Thursday, August 24, 2023

Open Access Journal: Dumbarton Oaks Papers

 [First posted in AWOL 29 May 2012, updated 24 August 2023]
ISSN: 2325-9345


Dumbarton Oaks Papers is one of the world’s preeminent journals in the field of Byzantine Studies. Published annually since 1941 and now available open access, its articles cover all aspects of society, culture, and art from roughly the fourth through the fifteenth century in the Roman Empire and in successor and neighboring states. Readers will find sophisticated and innovative studies that engage with questions of history, literature, and theology; a wide range of artistic expression; and archaeological and other material remains. Topics related to Eastern Christian communities beyond the territorial and chronological boundaries of the empire also appear in the journal’s pages, including articles on textual sources not only in medieval Greek but also in Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Syriac, and more. All articles fall into at least one of the following fields and disciplines:

  • art and iconography
  • archaeology
  • codicology
  • epigraphy
  • historiography 
  • history and historical writing
  • language
  • law
  • literature
  • liturgy
  • music
  • numismatics
  • palaeography
  • science
  • sigillography
Dumbarton Oaks Papers is made available open access on this site through the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND license. cc-by-nc-nd.png

Volume 76 (2022)

All of the articles in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 76 (2022).

Michael McCormick, “Giles Constable (1929–2021),” vi1–7.

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Ravinder Binning, “The Memory Prison: Carceral and Sacred Space in an Ekphrasis by John Climacus,” 9–29.

Although previously unrecognized within surveys of the technique, a section in The Heavenly Ladder, the influential treatise by John Climacus (579–659), contains a remarkable example of ekphrasis. Writing in seventh-century Egypt, Climacus describes a place near Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai called “the Prison.” Analysis of Climacus’s texts reveals a break with ancient and early Christian ekphrastic precedents for presenting violence and terrifying spaces. Experiencing the ekphrasis’s fearful imagery was itself a mnemonic, ritual practice for cultivating forms of pained arousal valued as “masculine.” This essay concludes by examining how Climacus’s imaginative, mnemonic prison space influenced later Byzantine impressions of sacred space and discourse of aesthetic wonder.

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Grzegorz Ochala, “The Cathedral of Faras as a Monument of Medieval Nubian Memory,” 31–68.

The cathedral of Faras (ancient Pachoras) is one of the most important buildings for the history of modern Nubian studies. Its magnificent wall paintings and countless wall inscriptions as well as many other archaeological and art-historical features make the church and its immediate surroundings a unique place on the archaeological map of Christian Nubia, inviting a comprehensive analysis of the building's history and functions. The present article is the first attempt in medieval Nubian studies to make such an integrative approach to this church with the use of the concepts of memory studies. Thanks to a comprehensive analysis of context, image, and text occurring in multiple configurations and entangled in a triangle of mutual definitions, the various commemorative functions of the cathedral are revealed.

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Jakub Kabala, “‘Trampling the Old Laws’: Traces of Papal Latinity in the Old Slavonic Vita Methodii,” 69–100.

This article revisits the Old Slavonic Vita Methodii (VM), a source composed in the immediate aftermath of Methodius’s death by a learned author familiar with Byzantine imperial ideology, Greek patristics, and Latin papal letters as well as the earliest monuments of Old Slavonic literary culture. This article contributes to our understanding of the multilingual environment in which the VM was conceived and composed by exploring a particularly difficult passage in its ninth chapter, which has been consistently mistranslated for nearly 150 years. I discuss the history of this mistranslation, probe the reasons behind its persistence in a corpus of forty-three full translations of the VM made into seventeen different languages, and offer a correction. I argue that VM 9 bears witness in Old Slavonic to a Latin metaphor favored by the papal secretary Anastasius Bibliothecarius. This finding should be of interest to all scholars interested in the interaction of Byzantine and western intellectual traditions at the edges of early medieval Europe.

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Daniel Oltean, “From the Monastery of the Theotokos Tou Roidiou to Simanaklay? Greek and Armenian Cilician Monks in a Changing World,” 101–16.

This article investigates the data related to the eleventh-century Greek monastery of the Theotokos tou Roidiou (of the Pomegranate), the last residence of the monk Nikon of the Black Mountain, and suggests that in the twelfth century it continued to exist under a different name, Simanaklay, attested in Armenian sources. Situated in Eastern Cilicia, near the fortress Anazarbos and the main strategic and pilgrim road which crossed the region from the Cilician to the Amanian Gates, the monastery likely changed its ethnic composition following the major political upheavals of this area before, during, and after the First Crusade. The Greek monks, progressively replaced by the Armenian ones, left behind only a name and a rich library, two key clues that nevertheless make it possible to envisage the history of Nikon’s monastery in this period of transition.

