72438 - Social History of the Byzantine World (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

The course aims at conveying to the student the knowledge of mentality and values of the Byzantine society, as well as the evolution of its social structure and features of its economic life (landscape and settlements, money, factors of production, distribution and consumption). At the end of the course the students is able to contextualize critically the acquired notions in the framework of the socio-economic history of late antique and medieval Mediterranean. He is able to read specialised literature in at least one foreign language.

Course contents

The course will be articulated in two parts:

A) a general part devoted to an historical introduction to the Byzantine world (8 hours).

B) a monographic part devoted to the topic: Holiness, power and economy: The birth of the monastery of St John Theologian on Patmos (1079-1092) (22 hours)

Part A): general.

This part of the course consists of a brief introduction to the salient aspects of the Byzantine world. Being conceived as a propaedeutic unit to the contents of the monographic part, it will focus particularly on themes concerning political ideology, monasticism, social values, and economy.

Part B): monographic.

The monastery dedicated to St. John Theológos (= Evangelist) on the island of Patmos is one of the most renowned cenobia in the Orthodox world, whose complex, partly dating back to the end of the eleventh century, was included in 1999 among the protected monuments by the UNESCO. Its foundation is due to the work of Christòdoulos (first half of the eleventh century - † 1092), one of the most charismatic and controversial figures of Byzantine monasticism. He became monk on Mount Olympus in Bithynia; therefore, he was first hegoumenos of the monastery of the Theotòkos of Stylos on Mount Latros (Caria), then moved to Strobylos, on the Anatolian shores and, later, in order to escape the threat by the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor, he settled on the island of Kos. Here he established the monastery of the Panagia tōn Kastrianōn (modern name), and then moved, after about a decade, to Patmos, where as we said he founded the famous monastery dedicated to St. John. The foundation of the Koan cenobium was made possible thanks to the support given to Chistodoulos by a local aristocrat, later monk, named Arsenios Skenourios and thanks to a privilege by the emperor Nicephorus III Botaniates (1078-1081); that on Patmos was realized by virtue of donations granted by the emperor Alexius I Komnenos (1081-1118). Fortunately, the documents of donation - in all 9 charters, of different types – have been handed down to us and they throw light on property endowments of the two monasteries and on the historical circumstances of their constitution. Contents and rhetoric of the imperial privileges can be usefully compared with three writings coming from the pen of the same Chystodoulos: 1) the rule he instituted for Patmos (Hypotyposis, 1091); his will (1093); and the so-called Kodikellos (namely, an addition to his will, 1093).

A selection of the aforementioned documentary material will be read, translated and commented by the teacher during the course, in order to deepen and discuss the following aspects:

- Christodoulos’ personality and psychology;

- his conception of monastic life;

- his relations with imperial power and regional aristocracies;

- his relationships with local populations;

- the architecture and space of monastic life (the structures of the two monasteries in question are still in existence);

- the monastic economic organization and its relationship with rural settlement.

N. B. For students who want to increase their knowledge on Byzantine non-literary texts, the course is propaedeutic to the Laboratory on Byzantine Epigraphy and Sigillography, which will take place between 13 and 18 May 2019.



Part A): general.

Mandatory reading of the following texts is required:

- Entry, "Bizantino impero", by A. Carile, in Grande Dizionario Enciclopedico UTET, III, Torino 1985, pp. 394-405.

- C. Mango, La civiltà bizantina, It. transl., Roma - Bari 1998 (or previous editions).

Part B): monographic.

Mandatory reading of the following texts is required:

- R. M. Parinello, Il monachesimo bizantino, Roma 2012.

- C. Mango, "Il santo", in A. Cavallo (ed.), L’uomo bizantino, Roma-Bari 1992, pp. 385-422.

- P. Karlin-Hayter, «Christoldoulos: Rule, Testament and Codicil of Christodoulos for the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos», in J. Thomas, A. Constantinides Hero (eds.), With the Assistence of G. Constable, Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents. A Complete Translation of the Surviving Founders’ Typika and Testaments, vol. 2, Washington D.C. 2000, pp. 564-578.

- Ch. Bouras, «Architecture», in A. D. Kominis (ed.), Patmos: Treasures of the Monastery, Athens 1988, p. 25-56.

The documents relating to the course will be distributed by the teacher in class in the form of photocopies. They are taken from the following works:

- Imperial privileges and public acts: Byzantina engrapha tēs Monēs Patmou, 1, Autokratorika, ep. E. Branouse, Athēnai 1980, nos. 4-7, 46-49; 2, Dēmosiōn leitourgōn, ep. M. Nystazopoulou-Pelekidou, Athēnai 1980, nos. 51-54.

- Writings of Christodoulos: F. Miklosisch, F. Müller, Acta et diplomata Graeca medii aevi sacra et profane, 6, Wien 1890, pp. 50-90.

For non-attending students the reading of one of the following works is required:

- R. Morris, Monks and Laymen in Byzantium, 843-1118, Cambridge 1995.

- K. Smyrlis, La fortune des grands monastères byzantins (fin du Xe - milieu du XIVe siècle), Paris 2006 (Travaux et Mémoires du Centre de Recherche d’Histoire et Civilization de Byzance, Monographies 21).


Teaching methods


Attendance to the course is strongly recommended due to the difficulty of reading the Patmiac documents for those who have not specific skills.

Assessment methods

Passing the exam requires a paper and an oral exam.

- paperwork: consists of a paper (12-15 pages long, excluding bibliography: page layout: side margins 2 cm, margins at the top and bottom: 2.5 cm, body font 12, line spacing 2) to be delivered to the teacher as an e-mail attachment one week before the date of the oral exam. Paperwork aims at verifying the skills and concepts learned by the student during part B (monographic) of the course.

- oral exam: it consists in the assessment of the notions related to part A of the course (general) and in a discussion of the contents of the paperwork related to the part B of the course (monographic).

The final evaluation for passing the exam is determined by the following scores: 10/30 for part A; 20/30 for part B.

Teaching tools

- Translation of written sources.

- Distribution of photocopies.

- Powerpoint presentations.

Office hours

See the website of Salvatore Cosentino