A conversation with Mirela Ivanova (University of Sheffield) on the creation of the Slavonic alphabet and the lives of its creators, the Byzantine missionaries Constantine-Cyril and Methodios. Despite the huge importance attributed to these men and their activities in modern scholarship, national narratives, and Slavic Orthodox identity, our knowledge about them rests largely on two texts whose interests are quite different from our own. What do we really know about them? The conversation is based on two of Mirela's articles, 'Re-thinking the Life of Constantine-Cyril the Philosopher,' Slavonic and East European Review 98 (2020) 434-463; and 'Inventing and Ethnicising Slavonic in the Long Ninth Century,' forthcoming in the Journal of Medieval History (2021).
55. If you could meet and interview one person from Byzantine history, who would it be and why? (Part II), with Paroma Chatterjee and Merle Eisenberg
We know so much about the Byzantines, and yet really so little. If we had the chance to meet and debrief one person from that world, who would it be? Join me in conversation with Paroma Chatterjee (University of Michigan) and Merle Eisenberg (National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland), as we wrestle with that question. Who might answer the burning questions that we have? Who would alert us to questions that we aren't asking because we are used to the limitations of our sources? How would we choose our questions? Our choices are, yet again, strikingly different.
A conversation with Lynn Jones (Florida State University) on how fragments of the True Cross were requested, gifted, traveled, repatriated, abducted, and returned in the early Byzantine period; how they were used to validate rival claims to power; and the anxiety caused by doubts over their authenticity. The conversation is based on a number of Lynn's publications, especially 'Perceptions of Byzantium: Radegund of Poitiers and Relics of the True Cross,' in L. Jones, ed., Byzantine Images and their Afterlives: Essays in Honor of Annemarie Weyl Carr (Ashgate 2014) 105-125.
A conversation with Sean Anthony (Ohio State University) about the earliest sources for the life of the Prophet Muhammad, including the Quran, papyri, inscriptions, and Christian sources of the seventh century, and how Muslims were initially perceived by the Romans of the eastern provinces. The conversation is based on Sean's book Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The Making of the Prophet of Islam (University of California Press 2020).
A conversation with Daniëlle Slootjes (University of Amsterdam) on the behavior of crowds in late antique Rome and Constantinople, based on her chapter "Crowd Behavior in Late Antique Rome," in the edited volume Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century (Cambridge 2015) 178-194. As our own political world is increasingly revolving around mass protests, it is time to revisit what we know about the dynamics of crowds in imperial Roman cities, whether they acted for or against the regime of the day. Check out also the volume that Daniëlle co-edited with Erika Manders, Leadership, Ideology, and Crowds in the Roman Empire of the Fourth Century (Stuttgart 2019).
A conversation with Marc Lauxtermann (University of Oxford) on how to read Byzantine poetry on its own terms and in its own context. We talk about how modern Romantic notions of poetry as well as the ancient meters of classical Greek have distorted the expectations that we place on Byzantine poetry, and then discuss the specific contexts that gave rise to poetry in Byzantine society. Who were the poets? How did poems accompany objects and events? The conversation is based on Marc's magisterial and highly recommended Byzantine Poetry from Pisides to Geometres: Texts and Contexts, 2 volumes (Vienna 2003 and 2019).
50. If you could meet and interview one person from Byzantine history, who would it be and why?, with Fotini Kondyli and Alexander Sarantis
We know so much about Byzantium, and yet really so little. If we had the chance to meet and debrief one person who had experienced some part of it first-hand, who would it be? Join me in a conversation with Fotini Kondyli (University of Virginia) and Alexander Sarantis (University of Warsaw), which wrestles with that question. What person would answer the burning questions that we have? Who would alert us to questions that we aren't asking because we are used to the limitations of our sources? How would we choose our questions? Our answers are strikingly different.
A conversation with Cecily Hilsdale (McGill University) about the history and ritual functions of Egyptian obelisks, from ancient Egypt down to Rome, Constantinople, and beyond. What do obelisks mean to say and how do they function in their architectural settings, especially in the hippodrome of Constantinople? How do they project imperial ideologies? The discussion is based on Cecily's study of 'Imperial Monumentalism, Ceremony, and Forms of Pageantry: The Inter-Imperial Obelisk in Istanbul,' in The Oxford World History of Empire, v. 1: The Imperial Experience (Oxford University Press, 2021) 223-265.
48. What did Byzantine music sound like? (The answer is more political than you’d expect), with Alexander Lingas
A conversation with Alexander Lingas (City University of London) on the debates surrounding the reconstruction of Byzantine music. We discuss the common origins of western and eastern Christian traditions, when they parted ways, and how both traditions passed through phases of reinvention. Why does the modern performance of Gregorian Chant sound so different from Byzantine chant? As the director of the vocal ensemble Capella Romana, Alexander comes at this question from both a performance and a research angle. His publications include 'Medieval Byzantine Chant and the Sound of Orthodoxy,' in the volume Byzantine Orthodoxies (Ashgate 2006) 131-150, and 'Performance Practice and the Politics of Transcribing Byzantine Chant,' Acta Musicae Byzantinae 6 (2003) 56-76. Stay tuned at the end for a recording of an imperial acclamation for John VIII Palaiologos.
A conversation with Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Dumbarton Oaks, Museum Department) on how people in Byzantium experienced the materiality of the objects they used, especially jewelry and textiles. We look at some of those objects together, discuss their qualities, and situate our engagement with material culture in broader discussions of historical theory. You can see the objects that we discuss for yourself, including this earring and ring pair; a St. Demetrios reliquary; a child's tunic; and a garment with a clavus. The conversation is based partly on Betsy's study 'Appealing to the Senses: Experiencing Adornment in the Early Medieval Eastern Mediterranean,' in the volume Sensory Reflections: Traces of Experience in Medieval Artifacts (Berlin 2019) 77-96; and the textile exhibition Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, 2019).