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Processions: Urban Ritual in Byzantium and Neighboring Lands

Where
Dumbarton Oaks Music Room
When
April 12  –  13, 2019
Byzantine Studies Symposium, Leslie Brubaker and Nancy Ševčenko, Symposiarchs

Military, civic, and religious processions were hallmarks of the ancient and medieval world; they continued into the Renaissance and, indeed, continue to this day. Yet the Byzantine procession has not yet been subjected to any synthetic, historicizing, contextualizing, or comparative examination.

Understanding processions is critical for our appreciation of how urban space worked and was manipulated in the Middle Ages. For the 2019 Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposium, speakers will examine texts, artifacts, and images in order to develop a new understanding of medieval urban life across multiple social registers. For example, records of processions show us what kinds of public behavior were acceptable, and when, and where. Studying processions introduces us to new protagonists as well, for processions involve audiences as well as participants, and groups hitherto virtually invisible, such as the team of people who prepared for the event by decorating the streets, will be brought to light. The Byzantine commitment to processions is striking in terms of the resources and time allocated: there were as many as two processions a week in Constantinople, many involving the patriarch and the emperor. In the Latin West, the Crusader States, and in the Fatimid, Ottoman, and Muscovite worlds, by comparison, processions occurred far less frequently: the procession was significantly more important to the Byzantines than to their neighbors and successors. The comparative study of Byzantine processions to be offered by the speakers at the symposium will reveal how the Byzantines operated in a complex global network defined by local contexts, how the Byzantines positioned themselves within this network, and the nature of the Byzantine legacy to the Islamic, Catholic, and Orthodox inheritors of their culture.

Trier, Cathedral Treasury, ivory panel, ca 800 (?): Imperial procession with relic