Friday, October 21, 2022

Late for Dinner: Heterotopy, Heterochrony, and Early Medieval Port Society

Ian Randall, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia with the Database of Religious History



Ports, with their hustle and bustle and exchange of goods, offer a somatic experience quite distinct from that afforded by inland areas, particularly on islands. As economic currents in the Eastern Mediterranean shifted over the 7th to 9th centuries CE, the nature of this experience also changed, as can be readily seen in recent work on the ceramic corpus. Building off of the work of Veikou and Nilsson, this paper takes a material angle in exploring the potential for Early Medieval Cypriot port societies to act as heterotopic, and heterochronic, spaces of identity formation. By examining the differential connective access between town and country, landscape and seascape, the object worlds attendant on dining culture highlight divergent communities of practice that undermine, or reinforce, regional distinctions. This in turn has significant implications for how we think about identity formation and the Mediterranean insular interface in a period of dynamic centrifugal control.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Communication and Movement Dynamics in Byzantine Paphlagonia

Mete Oguz, PhD Student, SFU



Using GIS (Geographic Information System) software to visualize the landscape of Byzantine Paphlagonia enhances our comprehension of historical patterns associated with issues ranging from settlement and communication to defense and diplomacy. Datasets on geomorphology, elevation, water-flow patterns, tectonics and Köppen climate classifications, among others, are combined with historically re-constructed road maps of the area. Settlements and fortified sites are also mapped onto this uniform coordinate system via GQIS to reveal a clearer picture of the region and its historical dynamics. How the staggered, latitudinal divisions across Paphlagonia acted as natural thoroughfares for centuries, or how the distribution of fertile basins and their sparsity affected Byzantine military planning and defensive positioning, or how the true hinterlands of port-cities along the Paphlagonian coast were all the way across the Black Sea, are among the multitude of issues analyzed and answered. Understanding the functioning of such a fascinatingly diverse region as Paphlagonia, rich with local culture and identity, and a core part of the Politeia ton Rhomaion, is undoubtedly crucial in addressing broader questions in the Byzantine field.

Friday, September 16, 2022

A “Uniquely Byzantine” Punishment? Blinding, Disfigurement, and Perceptions of Cultural Difference Across the Medieval Mediterranean

Jake Ransohoff, Hellenisms Past and Present, Local and Global Postdoctoral Fellow, SFU



Byzantine civilization is famous for its “judicial savagery.” This talk centers on one particularly brutal punishment—blinding—common in Byzantine history and seen by historians as a stable feature of a certain kind of society. Emperors from the eighth century to the fourteenth blinded their political rivals. Such distasteful punishments, historians usually claim, conceal deep currents of cultural meaning. Byzantine belief held that a disfigured or debilitated person was unfit to rule as emperor, while church authorities sanctioned blinding as a merciful alternative to death. In this way—so conventional wisdom maintains—blinding could signal to its Byzantine audience as an act of pious compassion, even while it scandalized Western observers as a cruel and unusual torment.

This talk challenges the historiographical impulse to treat blinding as a marker of cultural difference: acceptable in Byzantium but heinous to outsiders unfamiliar with Byzantine sensibilities. It does so by focusing on the case of the French crusader and historian Geoffroi de Villehardouin (c. 1150–1215). Villehardouin’s chronicle On the Conquest of Constantinople expresses shock at Byzantine blinding, adducing various instances of this punishment to justify the Fourth Crusade. But closer attention to Villehardouin’s narrative indicates that the stress of his critique falls not on blinding itself, but rather on kinship and its relation to legitimacy. Meanwhile, a comprehensive survey of Byzantine blinding shows that the punishment all but disappears from the empire in the century preceding the Fourth Crusade. A revised history of punitive blinding helps remove Byzantium from its “habitual exceptionalism” (Averil Cameron), while also revealing shared developments that spanned, rather than divided, Byzantine East and Latin West.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Strangers No More: Constantinople, Tenochtitlan, and the Trauma of the Conquest

