Frame 4a. Byzantium-Istanbul: Late Antiquity - End of the Middle Ages

Aims 1, 2 and 3

Professor Jan Olof Rosenqvist, Ass. Professor Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Dept. of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University.

To assess, by a study of written sources and monumental evidence, the interplay in Byzantine Constantinople of decline and resilience on the one hand (which depended on a variety of external and internal factors), and the urban ecology on the other hand, taking the environment’s potential of supplying water and food as a primary example. In order to put the results in relief, the developments of two contrasting periods — the 7th–9th c. and the 13–14th c. — will be studied in parallel.

Benefit of achieved aim
A new perspective on the processes influencing growth and decline of an urban conglomerate of significance for the development of the whole East Mediterranean region in the Middle Ages.

Scope of study
Chronologically the study will concentrate on the urban crisis of Late Antiquity (which was part of the general political and cultural crisis in the east Mediterranean area) and the reconstruction on a different scale that took place in the transition to the Middle Ages (6th – early 9th c.). The crisis of the 13th c. and its aftermath, which proved fatal to the Byzantine capital, will be used as a point of reference.

Intellectual background – previous research
In many ways the history of Byzantine Constantinople has been in the focus of Byzantine studies throughout the history of the field. This is easy to understand, given the city’s importance as a uniquely dominant centre of political power as well as religion and culture. However this study has suffered from the consequences of the break in the historical continuity that followed the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453. This event entailed massive rebuilding of vast city areas as well as the renaming of topographic elements in a way that has made the identification of even central sites and institutions in the Byzantine capital difficult. These difficulties have only grown with the growth of modern Istanbul. Characteristically, therefore, much of the Byzantine city’s construction history and topography has to be reconstructed from the mostly fragmentary and often contradictory evidence of written sources rather than from a reliable archaeological record. This means that in many respects our knowledge of Medieval Constantinople is surprisingly lacunose, and for many aspects, such as those proposed for investigation here, solid information is lacking although some ongoing projects are contributing to fast improvements of this situation.

The two researchers will apply the methods current in their respective fields, i.e. philology and art history/architectural history, combining them with interdisciplinary approaches in the way characteristic of Byzantine Studies.

Literary and documentary sources, of which the majority are available in more or less modern editions and a large number digitized in searchable form. Excavated and still standing monuments of Byzantine Constantinople, more or less satisfactorily published. Iconographical material, mostly miniatures from the illuminated manuscripts. Modern works in the various specialized fields within Byzantine studies. Photographical records.

Expected results
A book chapter of c. 30 pp. in which the present state of research concerning the questions described above will be described and some avenues for future research within the project will be traced.