75994 - Cultural History of Byzantium

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Salvatore Cosentino

  • Credits 6

  • SSD L-FIL-LET/07

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language Italian

  • Campus of Ravenna

  • Degree Programme Second cycle degree programme (LM) in History, preservation and enhancement of artistic and archaeological heritage and landscape (cod. 9218)

  • Teaching resources on Virtuale

  • Course Timetable from Nov 08, 2021 to Dec 15, 2021


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The course aims at conveying to the student the political and religious conceptions, values and modes of social behaviour, as well as the organisation of material life in the Eastern Roman Empire. By the end of the course the student is able to know the historical constituent features of Byzantine civilisation and its close relationship with the societies of the medieval West, Orthodox Slavia and the Sasanian and Muslim Near East. The student is also able to assess the role played by Byzantium in the process of transmitting the traditions of classical and Hellenistic antiquity, as well as Slavonic and Ottoman traditions, into the cultural heritage of modern Europe.

Course contents

The course is articulated into two parts:

A) general part dedicated to a historical introduction to the Byzantine world (10 hours).


B) monographic part dedicated to the subject:

Carnal sins, confession and penance in the Byzantine treatise attributed to John, Monk and Deacon (20 hours)


Part A): Introduction to the Byzantine World.

This part of the course consists of a brief introduction to the salient aspects of the Byzantine world. Designed as an introductory unit to the contents of the monographic part, it will focus on 'structural' issues such as political ideology, church and monasticism, the army, mentality, social values, and the economy.


Part B): 

The Church Fathers and Christian intellectuals interpreted sin as a departure from goodness, a consequence of man's acquisition of free will after original sin. It - sin - was understood by Christian confessors as an illness from which one could recover through spiritual healing. As the role of the church in the course of Late Antiquity became more and more influential in controlling social life, a system of ecclesiastical penances gradually developed, parallel to the system of punishments enshrined in the state legal system. Sins began to be grouped into 'lists', to which the confessor, for their forgiveness, assigned a penance corresponding to the gravity of the act committed. This practice gave rise to the penitential books, in use in both the Latin West and the Greek East from the second half of the sixth century, with the aim of standardising penance practices. The first evidence of this kind for the Byzantine world is the so-called Kanonikarion, attributed to the monk and deacon John, a stratified and composite text according to van de Paverd, unitary according to Arranz (and variously dated between the end of the sixth and the ninth century). The course aims to study this treatise from the point of view of cultural and social history, trying not only to analyse the system of the most recurrent sins - certainly those we would define as 'carnal' - but also paying attention to the practice of confession and the various rituals of penance.


N. B. For students wishing to explore aspects related to the non-literary texts of the Byzantine world, the course is propaedeutic to the workshop in Byzantine Sigillography (40 h.), to be held in the second half of May 2021.



A) General Part

Mandatory reading of the following texts is required:

— Entry «Byzantine Empire», by A. Carile, in Grande Dizionario Enciclopedico UTET, III, Torino 1985, pp. 394-405.

— G. Cavallo (a cura), L'uomo bizantino, Roma-Bari 1992.


B) Monographic Part

The penitential book attributed to John the monk and deacon will be analysed in the edition of M. Arranz, S. J., I penitenziali bizantini. Il Protokanonarion o Kanonarion di Giovanni diacono e il Deuterokanonarion o secondo Kanonarion di Basilio monaco (Kanonika, 3), Rome 1993. (Use will also be made of the commentary and English translation of F. van de Paverd, The Kanonarion by John, Monk and Deacon and Didascalia Patrum, [Kanonika, 12] Rome 2006).

The following essays are also required reading:

― E. Herman, “Il più antico penitenziale greco”, in Orientalia Christiana Periodica 19 (1953), 71-127;

― S. Parenti, “Confessione, penitenza e perdono nelle Chiese orientali”, in Rivista Liturgica 104/4 (2017), 111-141.

― R. Meens, “Remedies for Sins”, in T. F. X. Noble, J. M. H. Smith (eds.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 3, Early Medieval Christianity, c. 600-1000, Cambridge 2008, 399-415.


P. S. Non-attending students are requested to read:

— C. Mango, La civiltà bizantina, trad. it. Roma-Bari 1991.


Teaching methods

The course is organised in seminar mode. During the course, the lecturer will translate and comment on some documents (mainly in Greek). Attendance is therefore strongly recommended.

P.S. Foreign students wishing to attend the course must have a knowledge of Italian of at least level B 2.

Assessment methods

An oral test is required to pass the examination.

This consists of an assessment of the knowledge of part A of the course (general) and a discussion of the content of part B (monographic).

The final mark of the exam is determined by the following scores: 10/30 for part A) general of the course; 20/30 for part B) monographic of the course.

Teaching tools

— Translation of sources

— distribution of photocopies

— power-point presentations.

Office hours

See the website of Salvatore Cosentino