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Alexandre M. Roberts, “Heretics, Dissidents, and Society: Narrating the Trial of John Bar 'Abdun,” 117–44.

In 1029, the resident synod of Constantinople, led by Patriarch Alexios the Stoudite, condemned the Jacobite patriarch John VIII bar ʿAbdun as a heretic. This event has been woven into modern narratives of Byzantine persecution and intolerance against the Syrian Miaphysite Christians in the recently conquered eastern territories of the Byzantine Empire, especially the city of Melitene. Building on a recent reevaluation of that prevailing interpretation, this article reads our key narrative sources for the trial of John bar ʿAbdun as reflecting and constituting competing arguments not only about the Jacobite patriarch’s innocence or guilt, but also, more subtly, about the very terms in which these questions should be framed. It argues that the ethnic and religious categories mentioned in the narratives did not correspond to fixed social groups but rather needed to be mobilized and activated, and that this is an important part of what certain historical actors described by the narratives—and the narratives themselves—were seeking to do. More broadly, the unexpected convergences among the narratives, and unexpected strategies within individual narratives, demonstrate that we must rethink how we narrate the history of medieval ecclesiastical disputes, ethnic and religious communities, and Christian attitudes towards orthodoxy and empire.

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James Morton, “Law and Orthodoxy under the Komnenoi: The Appendix to Alexios Aristenos’s Canonical Commentary,” 145–61.

The earliest surviving manuscripts of Alexios Aristenos’s commentary on the Synopsis of Canons (ca. 1130) contain a hitherto unexplained “appendix” of texts that follows directly after Aristenos’s work but does not seem to be a part of it. This article examines the manuscript tradition and textual content of the appendix, concluding that it is a collection of draft texts compiled by Byzantine canonists of the 1080s–1090s that has been preserved by chance in copies of Aristenos’s commentary. It argues that the appendix offers an insight into the intellectual priorities of canon law experts under the reign of Alexios I Komnenos, highlighting two main trends. First, there was a desire to align the contents of the Synopsis of Canons with those of the Nomocanon in Fourteen Titles. Second, the appendix attests to an effort to use legal scholarship to define and police the boundaries of Byzantine orthodoxy against heresy and against the Roman church’s claims to ecclesiastical primacy. In a general sense, the appendix can be seen as a reflection of Alexios Komnenos’s broader program of church reform in the 1090s and 1100s.

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Tristan Schmidt, “Performing Military Leadership in Komnenian Byzantium: Emperor Manuel I, His Generals, and the Hungarian Campaign of 1167,” 163–79.

This paper investigates the performative and communicative side of Komnenian military leadership. With senior command positions dominated by the leading aristocratic families and the imperial office closely tied to the role of supreme commander, conspicuous military leadership held prime socio-political value for the Komnenian elite. Competition for military leadership, both factual and in the eyes of the public, was a common dynamic, but also a potential source of severe conflict and a challenge for imperial authority. The sources give only fragmentary evidence on the mechanisms and on the textual, visual, oral, and performative output of this competition. The documentation of the events around the Hungarian campaign in 1167, however, provides a rare occasion for a more detailed investigation. It becomes clear that even generations later, the question of leadership during this campaign was relevant for the protagonists᾿ descendants. The study concludes with a discussion of the general possibilities and limitations for the self-representation of military leaders at the Komnenian court and beyond. While most of the preserved source material, including encomiastic texts, indicates the strong dominance of imperial propaganda, further evidence suggests a fair amount of polyphony and room for competing narratives, especially outside the context of official performances.

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Foteini Spingou, “Classicizing Visions of Constantinople after 1204: Niketas Choniates’ De Signis Reconsidered,” 181–220.

The De signis by Niketas Choniates is traditionally understood as an emphatic and accurate account of the destruction of the ancient statues in Constantinople following the events of 1204. This article reevaluates its content and manuscript transmission and reads it as a symbolic account of the assaults against the empire and its capital, rather than a factual report of the destruction of Constantinopolitan statuary. The argument is developed in three sections. The first section offers a fresh examination of the manuscript transmission of the De signis and finds that previously unnoticed paratexts prove its function as a semi-autonomous rhetorical appendix to a single version of Choniates’ History. Noticing discrepancies between the different (Greek or not) accounts related to 1204 and the De signis, and inconsistencies within the same text, the second section reads the text as a narrative of a semifictional and highly symbolic landscape of memory. The third section offers a close reading of the crescendo of the account, the ekphrasis of the statue of Helen of Troy, which—we argue—stands for the beauty of Constantinople. The highly emotive description of the statue is also a way for Choniates to express his emotions and plea for unity among literati against the “illiterate barbarians.”

