Sorry about not posting this sooner, I needed a brain decompression period post-Pennsic.
I was honored to serve as a champion of the East Kingdom’s Arts and Sciences War Point team this summer, and decided that it was the perfect time to complete an icon of Michael the Archangel that I had planned on for some time. Since I’ve posted previously about my process, this is mostly just a picture (and video) dump.
The best part? This belongs to me. It’s not a gift or a scroll for somebody else, he gets to stay in my personal collection, and I’m happy about this. I’m also insanely happy with how it came out.
The original icon is dated to the 15th Century at the Church of Panagia Angeloktisti, Kition, Cyprus.
And here is my finished piece, on a 11×14″ poplar panel from Pandora Icon Supplies:
Slew of progress shots:
And a comparison between this one, and my first Michael icon from September 2013:
While working on this, I decided I was going to video myself, and then roll it into a timelapse, here is the result! Yeah, the musical choices aren’t really, uh, Byzantine, but some of them could work. Maybe. 😉
I field more emails and more online questions about the Varangian Guard than I do actual Byzantine personae. I lifted most of the information below from my Byzantine Personal Basics page above, but I’ve included a bibliography to hopefully help those on the path find what they’re looking for.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I have nothing against Varangian personae, but I’m about to be very blunt: Varangians are not Byzantine.
The Romans viewed them as barbarians and outsiders, and despite the fun tales from the Norse Sagas, chances are, they weren’t well liked in the City. The truth of the matter is that there are currently more Varangians in the SCA than there ever was serving an emperor at one point in time due to the fact that it gives Norse personae an excuse to wear lamellar when it’s hot (which is fine, we don’t need anybody dropping dead at war, please). Not everybody could show up at the Blachernae Palace steps from somewhere up North and demand they be admitted into service to the Purple. It was a bit more complicated than that, and each emperor had different requirements. Not to mention, Varangians were only predominantly Norse for a short period of time in the mid 11th Century if we assume what the Sagas say is true.
The first Varangian Guard was not established until the late 10th Century (around 980) when Basil II was given thousands of Kievan soldiers in exchange for marriage of a Byzantine princess to the Prince of Kiev in order to defeat the Bulgarians. The Kievan Rus were not Norse, they were Slavic, potentially with Norse ancestry, but the term “Viking” itself is a particular Norse occupation. The “Viking Age” was pretty much over at this time. We do have record of plenty of Norse travelers coming to Constantinople prior to this, but the “Viking raid” in 860 was actually Rus that had come down into the Black Sea from what is now Ukraine.
To further screw things up, the term “Varangian” itself was used by both the Romans and the Rus to refer to Norse Vikings prior to the 10th Century. So, if this is the route you desire to go, determining if you’re just a Norse traveler from early period, or an actual member of the Emperor’s elite guard is important.
If you do decide to go Varangian GUARD, here is a list of “waves” of ethnicities that served at specific times. This is by no means set in stone, but it provides a guide for those that want to pinpoint a specific time period that suits their goals:
988 – 1020ish: Kievan Rus
1020-1070ish: Scandinavian (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish) Bolli Bollason and Harald Hardrada served at this time.
1070-1204ish: Danish and English (Anglo-Saxon). The term “Danes” comes up in Byzantine literature often to describe the Varangians, and the English were escaping Norman rule in England at this time. This is documented in the saga of Edward the Confessor. Siward Barn served at this time. Normans were NOT permitted to be apart of the Varangian Guard, but some may have served as mercenaries in other capacities.
The Fourth Crusade has probably some of the best documented accounts of the Varangian Guard in action protecting Constantinople. After the retaking of Constantinople and re-establishing the empire, however, there didn’t appear to be as formal of a guard unit, and those that were a part of it, had fully assimilated into the Roman culture. It is unclear if the Varangian Guard really remained a thing until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
There are a lot of myths surrounded what they actually wore, especially in the SCA. The “red is for the Emperor’s service” and “green is for the Empress’s service” is totally a SCAdianism as far as I’ve found. It looks like the on-duty color for the guard was blue or red, while off-duty, you see them in nothing more than plain tunics and slim-fitting trousers or hose, which was typical for men’s casual wear throughout the empire. Earlier travelers would have continued to wear the clothing of their culture, versus picking up stuff along the way. Clothing was expensive and difficult to carry and launder, so the other SCAdianism of having a diverse wardrobe boasting the latest fashions of every exotic port of call you visited is also inaccurate. They would, however, assimilate over time if they decided to stay put in an area. This does not include trade goods, but items that were exchanged in business were not necessarily the same as the clothes you wore on your back.
