I know it’s not like me to not post for a month, so here’s a little recap.
Last weekend my Lord Geoffrey and I competed at King’s and Queen’s Arts and Sciences in Montreal, Quebec. It’s always a treat to visit Canada, as the Principality of Tir Mara here in the East always knows how to put on a good event. Plus, poutine and beer. If you haven’t eaten your way across Montreal, I recommend it. I mean, there’s way more than poutine and smoked meat, but you at least get poutine, and smoked meat, or both at the same time. Like I did. For those that don’t live anywhere near Canada, poutine is a comfort food that basically consists of French fries smothered in a specific type of brown gravy and fresh cheese curds. It’s any dieter’s nightmare, and that’s okay. It’s sort of a Quebecois staple, but I know it’s quite popular in Ontario and the Maritimes as well, and trickling down into the Northern US. No, it’s not Disco Fries, which is a Pittsburgh thing.
Oh hey, this was our collective displays. As you can see, I wrote another icon, this time of Anne and Mary, so I’ll be adding pics of that in my next post.
Other than that hullabaloo, my semester is focusing on the material culture of Early New England, so I haven’t really had too much time to stay in Byzantium as much as I wanted. I’m interning at a historic house here in my town, and planning to dig this summer at an American site, so my overall material culture focus has completely shifted right now to a period I don’t particular know a lot about, so as I’m focusing on that, a lot of my SCA stuff is getting pushed aside. As it should, because GPA before SCA.
My thesis, however, has been preliminarily approved by my advisor, and will have to do with Byzantium, as it should, because I should play my strengths, not my weaknesses. Once I get that in full swing, I can discuss more about it, but do to the nature of academic research for a grade versus research for the betterment of a re-creation group, I can’t really share too many details just yet. But it will have me developing patterns and sewing through the summer and fall.
I’m not giving up completely, though, I do have my CLASSES SCHEDULED for East Kingdom University and Pennsic War.
At EKU, I will be giving my primary source class, as well as a class on how I broke down the Tunic Under the Stairs (another post coming, probably this week while I’m in Florida on spring break) to get my pattern that I use for my garb. For Pennsic, I will be giving that tunic class again, as well as one on Persian influences in Byzantine Dress. I am only teaching those 2 classes at war this year, since 4 really takes a lot out of me, and neither of them are 2 hours long (my poor voice last war!) So this will leave me plenty of time to do other things. Especially if I don’t sprain my ankle this time.
With that said, I’m on my way to Florida. I need to see some [effective] sun after this crappy winter we’ve had in New England.
I mean, I have one, it’s a basic generic black wool with a lined hood and shoulder seams. I made it about 10 years ago and it’s still going strong. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s also not any particular period. Since I’ve been digging into Byzantine outerwear, I’m trying to discover what my persona would have worn, as well as other options in cloaking and coating for both men and women. It does snow in Constantinople, not a lot, but it does, as seen in this modern photograph of the Hagia Sophia from Wikipedia:
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire:
Outerwear is important, just as much then as it was now. I plan on keeping my first cloak for outside use when the weather is exceptionally foul, but to have one for nicer occasions outside in the cold or inside cold venues will help complete my look as a properly dressed 11th Century Eastern Roman woman.
This post serves as a cautionary tale into how looking for a simple garment can turn into a whirlwind of research that you didn’t expect. This is the method to my madness.
First I picked up the Byzantine cloak clasp offered by Raymond’s Quiet Press, you can buy your own by clicking on the pic.
In addition to some wool and trim, I had the materials necessary to get started.
I never intended on this to become any sort of research project, I just wanted a cloak. So a fast search on the internet came up first with what I always refer to as the paludamentum in Latin, or a chlamys in Greek, a male cloak fastened at one shoulder, such as in the mosaic of Justinian and his entourage at Ravenna, but the women in Theodora’s mosaic are wearing wrapped shawls, EXCEPT for the Empress herself, who is also in a chlamys. I haven’t seen too many images from the 11th Century in which these are worn by anybody other than the imperials. It seemed to have evolved from daily wear of even lower office holders (for men!) into ceremonial dress for high court functions. This theory is supported by Maria Parani in Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography 11th-15th Centuries, which I was able to snag on interlibrary loan to begin preliminary research on my Master’s Thesis.
