A conversation with Judith Herrin (King's College London) about the fascinating history of Ravenna between 400 and 800 AD. In this period, the city functioned first as a court of the western emperor, then as the seat of a Gothic kingdom loosely subordinate to Constantinople, and as the capital of the exarchate, the Italian province of the eastern empire. This made Ravenna a place of remarkable cultural fusion, and endowed it with spectacular monuments featuring superb mosaics. The conversation is based on Judith Herrin's recent book Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe (Princeton University Press 2020).
Not an interview this time, but an anthology of Byzantine tales of horror. Learn about foul murders, demonic visitations, the undead, and the criminally insane; also, the Byzantine science of demonology and the spirit world. Many thanks to all the colleagues and friends who read the stories, in tones spooky, clinical, or ironic! The stories are: "Questions for a woman who killed and ate her mother and daughter"; "Incisive curiosity"; "Desire of the flesh"; "The mummy"; "The murderer who gave himself up"; "Drawn and quartered"; "Wrong address"; "Erinyes of the sea"; "Three Blind Men"; "Taken"; "Possessorix"; "Baboutzikarios"; "Gello"; "Second chance"; "Calling a witness"; and "Killing baby Hitler."
A conversation with Alice-Mary Talbot (Dumbarton Oaks) on the experience of communal monastic life in Byzantium, ranging from its organization and rules to its religious goals, engagement with society, and differences between monasteries for men and women. It is based on Alice-Mary's recent book Varieties of Monastic Experience in Byzantium, 800-1453 (University of Notre Dame Press 2019), which discusses solitary ascetics too.
A conversation with Dave Jenkins (Princeton University Library) about how we read (and how to enjoy) Byzantine literature, from digitized manuscripts and online databases to the pleasures of Byzantine prose. Dave is a philosopher, a philologist, and a librarian. You may also know him as the creator of a database of translations of Byzantine texts in modern languages and a database of digitized manuscripts.
A conversation with Chryssa Bourbou (Hellenic Ministry of Culture) on what we learn from health and society in Byzantium from the study of skeletal remains. What infectious conditions or effects of accidents can we detect? What can we learn about the lives of children (apart, grimly, from the fact that they were all too often short)? How are human remains handled? The conversation is based on Chryssa's many publications, including Health and Disease in Byzantine Crete (7th-12th Centuries AD) (Ashgate 2010).
A conversation with Noel Lenski (Yale University) on "slave societies" and how the institution of slavery changed in late antiquity and Byzantium. Were tasks performed by slaves in antiquity carried out by free people in late antiquity? What were the experiences of Byzantines who were themselves captured in raids and taken outside the empire? The conversation draws on many of Noel's publications, including 'Framing the Question: What is a Slave Society?,' in N. Lenski and C. Cameron, eds. What is a Slave Society? The Practice of Slavery in Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2018) 15-57; 'Searching for Slave Teachers in Late Antiquity,' Révue des études tardo-antiques 12, suppl. 8 (2018-2019) 127-191; 'Captivity and Slavery among the Saracens in Late Antiquity (ca. 250 - 630 CE),' Antiquité tardive 19 (2011) 237-266; and others (see here for more).
A conversation with Spyros Theocharis and Chrysa Sakel, artists and creators of a graphic novel about a tenth-century Byzantine empress, Theophano: A Byzantine Tale. We talk about the period, characters, and creative choices, and how works in popular media can help to foster a new and richer image of Byzantium.
A conversation with Amy Kaufman and Paul Sturtevant about their book The Devil's Historians: How Modern Extremists Abuse the Medieval Past (University of Toronto Press 2020). Extremists groups such as white supremacists and ISIS use the Middle Ages to advocate for specific racial, religious, or gender orders, and promote violence as a means for attaining them. We talk about the contours and goals of these groups, their conflicted views of modernity and the Middle Ages, how Byzantium does or does not fit into this picture, and generally go off on many tangents. Also check out their complementary conversation with Danièle Cybulskie on The Medieval Podcast.
33. The study of ethnic identities in Byzantium and beyond (Listener Questions II), with Brian Swain
This conversation with Brian Swain (Kennesaw State University) takes on listener questions about Byzantine identities. We start with the history of scholarly discussions of identity, especially ethnicity, comparing the study of barbarian (i.e., Germanic) ethnic groups with those in the Byzantine empire. How do groups change their identities? How are new identities born and old ones lost? How did the ancient Greeks become Romans and when did that become an ethnic identity? Where does genealogy and biology fit into all this? What happened to the Romans of the west? What did the Byzantines call their state and language? What does modern Romania have to do with Byzantine Romanía? And more!
32. Anastasius the Librarian, the greatest enemy of Byzantium you probably haven’t heard of, with Réka Forrai
Meet Anastasius the Librarian, one of the most fascinating controversialists of the ninth century. A native of Rome, scholar of Greek, and (probably) anti-pope for all of three days, he was no friend of Byzantium. He disliked and mistrusted "the Greeks" and argued that they were not Romans as they thought. His arguments have held sway in the west ever since. My guest is Réka Forrai (University of Southern Denmark), an expert on Anastasius' writings and thought; see especially her fascinating study ‘The Sacred Nectar of the Deceitful Greeks: Perceptions of Greekness in Ninth Century Rome,’ in A. Speer and P. Steinkrüger, eds., Knotenpunkt Byzanz: Wissensformen und kulturelle Wechselbeziehungen (Berlin 2012) 71-84.