As far as religion goes, during the period of the active guard, most serving were already Christian, or converted to Orthodoxy from a later, heavily modified and somewhat hodgepodged version of Arian Christianity which was more common in Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries very early before the Western Church started coming in with missions. Please, remember that Arianism IS NOT THE SAME THING as Aryanism. Mind your i’s and y’s! Either way, the idea of your persona dripping in lovely Asatru regalia would be incorrect as a guardsman, but as a very early Norse traveler to Constantinople, still possible.
Egg Tempera is a great medium, but it takes some getting used to. As far as iconography has gone, I have never used a ready-made paint. I have always used dry pigments mixed with egg binder, even in my not-so-great early pieces. I’ve since learned the quirks of it, but I still have a bit to go.
The binder is easy to make: egg yolk and white wine. The wine is optional, but it helps emulsify the egg a bit, as well as act as a preservative. Still, you only get a week, tops, with this stuff in the fridge after a day on your table.
My mixture this go around was 2 yolks and about “that much” of white wine. I’ve gotten to the point of knowing the color I want for the right mixture. You can separate the yolk from the white by transferring the goop back and forth between the broken eggshell halves. Then you pop the yolk with a folk, and let it slowly drain into the jar, catching the membrane in the process. If the membrane goes in, it’s not a huge deal, but you just need to make sure you don’t suck it up in the dropper later.
As you can see, it’s not a ton of liquid in a standard size mason jar, but a little goes a long way. You use drops, not tablespoons.
Once I get the magic liquid made, I go ahead and set up my table. I already had most of this out when the gilding started, but here you can see my collection of pigments, and that I taped wax paper down to protect my work surface. All of my pigments are from Earth Pigments or Natural Pigments, are are 100% natural earth or mineral colors. Mostly oxides, but also some crystals. The bagged jars are my quarantined toxic vermilion (mercury sulfide) and minium (red lead) pigments.
Egg tempera is backward from watercolor, you start dark and then add highlight layers. It seems weird, but it works. In iconography symbolism, you continue to “play God”, and build the paint up from the protoplasm, into a glowing, holy image.
Starting with the sankir, or base skin tone first. I mixed Antica Green Earth, and Roman Black. Think about the skin color of the Greeks and Middle Eastern people where this artform originated: olive based. Again, start dark, build up to light.
Egg tempera can be fickle depending on how fine some of the pigments are ground, the material they’re made from, and how much moisture they suck up. Antica green is fickle and kind of grainy, so I had to adjust as I went along with more pigment, egg, or water, depending on my needs.
I made a ton of sankir, so I painted all three icons with it. This isn’t always the best approach and it sort of busted my flow for the rest of the day, but they all have the same base mix, which is good. The rest of this icon-a-long will be for St. Martin.
I don’t have pictures of work on Martin, because, well, I was painting. It’s a time consuming process, and it takes hours. Total amount of work today alone was about 4 hours.
The perfect cloak red in icons comes from vermilion, real vermilion. I have a few different reds, but nothing paints like the real thing. So the real thing needs precautions. I keep it quarantined in its own baggy, with its own tools. Instead of using one of my palettes, or shells (I do have shells, the porcelain is just easier to clean) I use a plastic spoon that I can keep separate. While vermilion is considered inert once painted, the dry form is still toxic, it is still mercury, and needs to be controlled.
Of course, once I got started with it, a warm fuzzy thing decided to distract me.
I had to use a tiny bit of the minium as well. It’s one of my favorite colors. As shocking orange as you can get, and a fully period color.
After getting tired, taking a break halfway for dinner, and coming back to it, and still getting tired while finishing up the background, which is okay, because more coats will make it more opaque, but I’m bushed. I know it looks super weird, but over the next few days, the icon should “appear” as I add the highlights.