Parani discusses briefly in her chapter on the Imperial Costume that the empress was invested in the chlamys, but probably did not wear it otherwise. So as tempting and shiny as the garment is, unless you are the queen of your SCA kingdom and it’s your coronation, or some extremely important court event, you probably should avoid wearing this garment. Even for men, if you’re middle period (10-12th century) Byzantine and not a king, I’d skip this. It’s just too presumptuous.
Moving away from this idea, there’s the paenula, which is the traditional Roman hooded cloak that dates from antiquity.
The only time you see this worn by a woman in any art is by the Virgin Mary and other ecclesiastical women in icons. Avoid this one too. Not only was it out of style pretty early on for both genders, and you wouldn’t want to commit the sin of wearing such an outdated fashion, but the Romans had a very high regard for their iconographic imagery, and this is another one of those things you should just avoid wearing.
Timothy Dawson argues that the practicality of such a garment would be useful, but evidence of its wear in period in scarce. I agree with him here, though I assert that the reason for such scarcity would be the connection to the Virgin, and therefore making the garment a symbol of her own connection to the past. For women who wish to cover their heads in a simple, demure fashion both indoors and out, a veil or wrapped shawl/palla works just fine.
Moving away from the chlamys and paenula, the other option would be the half-circle cloak.
The same images on Dawson’s website over at Levantia.com.au are also in his article within the Varieties of Experience book cited above. So went to myself, “Oh look, there’s a cloak. Sold.”
Finally, a design that was easy and period, and above all, not being presumptuous in rank, all I really need. It’s not like I wanted to put in more research that I really needed for a cloak, but I do like to check the primary sources to get ideas for embellishments and the like. So Plate 10 in “Woman’s Dress in Byzantium” matches the same that he has on the page for “A Typical Middle Byzantine Outfit” here: http://www.levantia.com.au/clothing/reddress.html. This is where my confusion set in. On his page, Dawson refers to this as a mantion, and cites a page from the 1839 edition of De Ceremoniis for the source on this. Fair enough.
I dig up the ebook on Google Books, and begin translating the ecclesiastical Latin of Reiske’s commentary on the page cited, and found that there was nothing of the sort there, in fact, it’s about pyrotechnics, Persians, and contains a great deal of commentary on a primary source in Arabic. It is unclear from Dawson’s footnote if this is volume one or two, and since two is the only one I can ever find copies of, I went with that. Just to be sure, I searched the document on Google Books for the Greek spelling of mantion, μάντιον, as Dawson suggested on his page, and found nothing. So then turned back to “Women’s Dress in Byzantium” and found that his research was inconsistent in the section where he discussed cloaks and mantles on page 48. In the actual printed article, the word “mantion” isn’t even mentioned, and instead he uses “mandyas,” and supports this through several citations of manuscripts. The book may be a few years older than the webpage, which was last modified in November 2013 according to the page info, but I’m still not 100% sure on why Dawson changed the name between publications. If I can locate the correct supporting evidence in De Ceremoniis, I will know for sure. Until then, I’m chalking it up to a simple error in the footnote that is leaving the source vague. Parani supports the use of mandyas as the correct term.
Now, a mandyas I know is the modern ecclesiastical cloak of the same cut. It’s basically a half circle ornamented in a variety of ways, draped over the shoulder and pinned in front. That’s it. The design is frankly, timeless.
I did some searching for Dawson’s cited manuscripts and couldn’t locate most of them online. This is a common hurdle, as not all libraries have been digitized yet, but fortunately for all of us in the future, they will be. Even the Vatican is digitizing their manuscript library. Even though my initial searches were fruitless, I did find some neat sources for future perusing. I did have some luck with the Menologion of Basil II, which does have its own Wikipedia page for those seeking instant gratification, and found a couple of images, including the empress in a chlamys and a sainted nun in a paenula. What I needed though was evidence of women of aristocratic status wearing it, and folio 98 delivered. Both Dawson and Parani cited this image, and Parani included it in her book.
This image above shows both a saint and a laywoman. The haloed saint Palagia wears the hooded paenula, while the woman in the middle, whom I’m assuming is Palagia repenting her sins before converting and devoting her life to God, is secular dress, and, tada! Wearing a mandyas.
Another image that supports the wearing of this style of mantle is one that I’ve previously shown during my research of the propoloma are the donor frescoes of Irene Gabras, and Anna Radene in its full form. The one of Radene shows the traditional thick trim outside, as well as an elaborate lining behind the magnificently large sleeves of her red 12th Century delmatikion.
