an earring in the form of a siren, is a charming example of Greek jeweler's modeling. Other examples include a pair of earrings of the fourth century B.C. from Madytos on the Hellespont, as well as an eagle and a palmette made of hammered gold sheets; the feathers of the eagle are incised; each leaf is edged with beaded wire; and the fruit is covered with granulation. Another example might be a bracelet, of rock crystal, with gold finials, each finely embossed with a ram's head, which shows skillfully modeled figures, as well as plaited chains, and filigree and granular work of rare minuteness.
The Ganymede jewelry, made soon after 350 B.C., is one of the most precious sets that have come out of antiquity. Most techniques are represented on the earrings, bracelets, brooches, necklace, and emerald ring. On the earrings the figures of Ganymede are solid castings; Ganymede's drapery, the wings and tail. The technique of Etruscan goldwork is much the same as that of the Greek. The metal is thin, it is pressed or beaten out in designs in low relief, and it is further decorated by the surface application of filigree and small granules of gold. Several molds of stone have been discovered, and it is probable that the thin gold was pressed into the mold by means of a metal or agate style, solder being used to fix the separate pieces of gold together whenever necessary. Some of the granulated work is so fine that without a magnifying glass it is almost impossible to believe that the patterns are actually laid on with an infinite number of minute spherical grains. The burial chamber of an Etruscan lady, near Vulci, opened over a century ago, yielded a rich parure.
Archaeologists have recovered several headdresses reflecting the custom Chinese women had of decking their hair with floral ornaments. These are richly colored, and some of the materials used in them, besides gold, are amber, coral, seed pearls, and an exclusively Chinese material-bright blue kingfisher feathers. In Chinese jewelry the art of the metal-worker achieves an exquisite delicacy. A famous golden phoenix crown shows perhaps most clearly of all the works in the exhibition the ability of the goldsmith to take infinite pains. It has more than thirty separate ornaments, made of different con-formations of gold wire and decorated with pearls and other stones.
Many of the ornaments are set on tiny springs so that they quiver with the slightest movement. jade, exquisitely carved. With the exception of pearls, the Chinese did not use precious stones. The prettiness and color of Chinese jewelry tempt one to describe it at length, but according to a Chinese proverb, "A thousand words do not compare with one look." The Japanese also rank high as metalworkers, their sword furniture, the jewelry of the Japanese nobleman, especially showing the subtle skill of the artist in manipulating hard and soft metals. In enriching the fittings many processes of metal ornamentation-relief carving, relief inlay or applique, overlay, incised and recessed carving-are employed. It is the combination of techniques and alloys which makes their work of outstanding interest to jewelers as well as to the amateur. Today these fittings are often worn as jewelry in the West. In Japan sword furniture is frequently signed by masters as well known as famous painters. The Greek jeweler, like the Egyptian, excelled in the arts of embossing, chasing, A glance at the magnificent weapons from Persia, Turkey, and India will remove any impression that the love of personal adornment is a purely feminine attribute. Orientals often wear daggers embellished with silver and semiprecious stones even over their most ragged clothes, which shows that they take life with a gesture. In India perhaps more than anywhere else, jewelry has played a vital role in the life of the people, from the lowest rank to the highest. Although none of the Indian jewelry is much older than the eighteenth century, it represents designs and methods of decoration that go back to much earlier periods, some of them reflecting the influence of Hellenistic civilization. Some pieces are made of gold or silver alone, others are richly set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds or decorated with enamel. The Greek jeweler, like the Egyptian, excelled in the arts of embossing, chasing, Much of this jewelry was made in Jaipur, which was particularly famous for its enamelwork. A gold bracelet with dragon-head terminals is an outstanding example of combined jeweled and enameled work. The backs of jeweled ornaments were often enameled with fine patterns, so that the reverse of a necklace or pendant would be as fine in effect as the right side. The jewelry of the nomadic Iranian tribes is represented by a few choice pieces cast in gold and chased. These include many Scythian ornaments, winged griffins, stags, and rosettes, which were used as decoration on clothing; and two clasps of about the first century A.D., Sarmatian and Parthian in origin.
The Middle Ages are perhaps best represented by an extensive collection of jewelry from the Morgan collection, of the period of the barbarian migrations and of the Byzantine period. The gold ornaments in the Albanian Treasure (seventh-ninth century) are thought to be the work of nomad craftsmen in the train of barbarian tribes migrating through the Balkans from Central Asia. The splendid collections of Gallo-Roman, Germanic, and Merovingian jewelry, distinctive features of which are the colored glass inlays and the filigree and beaded work in gold, need only be mentioned, for they have been described and illustrated in the catalogues of Seymour de Ricci. They were made from the fourth to the eighth century A.D., the latest probably not exceeding the reign of Charlemagne (742- 814).
It was Charlemagne who stopped the custom of burying the dead with their weapons and jewelry because all the wealth was going into the ground instead of into the treasury. The result is that much fine jewelry was melted down. The Eastern influence which had come westwards after the year 330, when Constantine transferred his court from Rome to Byzantium (Constantinople), is seen in many pieces of ancient jewelry. The goldsmiths followed the Emperor Constantine to Byzantium, and from there came many marvels of art and beauty as presents to the Western churches. The jewelry in the treasure (sixth century) found on the island of Cyprus is in the Eastern style. It was probably buried during the Arab invasion of the island.