This post shows you the deepest darkest secret of iconography: the patterning process.
This is tongue in cheek for obvious reasons. Why?
No, really. While many iconographers draw their own images, the vast majority of them are made from patterns that have existed since the Middle Ages or Early-Modern period. You can go on Amazon right now and find dozens of books of icon patterns and line art for this purpose. Copying is period. In fact, I was able to see an actual medieval icon pattern in person, once. I was unable to take a picture, but it was made of animal skin, and had the image punched into it so the iconographer could transfer it over onto their panel with a stylus. How else do you think so many icons look identical, save details and color?
I’m too poor to afford skins I can dedicate to patterns, but I can use the modern method of carbon paper, which is how most schools today teach it. (I do believe carbon paper, or a form of it, is period, but let’s not grasp at straws for stunt documentation.)
So, the way to do this is fairly straight forward. I’m using an 11×14 panel for an 8×10 printout, so I need to measure that out to create my border. Then I play the corner matching game and tape the image with the carbon paper down to the panel with painters tape. After that, using a dull pencil or a ballpoint pen, I go ahead and trace over the lines I need to create the line art. No need to get too detailed, because I learned early on you do too much work on the pattern, and paint over and lose all those detail lines. That’s all work you do on top of the base layers.
After you get a successful trace, go back in with a graphite pencil and fix some details and missed lines.
After you have your line art, it’s time to prep for gilding.
Always get your gold down before painting. Gold will stick to all the things, so it’s important that you get it to stick to the only thing you want for the time being, and that’s a substance called bole.
I’ve mentioned this before in my previous icon posts, but bole is a mixture of red clay and hide glue. I’ve made it before, but I also like buying it ready made from Pandora because it make my house not smell gross and my stove and floors not get stained. Since I live in military housing, paying for others to do this for me is a great convenience.
I put two thick layers of bole down on the halo, and then a rough, thin layer on the edge of the board. This is highly symbolic in the icon process, but also important: the bole provides a cushion for the gold to have a design engraved into it if desired, and the layer on the edge helps protect the board while it’s being handled. In icon speak, it’s the base of earth from which God shone the divine light at creation (halo), and the edges are symbolic of the roughness and mortality of the artist. It’s kind of dark, and I love it. Because I paint these as an historical art in a secular manner, versus something that will be used for actual veneration, I don’t dwell too much on the sanctity of the process, but it makes a great mnemonic for the process, because the order of operations matters for a practical reason, as well as spiritual.
After the bole cures, I’ll use an agate burnisher to smooth it out, but that will have to wait until tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I’ll be able to get the gold leaf down, and the first layer of egg tempera on all three icons.
To put things in perspective before painting, here’s the three brushes I use most of the time.
In November, I was asked (or rather, crashed a Facebook convo) regarding the new Eastern heirs coronation wishes. Byzantine!
Having worked with the couple before for their first coronation (wherein I was a spooky Vestal Virgin reading a scary prophecy) I knew that their love of display and theater is something that I had missed dearly living in Caid. At the time, the Norman still had orders back to the East Kingdom, so we were planning on being around for the spring coronation anyway. I didn’t hesitate in agreeing to help build them their wish. Even after the orders were changed, I decided I wouldn’t drop the project, and that we would find a way to make the pilgrimage back home to the East Kingdom for one event.
Since I was most familiar with the source materials, I would develop the coronation ceremony, as well as ensure that the kingdom looked as fabulous as possible, despite my distance. So in January, after our move across the country, I sat in the library for a few hours and pecked away at the page here on my site to help folks get dressed. Once I was finally able to get internet installed, I located the primary source for the Coronation, and began my work in writing the modus.
I had several personal goals in mind:
– The ceremony had to be based on authentic period procedure.
– The ceremony had to be secularized and welcoming, but still “sacred”.
– The ceremony had to contain the traditions and relics of the East Kingdom.
The first two I could do, but the third I called in the reserves, and reached out to Master Steffan ap Kennydd, who I had worked with before, for his knowledge of ceremony and the needs of an East Kingdom-specific ordo.
