A very long way from home: early Byzantine finds at the far ends of the world

Distribution of early Byzantine items and contemporary imitations found outside of the boundaries of the mid-sixth-century empire, along with a depiction of the empire during the reign of Justinian (c. 565 AD). The numbers refer to sections in the text, below (image: C. R. Green)

Through the wonders of the complex web and links of social media I came across this post the other day by Dr Caitlin Green on her personal website. She is a historian and writer whose professional interests lie in the history, archaeology, place-names and literature of late Roman and early medieval Britain. You may recall a post from 2016 about Byzantine coins found in Japan. The article below has some fascinating details about the extent of known Byzantine objects in Europe, Asia and Africa. Dr Green’s website has many interesting articles and is well worth adding to your favourites.

A very long way from home: early Byzantine finds at the far ends of the world

By Dr Caitlin Green

The following brief post is once again offered largely for the sake of interest, being concerned with the furthest limits of the distribution of early Byzantine material in Eurasia and Africa. What follows consists of a distribution map of fifth- to seventh-century AD Byzantine finds and contemporary imitations accompanied by a brief discussion and illustration of some of the items that have been found in the far west, far east, far north and far south of the ‘Old World’. Needless to say, the extensive distribution of early Byzantine material shown here is of interest for a number of reasons from the perspective of this blog, not least the light that it sheds on early medieval Britain’s Byzantine and Indian Ocean imports and connections discussed in previous posts.

Read more here.

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When the Vikings met the Greeks: Lion of Piraeus etched with Nordic runes

The mere utterance of the word Vikings, or Northmen as they were also known, used to strike fear in the hearts of the British just before and during the high middle ages, once these raiders found their way to the west and mainland Europe. Their contact with the French and British has been a subject of extensive research, not to mention successful movies and TV series. They fought bloody battles with both the French and Britons and slaughtered many monks along their marauding raids on Monasteries.

From Protothema

But for the Byzantine Greeks in the south of Europe, these northmen, who became known as the Varangians, and never caused a problem. On the contrary, they were sought after as fighters for the Emperor’s Guard. In the 10th Century Byzantine Emperor Basil II of Constantinople first enlisted Varangian fighters to serve as imperial personal bodyguards. Known as the Varangian Guard, they were legendary for their fierce loyalty to the emperors they served and the wealth bestowed upon them for their service.

The Varangian mercenaries were so well-paid for their services in the Byzantine army, that their homelands at one point experienced an unprecedented exodus of men seeking their fortune in Greece. This lead to some Scandinavian lands enacting a law denying inheritance rights to any one who “dwelled in Greece”. Their history is corroborated in the south by writings on Scandinavian runestones -raised stones bearing inscriptions in runic alphabets commenting about people and their adventures.

From the extant Scandinavian runestones of the Viking Age, 10% are called the “Greek Runestones”, and describe the sagas of the “Varangian Guard” members who died in Greece or returned home with great wealth.

One of four Lions of Piraeus at the Arsenale, Venice

An interesting story involves the famous Lion of Piraeus, taken as plunder by Francesco Morosini in 1687 in the wars of Venice against the Ottoman empire. The astonishing thing about the 3-meter high, white-marble statue is that runes were carved onto it describing the conquest of the port.

On the right side of the lion it wrote:



Asmund cut these runes with Asgeir and Thorleif, Thord and Ivar, at the request of Harold the Tall, though the Greeks considered about and forbade it.

On the left side:



Hakon with Ulf and Asmund and Örn conquered this port. These men and Harold Hafi imposed a heavy fine on account of the revolt of the Greek people. Dalk is detained captive in far lands. Egil is gone on an expedition with Ragnar into Romania and Armenia.

As best one can tell, these Vikings were most likely a small party of raiders that decided to have some fun and boast of their great victories by writing on the Lion of Piraeus. Surely an interesting piece of history.

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Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes

The goddess is back with a remarkable history of our favourite city!