About the beginning of the eleventh century the Byzantine influence had been largely spent, and new styles were introduced. Families of monks, animated by one spirit and educated in the same way, lived in monasteries which were schools of ecclesiastical goldsmiths. They built and adorned their churches; they hammered, chased, and enameled gold, silver, and bronze. Altar fronts, pyxes, lamps, patens, chalices, crosses, candlesticks, and reliquaries were made, and most of their motives of design, methods of working, and chemical processes were the common property of the abbeys. Lay craftsmen, too, devoted more of their energies than previously to building cathedrals and creating ecclesiastical art, and there is consequently a close connection between the work of the architect and the mediaeval goldsmith.
This ecclesiastical influence is seen in a late eleventh-century book cover of silver-gilt, ivory, cabochons, and enamel, from the cathedral of Jaca. Before the multiplication of books by printing, their covers had more to do with the goldsmith's art than with that of the binder. Architectural influence is shown in the French thirteenth-century reliquary of Saint Margaret. Reliquaries like this were master-pieces of work in precious metals. They were built up of innumerable plates soldered together, with buttresses, pinnacles, and traceried windows, like little models of churches or small chapels. During the Renaissance, During the Renaissance, everything that could be gold was gold, not only jewelry but plate; and dresses for men and women and even horse trappings were made of cloth of gold. It was an age when the setting of a gem or the molding of a goblet was a matter that would occupy a grave potentate to the exclusion of affairs of state. In order to satisfy the demands of the time Columbus set out not to discover another continent but to find a convenient route to India, the land of gold, pearls, and spices. The Renaissance goldsmiths made the most of the mediaeval tradition in technique and in due course they developed perfection in workmanship. The rich and varied pendants are splendid examples of the renaissance jeweler’s art.
This type of ornament originated in devotional usage, and during the Middle Ages its decoration was almost always of religious significance. The pendant was a conspicuous ornament and was usually of fine workmanship. Portrait medallions, especially those of historical personages, were made by distinguished masters. A splendid pendant, representing Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland, is signed by Jacobus Veron (Gian Jacopo Caraglio) and is dated 1554. The cameo portrait of the queen is sardonyx, her chain and hair ornament gold. The Visconti-Sforza arms on the reverse are enameled gold. Among the enseignes, ornaments worn on the turned-back brim of the hat or cap, one superb historical example is one in gold skillfully embossed.
Cellini, in his “Treatise on Goldsmithing,” explains how such embossing was done. In principle, a sheet of gold is beaten from the back with punches until it is bossed up much like the wax model. He completes the explanation by telling of a visit to his workshop by Michelangelo, who complimented him on a gold medal embossed in high relief. Michelangelo reputedly said: “If this work were made in great, whether of marble or of bronze, and fashioned with as exquisite design as this, it would astonish the world; and even in its present size it seems to me so beautiful that I do not think ever a goldsmith of the ancient world fashioned aught to come up to it!” Another technique explained by Cellini is the “beautiful art of enameling.” A splendid example of this technique may be seen on a fine cups, of red jasper mounted with enameled gold and precious stones. It should be compared with the Cellini cup in the Altman collection.
Personal jewelry of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can be characterized by snuffboxes and carnets de bal (dance programs), precisely executed, showing the quality of the era’s workmanship. Such boxes, of varicolored gold, jeweled, and set with miniature portraits of their donors, were the favorite gifts of kings and princes. They were enormously costly in their day and they have always been precious collectors’ items. Some of them be- longed to persons famous in history, some are signed by famous jewelers, and all illustrate the extravagant vanities of the time. During the seventeenth century, there developed an increasing fondness for faceted gems set close together to produce glittering masses. Gradually the setting was subordinated to the precious stones, and this is the modern style.
THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE: The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the Greek-speaking, eastern part of the Mediterranean. Christian in nature, it was perennially at war with the Muslims, Flourishing during the reign of the Macedonian emperors, its demise was the consequence of attacks by Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks. Byzantium was the name of a small, but important town at the Bosphorus, the strait which connects the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean to the Black Sea, and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. In Greek times the town was at the frontier between the Greek and the Persian world. In the fourth century B.C., Alexander the Great made both worlds part of his Hellenistic universe, and later Byzantium became a town of growing importance within the Roman Empire.
By the third century A.D. the Romans had many thousands of miles of border to defend. Growing pressure caused a crisis, especially in the Danube/Balkan area, where the Goths violated the borders. In the East, the Sasanian Persians transgressed the frontiers along the Euphrates and Tigris. The emperor Constantine the Great (reign 306-337 A.D.) was one of the first to realize the impossibility of managing the empire's problems from distant Rome. So, in 330 A.D. Constantine decided to make Byzantium, which he had refounded a couple of years before and named after himself, his new residence. Constantinople lay halfway between the Balkan and the Euphrates, and not too far from the immense wealth and manpower of Asia Minor, the vital part of the empire.