The source depended on what period their royal highnesses desired. Both the 6th and 10th Centuries were brought up, and after some gentle nudging toward the later option, I was able to go forward with working with De Cerimoniis/The Book of Ceremonies by Constantine VII Pophryogennetos. Drafted in the mid 10th Century as a court manual for his heir, the book contains a collection of various ceremonies pertaining to the Byzantine court: coronations of the emperor, the empress, how to address foreign dignitaries, how to invest an officer of the court, and what to wear to the emperor’s birthday dinner. I knew that the coronation ceremony was available online here, but after some eyelash-batting toward the husband following our tax return, I purchased the full paperback copy that was available through Brill Publishing, in an updated translation that would help me pick up anything that was missed, including the separate coronation ceremony of the empress. (as of April 10th, 2018, I’m not seeing the print version available. Just the ebook here: http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004344921 )
It took me a good week to really get my first draft where I wanted it to be. And then, the Facebook chats began. I’m not really sure how other kingdoms work, but at least in the East, being that the coronations are often a production, so there’s a lot of moving parts after just the ceremony. My work was far from over. I made sure Steffan saw it first, and then passed it on to their highnesses, and Brigantia Principal Herald, Malcolm. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to go into much detail on what was discussed, but mostly it was taking what I had written, plugging in the East Kingdom ceremonies, and figuring out logistics on music, and the performance of the demes (circus factions) leading the acclamations.
Mistress Margretha reached out to me to help with the music, and we decided that a processional hymn would be ideal. I pinged Martyn Halliwell and Mistress Aneleda for demoi assist, and Martyn just took it and ran with it. We were getting close, and my confidence was waning, if it wasn’t for Margretha and Martyn, I have no idea how I could have pulled it off. Margretha, a Greek native, knew what we needed for a hymn, so she secularized the Christmas Kontakion into a chant, and formed the “manly wall of sound” as she referred to it. Byzantine hymns very rarely have soprano or alto notes, so singing recruitment was a challenge for her. However, she nailed it, as you will see in the videos below.
Here is a link to her source material:
And her hymn:
Το Βασίλειον σήμερον άνακτας νέους λαμβάνει
Βασιλέαν ανίκητον, Βασίλισσάν τε ωραία
Αρχοντες μετα Μαϊστόρων ούτους υμνούσιν
Ρόδα δε μεθ’ Ιπποτών δοξολογούσιν
Δι’ημάς γαρ στεφθώσιν
Κολφίννη τε και Μπρένναν εξ Ανατολής
To Vasilion simeron anaktas neous lamvani
Vasilean anikiton, Vasilissan te orean
Archontes meta Maistoron outous imnousin
Rodha dhe meth’ Ipoton doxologousin
Di’imas gar stefthosin
Kolfinni te ke Brennan ex Anatolis
Translation: The Kingdom today receives new Sovereigns Invincible King, Fair Queen Lords and Masters sing praise upon them Roses and Knights rejoice For they are crowned for us Caoilfhionn and Brennan of the East
Martyn knows how to wrangle a crowd. So rather than go with my original plan of having a chorus of Greens and Blues answering Brigantia, he got the factions to lead the populace, thanks to a handy print-out, and planting folks in the audience. It went off without a hitch the day of and sounded great.
The final piece, once Steffan had helped determine where we would place the traditional unction of water from the Bay of the Mists (San Francisco Bay), and the swearing of the coronation oaths, was actually writing the oaths. There’s not much in De Cerimoniis regarding this, believe it or not. In period, the patriarch performed the blessing and coronation, which is something that we do not do in the SCA. As far as East Kingdom tradition goes, the transfer of power is peaceful, and the previous royals crown the heirs, who then swear their oath on a relic vial of dirt, from the backyard of Diana Lystmaker where the society was founded. Brigantia performs the unction. The order of operations is fluid, but they have to be in there. Since investiture is also a part of the Byzantine coronation, where the rulers are clothed in the khlamys, that needed to go first. So cloaks, crowns, oaths, and unction are the order we decided on.