These three sources span the period from 1000-1180, so it’s safe to say that this garment was very much in style for probably a fair portion of the 10th Century, the duration of the entire 11th Century and into the 12th. All three are featured within Parani’s book. Since my persona is a woman who could have served as a zoste patrikia such as the likes of Radene, it is safe to assume that wearing the mandyas in her style would not be presumptuous, and therefore the route I should take.
Now, I have already been asked, “What makes a mandyas different from a chlamys?”
This is a good question.
Both historians I have cited, primarily Parani as she has focused on the differences in both imperial and aristocratic dress, agree that the chlamys is absolutely imperial only. Descriptions lead me to believe that the broaching at the right shoulder, as well as the addition of the traditional ornamented panel, the tablion, are the single most important things one needs to pay attention to when making cloaks for themselves. It was extremely ornate, and not practical in any sense of the word for wearing outside of high court ceremonies. So in theory, this thing was probably so heavily laden down with jewels and metals that not only was it out of the price range of anything but the imperial family, but also its sheer weight was probably enough to keep the wearers indoors. I also believe that since the Roman paludamentum, which is essentially the same garment as the Byzantine chlamys, was trapezoidal (think rectangle with the two bottom corners cut off) and not semi-circular, that the imperials would have preferred to maintain the ancient shape, versus the easier to cut and trim half-circle counterpart.
Note: If you see an icon of an angel or saint wearing a chlamys, remember that these figures are often in imperial ceremonial dress, as that is to be expected of all divine beings.
Here are patterns I just cooked up to give a better understanding:
As for how these can be embellished, if Anna Radene is any indication, the aristocracy did not slouch when it came to blinging their accoutrements. In Dawson’s article, he discusses the will of an aristocratic lady by the name of Kale Pakouriane in which she discusses her clothing items, including heavily embellished mandyai with silk, pearls, and gold bands. Parani brings up this same document for different reasons, so now it’s on my “MUST FIND” list, so that I too, can get a glimpse into the belongings of a high ranking lady of this period.
Anyways, I’m cooked. This just goes to show you how much you can find about one garment in just 2 monographs and an afternoon to kill looking for images and writing a blog post. I will be planning and making my own mandyas this week.
….all I wanted was a cloak. Seriously.
But at least I didn’t want a Pepsi.
Bibliography (image sources cited within text):
Constantine Porphyrogénnētos, De Cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae libri duo. London: Oxford. 1830.
Dawson, Timothy. “Propriety, Practicality, and Pleasure: The Parameters of Women’s Dress in Byzantium, A. D. 1000-1200.” In Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience AD 800-1200, edited by Lynda Garland. Hampshire; Burlington: Ashgate, 2006.
Goldman, Norma. “Reconstructing Roman Clothing.” in The World of Roman Costume. Edited by. Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.
Parani, Maria. Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography 11th-15th Centuries. Leiden;Boston: Brill, 2003.
 Maria Parani, Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography 11th-15th Centuries, (Leiden;Boston: Brill, 2003.) 17-18.
 Timothy Dawson, “Propriety, Practicality, and Pleasure: The Parameters of Women’s Dress in Byzantium, A. D. 1000-1200.” In Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience AD 800-1200, ed. Lynda Garland, (Hampshire; Burlington: Ashgate, 2006.) 48.
 Parani, 73. Here she’s citing the will of Kale Pakouriane, a lady of the middle Byzantine period who discusses clothing in her will. She also discusses it as being an alternative garment worn by the Emperor on pages 16 and 17.
 Parani, plate 80. Vat. Gr. 1613, f. 98 depicting St. Pelagia the Harlot
I’ve created a page for this site, and to allow folks who aren’t friends with me on Facebook to connect. I have a lot of friends on my mundane page, and this will simply streamline the process for those that wish to contact me and get updates about what I’m working on.
All of my work, articles, patterns, and handouts will remain HERE, but I can have all updates to my blog posted to Facebook for more social interaction.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Twelfth Night event in the Barony of Smoking Rocks (Southeastern Massachusetts) often has an early period theme. Typically 11th-12th Century. This year’s period was 1066, pre-conquest, so we went as my husband’s parents, Robert and Adelize de Tosny, looking to check out real estate on a plain called Hastings.
For the curious, the site is the Unitarian Universalist Society in Fairhaven, MA. Here’s some additional pictures of the site and event.
