Tag Archives: Claudia Rapp

Globalizing Byzantium from Birmingham

The last thing I promised I’d write about from the quarter-slice of 2017 through which this blog’s backlog is presently proceeding was the 50th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, from 25th to 27th March of that year. There are plenty of stories that could be told about this conference, starting with the whole story of the Spring Symposium, which has, as that title suggests, been happening for 50 years, rotating away from and back to Birmingham like a short-duration comet; or one could tell the story of its founder, Anthony Bryer, who had died the previous year and so was being extensively commemorated here; or how it had fallen in this year upon Professor Leslie Brubaker and my two erstwhile Barber Institute collaborators, Rebecca Darley and Daniel Reynolds, to organise it (which earns one the title of ‘Symposiarch’); but for me the chief story is probably always going to be how I arrived as a guest and was converted to presenter at twenty minutes’ notice and still more or less got away with it. So if that intrigues you, or if an international conference on Byzantine Studies does indeed, read on, and for the rest of you, since this post is long, I shall simply set out the running order of what I saw, then stick a cut in and expound at greater length beyond it. So! Here we go.

By now-ancient tradition, the organisation of the Spring Symposium wherever it is held is two-level, with keynote lectures and plenary sessions to which the whole gathering can go at one level, and at the other ‘communications’, these being shorter papers which run in parallel strands. On this occasion there was also a third part, in the form of a postgraduate workshop following the main proceedings. All this together means that my academic itinerary through the conference went like this:

    25th March

  • Michael Whitby, “Welcome”
  • Leslie Brubaker, “What is Global Byzantium?”
  • Catherine Holmes, “Global Byzantium: a Whirlwind Romance or Fundamental Paradigm Shift?”
  • Coffee break

  • Rebecca Darley, “India in the Byzantine Worldview”
  • Antony Eastmond, “Constantinople: Local Centre and Global Peripheries”
  • Francesca dell’Acqua, “What about Greek(s) in Eighth- and Ninth-Century Italy?”
  • Lunch

  • Matthew Kinloch, “Historiographies of Reconquest: Constantinople, Iberia and the Danelaw”
  • Maroula Perisanidi, “Clerical Marriage in Comparative Perspective”
  • Kristian Hansen-Schmidt, “Constantine’s Μονοχυλα: Canoe or Viking Ship?”
  • Lauren Wainwright, “Import, Export: the Global Impact of Byzantine Marriage Alliances during the 10th Century”
  • Jeffrey Brubaker, “What is Byzantine about ‘Byzantine Diplomacy’?”
  • Adrián Elías Negro Cortes, “Tributes Linked to Military Actions in Both Ends of the Mediterranean: from Byzantium to Spain”
  • Tea

  • Corisande Fenwick, “Forgotten Africa and the Global Middle Ages”
  • Tim Greenwood, “Composing History at the Margins of Empire: Armenian Chronicles in Comparative Perspective”
  • John Haldon, “A ‘Global’ Empire: the Structures of East Roman Longevity”
  • Robin Milner-Gulland, “Ultimate Russia – Ultimate Byzantium”
  • Champagne Bus and Conference Dinner1

    26th March

  • Liz James, “Byzantine Art – A Global Art? Looking beyond Byzantium”
  • Hugh Kennedy, “The State as an Econmic Actor in Byzantium and the Caliphate c. 650-c. 950: A Cross-Cultural Comparison”
  • Angeliki Lymberopoulou, “‘Maniera Greca’ and Renaissance Europe: More Than Meets the Eye”
  • Henry Maguire, “Magical Signs in Byzantium and Islam: A Global Language”
  • Coffee

  • Julia Galliker, “Silk in the Byzantine World: Transmission and Technology”
  • Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Attracting Poles: Byzantium, al-Andalus and the Shaping of the Mediterranean in the 10th Century”
  • Lunch and Auction

  • Claudia Rapp, “Secluded Place or Global Magnet? The Monastery of Saint Catherine on the Sinai and its Manuscript Collection”
  • Robert Ousterhout, “The ‘Helladic Paradigm’ in a Global Perspective”
  • Arietta Papaconstantinou, “Spice Odysseys: Exotic ‘Stuff’ and its Imaginary”
  • Tea

  • Hajnalka Herold, “How Byzantine was 9th-Century Moravia? An Archaeological Perspective”
  • Nik Matheou, “New Rome & Caucasia, c. 900-1100: Empire, Elitedom and Identity in a Global Perspective”
  • Alexandra Vukovich, “A Facet of Byzantium’s Ideological Reach: the Case of Byzantine Imitation Coins”
  • Andrew Small, “‘From the Halls of Tadmakka to the Shores of Sicily’: Byzantine Italy and Sub-Saharan Africa in the 11th century”, read by Nik Matheou
  • Flavia Vanni, “Transferring Skills and Techniques across the Mediterranean: Some Preliminary Remarks on Stucco in Italy and Byzantium”
  • Wine Reception