This is when Princess Caoilfhionn stepped in. I was at a loss at where to go for oaths. Baroness Konstantia had used a rather loquacious one when she stepped up as Gold Falcon Principal Herald in Calontir, but it seemed too informal for a coronation, as it was strictly an officer’s oath. Her now-Majesty found the missing puzzle pieces we needed in the Coronation of Anastasius I from the 5th Century. While it was earlier than De Cerimoniis, it provided the puzzle piece needed to complete the Eastern-specific ordo we wanted. Caoilfhionn wrote her own versions of the oaths, which are available here in their primary source form. Since we had acclamations already planned from De Cerimoniis, the ones here were removed. The secularized edit is in the ordo document linked at the conclusion of this entry.
EMPEROR. It is manifest that human power de pends on the will of the supreme Glory.
PEOPLE. Abundance to the world ! As thou hast lived, so rule. Incorrupt rulers for the world ! and so on.
EMP. Since the most serene Augusta Ariadne with the assent of the illustrious nobles and by the election of the glorious Senate and mighty armies, and the consent of the sacred people, have advanced me, though unwilling and hesitating, that I should assume the care of the Empire of the Romans, agree ably to the clemency of the Divine Trinity
PEO. Kyrie eleeson. Son of God, have mercy upon him. Anastasie Auguste, tti vincas ! God will keep the pious Emperor. God gave thee, God will keep thee ! and so on.
EMP. / am not ignorant hoiv great a weight is laid upon me for the common safety of all.
PEG. Worthy of the Empire ! Worthy of the Trinity! Worthy of the City. Out with the in formers. (This last is doubtless an unauthorised interpolation.)
EMP. / pray Almighty God that as ye hvped me to be, in this common choice of yours, so ye may find me to be in the conduct of affairs.
PEO. He in whom thou believest will save th#e. As thou hast lived, so reign. Piously hast thou lived, piously reign. Ariadne, thou conquerest ! Many be the years of the Augusta ! Restore the army, restore the forces. Have mercy on thy servants. As Marcian reigned, so do &&gt;w…(and much more to the same effect).
EMP. Because of the happy festival of our Empire, I will bestow 5 solidi and a pound of silver on each man.
PEO. God will keep the. Christian Emperor. These are the prayers of all. These are the prayers of the whole world. Keep, Lord, the pious Emperor. Holy Lord, raise up thy world. The fortune of the Romans conquers. Anastasius Augustus, thou con querest ! Ariadne Augusta, thou conquerest! God hath given you, God will kesp you.
EMP. God be with you.”
Being at this point, about 2 weeks out from the event, things were as good as they were going to get. The husband and I hit the road 5 days before Coronation from Florida, making some mundane stops along the way. We arrived at our crash space for the evening, which doubled as the prep space for the dayboard, so we got to get some catching up in over balls of matzo dough, while the Norman did what he does: design and strike coins for the reign.
But you didn’t come here for coins, you came here for the ceremony. So, here it is, is all of it’s splendiferous PDF form.
And Videos! These are taken with my phone, so professional they are not. Bear with some of the moving and the shaking.
The only hiccup we had is that the bridal tunnel utilized to get the procession where it needed to be created a bottleneck, and we had a backup. Just more time to listen to Margretha’s beautiful hymn, and set the Byzantine mood.
Procession and Ceremony:
PS: What about the garb? I had maybe 2% to do with that. Baroness Fortune St. Keyne has my trust implicitly, and I just helped her with some basic pointers on the shape of the divetesion, and color of the silk. (The orange was not me!)
[Yes, the woman who named her site after a VNV Nation song just dropped a Wu Tang reference. Not even sorry.]
My husband has a huge head and a normal neck. Those of us who sew know what this means, it means a gaping maw of a neckline that shows off the Norman’s delicate ginger skin. And while it’s nothing a nice brooch and a gallon of sunblock can’t fix, it’s not -right-.
I’ll be posting soonish on dressing my husband in Byzantine, (yes, really, men’s garb, you heard it hear first), as well as including a new page on Norman Garb here on my site (*faints*) but I needed to reassess my approach toward fit.
During my short time in Caid, I had a discussion with a friend about necklines. American reenactors and re-creators make our necklines too big. After her visit to Scandinavia and meeting with Viking reenactors in the land of Where This Stuff Actually Happened, she gave me some tips on how to fix my stupidity.