I didn’t fix it last year after I wore it to Smoking Rocks Baronial Investiture, and it’s been sitting in my closet since. Not that anything was terribly wrong with it, but I didn’t have a lacing up one side to create the ruching effect that Norman women found ever-so-sexy. So I simply made the dress tighter, and hoped for the best. It worked, but not that well.
Since the local 12th Night event that I attend in the Barony of Smoking Rocks is usually 11th Century Norman and/or Saxon, I figured that’s where I would get the most bang for my buck with this floor dragger. I didn’t wear it last year since we did a murder mystery in which Anna as a Byzantine needed to be present, so this year, I FINALLY get to wear it again. Time to get the lacings in.
Fortunately for myself, I had some sort of plan when I sewed the thing, and left the side seams unfinished so I could pop one for the lacings. This made me more happy that it probably should have. So I split the right side of the dress from the upper arm to the hip, hemmed it, and got to play with my machine’s buttonhole function 41 times. In theory and practice, yes, I should be doing eyelets by hand, but I assure you all that my machine does a way better job than I can do, and in a quarter of the time. Cheating? Yeah, probably. Utilitarian? Very yes.
So here’s the first look, before I put on the girdle. You can see how the lacing (spiraled, I should mention that) draws up the length of the dress to create the desired wrinkles. The “I’m so important I can afford extra fabric to just wrinkle around mah belly” look.
And here’s with the girdle, which after doing the requisite dancing around the house, is necessary. The design is not only decorative, but it holds the ruching in place in the front. Otherwise, you’re going to walk on your dress and faceplant. I wonder how many Norman women fell down the stairs before they figured this one out.
My husband didn’t even pull it as tight as it could go. I wonder if we really yanked it around my chest if it would draw up the fabric more. The torso is approximately a foot longer than my own to allow for this extra gathering. My underdress is tailored normally. Each have 4 gores instead of just on the sides to allow for very full skirting. It is HEAVY, and when I spin around I feel like a princess, and then try not to fall.
I do think that the bliaut itself would be far more beneficial in wool than linen. I can’t afford that much dress-weight wool right now, but the stretching and conforming to a shape with body heat versus the less pliability of linen would make a HUGE difference. So those reading this post to get ideas, I would recommend that if you can swing it. If not, linen is a perfectly fine choice.
I’m hoping to finally get REAL pictures of me in this dress next to my Lord in his Norman. So we’re finally in the same time period at the same time. Once I eventually make him real Byzantine on par with my own instead of the one tunic he occasionally wears when I order him to, we can have a set of good photos for things such as holiday cards, and gifts for our families who think us terribly weird. 😀
I made a new Propoloma tonight for an upcoming A&S display here in the East. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please see this informative earlier post.
Basically, I had a 60% off coupon for Joann’s, and decided I needed to spend money immediately, so I went in, paid less than $10 for 2 yards of white wool felt, and ran out giggling. I put on my car, and Alien Ant Farm’s cover of “Smooth Criminal” was on the radio. This is, ironically, how I got my persona name from an ex-boyfriend.
“Annie are you okay?”
NO! I’m about to make a funny looking hat!
So, for fast reference, here we have Irene Gabras to inspire my Flying Nunnery:
So, first, I cut the wool using my first version of the hat as a guide. I needed it bigger and rounder. I cut four pieces total, as I wanted a lining and a shell. I figured this would be full bodied enough to stand on its own without using buckram or other modern stiffening materials.
After that, I sewed the lining together, and tried it on.
This, of course, resulted in all sorts of funny name calling on Facebook, which both amuses me and aggravates me at the same time. On one hand, I posted it, I deserve the jokes and I know my friends are jerks. It’s a thing. On the other hand, I am introducing this hat and style of dress to the SCA, and I’m met with joking. Way to make me want to actually wear it, guys. Not that I should ever expect constructive comments of any kind on a social network that devotes more time to political party bashing than…oh wait, that’s perfectly Byzantine. *Ahem* MOVING ON.
I used some silk remnants I had to make the stripey bit. I’m not good at this part. Irons and I don’t get along.
Then I began to apply it to the shell, using the painting of Irene Gabras as a guide.
After sewing it down, I did the same for the other side, opposite directions so the ends would meet. I was able to barely see the stitches through the wool, so that made a nice guide.
Once both sides were sewn down, I went back and added a little bling with gold thread. I had considered using some of my embroidery stitches for more shiny, but I decided in the end that I need to 1: Lay off my embroidery stitches and start doing more hand work, 2: this is a statement hat in its own. It will speak for itself, and 3: I didn’t want to be presumptuous in persona.