"Byzantium" was to become the name for the East-Roman Empire. After the death of Constantine, in an attempt to overcome the growing military and administrative problem, the Roman Empire was divided into an eastern and a western part. The western part is considered as definitely finished by the year 476 A.D. when its last ruler was dethroned and a military leader, Odoacer, took power. In the course of the fourth century, the Roman world became increasingly Christian, and the Byzantine Empire was certainly a Christian state. It was the first empire in the world to be founded not only on worldly power, but also on the authority of the Church. Paganism, however, stayed an important source of inspiration for many people during the first centuries of the Byzantine Empire.
When Christianity became organized, the Church was led by five patriarchs, who resided in Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) decided that the patriarch of Constantinople was to be the second in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Only the pope in Rome was his superior. After the Great Schism of 1054 A.D. the eastern (Orthodox) church separated form the western (Roman Catholic) church. The centre of influence of the orthodox churches later shifted to Moscow.
Since the age of the great historian Edward Gibbon, the Byzantine Empire has a reputation of stagnation, great luxury and corruption. Most surely the emperors in Constantinople held an eastern court. That means court life was ruled by a very formal hierarchy. There were all kinds of political intrigues between factions. However, the image of a luxury-addicted, conspiring, decadent court with treacherous empresses and an inert state system is historically inaccurate. On the contrary: for its age, the Byzantine Empire was quite modern. Its tax system and administration were so efficient that the empire survived more than a thousand years.
The culture of Byzantium was rich and affluent, while science and technology also flourished. Very important for us, nowadays, was the Byzantine tradition of rhetoric and public debate. Philosophical and theological discources were important in public life, even emperors taking part in them. The debates kept knowledge and admiration for the Greek philosophical and scientific heritage alive. Byzantine intellectuals quoted their classical predecessors with great respect, even though they had not been Christians. And although it was the Byzantine emperor Justinian who closed Plato's famous Academy of Athens in 529 A.D., the Byzantines are also responsible for much of the passing on of the Greek legacy to the Muslims, who later helped Europe to explore this knowledge again and so stood at the beginning of European Renaissance.
Byzantine history goes from the founding of Constantinople as an imperial residence on 11 May 330 A.D. until Tuesday 29 May 1453 A.D. when the Ottoman sultan Memhet II conquered the city. Most times the history of the Empire is divided into three periods. The first of these, from 330 till 867 A.D., saw the creation and survival of a powerful empire. During the reign of Justinian (527-565 A.D.), a last attempt was made to reunite the whole Roman Empire under one ruler, the one in Constantinople. This plan largely succeeded: the wealthy provinces in Italy and Africa were reconquered, Libya was rejuvenated, and money bought sufficient diplomatic influence in the realms of the Frankish rulers in Gaul and the Visigothic dynasty in Spain.
The refound unity was celebrated with the construction of the church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. The price for the reunion, however, was high. Justinian had to pay off the Sasanian Persians, and had to deal with firm resistance, for instance in Italy. Under Justinian, the lawyer Tribonian (500-547 A.D.) created the famous Corpus Iuris. The Code of Justinian, a compilation of all the imperial laws, was published in 529 A.D. Soon the Institutions (a handbook) and the Digests (fifty books of jurisprudence), were added. The project was completed with some additional laws, the Novellae. The achievement becomes even more impressive when we realize that Tribonian was temporarily relieved of his function during the Nika riots of 532 A.D., which in the end weakened the position of patricians and senators in the government, and strengthened the position of the emperor and his wife.
After Justinian, the Byzantine and Sasanian empires suffered heavy losses in a terrible war. The troops of the Persian king Khusrau II captured Antioch and Damascus, stole the True Cross from Jerusalem, occupied Alexandria, and even reached the Bosphorus. In the end, the Byzantine armies were victorious under the emperor Heraclius (reign 610-642 A.D.). However, the empire was weakened and soon lost Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Africa to the Islamic Arabs. For a moment, Syracuse on Sicily served as imperial residence. At the same time, parts of Italy were conquered by the Lombards, while Bulgars settled south of the Danube. The ultimate humiliation took place in 800 A.D., when the leader of the Frankish barbarians in the West, Charlemagne, preposterously claimed that he, and not the ruler in Constantinople, was the Christian emperor.
The second period in Byzantine history consists of its apogee. It fell during the Macedonian dynasty (867-1057 A.D.). After an age of contraction, the empire expanded again and in the end, almost every Christian city in the East was within the empire's borders. On the other hand, wealthy Egypt and large parts of Syria were forever lost, and Jerusalem was not reconquered. In 1014 A.D. the mighty Bulgarian empire, which had once been a very serious threat to the Byzantine state, was finally overcome after a bloody war, and became part of the Byzantine Empire. The victorious emperor, Basilius II, was surnamed Boulgaroktonos, "slayer of Bulgars". The northern border now was finally secured and the empire flourished.
Throughout this whole period the Byzantine currency, the nomisma, was the leading currency in the Mediterranean world. It was a stable currency ever since the founding of Constantinople. Its importance shows how important Byzantium was in economics and finance. Constantinople was the city where people of every religion and nationality lived next to one another, all in their own quarters and with their own social structures. Taxes for foreign traders were just the same as for the inhabitants. This was unique in the world of the middle ages.