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Krystina Kubina, “Poetry of Turmoil: Stephanos Sgouropoulos to Alexios III Megas Komnenos,” 221–44.

Stephanos Sgouropoulos, a poet of the mid-fourteenth century, has left us about 1,500 verses, most of them addressed to the emperor Alexios III Megas Komnenos (1338–1390, r. 1349–1390), who had ascended the throne in a period of political upheaval and instability. Between 1349 and the early 1350s, Sgouropoulos addressed a series of poems to the young emperor, instructing him on appropriate imperial behavior and offering political advice. Later, however, the author, likely smarting from his dismissal as an imperial counselor, verbally abuses the emperor for the latter’s misdeeds, and even wishes him to hell. This study, offering the first in-depth analysis of his poems, proceeds in two steps: first, Sgouropoulos’s poetic corpus is introduced with a discussion of its transmission, content, and dates of origin, along with its use of language and meter. Second, the entangled strands of praise, abuse, and advice, essential to its composition, are analyzed through a close reading of the individual poems, as well as a consideration of the generic logics underpinning these texts. While Sgouropoulos’s poems are deeply embedded in Byzantine literary tradition, in their multifarious character and shifting generic modulations they have no equal in (later) Byzantine poetry. As volatile literary experiments, they hold up a poetic mirror to a world in turmoil.

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Salvatore Cosentino, “Pillars of Empire: The Economic Role of the Large Islands of the Mediterranean from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages,” 245–80.

Over the last twenty years a good number of studies have emphasized the wealth of all Mediterranean islands during Late Antiquity. The present contribution focus on the economy of Sardinia, Sicily, and Crete in a comparative approach during the period from the sixth to the early ninth century. Several parameters are examined to determine whether socioeconomic development in Sardinia, Sicily, and Crete from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages was different from that of the heartland of the Byzantine Empire and to establish any differences that existed between these three islands. It is concluded that throughout the “Dark Ages,” Sicily, Crete, and Sardinia, along with Rhodes, can be defined as “pillars of empire” because they supported the vitality of the Byzantine Empire with their economies and strategic positions. They guaranteed Byzantium a wide economic area within which a well-structured system of exchange could work, and through which dignitaries, troops, commercial operators, and goods could move. If Constantinople became the capital of an “empire that would not die,” this depended on the fundamental role that the islands played.

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Luca Zavagno, “A Lost World That Never Died: Early Medieval Urbanism in the Byzantine Islands of the Western Mediterranean,” 281–309.

Research on the trajectories of Byzantine urbanism in the so-called Dark Ages has seldom focused on the western Mediterranean. Indeed, the Tyrrhenian Sea has been regarded as a world soon lost to Byzantium as opposed to the Anatolian plateau or the Aegean Sea. However, recently published archaeology in Sicily and Sardinia as well as refined analysis of material remains like globular amphorae and ceramica a stuoia have contributed to reverse the aforementioned historiographical trend. Indeed, this article addresses the issue of insular Tyrrhenian urbanism as projected against the backcloth of the historiographical debate concerning the fate of insular spaces in the Byzantine Mediterranean over the transition from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. It examines the transformation experienced by some Sicilian and Sardinian urban sites in terms of sociopolitical and economic functions as reflected by their changing fabric, landscape, and planning. Connectivity or isolation alone cannot be used to fully explain the coherence of insular urban settlement patterns and landscapes, which instead stemmed from their demographic persistence, economic vitality, and sociopolitical expedience.

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Zaza Skhirtladze and Darejan Kldiashvili, “Georgian Manuscripts Produced in Eleventh-Century Constantinople,” 311–97.

Despite the abundance of sources about Georgians in Byzantium from the eleventh to the twelfth centuries, their activity in Constantinople—the center of spirituality, science, education, and culture of the Christian world—remains largely understudied. The manuscripts created by Georgian commissioners, scholars, bookbinders, and artists in Constantinople constitute a collection which by its content, paleographic and codicological features, and especially by its illumination and artistic values, provides additional and valuable material for such a study, and enriches our general knowledge about book production in the city. In this article, the Georgian manuscripts produced in the milieu of eleventh-century Constantinople reveal the nature of the literary and artistic processes which took place in the intellectual circles of the city with the participation of Georgian nobility, thus creating a clear overview of the relationship between Byzantium and Georgia in one of the most eventful periods in the history of both countries. The study comprises an introduction, which outlines the political, social, and cultural framework in which the Georgian manuscripts produced in eleventh-century Constantinople must be understood, and a catalogue of important manuscripts with their colophons and translations.

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“Byzantine Missions: Meaning, Nature, and Extent: Dumbarton Oaks Symposium, 29–30 April 2022,” 399–400.



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