Once the silk was sewn down, I finished the sides of the hat, and turned it right side out, and then made sure it was still equal to the lining.
Then I put the lining inside of the shell, and immediately felt like Rita Repulsa from the original Power Rangers series:
By this point, I was being compared to Yoda on Facebook, but I didn’t care. I was ready to wrap this up. A little whip stitchin’s for the opening:
And Voi—-uh. Hmm…
But that’s okay, I have a notoriously small head, and I did it on purpose for veils and nets and such. So, naturally, I had to go play dress-up.
VOILA! ANNA ZOSTE PATRIKIA!
Putting the kohl on my eyes really makes it, I think, I mean, I practically just wrapped myself up in fabric like a Glamour Shot. :3 it also shut up the peanut gallery. Context is everything!
As you can see, the 2 layers of wool felt gives the hat enough body to stay up on it’s own, and it’s also nice and toasty, because I live in New Hampshire, where we are known best for our tropical winters.
Here’s a comparative shot of my first hat and my new one. What an improvement!
I’m sure readers are wondering why a woman, who is normally focused on the clothing of Rome and Byzantium, is now making Norman garb. Well, for one, I’ve wanted one for a long time. For twos, my persona is half-Norman. My boyfriend is Norman, and the freehold I am apart of is a Norman keep. So…it was only a matter of time before I made Norman garb for myself. My friends in the neighboring barony are being invested as baron and baroness this coming weekend, and they are Saxon. So, what could be funnier than all of their pals showing up as Normans to the party? Our area 12th Night event is also very early 12th century and traditionally a 10 foot rule event, so I needed to make something appropriate for that, also. The only hitch was that I’m 11th Century, 1090s to be exact, so I had to find evidence to support the wearing of this garment in that period. That was relatively easy, as the Bayeux Tapestry clearly shows women wearing snug dresses with droopy sleeves. Tada!
I found the spot of evidence I needed from Sarah Doyle’s Page on The Clothing of Norman Women in the Late 11th and Early 12th Centuries. She gives a wealth of sources that made it easy to get an idea of the style I wanted to make, as bliauts can vary quite a bit. I wanted to keep it relatively simple with sleeves a reasonable length such as Aelfgyva’s above, and line then to show contrast as what seemed popular during this period. The only other real issue I had was determining a neckline, and I went with the keyhole rather than the V-Neck. It will be mostly covered by my veil anyway.
The process didn’t take too long. I made an underdress out of black linen and 4 gores. I threw some trim on the neckline, cuffs and bottom hem. The main gown is made from a deep red linen, that also has 4 gores and cut-out underarms to allow for the easier attaching of the sleeves. The sleeves were really the most tedious part, but still not difficult. Linings don’t scare me, but I ran into some hiccups as far as being able to ensure the hiding of seams but still closing a side seam up after the sleeves were inserted. So I basically had to partially complete the sleeves and then leave about 5-6 inches unsewn so I could attach it to the main body of the dress. Easy enough. Under normal circumstances I would have sewn just the linen together and then finished the green silk lining over the seam by hand, but it was fighting back and some points weren’t matching as well as I planned them too, SO, the silk got machined into the seam and finished with a zig zag. This makes me worry a bit about fraying, but it was the best option given the circumstances, and that I decided to make this 3 days before wearing it. More on that later. Here’s some pictures of the sleeve process.
Once the sleeves were on, the dress came together much faster. All I had to do at this point was finish the trim on the neckline, sew on the side gores and then close the sides. The dress itself is a foot longer in the torso than a normal tunic dress, this allows for the ruching look that was desirable during the period. I opted to not lace the side of the dress. This results in some interesting shimmy shimmy shakes to take it off, since I had to take in the sides to make it tight enough.
And here’s a snapshot of my first test fitting before taking in the sides.
I pulled in the sides a bit more after this, and made the girdle out of the leftover trim I had. The only REAL mistake I did was attaching the trim on the upper arm before sewing the side seam. This sounded like a great idea at the time, but they don’t match up, which you can kind of see if you’re standing behind me. I expect to hear some crap about that this weekend. So I figure once the event is over, I can go and remove the trim, and replace it by hand so I don’t have that problem. I’m still not sure why my measurements are off.