I’m sure that this technique is known to a few people and I’m going to get a “WELL, DUH!” Gibbs Slap in the comments, but knowing also that there’s some derpy sewers out there who probably make the same mistakes I do, this post is important.
For the longest time, I’ve been following a formula given to me a while ago: You draw your neckline 3-4″ each way from the center point, 2″ down in the back, 4″ down in the front, and add a keyhole slit. This gives a lopsided oval effect with a shorter back than front, which is essential for comfort, but it’s just too wide around the neck. My husband’s head is 26″, his neck is 17″. He’s not a jacked guy, but he’s tall and broad, so making garb that doesn’t choke him has been a challenge.
Here is my new hack: Neckline gauges.
A true circle with the circumference of our necklines (13.5″ for me, 17″ for him), marked up showing increments of 1/2″ from the back toward the center mark. Ignore where it says “+ allowance”, I tried that and it made it too big. Just go with the regular neck measurement, the hem or facing will take care of that ease.
You place the gauge on the fabric, center mark matching to the dead center of where you want the neckline to be. Then, move it forward to where you want the depth of the back to be. I’ve done both 1″ and 1.5″ with good results. The dotted line helps you maintain the angle toward the front, and where you can mark your slit.
Here I am demonstrating it on a piece of scrap linen:
Give that a shot. Practice on a scrap and put it over your head. You should have a neckline that comes right up if not a bit above the clavicle, and looks more accurate. Voila!!
Clearly, a closed slit is vital to the tight necks in Byzantine artwork, but you never see the slit! What do we do?
I’ve constructed this for my husband with great results, both with, and without the band collar. This is also where I learned to NOT ADD A SEAM ALLOWANCE ON THE NECKLINE. I’ll be posting a better walkthrough once I’m done with his new collection of tunics so I can discuss my experience using the pattern above.
The other option is to put the slit off-center. The most common is just down the left side of the neck, as seen in the Alb of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Palermo Tunicella. While both not “Byzantine” garments, the Eastern influence is evident.
So, you want to have a Byzantine persona? Welcome to the ranks of the mysterious medieval orient.
This, and more, are going to become a page here on my site shortly *points up to links*, I just need to find time to sit down and do it. Until then, I feel the information I am presenting here is somewhat necessary for SCAdians to find direction in their path, either to a full-fledged persona, or a garb project for a themed event.
Often, when people ask me what a Byzantine should wear, I respond with, “What period?”
This gets me a look of total confusion, and a response of, “You know, Byzantine.” I take a deep breath, and prepare to either bore the poor individual to tears with a well-rehearsed speech on the massive construct that was over 1000 years of history, or I open the flood gates and get them more excited about digging into more. I always hope it’s the latter, but the foremost argument I have to make is this:
There is no “Byzantine period.”
Repeat after me:
There is no “Byzantine period.”
That is the equivalent of asking somebody for French garb, and nobody ever just says “French”, there’s usually a century attached to it. Why is this never the case when it comes to Byzantine? Byzantine, like French, is a culture, it’s a place, it’s not a standalone period.
The Byzantine Empire, which is an anachronistic term for the Eastern Roman Empire, was the longest running medieval culture in Christendom. I use that term specifically, since it was not really a European culture, as much as it was an “Eastern” culture, or, generally referred to as “oriental.” Of course, that word today has a completely different connotation that comes across as somewhat pejorative of the Far East, but in actuality, it literally just means “eastern”, and that is exactly how the Western Europeans viewed the Romans, whom they referred to as Greeks. Both are correct, but a Roman would never call themselves Greek. 😉 They barely viewed themselves on the same plane of existence as the rest of the continent, as it was, and as my brother just haughtily remarked on my Facebook page less than 3 minutes after announcing I was writing this post, viewing the Eastern Romans as “medieval” is even somewhat insulting, but for the sake of the instructional nature of what I’m trying to do, this is the approach I’m taking. (What can I say? Byzantines were snooty people.)