    27th March

  • Peter Sarris, “Centre or Periphery? Constantinople and the Eurasian Trading System at the End of Antiquity”
  • Linda Safran, “Teaching Byzantine Art in China: Some Thoughts on Global Reception”
  • Daniel Reynolds, “Jerusalem and the Fabrication of a Global City”
  • Coffee, then a closing round table session as follows:

  • Fotini Kondyli, “Material Culture”
  • Margaret Mullett, “Global Literature”
  • Joanna Story, “The View from… the West”
  • Scott Redford, “Byzantium and the Islamic World: Global Perspectives?”
  • Naomi Standen, “East Asia”
  • Chris Wickham, “Final Remarks”

That’s exhausting even to have typed out, and I certainly can’t come up with something to say about every paper at three years’ remove without basically repeating my already-somewhat illegible notes, so instead I’ll try to pull some general trends out of that list and then focus particularly on the theme and people’s approaches to it. What with me not really being a Byzantinist, that may mean a slightly odd selection, but you’re used to that, I know. Everybody involved deserves a better press than this will give them, but there just isn’t sensible space.2 In any case, now you can see what the rest of the post may look like, this is a good place for the cut and then the deeply interested can continue at their leisure. Continue reading

Seminary LI: `brothers’ in Byzantium

Due to reasons of travel idiocy I missed the antepenultimate Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research this term, and although I made it to the penultimate one on 3rd June, Professor Claudia Rapp presenting on “Ritual brotherhood in Byzantium: origins and context”, so did Magistra and it it is very much more her thing than mine. One could say, eruditely, that complex questions of masculinities and historians’ attitudes to them were involved which she is far better educated in teasing apart than I am, or you could say, as she put it when we discussed it later, that she is the Internet’s go-to person for gay monks. I’m not about to argue with someone who can claim that sort of status, I tell you. And therefore she has done a proper write-up of it, which you should go and read, and I will therefore only do a summary so that you know roughly what was at issue.

Icon from St Catherines Sinai of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, fifth-century martyrs, used by John Boswell as the cover image for his Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

Icon from St Catherine's Sinai of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, fifth-century martyrs, used by John Boswell as the cover image for his Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

There is in Byzantine liturgical texts, 62 of them in fact, a rite called `adelphopoiesis‘ for allowing two men to become spiritual brothers, supporting each other above all others, cohabiting and sharing their property. It basically established an artificial kinship tie, but unlike the other two ways of doing this, marriage and sponsorship of baptism (that is, godparenthood), it doesn’t preclude marriage to others and doesn’t give any inheritance rights so doesn’t disenfranchise the family. (This latter, it should be said, came into question in the latter part of the paper.) Professor Rapp has written about this before, but was returning to it after some time away.1 One of the reasons it’s an issue is that the controversial John Boswell included adelphopoiesis in his book Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York 1994) as a cover for gay marriage, or at least a marriage-like arrangement. (Hello Byzantium? This is the 21st-century UK and California calling, we need to talk to you about wording… ) I haven’t read Boswell’s book so I don’t know if he suggests that this is what it was invented for or merely that it was allowed to perform this function, but this is what Professor Rapp was initially writing against. (You can find Paul Halsall, no less, speaking for Boswell’s defence with due respect to Professor Rapp, online here with an account of Boswell’s wider controversy and the sometimes vicious reaction it has engendered.)

Excavated monastic cells at the desert settlement of Pherme, Western Nile Delta, Egypt

Excavated monastic cells at the desert settlement of Pherme, Western Nile Delta, Egypt

In this paper, however, Professor Rapp was expanding on something that she only touched on in that earlier paper, the monastic context in which she believes the rite developed. Certainly she had lots of evidence for this kind of association, between hermits and disciples, between pupils of such hermits, and generally quite a lot of formations with which one might have been led to believe that the Lives of the Desert Fathers is full once you start looking. She also looked at building layout (as shown by archæology of monastic sites like Pherme, above), shared burial and general lifelong friendships being recognised in sources and attempted to place the whole thing in a much wider context of male homosociality that none of us, I think, would deny were it not raised in this context. Speaking as one whose work is fundamentally based on the idea that the fact that some people in the Middle Ages got on with some other people but didn’t get on with still others has historically explanatory value, I am all for this, but I still didn’t quite think she’d bridged the gap between the desert and Constantinople five centuries later. Perhaps this is just because she had so much evidence from the desert that it swamped the rather thinner trail to the later centuries, but it seemed to me that there was room for other antecedents and not enough ways to distinguish the results of this ceremony from ordinary lifelong friendship. The liturgy is evidence of a serious thing, yes: but we can’t use other male-male life collaborations as evidence for that same thing because that same thing seems to be defined by the liturgy, you see. If you argue that the liturgy is only recognising a pre-existent thing you wind up having to explain the liturgy as aberrant and thus losing all your evidence for social recognition of whatever it is you think is going on. There is more that could be said here and Magistra says much of it: here is a taster.


1. Claudia Rapp, “Ritual Brotherhood in Byzantium” in Traditio Vol. 52 (New York City 1997), pp. 285–326.