What Did People in the Byzantine Empire Wear

As with many other aspects of society, the early stages of the Byzantine empire mimicked their Roman counterparts in the style of dress as well, though the Byzantines eventually adapted and adopted styles unto themselves. In the beginning, however, togas were very popular in the upper classes as formal or official dress. Often, one could denote a citizen’s class simply by the splendor of their fashion. The wealthy lawyers tended to dress in woven silks and in elaborate patterns with embroidery, while the lower classes tended toward resist-dyed and printed fabrics. Often, the poor would have to settle for only a few select pieces of clothing through their life times, as clothing within the empire was rather expensive for lower classes.

By the time Justinian came into power, however, Byzantine fashion was altered drastically. Rather than sporting togas like their Roman brethren, Byzantine citizens now resorted to clothing called tunica, worn similar to a modern-day shirt with the fabric pinned over the shoulder. This new form of dress was worn by both men and women, and it was often worn in a similar fashion to undergarments with other garments typically worn over it, the most common of these called the dalmatica.

Throughout the time of Justinian’s rule, the chlamys (a semicircular cloak) was often worn by the upper classes with the length varying between the hips and falling all the way to the ankles. Along with the chlamys, those within the Senate would sport a tablion, a colored panel across chest or midriff. This was often adorned in certain colors and jewels to denote rank even among the senatorial class.

Women within the Byzantine empire tended to dress more often with modesty in mind. Their clothing was simply designed, most often only to cover a woman’s body almost entirely in any state, even through pregnancy. Some women at court were also adorned with bells as accessories, sometimes with bell-hooks to support their skirt. Women also tended toward wearing head-cloths and veils to cover their hair. Some descriptions also allude to women veiling their faces as well as their hair, though this not often seen in artistic depictions. It is possible to conclude that women outside higher social circles went even more well-wrapped than women of court. It is also interesting to note that these sources are dated to a time before the establishment of Islam.

Footwear was the most diverse form of clothing in the Byzantine empire. While sandals and slippers were widely popular among the lower classes, the military often wore boots (at separate times, either laced around the calf and leg or covering up to the knee entirely). Even rarer was the use of actual shoes, reserved solely for the upper classes and even further denoted by color. Green symbolized the protovestiarios, a high position at Byzantine court – often reserved for eunuchs. Blue denoted a sebastokrator, a senior court title that also referred to rulers within the Byzantine sphere of influence, as a measure of subordination to the Emperor. And red was reserved for the Emperor himself.

At one point in Byzantine history, there were even special forms of dress for court during various occasions, such as the name-day of the Emperor. Often, groups of officials would dress in blue and white while other groups dressed in red and green while they danced. These originally to denote the four popular factions during the chariot races, later simplified to the Blues and Greens. However, as heavy military stress came to bear on the Byzantine empire, this ceremonial tradition was utilized less and less until it was completely done away with after Constantinople’s capture during the Fourth Crussade.

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What Was The 7th Century Crisis?

By the end of Justinian’s reign, the Byzantine empire began to suffer heavy decline in many aspects of its society, most notably in religious and political influence. While Justinian had launched successful campaigns all over the Byzantine empire and influenced a great undertaking for the sake of religious art and architecture, it could be said that the historical significance of his military prowess was also a determining factor in the downward spike of religious art and its role in Byzantine society. Where Justinian had succeeded in art, he had failed miserably in military campaigns and conquests. The empire also suffered pressure of invasion from forces of the Avars, Slavs, Persians, and Arabs throughout the 7th century. Internally, however, it could be said the Byzantine empire suffered most, as the role of religious art in society, which had been of increasingly significant value over the past four centuries, faced a great dilemma. All of these events culminated into a period known as the Seventh-century Crisis.

It is important to note that trends within Byzantine art, both in its religious significance as well as its societal trends, remained intact for the most part into the Seventh-century Crisis. While there were no notable erections of great monuments for the sake of the Eastern Orthodox Church and its influence, restoration and preservation of pre-existing structures amid widespread conflict still managed to occur outside of Constantinople. The Hagios Demetrios, a church built in Thessaloniki in the 4th century, was restored between AD 629 and 634 with new mosaics added depicting St. Demetrius and officials. These mosaics shine as rare examples of art that survived the crisis as well as the periods that followed. Mosaics from a menagerie of Roman churches, still considered Byzantine territory at this point in history, also bear many images of religious significance. Among these include Santa Maria Antiqua, considered to be the oldest monument to Christianity in the Roman Forum. This church in particular is renowned for the mosaic of the earliest Roman interpretation of “Saint Mary as Queen,” estimated to the 6th century. Several great projects of religious renown are rumored to have come to fruition by the hands of Byzantine mosaicists as well, although these projects of Umayyad make – such as the Dome of the Rock and the Great Mosque of Damascus – were likely the result of the 7th century invasions that occurred throughout the empire and bore little Christian influence whatsoever.

