Ethnography After Antiquity

Ethnography After Antiquity: Foreign Lands and Peoples in Byzantine Literature

Anthony Kaldellis
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ethnography After Antiquity
    Book Description:

    Although Greek and Roman authors wrote ethnographic texts describing foreign cultures, ethnography seems to disappear from Byzantine literature after the seventh century C.E.-a perplexing exception for a culture so strongly self-identified with the Roman empire. Yet the Byzantines, geographically located at the heart of the upheavals that led from the ancient to the modern world, had abundant and sophisticated knowledge of the cultures with which they struggled and bargained. Ethnography After Antiquity examines both the instances and omissions of Byzantine ethnography, exploring the political and religious motivations for writing (or not writing) about other peoples. Through the ethnographies embedded in classical histories, military manuals, Constantine VII's De administrando imperio, and religious literature, Anthony Kaldellis shows Byzantine authors using accounts of foreign cultures as vehicles to critique their own state or to demonstrate Romano-Christian superiority over Islam. He comes to the startling conclusion that the Byzantines did not view cultural differences through a purely theological prism: their Roman identity, rather than their orthodoxy, was the vital distinction from cultures they considered heretic and barbarian. Filling in the previously unexplained gap between antiquity and the resurgence of ethnography in the late Byzantine period, Ethnography After Antiquity offers new perspective on how Byzantium positioned itself with and against the dramatically shifting world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0840-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Ethnography in Late Antique Historiography
    (pp. 1-25)

    This chapter will focus on “classicizing” ethnographies that we find embedded mostly in historical texts. I distinguish this secular mode of ethnography, which was an extension of ancient genres and could be written by both Christian and non-Christian authors, from specifically Christian genres of ethnography that appeared in late antiquity and after, which I will discuss in Chapter 3. In the texts in question here, ethnography usually takes the form of digressions from political narratives and is generally subordinate to their objectives, even while it maintains its own distinct conventions.¹ A broad view of the evolution of the genre reveals...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Byzantine Information-Gathering Behind the Veil of Silence
    (pp. 26-43)

    The contention of the next section will be that the writing of ethnography declined severely in the middle Byzantine period (in fact, until the fourteenth century), certainly in comparison to the rich collection of sources that we have for late antiquity. This decline was not, however, due to a lack of knowledge, and that is what this section establishes. Th ere were many people in Byzantium who had extensive and detailed information about the empire’s neighbors and peoples farther away. This section will document the channels of its transmission. To say, then, that ethnography declined is to say that Byzantine...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Explaining the Relative Decline of Ethnography in the Middle Period
    (pp. 44-81)

    The decline of Byzantine ethnography draws our attention fi rst to the genre of historiography, for that, given ancient precedents, is where we most expect to find it. If we look closely at the historical sources for the middle period, and also realize that our expectations are preconditioned by the classical and late antique evidence that we wrongly take to be normative, some of the mystery is lifted. This section will offer a partial explanation for the silence of ethnography by examining the main subgenres of Byzantine historiography and the specific goals of each historian. Chapter 4 will then look...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Genres and Politics of Middle Byzantine Ethnography
    (pp. 82-139)

    The genre of Byzantine ethnography that has received the most attention is the military manuals, especially Maurikios’ Strategikon (ca. 600) and Leon VI’s Taktika (ca. 900), but largely from a positivist point of view, that is, from historians who are searching for facts about military history and are evaluating the reliability of the manuals from that standpoint. In the process, it was discovered that Leon basically copied Maurikios in his description of many nations, thereby rendering his information suspect. At the same time, it was found that in many instances he modified his template in order to reflect contemporary reality...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Ethnography in Palaiologan Literature
    (pp. 140-183)

    In 1204 the armies of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and set about the conquest and dismemberment of the Byzantine empire. They were to have only partial and temporary success. Th e Byzantines-in-exile managed to hold on to many regions, chiefly western Greece, Trebizond and its hinterland, and most of western and northwestern Asia Minor, from where they retook the capital in 1261. The Palaiologan dynasty reigned over the reconstituted empire for the next two centuries, but the geopolitical context had changed irrevocably. Asia Minor was gradually lost to a number of post-Seljukid emirates, of which the Ottomans would prove...

  9. Epilogue: Looking to a New World
    (pp. 184-186)

    Until the 1360s, the Palaiologan empire produced a diverse range of sources that pertain to our theme, written by intelligent men who recast traditional forms and images to fashion new perspectives and arguments. Byzantium was now a much smaller fish in a more dangerous ocean, but it nevertheless produced some of the most innovative thinkers in its history. This production peters out after 1360s, as the Ottoman Turks were solidifying their hold on Anatolia and beginning their conquest of the Balkans. It was not until after the fall of Constantinople that post-Byzantine writers produced another set of highly innovative texts...

    (pp. 187-188)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-228)
    (pp. 229-268)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 269-276)
    (pp. 277-278)