Despite these favorable conditions, Italian cities like Venice and Amalfi, gradually gained influence and became serious competitors. Trade in the Byzantine world was no longer the monopoly of the Byzantines themselves. Fuel was added to these beginning trade conflicts when the pope and patriarch of Constantinople went separate ways in 1054 A.D. (the Great Schism). Decay became inevitable after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 A.D. Here, the Byzantine army under the emperor Romanus IV Diogenes, although reinforced by Frankish mercenaries, was beaten by an army of the Seljuk Turks, commanded by Alp Arslan ("the Lion"). Romanus was probably betrayed by one of his own generals, Joseph Tarchaniotes, and by his nephew Andronicus Ducas.
After the battle, the Byzantine Empire lost Antioch, Aleppo, and Manzikert, and within years, the whole of Asia Minor was overrun by Turks. From now on, the empire was to suffer from manpower shortage almost permanently. In this crisis, a new dynasty, the Comnenes, came to power. To obtain new Frankish mercenaries, emperor Alexius sent a request for help to pope Urban II, who responded by summoning the western world for the Crusades. The western warriors swore loyalty to the emperor, reconquered parts of Anatolia, but kept Antioch, Edessa, and the Holy Land for themselves.
For the Byzantines, it was increasingly difficult to contain the westerners. They were not only fanatic warriors, but also shrewd traders. In the twelfth century, the Byzantines created a system of diplomacy in which deals were concluded with towns like Venice that secured trade by offering favorable positions to merchants of friendly cities. Soon, the Italians were everywhere, and they were not always willing to accept that the Byzantines had a different faith. In the age of the Crusades, the Greek Orthodox Church could become a target of violence too. So it could happen that Crusaders plundered the Constantinople in 1204 A.D. Much of the loot can still be seen in the church of San Marco in Venice.
For more than half a century, the empire was ruled by monarchs from the West, but they never succeeded in gaining full control. Local rulers continued the Byzantine traditions, like the grandiloquently named "emperors" of the Anatolian mini-states surrounding Trapezus, where the Comnenes continued to rule, and Nicaea, which was ruled by the Palaiologan dynasty. The Seljuk Turks, who are also known as the Sultanate of Rum, benefited greatly of the division of the Byzantine Empire, and initially strengthened their positions. Their defeat, in 1243 A.D., in a war against the Mongols, prevented them from adding Nicaea and Trapezus as well. Consequently, the two Byzantine mini-states managed to survive.
The Palaiologans even managed to capture Constantinople in 1261 A.D., but the Byzantine Empire was now in decline. It kept losing territory, until finally the Ottoman Empire (which had replaced the Sultanate of Rum) under Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 A.D. and took over government. Trapezus surrendered eight years later. After the Ottoman take-over, many Byzantine artists and scholars fled to the West, taking with them precious manuscripts. They were not the first ones. Already in the fourteenth century, Byzantine artisans, abandoning the declining cultural life of Constantinople, had found ready employ in Italy. Their work was greatly appreciated and western artists were ready to copy their art. One of the most striking examples of Byzantine influence is to be seen in the work of the painter Giotto, one of the important Italian artists of the early Renaissance. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. ANCIENT CONSTANTINOPLE/BYZANTIUM: Built in the seventh century B.C., the ancient city of Byzantium proved to be a valuable city for both the Greeks and Romans. Because it lay on the European side of the Strait of Bosporus, the Emperor Constantine understood its strategic importance and upon reuniting the empire in 324 A.D. built his new capital there; Constantinople. Foundation by Constantine (284 - 337 A.D.) Emperor Diocletian who ruled the Roman Empire from 284 to 305 A.D. believed that the empire was too big for one person to rule and divided it into a tetrarchy (rule of four) with an emperor (augustus) and a co-emperor (caesar) in both the east and west.
Diocletian chose to rule the east. Young Constantine rose to power in the west when his father, Constantius, died. The ambitious ruler defeated his rival, Maxentius, for power at the Battle of Milvian Bridge and became sole emperor of the west in 312 A.D. When Lucinius assumed power in the east in 313 A.D., Constantine challenged and ultimately defeated him at the Battle of Chrysopolis, thereby reuniting the empire. Constantine was unsure where to locate his new capital. Old Rome was never considered. He understood the infrastructure of the city was declining; its economy was stagnant and the only source of income was becoming scarce. Nicomedia had everything he could want for a capital; a palace, a basilica and even a circus; but it had been the capital of his predecessors, and he wanted something new.
Although he had been tempted to build his capital on the site of ancient Troy, Constantine decided it was best to locate his new city at the site of old Byzantium, claiming it to be a New Rome (Nova Roma). The city had several advantages. It was closer to the geographic center of the Empire. Since it was surrounded almost entirely by water, it could be easily defended (especially when a chain was placed across the bay). The location provided an excellent harbor; thanks to the Golden Horn; as well as easy access to the Danube River region and the Euphrates frontier. Thanks to the funding of Lucinius’s treasury and a special tax, a massive rebuilding project began. Constantinople would become the economic and cultural hub of the east and the center of both Greek classics and Christian ideals.
Although he kept some remnants of the old city, New Rome, four times the size of Byzantium, was said to have been inspired by the Christian God, yet remained classical in every sense. Built on seven hills (just like Old Rome), the city was divided into fourteen districts. Supposedly laid out by Constantine himself, there were wide avenues lined with statues of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Augustus, Diocletian, and of course, Constantine dressed in the garb of Apollo with a scepter in one hand and a globe in the other. The city was centered on two colonnaded streets (dating back to Septimus Severus) that intersected near the baths of Zeuxippus and the Testratoon.