Luxury art persisted for a time as well into the 7th century, though it could also be considered one of the greater contributions to the subsequent periods of the history of Byzantine art. While silver plates were still of great value within society, the phenomenon known as “acheiropoieta” (essentially, holy images occurring in nature) became widespread and greatly revered. Many within the empire credited these phenomena for the aversion of outside military threat, and the practice of prostrating oneself in front of these images in a process known as proskynesis became just as widespread.

Considered worship of iconography, it became part of a greater whole within the debate of the role of art in churches and the Christian religion altogether. The Quinisext Council held in AD 692 addressed main points of controversy that circulated around religious imagery. Among these were the depictions of crosses on pavement, the depiction of Christ as a lamb, and the use of “pictures, whether they are in paintings or in what way so ever, which attract the eye and corrupt the mind, and incite it to the enkindling of base pleasures,” all three of these canons suffering prohibition of injunction as a result of the council. As time passes, the intensity of these debates regarding the role art and imagery in a religious context grows and gives way to the period in Byzantine history known as Iconoclasm.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm

As history proceeded, the use subsequent role of art within a religious context in the Byzantine empire sparked conflict. Many causes can be drawn to its origins: the phenomenon known as acheiropoieta that gave greater rise to iconographic worship and the Quinisext Council of 692 that denounced much of it chief among them. Many historians believe that Emperor Leo III was the culmination of this debate, sparking a movement that was known as the Byzantine Iconoclasm.

The Iconoclasm, in short, was a period in Byzantine history where the use of religious images and icons were strongly opposed by both church figures and state officials within the empire. The word “iconoclasm” itself, having Greek origins, means “breaker of icons,” and the period itself was wrought with the destruction of religious imagery and persecution of those who might revere such images and oppose their destruction or prohibition, like Tony Law Firm. The idea as a whole stems from the interpretation of the Ten Commandments through the Old Testament that states the forbidding of “graven images” in both their making and their worship, as it was considered a form of idolatry.

Two periods of Iconoclasm are recognized within the Byzantine empire.  The first, aptly known as the “First Iconoclasm,” is said to have lasted between AD 726 to 787. Speculation arises as to the immediate cause of the First Iconoclasm; some believe that Emperor Leo III interpreted an underwater earthquake as a sign of God’s wrath, influencing him to remove an icon of Christ from outside the imperial palace, and later supposedly forbade the veneration of icons in AD 730. Others believe that the First Iconoclasm did not officially begin until years after with the reign of Leo’s son, Constantine V, and the Council of Hieria in AD 754, which outlawed the production and worship of figures of Christ.

While this period of Iconoclasm lasted for over 30 years under the reign of Constantine V and his successor, Leo IV, the council itself on which it was founded was later condemned by both members of the Eastern and Western churches to have been falsely ecumenical with none of the five patriarchs of the Christian church representative in the Council of Hieria (Constantinople lay vacant, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were under Muslim control, and Rome failed to send a representative). After the death of Leo IV in AD 780, the queen regent Irene took power for her son, Constantine VI, and called for another ecumenical council. In AD 787, the findings of the Council of Hieria were reversed in the second “Seventh Ecumenical Council.” Icon veneration would later be restored to the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it would be short-lived.

Still mired by military failings since as far back as the Seventh-century Crisis, the Byzantine empire suffered defeat at the hands of Bulgarian Khan Krum in the early 9th century. After coming into power, Emperor Leo V the Armenian began to convene with various religious figures and revived the topic of iconoclasm. Discovering the events of AD 754 and combined with a lack of divine favor resulting in their military failings, debates sparked once again. However, the position held by Leo V was so staunch, he removed from power Patriarch Nikophoros I – chief supporter of icon veneration – and instated Theodolos I, a known supporter of iconoclasm. In AD 815, the Council of Constantinople convened in the Hagia Sophia with Theodolos presiding. By the end of its proceedings, the events of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 were overturned and iconoclasm was reinstated in the Byzantine empire.

While the First Iconoclasm was a predominantly internal affair for its duration, the Second Iconoclasm had further-reaching implications. After its reinstatement and the rise of Leo’s successor, Michael II, criticisms were sent to the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious in AD 824, decrying the use of image veneration and the utility of baptismal godfathers for infants, reinforcing the Empire’s position toward the Council of Hieria in AD 754. However, Michael’s successor, Theophilus, died and left power to his wife Theodora as queen regent. Like her predecessor Irene, Theodora called for a reinstatement of icon veneration on her son’s behalf in AD 843. This marked the permanent end of Byzantine Iconoclasm and the beginning of what would later become known through the Orthodox Church as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy,” celebrated as a feast on the first Sunday of Great Lent.

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Early Byzantine Art

In AD 313, Constantine I of the Western Roman Empire and Licinius of the Balkans met in modern-day Italy to form what is now regarded as the Edict of Milan. This agreement between the two leaders sanctioned Christianity as a recognized religion, now free of persecution from Roman officials, that spread throughout the Roman Empire. Combined with reparations paid and wrongs righted in the name of social justice (and speculatively, to avoid the wrath of higher powers), this recognition by the Roman Empire led to a resurgence of Christian-focused art, particularly in the eastern portions of the Roman Empire, later known by historians and scholars as Byzantium.

