Smashing the idea of the “Byzantine Period.”

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.

6th Century Imperial and Attendants, showing a variety of fashions from the reign of Justinian I.
14th Century Imperial fashions from the Lincoln Typikon, showing the encroaching Ottoman Turkish styles present in dress, 100 years before the Empire fell. Tell the 14th Century Mafia to step aside, this is how it’s done.

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.

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Konstantia made this for me. This is why we can’t have nice things. (I was making sekanjabin en masse for an event. I SWEARRRRRR!)

A very merry Anachronistic and Impulsive Arts and Crafts Weekend at Anna’s Rome!

This is what happens when I catch a cold, miss an event, and decide to not do homework. When I’m sick, I get bored, and when I’m bored and hopped up on cold medicine, well…I needed to tinker.

Edited on 9-28-2015 to add finished pictures.

PROJECT ONE: WEAVING THINGS.

Well, I started by warping up the inkle loom and making the Norman husband a pair of leg wrappings in his heraldic colors. They’re pretty crappy in some places, and hence, leg wrappings, rather than trim.  This is the first full 6 yard band I’ve ever made!  Material is acrylic yarn, because I wanted them thick,washable, and low-cost in case of it turning into a cat toy. I did okay though, so now I’m more confident in trying wool yarns for the next batch. I finished this in a day. I warped it Saturday night and by Sunday night the band was complete. I was a MACHINE.

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The pattern when I hit my stride.

 

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FULL LOOM! And a coffee table full of craft supplies.

 

weavingdone
BOOM! A pair of leg wraps at 3 yards each, about 2.5″ wide.

 

PROJECT TWO:  SHINY THINGS.

Oh yeah, see that coronet on the table? I made that too. Norman Husband challenged me to make a coronet with him out playing Navy. Him not around left with me NO METALWORKING SUPPLIES. So, I had to play, and go buy a new beading pliers set. And JB Weld. I could NOT have done this without clear 2-part epoxy. G-S Hypo Cement did not cut it except for gluing the band itself together and the cabochons onto the settings. It did not hold the settings onto the band. I’m still not 100% finished with it, when I am I’ll post finished pics.

coronet1
I set up a “coronet bar” on my kitchen counter, because it’s high enough for me to not hunch, and I have great lighting. Findings are just some vintage brass lamp banding and shiny bits from Fire Mountain. Stones are real carnelian and onyx, and pearls. Lots and lots of freshwater pearls. Not only very period, but also my heraldic colors.

 

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Epoxying the cabs on the band.

 

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It didn’t look so bad the way it was, but you know, Byzantine…

 

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Lotsa Byzantine. I’m just attaching the pearls by weaving wire through openings in the brass.

 

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I marathoned the original Star Wars Trilogy while I worked on this. It gives you an idea of how long it took. Here it is almost done with some Darth Vader.

 

coronetdone
Here it is on my head. I think the top pearls make it look too Western (boo hiss), so I’m going to cut them off, and replace them with round pearls. I could have gone WAY OVER THE TOP with this, and wanted to, but I was talked out of it, and I’m glad.

 

coronet_pendilla
I added rings on each side near my temples for a pair of pendilla to hang from. I don’t have the pendilla made yet, and I don’t ALWAYS have to wear them.

Finished coronet as of one week after I made it, after removing the top pearls, replacing them with smaller ones, and lining it with orange velvet:

coronet_Finished1 coronet_finished2coronet_finished_on

Notes after wearing for an event: Too much padding, it didn’t want to stay put. I know coronets are jewelry and not a headband, but still. I’m going to try a different method before I wear it next. Also,  I got a lot of compliments on my veil. All it is, is a green/yellow/red ombre dyed Indian dupatta. It still smells like batik. I wrapped it and tucked it into my belt in the front based on some icons and manuscripts I’ve seen.

No, using vintage lamp brass and epoxy aren’t exactly period techniques, but it creates the illusion for now until Norman Husband completes the Hagia Sophia of Coronets he’s promising me. Plus, this is dainty and clocking in at 1 3/4″ at the tallest, so it works for periods I wear that AREN’T Byzantine.  I’m not a jeweler, and especially not a hat maker, so even three days later my hands are KILLING ME.

Here’s a couple of Byzantine crowns that I pulled some [vague] inspiration from. They didn’t always wear votive crowns and massive tall hinged plaque things of doom.

Romanesque_crown byzantine_crown1

 

PROJECT THREE: MODIFYING THINGS.

And last but not least, OMG SHOES.

If you read my previous post, I made a blurb about what color shoes are appropriate for a Byzantine persona. As a court baroness, I could get away with yellow, so, I wanted to see if I could invest in a pair of proper Eastern looking shoes. Unfortunately, most medieval cordwainers don’t make Byzantine or Middle Eastern shoes (that’s a hint, folks) so I had to improvise. I hate HATE HATE wearing Pakistani/Indian Khussa, because they eat my feet alive. Even if I shower with them on, or wet my feet, they just never break in, and rip me up. That’s no fun. So some searches yielded Moroccan Babouches. These are actually pretty perfect, except that they’re  backless. Now, extant mules have been found, and are still worn in Turkey today, but I hate backless shoes, mostly because as you can see in these pics, my feet and ankles are very narrow. It makes mundane boot shopping a crappy experience when the material just pools around my ankles.

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I found these super awesome embroidered babouches on Etsy. They look very…Calontir.

 

shoe2
I ripped the backs up to find that they’re designed in a way that you cannot fit your foot in comfortably, so, I split them down the back.

 

shoe3
Cut holes with scissors on cutting board, because husband brought leather tools with him while playing Navy. Find random leather strap in his leftover stuff, and lace.

 

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Experiment with lacing.

 

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Walk around and immediately get blister.

 

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Tie them in the front. Ah, that’s better.

 

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Side view, they don’t look horrible. However, taking pics of your own feet is kind of tricky.

Shoes with better lacing and my red stockings:

shoes_stockings
I just felt so damn sassy.

Period shoes that gave me this horrible idea:

byzantinechucks
We called these the “Byzantine Chuck Taylors” on Facebook. No, the backs aren’t open. I know. I know. I IMPROVISED, OKAY?

 

byzantinemules
A pair of Byzantine Mules dated to 300-700 from Panopolis. Here’s that backless option for those that aren’t afraid of flat tires and don’t have feet that fall out of everything like I do.

 

The ones I made are clearly going to be “inside event” shoes. I’ll wear them with stockings in hopes to combat some of that extra width while the lacing will stop my feet from falling out. The best part that is if I want to, I can pull the lacing out of my shoes and flatten the backs again into mules.

Again, like the coronet, I’m creating an illusion from modern materials. Once I’m done with my master’s degree and move across the country, I’ll have time to work on making an actual pair of period leather shoes with gold leafing that WON’T be too wide for my feet and involve kitchen surgery. And maybe I’ll learn some metalworking so I can help my husband in making a proper hinged 11th Century coronet, but until then, it doesn’t hurt to use your imagination in the little game we play.