Sunday, June 16, 2019

Byzantine studies have never been so boring

”Acta Byzantina Fennica” is the journal of the Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies. It accepts contributions in English, German, French, Italian and Greek but, alas, not Finnish. This is the 4th issue published in 2015. I admit that I found it incredibly boring and dragging. But then, I´m more into Byzantine theology than actual imperial history!

The most useful piece has the title “A Helping Hand from the Divine: The Triumphalist Iconography of the Early Theodosians”. After explaining how pagan Roman emperors used Herakles-Hercules as a potent divine symbol for their rule (and, I suppose, their wars), we learn that the most Christian and Orthodox emperor Theodosius the Great *also* used pagan iconography to justify his, including depictions of the very same Hercules. Theodosius also consciously modeled himself on Trajan, who was (of course) a pagan. It seems that Theodosius wasn´t as strictly Christian in his statecraft as he has often been made out to be by (surprise) Christian sources. This seems logical – after all, pagans existed all over the Roman world (including some pretty high places) long after Theodosius supposedly forced everyone in the Empire to become a Trinitarian or else. Could be of interest for further reviews…

Other pieces in these Acta include a short biography of Constantine Loukites, a court official at 14th century Trebizond (the Trapezuntine “Empire” was a rump Byzantine state established by the Komneni after the Latin capture of Constantinople), a weirdly eclectic article on Dyrrachium dealing with everything from topography to the Venetian salt monopoly, an article on Byzantine campaigns against Latins in the Peloponnese (both sides used Muslim Turkish mercenaries!), and a discussion about the surprisingly positive view of Cleopatra found in the “Epitome” of Ioannes Xiphilinos. His picture of the debauched Egyptian queen might have been tempered by direct experience of an actual female ruler, the Byzantine empress Eudokia Makrembolitissa. I admit I never heard of her until reading this little volume.

Nothing on the Messalians.

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