Eleni Kefala, Senior Lecturer, University of St Andrews



The Byzantines had long dreaded the year 1492. According to their calculations based on the Scriptures, it would bring the end of the world. In an eerie stroke of irony, they were right in their fears. Even though they were slightly off in the timing of the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Ottomans, they anticipated with uncanny accuracy the end of the world as they knew it. Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic paved the way for the European colonization of the Americas. But what is there in common between Byzantium and America beyond some bemusing serendipities? This paper approaches that question by rehistoricizing the fall of Byzantine Constantinople (1453) and Aztec Tenochtitlan (1521) while looking at three sorrowful poems composed by anonymous Greek and Aztec authors soon after the conquest of the Byzantine and Mexica empires.

Friday, March 28, 2022

Securing Power in Gaul: The Donation of Constantine

Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, Professor, UC Santa Barbara



Autun’s textual and material record illustrates how and why ancient patterns of life in northeast Gaul began to give way during Late Antiquity. Adopting a methodology developed in feminist historiography, this paper explores the effect on Autun’s political economy of resources funnelled to Autun’s bishop by the emperor Constantine in the early 4th century. Because Constantine did not restrict his patronage just to Autun, the city serves as a case study demonstrating how imperial patronage to local bishops helped secure the emperor’s throne, while transforming certain urban economies.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Dialect Diversity in the Greek of Greek-Canadians

Panayiotis Pappas, Professor, SFU



The project Immigrec (Immigration and Language in Canada: Greeks and Greek-Canadians, Anastassiadis et al. 2017), is an interdisciplinary project which aims to document the second wave of Greek immigration to Canada (roughly the period 1945 to 1975) through the collection of oral histories and archival material (travel documents, photographs, etc.). The sample of 453 participants happily includes a large number of dialectal speakers from 10 of the 15 dialect areas of Greece (Trudgill, 2003), and this allows for an examination of Greek dialect features in a sociolinguistic environment that is not dominated by Standard Modern Greek. In this presentation, Professor Pappas will focus on dialectal features that showcase how the speech of Greek Canadians can help us understand the development of Common Modern Greek (Tzitzilis, 2016) in the middle of the 20th century.

Friday, March 4, 2022

From Macedonian Outpost to a Hellenistic Polis: The Ancient City of Kabyle in Thrace

Ivaylo Lozanov, Assistant Professor, Sofia University, Bulgaria, and Adjunct Professor, SFU



Among the cities in Thrace founded by Philip II (359-336 BC), Kabyle is explicitly recorded as a Macedonian colony. Its history comes through insufficient and fragmentary literary evidence, supplemented to a certain extent by inscriptions, coins and archaeological excavations. Systematic archaeological research launched in 1972 made the site central in studying Hellenistic urbanism in Thrace. Here the main focus will be put on the transformations of the urban landscape, architecture and particular finds which are instructive on the political and socio-economic changes that created a flexible and unique type of community in the Hellenistic period.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Intimacy with the Gods: Nude Female Imagery in Greek Sanctuaries

Megan Daniels, Assistant Professor of ancient Greek Material Culture, University of British Columbia



The iconography of the nude female in the ancient world spans an area from Iraq to Spain over a period of more than 2000 years. It emerged within Mesopotamia in the third millennium BCE, and spread across western Asia in royal, domestic, and funerary contexts. In the Greek world, this imagery appeared between 800 and 600 BCE, a time known as the “Greek renaissance” following the Bronze Age collapse. Modern-day scholars highlighted this period as a time when the Greeks looked to the more venerable Near East for artistic inspiration, the so-called Orientalising period, and explained the nude female through the lens of Orientalism. Scholars working in the Near East and Egypt, on the other hand, explained this imagery through recourse to a generic “fertility/mother goddess” and through misogynistic attitudes towards female nudity. In this presentation, she will examine how the Orientalising and fertility paradigms have coloured our interpretation of this imagery. Daniels offers a new interpretation that attempts to move beyond artistic influence and generic fertility deities and into the realm of the shared ideologies between Greece and western Asia represented by this imagery. In doing so, she blurs distinctions between “west” and “east” and reconsiders the shifting relationships between humans and their gods in the Iron Age.