The intersection of the two streets was marked by a four-way arch, the tetraphylon. North of the arch stood the old basilica which Constantine converted into a square court, surrounded by several porticos, housing a library and two shrines. Southward stood the new imperial palace with its massive entrance, the Chalke Gate. Besides a new forum, the city boasted a large meeting hall that served as a market, stock exchange, and court of law. The old circus was transformed into a victory monument, including one monument that had been erected at Delphi, the Serpent Column, celebrating the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 B.C. While the old amphitheater was abandoned (the Christians disliked gladiatorial contests), the hippodrome was enlarged for chariot races.
One of Constantine’s early concerns was to provide enough water for the citizenry. While Old Rome didn’t have the problem, New Rome faced periods of intense drought in the summer and early autumn and torrential rain in the winter. Together with the challenge of the weather, there was always the possibility of invasion. The city needed a reliable water supply. There were sufficient aqueducts, tunnels and conduits to bring water into the city but a lack of storage still existed. To solve the problem the Binbirderek Cistern (it still exists) was constructed in 330 A.D.
Religion took on new meaning in the empire. Although Constantine openly supported Christianity (his mother was one), historians doubt whether or not he truly ever became a Christian, waiting until his deathbed to convert. New Rome would boast temples to pagan deities (he had kept the old acropolis) and several Christian churches; Hagia Irene was one of the first churches commissioned by Constantine. It would perish during the Nika Revolts under Justinian in 532 A.D. In 330 A.D., Constantine consecrated the Empire’s new capital, a city which would one day bear the emperor’s name. Constantinople would become the economic and cultural hub of the east and the center of both Greek classics and Christian ideals. Its importance would take on new meaning with Alaric’s invasion of Rome in 410 A.D. and the eventual fall of the city to Odoacer in 476 A.D. During the Middle Ages, the city would become a refuge for ancient Greek and Roman texts.
In 337 A.D. Constantine died, leaving his successors and the empire in turmoil. Constantius II defeated his brothers (and any other challengers) and became the empire’s sole emperor. The only individual he spared was his cousin Julian, only five years old at the time and not considered a viable threat; however, the young man would surprise his older cousin and one day becomes an emperor himself, Julian the Apostate. Constantius II enlarged the governmental bureaucracy, adding quaestors, praetors, and even tribunes. He built another cistern and additional grain silos. Although some historians disagree (claiming Constantine laid the foundation), he is credited with building the first of three Hagia Sophias, the Church of Holy Wisdom, in 360 A.D. The church would be destroyed by fire in 404 A.D., rebuilt by Theodosius II, destroyed and rebuilt again under Justinian in 532 A.D.
A convert to Arianism, Constantius II‘s death would place the already tenuous status of Christianity in the empire in jeopardy. His successor, Julian the Apostate, a student of Greek and Roman philosophy and culture (and the first emperor born in Constantinople), would become the last pagan emperor. Although Constantinius had considered him weak and non-threatening, Julian had become a brilliant commander, gaining the support and respect of the army, easily assuming power upon the emperor’s death. Although he attempted to erase all aspects of Christianity in the empire, he failed. Upon his death fighting the Persians in 363 A.D., the empire was split between two brothers, Valentinian I (who died in 375 A.D.) and Valens.
Valentinian, the more capable of the two, ruled the west while the weaker and short-sighted Valens ruled the east. Valens only contribution to the city and the empire was to add a number of aqueducts, but in his attempt to shore up the empire’s frontier --he had allowed the Visigoths to settle there-- he would lose a decisive battle and his life at Adrianople in 378 A.D. After Valens embarrassing defeat, the Visigoths believed Constantinople to be vulnerable and attempted to scale the walls of the city but ultimately failed. Valen’s successor was Theodosius the Great (379 – 395 A.D.).
In response to Theodosius outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the empire in 391 A.D. He called the Second Ecumenical Council, reaffirming the Nicene Creed, written under the reign of Constantine. As the last emperor to rule both east and west, he did away with the Vestal Virgins of Rome, outlawed the Olympic Games and dismissed the Oracle at Delphi which had existed long before the time of Alexander the Great. His grandson, Theodosius II (408 – 450 A.D.) rebuilt Hagia Sophia after it burned, established a university, and, fearing a barbarian threat, expanded the city’s walls in 413 A.D.; the new walls would be forty feet high and sixteen feet thick.
A number of weak emperors followed Theodosius II until Justinian (527 – 565 A.D.), the creator of the Justinian Code, came to power. By this time the city boasted over three hundred thousand residents. As emperor Justinian instituted a number of administrative reforms, tightening control of both the provinces and tax collection. He built a new cistern, a new palace, and a new Hagia Sophia and Hagia Irene, both destroyed during the Nika Revolt of 532 A.D. His most gifted advisor and intellectual equal was his wife Theodora, the daughter of a bear trainer at the Hippodrome. She is credited with influencing many imperial reforms: expansion of women’s rights in divorce, closure of all brothels, and the creation of convents for former prostitutes.
