World of Byzantium
Music Room, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection 1703 32nd Street, NW Washington, DC 20007
22nd-23rd April 2016
The 2016 Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium, “Worlds of Byzantium,” seeks to reconsider Byzantium from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages, problematizing long-established notions of its character and parameters.
In 1980 Dumbarton Oaks hosted the now famous “East of Byzantium” symposium, which resulted in an era-defining volume of scholarly articles under the same name, edited by N. Garsoïan, T. Mathews, and R. Thomson. This gathering of experts in various eastern Christian traditions put Dumbarton Oaks at the forefront of the emergent conversation about Byzantium’s eastern neighbors. Today, the medieval Mediterranean within which Byzantium was situated appears much more complex and fluid than what was envisioned thirty years ago. New archaeological, historical, and literary research has made this fluidity abundantly clear and has opened up new questions about the formation of identity in the empire as the relationship between the metropolis and the provinces fluctuated.
What was Byzantium? Where was it? What religions did its people practice, and which languages did they speak? The 2016 Symposium will examine the very foundations of what we think “Byzantium” was—Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian, Constantinopolitan—and attempt to reset scholars’ expectations about what counts as Byzantine. Nevertheless, just as “East of Byzantium” transformed the expectations of a generation with regard to the value of eastern Christianity for medieval studies, we believe that Byzantium itself, however it is defined, can play a more central role on the world historical stage if Byzantinists are willing to let it be decentered and reconstituted for the next generation. This symposium will argue that a polycentric and interconnected Byzantium only strengthens Byzantine Studies as a discipline by making it indispensable to other fields: in order fully to understand essential aspects of the medieval Middle East or the medieval West one must also understand Byzantium.