Istanbul has always been a place where stories and histories collide and crackle, where the idea is as potent as the historical fact. From the Qu’ran to Shakespeare, this city with three names – Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul – resonates as an idea and a place, and overspills its boundaries – real and imagined. Standing as the gateway between the East and West, it has served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman Empires. For much of its history it was known simply as The City, but, as Bettany Hughes reveals, Istanbul is not just a city, but a story.

In this epic new biography, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities, Hughes takes us on a dazzling historical journey through the many incarnations of one of the world’s greatest cities. As the longest-lived political entity in Europe, over the last 6,000 years Istanbul has absorbed a mosaic of micro-cities and cultures all gathering around the core. At the latest count archaeologists have measured forty-two human habitation layers. Phoenicians, Genoese, Venetians, Jews, Vikings, Azeris all called a patch of this earth their home. Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, this captivating portrait of the momentous life of Istanbul is visceral, immediate and scholarly narrative history at its finest.

Buy Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities

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Late Antique and Byzantine Studies seminars at King’s College London

The seminar series continues at King’s College this Spring. Attendance is free to all.

Tuesday 7 February, 17.30
Niels Gaul (Edinburgh)
The Byzantium that could have been? Learning and the transmission of classical texts around the year 800
SW1.09, Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus

Tuesday 28 February, 17.30

Natalija Ristovska (Oxford)
Between China and the Viking North: A group of 9th/10th-century Byzantine silverware as evidence of mediaeval cross-cultural interchange
SW1.09, Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus

Tuesday 14 March, 17.30
Nadine Metzger
“They barked like dogs”. A case of Kynanthropy in Amida, 560 AD, and the dangers of retrospective diagnosis
SW1.09, Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus

Tuesday 28 March, 17.30
Nicky Tsougarakis
Perceptions and understanding of the Greek schism in the Latin pilgrimage literature of the Late Middle Ages
SW1.09, Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus

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The 26th annual Runciman lecture: Greece in the Balkans: A Cohabitation of Past, Present and Future – 2 February

Throughout the last two centuries of Balkan history, national identities have been transformed, political cohesion of nation states has given way to segmentation and pre-modern creeds have existed next to modernist ideas.

Location: King’s College, Great Hall, King’s Building, Strand Campus, London

When: 02/02/2017 (18:00-19:30)

This event is open to all and free to attend. No booking is necessary. Please direct any queries to chs@kcl.ac.uk.

As is the case with most of Europe, cultural syncretism in the Balkans permeates all aspects of life. Culinary habits, education, even politics attest to these realities. In our global world, nation-states coexist in different stages of development. States still in a pre-modern phase live side by side with modernity as well as post-modernity. If pre-modernity is characterized by religious devotion, modernity is about unitary states and their secular priorities. Post-modernity is best exhibited by the influence of supranational organisations such as the EU, with multicultural values and transnational partners.

While Greece is struggling with accumulated debts to its western creditors, the Greeks are losing sight of their relationships with their southeastern European neighbours. Previous fruitful investments in the Balkans made Greece a major contributor to regional growth. A paragon of modernity since the war of independence in the 1820s, thanks to its active diaspora, Greece has suffered from a dearth of political leadership during the last three and a half decades. Whereas its northern neighbours are narrowing the gap between their economies and the only frontrunner state that belongs to all western institutions, Greece will have to make a new political start in order to maintain its lead in the region.

Thanos Veremis is Professor Emeritus of Political History at Athens University. He has been a founding member and former President of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). He has served as Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London (for which he wrote Adelphi Paper No. 179), as well as Visiting Professor at Princeton, LSE, Oxford and the University of Illinois-Chicago. He was appointed President of the National Council of Education (2004-2012) and was Constantine Karamanlis Professor in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Boston. He gained his DPhil at Trinity College, Oxford. He is the author of many books, including, in English: Modern Greece – A History since 1821 (with John S. Koliopoulos, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) ,The Military in Greek Politics (Hurst, 1997) and Greece’s Balkan Entanglement (ELIAMEP-YALCO, 1992).