Under the leadership of his brilliant general Belisarius, Justinian expanded the empire to include North Africa, Spain and Italy. Sadly, he would be the last of the truly great emperors; the empire would fall into gradual decline after his death until the Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453 A.D. One of the darker moments during his reign was the Nika Revolt. It started as a riot at the hippodrome between two sport factions, the blues and greens. Both were angry at Justinian for some of his recent policy decisions and openly opposed his appearance at the games. The riot expanded to the streets where looting and fires broke out. The main gate of the imperial palace, the Senate house, public baths, and many residential houses and palaces were all destroyed.
Although initially choosing to flee the city, Justinian was convinced by his wife, to stay and fight: thirty thousand would die as a result. When the smoke cleared, the emperor saw an opportunity to clear away remnants of the past and make the city a center of civilization. Forty days later Justinian began the construction of a new church; a new Hagia Sophia. No expense was to be spared. He wanted the new church to be built on a grand scale -- a church no one would dare destroy. He brought in gold from Egypt, porphyry from Ephesus, white marble from Greece and precious stones from Syria and North Africa. The historian Procopius said: "it soars to a height to match the sky, and as if surging up from other buildings it stands as high and looks down on the remnants of the city … it exults in an indescribable beauty."
Over ten thousand workers would take almost six years to build it. Afterwards Justinian was reported to say, “Solomon, I have surpassed thee.” Near the height of his reign, Justinian’s city suffered an epidemic in 541 A.D. --the Black Death-- where over one hundred thousand of the city’s residents would die. Even Justinian wasn’t immune, although he survived. The economy of the empire would never completely recover. Two other emperors deserve mention: Leo III and Basil I. Leo III (717 – 741 A.D.) is best known for instituting iconoclasm, the destruction of all religious relics and icons, the city would lose monuments, mosaics and works of art, but he should also be remembered for saving the city.
When the Arabs lay siege to the city, he used a new weapon “Greek fire”, a flammable liquid to repel the invaders. It was comparable to napalm, and water was useless against it as it would only help to spread the flames. While his son Constantine V was equally successful, his grandson Leo IV, initially a moderate iconoclast, died shortly after assuming power, leaving the incompetent Constantine VI and his mother and regent Irene in power. Irene ruled with an iron hand, preferring treaties to warfare, aided by several purges of the military. Although she saw the return of religious icons (endearing her to the Roman church), her power over her son and the empire ended when she chose to have him blinded; she was exiled to the island of Lesbos.
Basil I (867- 886 A.D.), the Macedonian (although he had never set foot in Macedonia), saw a city and empire that has fallen into disrepair and set about a massive rebuilding program: Stone replaced wood, mosaics were restored, churches as well as a new imperial palace were constructed, and lastly, considerable lost territory was recovered. Much of the rebuilding, however, was lost during the Fourth Crusade (1202 -1204 A.D.) when the city was plundered and burned, not by the Muslims, but by the Christians who had initially been called to repel invaders but sacked the city themselves. Crusaders roamed the city, tombs were vandalized, churches desecrated, and Justinian’s sarcophagus was opened and his body flung aside. The city and the empire never recovered from the Crusades leaving them vulnerable for the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A.D. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. SYMBOL OF BYZANTIUM – THE TWO-HEADED EAGLE: The double-headed eagle has been a popular symbol associated with the concept of a powerful Empire. Most contemporary uses of the symbol are exclusively associated with its use by the Byzantine Empire and the Greek Orthodox Church. However, the double-headed eagle has been in use for thousands of years – way before the Greeks identify it with the Byzantine Empire and Orthodox religion – while its original meaning is debated among scholars. The eagle was a common symbol representing power in ancient Greek city-states.
In Greek mythology, there was an implication of a "dual-eagle" concept in the tale that Zeus let two eagles fly East and West from the ends of the world with them eventually meeting in Delphi thus proving it to be the center of the earth. According to many historians, however, the two-headed eagle appears to be of Hittite origin. Early examples of the symbol come from the Hittite empire in central Anatolia, where two-headed eagles can be found on seals and also on sculptures. Interestingly, some of those sculptures also have other beasts in their claws and appear to be the symbol of the ruler standing on it.
Thus, the two-headed eagle could have been the symbol of the tribe of the ruler but also of the ruler himself. After the Hittite two-headed eagles there is a gap of almost two millennia to be filled. In the meantime, the emblem of the supreme commander in the Hellenistic world was a monstrous head, being the head of the army personified by Medusa or Nike (Goddess of Victory). The famous symbol re-appears again thousands of years later, during the Early Middle Ages, around the 10 th century, where it was mainly used as the absolute symbol of the Byzantine Empire. It is suggested that the early Byzantine Empire inherited the Roman eagle as an imperial symbol. During his reign, Emperor Isaac I Comnenus (1057–1059) modified it as double-headed, influenced by traditions about such a beast in his native Paphlagonia in Asia Minor.
