Cappella Romana: Lament for the Fall of Constantinople Full HD

A video of the wonderful Capella Romana singing from their CD Fall of Constantinople. Something to enjoy in the background as you do your chores!

A limited stock of Capella Romana CDs can be found on Amazon UK or use this link to find the US site for further albums.


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Byzantine ‘flat-pack’ church to be reconstructed in Oxford after spending 1,000 years on the seabed

Centuries before the Swedes started flat-packing their furniture, the Holy Roman Emperor Justinian had his own version, sending self-assembly churches to newly conquered parts of his empire.

From the Independent.

Now one of the “Ikea-style” churches, which spent more than 1,000 years on a seabed after the ship carrying it sank, is to be reconstructed for the first time in Oxford.

The Byzantine church will be on display at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology as part of the exhibition Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas, opening in June.

Paul Roberts, co-curator of the exhibition, said: “Everything in the exhibition will be from under the sea. It’s very different from what’s been done before. All these different movements of people and goods have left their imprint on the seabed in a way you don’t get on the land.”

Among the most intriguing exhibits are the remains of the portable church, which dates to around 550 AD. The museum, which is attached to the University of Oxford, will erect it using up to six of its pillars and the early pulpit known as an “ambo”.

No museum has attempted to reconstruct the pieces until now, and the Ashmolean director Alexander Sturgis said he hoped it would be easier than putting together flat-pack furniture.

From his base at Constantinople, Justinian sent out stone-carrying ships – known as naves lapidariae – carrying marble church interiors to sites in Italy and north Africa to fortify and regulate Christianity across his empire. There they would be installed inside the shell of a building put together with local material. “You show your power by planting churches,” Dr Roberts said. “He sent out flat-pack, self-assembly churches – Ikea churches.”

Remains of the completed buildings still survive in Ravenna in Italy, in Cyprus and Libya. Yet the ships were so heavy that some became unbalanced and capsized in stormy weather. It is unclear where the remains in the exhibition were heading.

Hundreds of the prefabricated marble elements of a church basilica were found in a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily in the 1960s by German archaeologist Gerhard Kapitan, and most of it has been kept in storage. Still more remains on the seabed. The exhibition will display other discoveries from the bottom of the sea off the coast of Sicily made by underwater archaeologists over the past 60 years.

Among the 200 objects from cultures including the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Normans will be bronze battering rams once mounted on the prows of Roman warships and warriors’ helmets.

The battering rams showed the exact location of the Battle of the Egadi Islands fought between the Romans and the Carthaginians in 241 BC, where eventually Rome triumphed, ensuring its domination of the Mediterranean.

Another major exhibition to be staged at the Oxford institution next year is of more than 100 little-seen works by Andy Warhol from a private collection.

The exhibition, curated by Sir Norman Rosenthal, will span Warhol’s entire career from the iconic screen-print portraits – including of the songwriter Paul Anka, Maria Shriver and the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt – to the experimental works of his last decade.

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Annual Lecture of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies: Byzantium’s first encounters with the Turks

Apologies for the very late notice but if you are in London tomorrow, 5 November, try to make the Annual Lecture of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies which will be held in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre (K6.29), King’s Building, Strand Campus, starting at 6.30 pm. Attendance is free and you don’t have to book.

James Howard-Johnston was University Lecturer in Byzantine Studies at Oxford and Fellow of Corpus Christi College from 1971 to 2009 and will present a lecture entitled Byzantium’s first encounters with the Turks. A synopsis from the KCL website:

Turks first impinged on the consciousness of Mediterranean peoples as the dark force which impelled the Avars to migrate west, first to the north Caucasus, then, with Byzantine authorisation, across Ukraine into central Europe. The first encounter took place on the Turks’ initiative. The supreme khagan sent an embassy from the Tienshan mountains to Constantinople in 568, to establish an offensive alliance with the Byzantines. It is a moot point whether or not it proved effective. The second encounter, with which this lecture is primarily concerned, occurred many decades later, when the Byzantine empire, in its late antique incarnation, had been largely dismembered by the Sasanian Persian empire. This time the initiative was that of the Emperor Heraclius, who, in autumn 624, dispatched an ambassador from Caucasian Albania (modern Azerbaijan) with the aim of drawing the Turkish khaganate into the war. This mission had dramatic effects, which changed the course of history not only in the Middle East but also on the inner Asian frontiers of China.

For further details click here.