The only other real “problem?” I’ve lost weight. 8 inches total from my hips alone to be exact from two points, so making a fitted dress earlier in the year was going to be a problem. Chances are if I keep this up, I’m going to have to not just take in more from the sides, but put in the lacings to MAKE it tight enough. This is why I had to wait until last minute to make it. 🙂
While on my backpacking across Sicily, I decided to stop at an inn for the night in the city of Syracuse. The inn, which was more of a bed and breakfast by American standards, was in an old annex to an even older house. I’m not one for architecture, but if I had to guess, it was built during the baroque period, with some parts perhaps even earlier, but knowing how homes in the older parts of the world had a tendency to be rebuilt many times, it was difficult to say.
I was the only guest for the evening, and the older couple who ran the establishment put out their nightly assortment of rich Mediterranean pastries and gave me a unique beverage that tasted of honey and vinegar. Not wanting to be rude, I accepted the drink and cookies without question, and joined them at their table. Meeting locals make these journeys more enjoyable, with the exception of course, being the language barrier. My Italian was shaky at best, the same with their English, but I learned that the drink was an ancient recipe, one that would revitalize me after my long day of backpacking through the city. After some additional language struggles, I did manage to communicate the purpose of my trip.
“I’m studying to be a classical archaeologist, and I enjoy trekking through ancient regions.”
The couple became incredibly excited, and without a beat, asked, in perfect form, “Can you speak Greek?” The conversation officially began.
The couple, named Marco and Maria, claimed they had a fine collection of artifacts they wished for me to look at. They explained that Maria’s family had roots in the Byzantine Empire, and Marco’s had hailed from a town in Thrace. They had sought refuge in Italy when the Ottoman Empire sacked Constantinople in 1453, bringing only what they could carry. I was intrigued, and yet somewhat unsure if these older Sicilians were simply trying to pull a joke on me. One can never be too cautious when traveling alone. Reluctantly, I agreed to view their so-called collection.
Maria took my hand gently, and we followed her husband into a parlor, where he slid several modern cedar chests into the floor. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting, but I do know that when they were opened, I nearly stumbled back. These weren’t just any artifacts; these were museum-quality heirlooms that spanned generations. Jewelry, silks, pearls, Bibles, manuscripts, this was an unbelievable haul of personal, priceless treasures that had been preserved lovingly to protect a lost cultural identity.
Maria reached into one of the chests, and removed a few items that were gingerly wrapped in stained ancient silk. She placed them out before me: A mosaic with a dolphin on it, a necklace of gold, garnets and pearls, and an Orthodox icon of the Archangel Michael. I sat and blinked. These were not the typical goods of a poor, refugee family.
“My grandmother told me as a young woman that these are the oldest.” Maria began, “From before the Crusades. Her name was Anna, and she was part of the imperial family in Constantinople.”
I knelt down to get a closer look, and she lifted the necklace for me to see. “I was told that when my ancestors fled the city after it had been destroyed by the Turks, they had to save what they could from the old homes and graves. Looting had already begun by the infidels, so they had to hurry. The necklace they were able to save from Anna’s grave. The icon was in the family crypt, and the tile was once part of a large floor in the palace apartment that Anna was said to have lived in. Dolphins are a symbol of our family, you see, and also the old symbol of Syracuse before the times of Rome. My family goes back before the times of Alexander.”
I was unsure of the provenance of anything, but I promised Maria that if she would let me take pictures, I could bring them home and do research, then send her all the information. She agreed, and then I proceeded to go through the rest of their impressive collection. I turned in for the night as my mind reeled on what it would have been like to have been the last of the Byzantines, fleeing with what bits and pieces I could from the crumbling remains of the once glistening empire.
The next morning, as I prepared to leave for my journey, Maria and Marco saw me off with a small package of leftover pastry and a cup of strong Italian coffee…and a small box with the artifacts of the life of Anna, Maria’s eleventh century ancestor. Despite my protests, she urged that I keep them as a gift. She had no daughters of her own to pass them on, and this way I could study them, and perhaps place them in a museum for the rest of future generations to enjoy. The final parting gift was a small bottle of vinegary smelling syrup. Marco told me this was called oxymel, the beverage they had served me when I arrived, it was to be diluted in water, and used just as the Romans and Byzantines did centuries ago.
I placed the goodies into my already-full backpack, but allowed myself to take on the additional burden for these people who had allowed me, a stranger, into their home and hearts for nothing more than a night.