The lecture is preceded by Orthodox Vespers in the Chapel at 17.15. The event is sponsored by Nicholas and Matti Egon.

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The music of Saint Kassiani or Kassia the nun

Saint Kassiane the Hymnographer

Saint Kassiane the Hymnographer

Kassiani (also known as Kassia) was a ninth-century abbess and composer born in Constantinople around 810 AD. And her music is very beautiful.

She was one of the first composers – and is the earliest female composer whose music has survived to the present day.Around 25 of her pieces survive, along with a wealth of verses and epigrams.

She was famous in her own day, partly because of legendary story of her encounter with the emperor Theophilus.

You can listen to her music here.

The Orthodox wiki tells us more.

Kassiani is one of the first composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in the Orthodox Church liturgical books. The exact number is difficult to assess, as many hymns are ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often identified as anonymous. In addition, some 789 of her non-liturgical verses survive. Many are epigrams or aphorisms called “gnomic verse”. An example:

I hate the rich man moaning as if he were poor.

She was born between 805 and 810 in Constantinople into an wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. Three Byzantine chroniclers, Symeon Metaphrastes, George the Monk (a.k.a. George the Sinner) and Leo the Grammarian, claim that she was a participant in the “bride show” organized for the young bachelor Theophilos the Iconoclast by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Smitten by Kassia’s beauty, the young emperor approached her and said:

“Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things]”, referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve’s transgression. Kassia promptly responded by saying: “And through a woman [came forth] the better [things]”, referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation of Christ through the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary.

According to tradition, the dialogue was:

“-Εκ γυναικός τα χείρω.” (Ek gynaikós tá cheírō)”-Kαι εκ γυναικός τα κρείττω.” (Kaí ek gynaikós tá kreíttō)

His pride wounded by Kassia’s terse rebuttal, Theophilos rejected her and chose Theodora as his wife.

The next we hear of Kassiani is that in 843 she founded a monastery in the west of Constantinople, near the Constantinian Walls, and became its first abbess. Although many scholars attribute this to bitterness at having failed to marry Theophilos and becoming Empress, a letter from Theodore the Studite indicates that she had other motivations for wanting a monastic life. It had a close relationship with the nearby monastery of Stoudios, which was to play a central role in re-editing the Byzantine liturgical books in the 9th and 10th centuries, thus ensuring the survival of her work (Kurt Sherry, p. 56).

She wrote many hymns for liturgies; the most famous being the eponymous Hymn of Kassiani, sung every Holy Wednesday (liturgically; actually chanted late in the evening of Holy Tuesday).

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Like a Tramp 2016

Completing my first walk to Bath in 2014

Completing my first walk to Bath in 2014

Hello to all Blog readers!

First off, I hope that you had a happy and peaceful Christmas with those that you love. I would like to say thank you to so many of you for sponsoring me in the past as I have walked across southern England raising money for charity, raising over £7,000 in what has become an annual event. This year, despite promising myself that I would retire from international competitive charity fundraising, I have completed another walk.

Between 17-20 December, I walked 70 miles along the South Downs Way with my son Patrick and his friend Teddy Chabo. We walked as before, as tramps, sleeping rough and seeking charity and shelter along the way to continue our fund raising for Combat Stress and Shelter. We slept in churches and were very lucky to find friendly vicars who supported us.

Our goal is to continue to raise awareness of the need for support to veterans with mental health and PTSD issues, and the homelessness that can often come with it. These are two very worthy charities, and at this Christmas-tide, I am asking you once more to make a small donation to help these causes. So far this year we have raised over £1,800, and we are hoping to exceed £2,000 by the time we close the fundraising page after New Year.

Please visit our fundraising page linked below, and perhaps split any donation that you may make between the two charities, or give as you please.

To donate please click here to go to our Just Giving page.

Thank you from the three of us, and for all those who will be helped by your generosity and kindness.

A merry Christmas and a happy 2017 to you all.

With warm regards.

Tom Sawford

To donate please click here to go to our Just Giving page.

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