Friday, April 5, 2024

Byzantine Materiality and the Eucharistic Chalice as Metonym

Evan Freeman, Simon Fraser University



How were matter and materials understood in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire? What functions did materials play in Byzantine artworks and other objects? This talk offers a preview of the forthcoming Byzantine Materiality volume, edited by Evan Freeman and Roland Betancourt. Byzantine Eucharistic chalices offer a case study for exploring the transformative power of materials in ritual settings. Middle Byzantine chalices were often multimedia objects, incorporating gold and silver, as well as stonework, glass, cloisonné enamels, gems, and pearls. These rich materials functioned as more than just conspicuous consumption in the context of the Divine Liturgy. Red stone and transparent glass chalice bowls served as metonyms for the Eucharistic wine within. Veiled during the preparatory Prothesis rite, and gradually revealed during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, these chalices participated in the transformation of the Eucharistic wine into the blood of Christ. Such objects illustrate how the Byzantines combined materials like stone and glass with inscriptions and images to accomplish ritual transformations and visually actualize orthodox understandings of the Eucharist in the face of contemporary theological controversies.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Can I speak to the Manager?: State Presence in the Provincial Society of Ioannes Apokaukos

Aleksandar Jovanović, University of the Fraser Valley



The surviving opus of Ioannes Apokaukos, a thirteenth-century metropolitan bishop of Naupaktos, comprises over two hundred letters, notes, and synodal decisions ­– all of which have escaped the traditional Byzantine literary editing process of turning them into a cohesive but somewhat depersonalized letter collection – leaving us with a significant number of references to the mundane workings of provincial society. In this talk, following the metropolitan bishop’s works, we embark on a journey of exploring the expectations the Epirotes belonging to all walks of life had from the imperial government as well as the ways in which they engaged with the Byzantine bureaucratic practices in managing their own cotidal affairs. By looking at how both urban and rural dwelling Epirotes employed various written agreements to regulate their interrelationships ­– rather than just the relationships between themselves and the central administration – we can trace the extent to which the imperial centre’s bureaucratic habits played an active role in forging a sense of an orderly local community in the minds of provincial peoples.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Ancient Pasts for Modern Audiences

A Critical Approach to Pedagogy and the Digitial Humanities in Ancient Mediterranean Studies



A common critique of the study of ancient history is that it is “institutional and exclusionary; still the stuff of galleries, museums and UNESCO World Heritage sites; of prized images, objects and structures, rather than of living humanity.” On one hand, this critique speaks to multiple peoples and experiences in the past that are excluded, overshadowed by prized objects and monuments. On the other hand, it also speaks to people in the modern world who are excluded from institutions and discourses surrounding human history. To address the latter, the spirit of public scholarship aims at breaking down barriers between the academy and the broader public to maximize inclusion, diversity, and other social benefits. But the field of ancient Mediterranean history and traditional academic disciplines (Classics, Egyptology, Near Eastern Studies, Classical Archaeology, etc.) remain deeply entangled with racist and exclusionary agendas which have impacted how scholars communicate knowledge on this past. In an age where social media and digital technology have broken down barriers between the academy and the public to a greater degree than ever before, how can we as educators inside and outside the academy more effectively participate in public discourse about the ancient Mediterranean? How do we engage in responsible scholarship that is more inclusive of past diversity and modern audiences?

In this week's seminar, authors from the edited volume Ancient Pasts for Modern Audiences come together to discuss the challenges and best practices for public scholarship on the history, archaeology, and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and surrounding geographical regions. Together, they will address issues of pedagogy and public scholarship, raised in their individual chapters contributed to the volume, and how we can responsibly engage and communicate with academic and non-academic audiences across various learning environments, including the classroom, museums and social media.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Thucydides and the Tyrant-Slayers Traditions

Brian Lavelle, Professor Emeritus, Loyola University Chicago



Thucydides’ excursus on the Tyrant-Slayers (6.54-57) is one of the most controversial passages in his history. In it, he recounts the assassination of Hipparchos, the son of the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos, in 514 BCE. The passage is unusual in Thucydides for its highly dramatic character, but also because of Thucydides’ intensity in arguing against the “popular” conceptions that Hipparchos was tyrant when murdered and that the tyrant-slayers were politically motivated. The focus of this presentation will be primarily on what Thucydides says about Hipparchos’ power and status and what he says about the motivation of the tyrannicides. Both fundamentally affect the historical content of the narrative, but also Thucydides’ argument about the tyrannicide.

Friday, March 1, 2024

The Importance of Archaeological Microhistories: A Medieval Case Study from the Anatolian Plateau

Marica Cassis, Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary



The site of Çadır Höyük is located on the Anatolian Plateau in Yozgat province, Turkey. It is a small site, representative of the kind of communities which stretched across central Anatolia during the medieval period. While these are largely unknown from the written sources, and ignored in relation to the history of empires and battles, it is these small sites that help us to understand continuity and change in small communities throughout the medieval world. By using Çadır Höyük as a window onto the evolution of a medieval communities in Anatolia (as opposed to representatives of empire), we gain a better sense of the lives and homes of the ordinary people who made up the majority of the region.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Perceptions of Inclusion and Exclusion: the Metaxas Dictatorship and Greek Antisemitism, 1936-41

Katerina Lagos, Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento



At the end of World War II, Greece lost one of the highest percentages of Jews in Europe, with roughly 85% of the Jewish population killed during the Holocaust. The multifaceted and ancient Jewish communities disappeared from the Greek landscape, and scholars are still exploring the tragic consequences of this loss. This presentation will discuss the nature of Greek antisemitism and the manner in which the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936-1941 differentiated Jews within the Greek state, but also provided them assistance in light of foreign persecution. Overall, despite assumptions to the contrary, the 4th August Regime provided a final respite for the Jews prior to Greece’s involvement in World War II.

Friday, January 26, 2024

“Greece's 'other' populism: Culture, memory and the political ascendance of PASOK in the 1980s

Spyros Sofos, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University 



In the aftermath of the public debt crises that shook several European societies over a decade ago, Greece's SYRIZA has been characterised by many commentators as one of the populist parties that emerged out of the popular indignation movements, next to Spain's Podemos, or Italy's Movimento Cinque Stelle. Unlike other populist responses to the crises of the time, SYRIZA's populism did not take shape on a blank slate but drew on discursive traditions and action repertoires from an earlier period of Greek politics.

Indeed, during the 1980s and 1990s "populism" had become the subject of intense debate in Greece, as the period that followed the collapse of the colonels' dictatorship was replete with cultural and political processes that revolved around the notion of "the people". The establishment and rapid ascendance of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a new political party whose leader was considered charismatic, and whose political discourse posited "the people" as a community by definition progressive and anti-imperialist, the flourishing of media purporting to echo the popular sentiment, the rediscovery and celebration of hitherto repressed or neglected forms of "popular culture" were considered to be elements of a populist moment.

Despite this, the term populism has remained vague in the case of that moment as well as in the case of SYRIZA and its contemporaries and its usage has been problematic, marred by conceptual laxity. Drawing on research on the period as well as on a recent attempt to sketch the contours of a theory of populism (Sofos 2022) this talk retraces and analyzes the cultural and political processes that contributed to the construction "of the people" that underpinned Greece's 'other' populism.