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War and peace on the Byzantine-Islamic border

Given the current events on what was the much disputed border between Rome/Byzantium and the Sassanid/Persian empires this book may make interesting reading, but the sad fact is that visiting many of the areas under discussion is now impossible unless one is in the Turkish army or wanting to join ISIL.

A review by Marion James

First published in Sunday’s Zaman, 15 August 2015

Turkey’s southeastern border lands, which are sadly becoming the focus of world attention due to neighboring conflicts and a reawakening of internal violence, are not just of geopolitical importance; they are strikingly beautiful.

Two of the most famous rivers of the world — the Tigris and the Euphrates — flow through, their names conjuring up images of the Garden of Eden and a peaceful paradise on earth.

When the decades-long conflict between terrorists and the Turkish government found a lull in a cease-fire, many people took the opportunity to do a GAP tour, so named for the initials in Turkish of a major project to dam the rivers and bring hydro-electrical power and irrigation to the region.

Cities such as Gaziantep are famous for copper and baklava; Abraham’s city of Urfa and many more began to open up to tourists. Boutique hotels sprung up in converted stone houses and charming restaurants and world-class museums were opened. One small town that benefited from the rush of tourists — both locals and foreigners — is Mardin, whose terraced houses and sandy-golden stone became iconic once money had been spent on restoration.

But the real star of the area is the scenery. I can recall sitting on a terrace in the evening in Mardin looking out across the vast Mesopotamian plain that stretched out below us. The lights twinkling in the distance, our tour guide informed us, were in Syria. We could look out across fertile land and a peaceful, unprotected border.

Tragically, now looking at the plain you look across to towns and villages ravaged by war, some in the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), where horrific atrocities have occurred. You look across land which is crossed over by desperate refugees fleeing from ISIL fighters.

The plain and the border lands some thousand years ago were called the “thughur.” They broadly cover the stretch of lowlands to the south of the Taurus Mountains — from Tarsus at the western point, then via Antakya and Kahramanmaraş up to the plain just below Malatya in the east. It seems this whole frontier area has been fought over for centuries. Back in the seventh century the Emperor Heraclius uttered a famous lament when retreating from this plain across the Taurus Mountains near Tarsus:

“Peace unto thee, O Syria, and what an excellent country this is for the enemy… What a benefit you will be for the enemy because of all the pasturage, fertile soil and other amenities you provide.”

This quotation is chosen by Associate Professor Asa Eger as the starting point for his groundbreaking analysis of this borderland from the seventh to the 10th century in his book “The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier,” newly published by IB Tauris.

His basic premise, reached through reassessment of archaeological surveys in the area, is that the traditional view of this frontier as a no man’s land forming a physical and ideological frontier between the Christian Byzantines and the Muslim Arabs is too simplistic a bipolar description and is far from the truth.

Instead, for Eger, this is a frontier of settlement and interaction, and he develops this theory throughout this detailed academic work. In the past there were no borders, as we know them now; this concept came in with contemporary nationalism. Instead, traditional scholarship concerning this area cites a contested patch of empty land with annual border raids launched between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb.

At first sight this doesn’t look very relevant to understanding the world today and would appear to be a study of interest only to museum curators. But as we begin to examine this area with him, we come across places such as the Amuk Valley near Antakya and the town of Dabiq in Syria, north of Aleppo.

These two names suddenly rang bells of warning and of relevance. If we understand anything about why ISIL is focused on this particular patch of land rather than attacking and invading any other part of God’s earth, these two names will resonate with us. ISIL calls their English-language magazine Dabiq, and base their war on an eschatological theology built on a single hadith:

“The Last Hour will not come until the Romans land at al-A’muq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best [soldiers] of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina [to counteract them].”

More worrying for those of us in İstanbul, their literature also often contains another hadith attributed to the Son of Hibban, At-Tirmizi, Abuya’li, At-Tabarani, Al Bazaar, Abu Nuaym and Al Hakim: “The Romans will surround a leader from my children. His name will be the same as mine [i.e., the Mahdi]. They will fight each other at a place called al-Amaq and one-third, or thereabouts, of the Muslims will be killed. They will fight again on another day and again one-third or thereabouts of the Muslims will be killed. On the third day they will fight again and the Romans will be defeated. And they will remain there until they open Constantinople. It is whilst they are distributing the spoils of war that a messenger will come informing them that the false messiah is in their home town with their children.”