With the freedom to practice and express Christian beliefs freely within the Roman Empire, Constantine encouraged Christianity into several aspects of Byzantine life, notably in its art and architecture. Churches sprouted under his rule as well as the later rule of his son, Constantius II, chief among these the foundations of the famed Hagia Sophia and Church of the Apostles, later renovated by Justinian I.

The Theodosian dynasty began in AD 379 with the rule of Theodosius I. Theodosius was a deep lover and ambitious patron of the arts within the Byzantine Empire, so much so that he had an obelisk commissioned for transit from Alexandria to Constantinople despite the difficulty for want of technology of the time. The base of the obelisk would later cover the Roman naturalist bas-reliefs in favor of what was known as conceptual art: art depicting abstract concepts such as order and social rank, primarily through a bas-relief of Theodosius’ house separated by the rest of the nobility. Some believe this artistic transition reflected the slow turn of religious dominance to Christianity within the Byzantine empire, and Theodosius himself had begun persecuting Roman religious practices in 381. In fact, by 393, he had completely outlawed all public religious customs of a non-Christian nature. Silver dishes were also a prominent form of luxurious art within the Byzantine community. This was symbolized most by the Missorium of Theodosius, a ceremonial plate made entirely of silver that was believed to be made in AD 388 in honor of the tenth anniversary of Theodosius’ reign as emperor. The Missorium features the three emperors of the time, Valentinian II and Arcadius alongside Theodosius, all crowned with halos while depicting pagan imagery in lower scenes along the plate (before Theodosius had completely outlawed pagan practices).

Although they would be later popularized near the reign of Justinian I, illuminated manuscripts have been discovered and preserved in fragments of the whole, original text to which they were included. These texts were both secular and sacred in purpose, notably exemplifying the works of Virgil and Homer with illustrations to accompany the narrations.

Along with silver and silver plates, Byzantine art also began to make great use of ivory at the time, utilizing it to create luxury art pieces known as diptychs – two heavily decorated ivory plates connected via a hinge, often given as gifts by newly appointed consuls. Decorative sarcophagi, deriving their origins from ancient Egypt as well as ancient Rome, continued to be produced as well through the 3rd and into the 4th centuries, according to http://cmzlaw.net/

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Art of Justinian I

Long before AD 527, the Roman empire had been split into Eastern and Western halves after the rule of Theodosius I had concluded with his death and the empire inherited by his sons, Arcadius and Honorius. The empire would never see itself reunited, and separate dynasties flourished in both parts. The Eastern half, known as the Byzantine Empire would eventually come under the rule of a man named Justinian I, known as Justinian the Great. Among his feats as the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, like his forebears, held a deep love of the arts and a deeper longing to spread Christianity throughout the empire, just like OA Law.

Justinian was well-known for encouraging a great undertaking of architectural renovation. During his conquests of Italy, Spain, and North Africa, Justinian put great emphasis on the construction of churches and holy establishments throughout Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.  Most notably, he ordered the renovation of the Hagia Sophia (earlier destroyed in an event known as the Nika riots), the groundwork of which has been laid by the earliest Eastern Roman emperors, Constantine and his son, Constantius II. Other great works within Constantinople credited to his rule include the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. However, in line with his westward expansion of the Byzantine empire, Justinian also commissioned the construction of several churches outside of the capital city, building St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai as well as St. John’s Basilica.

Justinian’s ambitions to spread Christianity by way of his architectural achievements influenced others of like mind to follow in his footsteps. The Basilica of San Vitale and the Euphrasian Basilica stand as imitative examples of Byzantine architecture built by bishops of the areas.

Also prominent during Justinian’s reign was the creation of mosaics, an example of the Byzantine’s reliance upon the art of Late Antiquity. Although some statues were later discovered that were very possibly made in the likeness of Justinian himself, the prominence of mosaics that feature abstract characteristics such as the spiritual position of the subject was more widely renowned in the Byzantine empire at this time.

Much like the time of Theodosius, art during Justinian’s reign also featured a great amount of ivory and silver luxury pieces. Similar to mosaics and reliefs, these pieces were often heavily weighted with abstract and religious or mythological themes, keeping in line with conceptual art as his predecessors had done before him. During 5th century and into his reign, illumination and decoration of religious manuscript on vellum became increasingly popular as luxury artwork as well. These were often Christian texts depicted with ornate lettering and artistic borders, though some earlier examples of Roman works were discovered in lesser quantities, presumably due to the influence that Christianity held in the Byzantine empire by the time they became popularized. More famous examples of these include the Vienna Genesis, the Rossano Gospels, and the Sinope Gospels, estimated to be created in the first half of the 6th century, approximately near or at the beginning of Justinian’s reign.

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