Samenvatting Byzantine and Islamic worlds
College 1: Intro
Byzantium, the byzantine empire
Byzantium is a strange name. Constantine the Great founded the city of Constantinople where the
Greeks in the 7th century BC had founded a colony called Byzantion. He changed the name.
The people who lived in his empire called themselves Romans. Not until the 16th century was the
term ‘’Byzantine Empire’’ coined, which was the Eastern half of the Mediterranean. Then later it
meant the eastern half of the Roman Empire. So we use a name for people even though they
themselves had a different name.
Stereotyping the Byzantine Empire by scholars
The Byzantines empire suffers from all sorts of stereotypes. Byzantine studies is a relatively recent
field, in the past few decades it became a blooming field
1. Lack of originality (imitation of the classical world). The Byzantines are just copycats of the roman
empire, they don’t do anything new – why study them?’’
2. Autocracy isn’t interesting to study’’. You have an autocratic ruler which isn’t interesting for
scholars to look at, democracy is more interesting’’
3. Bureaucracy. ‘’Byzantine Empire is very bureaucratic, there are too many people at the Byzantine
court which is annoying and confusing’’
5. Strict ceremonial life at court. The ceremonial life at Byzantium was something people were
uncomfortable with, because it was stiff which critics thought meant it never changed and was
always the same; if you understand the system at one point in time you understand it for the entire
duration of the empire.
William Lecky, A history of European…, 1869
Stereotype of the Byzantine Empire, a scathing verdict:
“Of that Byzantine empire, the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single
exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed. There
has been no other enduring civilization so absolutely destitute of all forms and elements of
greatness, and none to which the epithet "mean" may be so emphatically applied ... The history of
the empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs, and women, of poisonings, of
conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude.”
Why study the Byzantime Empire?
1. The Byzantine Empire has been a buffer between East and West. Or is it a link between East and
West? Byzantium as a means of exchange of ideas, people, goods.
2. The Byzantine Empire is part of European history.
3. Constantinople is seen as a new or second Rome. Byzantines saw themselves as Romans and
Constantinople was their new capital.
1. First signs of scientific interest in the 19th century. Byzantinische Zeitschrift is still one of the most
important Byzantium journals. Once this journal started, scholars around the world studying
2. In 1924 the first international congress on Byzantine studies convened. People all over the world
3. The byzantine world is a very visual world, many icons and stories. In the 20th century more and
more art historians work on the Byzantine world. So there are historians working on Byzantine
history and art historians working on Byzantine art. Slootjes thinks the two should combine forces
because both ask the same questions from different perspectives.
4. Dumbarton Oaks is the best place for Byzantine studies.
Both Russians and wrote overarching Byzantine histories. People in the 20th century tried to write the
history of Byzantine history. Once this overarching history was present, one particular perspective
was focussed upon.
1. George Ostrogorsky. Wrote first overarching history of Byzantium.
2. Dimitri Obelensky. The Byzantine commonwealth. He was part British and was influenced by the
British commonwealth, so he was influced by his Brit roots. Both criticised
(standplaatsgebondenheid) and applauded.
3. Averil Cameron. Byzantine Matters stirred lots of discussion in the field, ‘’where do we stand?’’ she
thinks art and normal historians should collaborate as well. The Byzantines is more text book.
4. Judith Herrin. She lookedat the peoples who lived along the borders of the Byzantine Empire.
Women were another focus of hers, imperial women.
Byzantine world – visual world
Monastery of Hosios Loukas
One of the best preserved Byzantine buildings. Religion and state were closely connected in the
Byzantine world. People of all classes coming to term with the meaning of Byzantine life.
Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era
Are you allowed to make images of god and holy people? Words describe, images show.
Introduction Byzantine Empire
‘’Byzantium is an elusive phenomenon because so many of its constituent parts altered in the place
and over time.’’ Throughout the entire history almost every 40-50 years the empire changed size.
Chronology Byzantine world
When did the Byzantine Empire start? That depends on the person answering.
1. Some people say the end of the third century, because Diocletian split up the empire.
2. Constantine came to rule as start of the Empire and founded Constantinople
3. 395 because Theodosius split the empire in two for his two sons.