After the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantine Greeks in 1261, two crowns were added (one over each head) representing the newly recaptured capital and the intermediate "capital" of the empire of Nicaea. In the following two centuries (11th and 12th), representations of the symbol were also found in Islamic Spain, France and Bulgaria, while from the 13th century onward it becomes more and more widespread. In the meantime the two-headed eagle was adopted by the Islamic world as well, especially after the fall of the Seljuq Empire and the restoration of the temporal power of the Caliphate of Bagdad in 1157. This is testified mainly by coins bearing a two-headed eagle and from the vassals of the Caliphate.
Even more impressively, the two-headed bird is also found in Indian culture. Known as “Gandhabherunda” in India, the symbol has the same Hittite origin as the two-headed eagle in the West. A myth says that Vishnu assumed the form of a two-headed eagle to annihilate Sarabha, a form taken by Shiva to destroy Narasimha (an avatar of Vishnu) again, a sectarian device to humble a rival creed. Such a bird appears at Sirkap Stupa which usually is dated at about the beginning of the Christian era. It is depicted there sitting and turned to the dexter and this seems to have been the common attitude for centuries. It can also be found on a fresco in Brihadiswara Temple, consecrated 1010, and much later on a 16th century Vijayanagar coin.
However, it was Christianity that ultimately arrogated the symbol. The now widely-recognized yellow with a black crowned double-headed eagle flag, became the symbol of the Palaiologoi family, the last Greek royal family to rule the Byzantine Empire before the fall of Constantinople in 1453. As already mentioned, after Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured Constantinople from the Crusaders in 1261, he adopted the double-headed eagle which symbolized the dynasty's interests in both Asia and Europe. During these two centuries of the dynasty’s reign though, the flag became identified not just with the specific family but with the Empire itself.
Additionally, in the eyes of the Byzantines the double-headed eagle gradually became the absolute symbol of Orthodoxy, symbolizing the unity between the Byzantine Orthodox Church and State, which was governed by the principle of “Symphonia”, thus the "symphony" between the civil and the ecclesiastical functions of Byzantine Orthodox society. In addition, the heads of the eagle also represented the dual sovereignty of the Byzantine Emperor, with the left head representing Rome (the Western part) and the right head representing Constantinople – the Hellenistic part of the Empire.
Apparently, when the Holy Crusaders passed through Constantinople on their way to what is now Israel, they most likely first came in contact with the impressive double-headed symbol embroidered in gold on heavy banners of silk, borne aloft by the Seljuk Turks. It was from the Turks and not the Byzantines, as some may falsely think, that the crusaders took this banner to adorn the courts of Charlemagne and hung as a sacred relic in the great cathedrals. Frederick of Prussia is the one to “blame” for popularizing the eagle symbol throughout Western Europe, as he was the one who supplied the emblem during the formative stages of the Rite, even though he or Prussia couldn’t use it exclusively as their own.
In England we find it used upon knightly arms. Most notably Robert George Gentleman displayed it upon his shield, with the motto, "Truth, Honour and Courtesy." In France, it became popular by Count de Montamajeur, who associated with the motto, "I shall hold myself erect and not blink,” and in Italy we find it upon the arms of the Duke of Modena in 1628 under the motto "No age can destroy it. As for its modern use? It remains the absolute symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church, while it is often seen in the world of sports. Several football (soccer) clubs across Europe, bear the double-headed eagle in their insignia, with the Greek sport club of AEK – Athletic Union of Constantinople – which was founded by Greek refugees who fled to Greece from Constantinople in the 1920s, being the most popular and successful of them. [Ancient Origins]. THE ROYAL BYZANTINE BODYGUARD: THE VARANGIANS: The Varangian Guard: Berserkers of the Byzantine Empire. The tale of the Varangians continues in its prime in the form of the Varangian Guard, a prominent and selective Byzantine army arising in the tenth century. Composed of the Scandinavian marauders in the beginning, the Varangian Guard survived until the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries as the Byzantine Emperor's elite sentinel. Dressed in battle armor of blue tunics and crimson cloaks, with man-high battle axes gilded with gold, the bright colors of the Varangian Guard did nothing to quell the terrible berserking power, which they laid against all those who threatened their Byzantine leader.
Berserkers were Old Norse warriors who fought as unchecked, frenzied shock troops who, when deployed, appeared so mad that neither "fire nor iron" frightened them. Much of what is known about the Varangian Guard comes down through the centuries from scholars such as Princess Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexios I, and Michael Psellos, a monk from Constantinople—both writing in the eleventh century A.D. It is believed that the Varangian Guard had been formed around the year 874 when a treaty between the Rus' and Byzantine Empire dictated that the Rus' had to send warriors to the aid of the Empire as necessary.
Though it was initially a forced military draft, the practice later became voluntary, undoubtedly in part to ensure the Varangians did not revolt against their new Byzantine leaders. However, it was not hard to keep the foreign warriors working in the Empire, as the Empire reportedly treated the Varangians far more generously than the leaders of Rus', who tended to withhold payments and ignore promises of land and status. It was Emperor Basil II, also known as Basil Bulgaroktonos (Bulgar slayer), who truly brought the Varangians to the forefront of Byzantine culture in the tenth century. Born of Macedonian stock, Basil II reigned from 976 to 1025, and is in large part remembered for stabilizing the eastern empire against foreign threats.