This related hadith that mentions the fall of Constantinople, when linked to the fact that the Byzantines are the citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire, leads many Muslim scholars to disagree with the ISIL interpretation of these being end-times prophecies. Instead they see these prophecies of conflict in the Amak valley and Dabiq as being fulfilled in the eight centuries after the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

This modern jihadi rhetoric gives urgency to understanding the history of this region in the seventh to 12th centuries. Eger refutes a historical narrative of Holy War and re-analyzes archaeological evidence to recreate a frontier with mixed settlements, in a land which was fertile for crops and ideal for pastoral existence, where conflict was the expression of competition for scarce resources.

Given that the subject is so important in governing our current attitudes to the possibility for Islamists and non-Islamists or those of other religions to exist together in the region, it is a pity that the subject is treated in such an academic manner. The descriptions of the facts and figures of the archeological surveys are long; the passages describing daily life are short. Much evidence is given concerning buildings and objects left behind; few details are given as to how society functioned and how these buildings and objects would have been used. An opportunity to capture the imagination of the non-academic world has been sadly missed.

Nevertheless, Eger is to be credited with questioning previous assumptions, and introducing a sea-change in the way academics view this period. Hopefully future researchers and historians will build on this introduction and give us a more lively and exciting overview of life in this frontier.


Buy The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange Among Muslim and Christian Communities (Library of Middle East History) here.

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Byzantine Istanbul in 10 iconic monuments

Long before it was Istanbul or even Constantinople, the great city that is now Turkey’s undisputed cultural capital was Byzantium, the city on the Bosporus founded by Megaran colonists in 637 B.C.

As the Roman Empire became larger and more unwieldy, it was on this eastern city that the eyes of Emperor Constantine alighted in 330. Given his stamp of approval, it was renamed Constantinopolis and went on to become the heart of the Byzantine Empire that evolved out of the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire.

Today traces of the Byzantine era litter Old İstanbul inside the battered old land walls. The most conspicuous and most visited of those traces is, of course, the great church of Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) that bestrides Sultanahmet Square. But with many of the old buildings given new uses (specifically the churches as mosques) and with no museum devoted to the city’s Byzantine history, it can be hard for the casual visitor to imagine how things once were. Click on to find out more about the Byzantine city, then head straight for these great sites to dream of the distant past.

Tour the ten iconic monuments here.

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What did those Byzantine Emperors look like?

Byzantine-largeI found a way of having images of all the emperors in one place!

Visit the Et Tu Antiquities website for a poster.

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Massive Underground City Found in Cappadocia Region of Turkey

Archaeologists are exploring a sprawling network of tunnels and underground rooms discovered beneath a Byzantine-era fortress in Nevşehir, Turkey. Photograph by Murat Kaya, Anadolu Agency/Getty

When the invaders came, Cappadocians knew where to hide: underground, in one of the 250 subterranean safe havens they had carved from pliable volcanic ash rock called tuff.

Now a housing construction project may have unearthed the biggest hiding place ever found in Cappadocia, a region of central Turkey famous for the otherworldly chimney houses, cave churches, and underground cities its residents carved for millennia.

Discovered beneath a Byzantine-era hilltop castle in Nevşehir, the provincial capital, the site dates back at least to early Byzantine times. It is still largely unexplored, but initial studies suggest its size and features may rival those of Derinkuyu, the largest excavated underground city in Cappadocia, which could house 20,000 people.

By Jennifer Pinkowski

First published in National Geographic, March 26, 2015

In 2013, construction workers demolishing low-income homes ringing the castle discovered entrances to a network of rooms and tunnels. The city halted the housing project, called in archaeologists and geophysicists, and began investigating.

A 300-year-old paper trail between the local government and Ottoman officials suggested where to begin. “We found documents stating that there were close to 30 major water tunnels in this region,” says Nevşehir mayor Hasan Ünver.

In 2014, those tunnels led scientists to discover a multilevel settlement of living spaces, kitchens, wineries, chapels, staircases, and bezirhane—linseed presses for producing lamp oil to light the underground city. Artifacts including grindstones, stone crosses, and ceramics indicate the city was in use from the Byzantine era through the Ottoman conquest.

Like Derinkuyu, the site appears to have been a large, self-sustaining complex with air shafts and water channels. When danger loomed, Cappadocians retreated underground, blocked the access tunnels with round stone doors, and sealed themselves in with livestock and supplies until the threat passed.


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