4. Around 500, because that’s when Justinian came to power and was substantially different from
• ? Pre-Byzantine era: 282 or 324 330 or 395 - ca. 500
• Early Byzantine era: ca. 476/500 - ca 700
• Middle-Byzantine era: ca. 700 – 1204
• Late-Byzantine era: 1204 - 1453 or 1492
Division in three periods
1. Why do we need three periods? Chronology is artificial. Historians and humans need small parts to
understand the world around them.
2. What are decisive factors for chronological breaks? Events that were important at the time may
not be important in the grand scale. Do we really need boundaries in time?
Byzantium under Emperor Justinian (527-565)
Justinian wanted Rome to be part of his Roman Empire, because they saw themselves as Romans.
Byzantium in 650 AD
Parts are lost
The Empire shrinks over time. Constantinople is always at the heart of the empire, but at the outside
the boundaries are always changing.
The Fourth Crusade turned on their fellow Christians and sacked the city of Constantinople and the
city was no longer part of the Byzantine Empire for a time.
Byzantium regains some territory, but a lot is lost forever.
The Empire is confined to Constantinople and its hinterland at the end. In 1453 it finally falls.
Mosaic in Haghia Sophia, ca. 990
Considered on the great mosaics. Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. Justinian is offering her the church
(because he built the Hagia Sofia) and Constantine (because he founded the city). Emperors paying
their respects to the church, Mary and God.
Byzantine Imperial power
Image of Basil II, ca. 1018. He is clothed as a military figure and crowned and blessed by God and
blessed by angels. Six military saints surround him. Figures on his feet bow before him and
acknowledge his imperial position. The emperor and the church are central figures in Byzantium.
Introduction Islamic World
History of Islamic World
1. Its history is more complicated than the history of the Byzantine world, because the Islamic world
is not one empire as opposed to the Byzantine Empire.
2. It’s called the ‘’Islamic world’’ because the term was coined by Europeans who saw the area and
people as the Other. Until the 14th century the majority in certain areas of the Middle East were still
3. Does Islam define how people organize their states? Is that correct? Is Islam the main element in
4. Anything produced by artists in the Islamic world is called Islamic art even though it may not depict
anything religious. Rembrandt isn’t called ‘Christian art’ either now is it? This is again because of
labelling by Westerners. People and animals can be depicted in ‘Islamic’ art.
5. Another problem is that there were plenty of other people like Christians in the ‘Islamic’ world, nor
was this ‘world’ static, it changed over time.
6. ‘History of Muslim societies’ would be a better name. ‘Islamicate’ world is another term that
shows the inherent diversity.
Chronology and geography
From the rise of Islam in Late Antiquity until the rise of Ottomans in Anatolia until the 14th-15th
1. Era of Expansion
First two centuries of Islam. From Mohammed until about the 8th century. Period of huge success for
the Muslim armies but very few sources remain. Only later sources talk about this period mostly. The
era of the Rightly guided caliphs and the Umayyads.
Muslim armies starting within the Arabic peninsula conquered in about two centuries a huge area of
land, until and including Spain. First heyday of Islam – for the elite. Economically and cultural
2. Period of Consolidation
Starting after the first two centuries of Islam until the middle of the 10th century. The second heyday
of Islam (for some). Political consolidation. One caliph ruled one area, one ruler, one empire. Of
course actual ruling was done by multiple people because the area was so vast. One official leader
3. Political fragmentation
From 10th century onwards. Different empires with different rulers/caliphs. Turks became the
dominant rulers of the Middle East. Integrated their traditions with the Arab traditions.
Expansion in later centuries
The Turks brought Islam into Europe (Bosnia), China (Ughyars) and Indonesia. This was also done by
cultural exchange and trade.
The world in the eyes of a medieval Muslim cartographer
Al-Idirisi was a cartographer who worked at the court of Sicily under the Normans, Christians. Sicily
had been Muslim. The map has its north on the bottom. Mecca is at the centre, the middle east as w
hole was at the centre. Northern and western Europe was not important on this map.