The stabilization, however, was in large part due to Varangian aid, given to him by Vladimir I of the Kievan Rus', and cemented because of Vladimir's marriage to Basil's own sister, Anna. With this wedding, the Varangian forces became a interchangeable unit between Rus' and the Byzantine Empire, and they were uniquely tied for as long as the Empire remained. This is how the Varangians became Christianized (see Part 1). Part of Basil's agreement to allow Vladimir to wed his sister was that Vladimir had to accept Anna's religion. Thus, Vladimir was baptized and Rus' was Christianized not long after. Initially, the Varangian Guard was utilized as extra fighting power in skirmishes between Byzantium and some of her eastern foes. However, as history shows, with usurpers such as Basil II's own namesake Basil I, the native protectors of the city and of the Emperor could easily be swayed to shift loyalties. Thus Emperor Basil II came to actually trust the Varangians more than his own people, and they were therefore given a more critical role in his armed forces. Princess Anna even notes in her work The Alexiad, the Varangians were uniquely known for their loyalty to the ruling emperor. (This is in reference to her father's own seizing of the Byzantine throne).
Eventually, they became the personal protectors of the emperor himself: an elite, close knit force that remained near the emperor's side at all times. Accompanying him to festivals and parties, religious activities and private affairs, the Guard remained at all times close to the emperor and his family. They were the guardians of his bedchambers in the evenings, remaining barracked within the palace to ensure they were always nearby, and went so far as to provide crowd control at illustrious gatherings to ensure the emperor was always protected and always had a way to escape. Within a short time, it became quite a prestigious endeavor to be one of the emperor's elite defenders. Though initially comprised of Scandinavian descendants, the Varangian Guard grew over the years to include most of the races of the British Isles: Anglo-Saxons, Irishmen, Scotsmen, etc.
A fee of seven to sixteen pounds of gold was charged to allow entrance into the army, oftentimes on a loan basis from the Byzantine emperor himself. The warriors then quickly repaid their debt with the large salary they were provided for their services, on top of the booty they were allowed to take after the success of decisive battles. Furthermore, modern author Lars Magnar Enoksen claimed that, upon the death of each Byzantine Emperor, it was customary for the Varangians to pillage the palace treasury in an Old Norse rite. This act made the warriors even wealthier, and in showing off this wealth to their own families, many other Scandinavians were eager to pay the fee to become part of the Guard.
The berserkers of the Byzantine Empire, the Varangian Guard allowed the Viking name to survive well into the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as protectors and warriors of the eastern empire. It can be postulated that without the Varangian Guard the Byzantine Empire could have taken a vastly different turn. The unyielding protection they provided their emperors helped prevented the vicious usurpations that had plagued the Roman Empire that preceded them. Though even this defense eventually came to an end with the Fourth Crusade's siege of Constantinople in the year 1204 AD, the Varangians survived long beyond their Viking ancestors as a strong, elite force, rich in both wealth, as well as power. [Ancient Origins].
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ABOUT US: Prior to our retirement we used to travel to Europe and Central Asia several times a year. Most of the items we offer came from acquisitions we made in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) during these years from various institutions and dealers. Much of what we generate on Etsy, Amazon and Ebay goes to support The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe and Asia connected with Anthropology and Archaeology. Though we have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, our primary interests are ancient jewelry and gemstones. Prior to our retirement we traveled to Russia every year seeking antique gemstones and jewelry from one of the globe’s most prolific gemstone producing and cutting centers, the area between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg, Russia. From all corners of Siberia, as well as from India, Ceylon, Burma and Siam, gemstones have for centuries gone to Yekaterinburg where they have been cut and incorporated into the fabulous jewelry for which the Czars and the royal families of Europe were famous for.
My wife grew up and received a university education in the Southern Urals of Russia, just a few hours away from the mountains of Siberia, where alexandrite, diamond, emerald, sapphire, chrysoberyl, topaz, demantoid garnet, and many other rare and precious gemstones are produced. Though perhaps difficult to find in the USA, antique gemstones are commonly unmounted from old, broken settings – the gold reused – the gemstones recut and reset. Before these gorgeous antique gemstones are recut, we try to acquire the best of them in their original, antique, hand-finished state – most of them centuries old. We believe that the work created by these long-gone master artisans is worth protecting and preserving rather than destroying this heritage of antique gemstones by recutting the original work out of existence. That by preserving their work, in a sense, we are preserving their lives and the legacy they left for modern times. Far better to appreciate their craft than to destroy it with modern cutting.
Not everyone agrees – fully 95% or more of the antique gemstones which come into these marketplaces are recut, and the heritage of the past lost. But if you agree with us that the past is worth protecting, and that past lives and the produce of those lives still matters today, consider buying an antique, hand cut, natural gemstone rather than one of the mass-produced machine cut (often synthetic or “lab produced”) gemstones which dominate the market today. We can set most any antique gemstone you purchase from us in your choice of styles and metals ranging from rings to pendants to earrings and bracelets; in sterling silver, 14kt solid gold, and 14kt gold fill. When you purchase from us, you can count on quick shipping and careful, secure packaging. We would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from us. There is a $3 fee for mailing under separate cover. I will always respond to every inquiry whether via email or eBay message, so please feel free to write.
Price distribution "Byzantine Late Roman Early Medieval Jewelry Goth Lombard Visigoth Avar Sicilian" vs 31 similar items
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