So, as a newcomer, consider the Byzantines the medieval Greeks, because that is exactly who they were. Wash the romantic imagery of draped clothing, columns, and Socrates out of your head, because I know that’s exactly where you went. 😉 While ultra-early Byzantine would be basically Roman, let’s fast forward a bit to the 6th Century, during the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Here, we find what most scholars refer to as the shift into what is considered “Byzantine,” versus Late Antiquity. The culture did shift, and with that, so did clothing, language, religion, law, architecture, etc.
This is the period most SCAdians view as “Byzantine”, the 3 pages in their Western Civilization textbook devoted to the laws of Justinian and how his wife may have been a prostitute, and onto the feudal system you go in the next chapter. This is where I need my readers to start thinking outside of this box, because you’re looking at a total of 38 years encapsulated within the time Constantine renamed the Greek town of Byzantium to the new Roman capital of Constantinople in 330, to 1453 when Constantinople was taken by the Ottoman Turks. That’s a lot time to assume that everybody wore exactly what Justinian and Theodora wore in the San Vitale mosaics.
I break the Byzantine Empire down into 4 parts for ease of understanding culturally, but there were still shifts within. Heck, I just got an older book this week on the cultural changes between the 11th and 12th Century, which is where I “live”, so even I still need to do more nailing down.
The Byzantine Periods According to Anna:
Roman Period 330-500 CE Early Byzantine Period (including Iconoclasm) 500-900 CE Middle Period (Golden Age) 900-1204 CE Late Period (Collapse) 1261-1453 CE
Important dates you NEED TO KNOW:
First Iconoclastic Period: 726-787 Second Iconoclastic Period: 814-882 Establishment of the formal Varangian Guard: 980’s Sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade:April 12th, 1204 Latin Empire/Empire of Nicaea: 1204-1261 Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461 Despotate of Epirus: 1204-1479 Fall of Constantinople: May 29th, 1453
I’m not going to go into a detailed history of the Fourth Crusade and the successor empires during this post, but as you can see, after the sack in 1204 by the crusaders, things kinda hit the fan and shattered. The Empire did not recover fully, and it remained unstable through to the absolute fall at the hands of the Ottomans in 1453. In my opinion, both scholarly and SCAdianly, anybody who wants a persona post-1204 has their work cut out for them. It can be done, it SHOULD be done, but I have yet to really see anybody nail it. My persona was probably dead by the mid 12th Century, so it’s all science fiction to me. 😛 Likewise, anybody looking for sources during the 8th and 9th centuries will also run into a lot of dead ends. Iconoclasm resulted into the loss of most artistic record from that period and earlier, which is why we have more illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, and mosaics from the 11th and 12th centuries than we do the 6th and 7th. These are all unfortunate events that are part of the Empire’s history, and as researchers and re-creators, we need to come to terms with it. Some things will just not be done easily, but what you can find could be incredibly rewarding.
I’m going to wrap up this post with a short selection on clothing, since that’s what a lot of people want to know about. When I make my full page, I’ll go into more detail regarding other factors.
Sumptuary laws are, and always were, a thing. Many pieces of artwork we have are just of imperials, and the average aristocrat, and certainly not the commoners, would be wearing the same fashions as their rulers. While, as far as I know, there are no harsh rules in the SCA regarding dress aside from peerage elements and coronets in some kingdoms, in period a fashion faux pas could be devastating depending on when and where you lived, so if you plan to take the Byzantine route seriously, such laws need to be taken into account when it comes to your wardrobe, both male and female. Even shoe color was regulated. That idea of Byzantines always wearing red shoes? Drop it. That was for Imperials ONLY according to De Cerimoniis, a court manual written in the 10th Century. Prior to that? It seemed to be more widespread. Little things like that can make the difference between, “That guy in the clavii striped tunic and red shoes is a Byzantine” to, “Wow! You’re wearing something I’m not familiar with as Byzantine, tell me more.” There is so much of this culture that the SCA has just not explored.
Look at the differences between the clothing in the images below just to get a sense of how much things really changed over time.
The purpose of this post is, of course, not to chastise, but rather remind folks that there’s so much more out there to explore. Break out of the SCAdian conscience of just “Being Byzantine”, and find your home somewhere within your own personal One True Century, within the One True Empire.