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Ethnography After Antiquity

Foreign Lands and Peoples in Byzantine Literature

By Anthony Kaldellis

Publication Year: 2013

Although Greek and Roman authors wrote ethnographic texts describing foreign cultures, ethnography seems to disappear from Byzantine literature after the seventh century C.E.—a perplexing exception for a culture so strongly self-identified with the Roman empire. Yet the Byzantines, geographically located at the heart of the upheavals that led from the ancient to the modern world, had abundant and sophisticated knowledge of the cultures with which they struggled and bargained. Ethnography After Antiquity examines both the instances and omissions of Byzantine ethnography, exploring the political and religious motivations for writing (or not writing) about other peoples.

Through the ethnographies embedded in classical histories, military manuals, Constantine VII's De administrando imperio, and religious literature, Anthony Kaldellis shows Byzantine authors using accounts of foreign cultures as vehicles to critique their own state or to demonstrate Romano-Christian superiority over Islam. He comes to the startling conclusion that the Byzantines did not view cultural differences through a purely theological prism: their Roman identity, rather than their orthodoxy, was the vital distinction from cultures they considered heretic and barbarian. Filling in the previously unexplained gap between antiquity and the resurgence of ethnography in the late Byzantine period, Ethnography After Antiquity offers new perspective on how Byzantium positioned itself with and against the dramatically shifting world.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Empire and After

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book is a study of ethnography as a literary practice in Byzantium; that is, it focuses on accounts of foreign peoples the Byzantines themselves wrote. It is not a study of the population of Byzantium according to the methodologies of modern ethnography, something that would be impossible to do given the nature of the evidence. ...

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1. Ethnography in Late Antique Historiography

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pp. 1-25

This chapter will focus on “classicizing” ethnographies that we find embedded mostly in historical texts. I distinguish this secular mode of ethnography, which was an extension of ancient genres and could be written by both Christian and non-Christian authors, from specifically Christian genres of ethnography that appeared in late antiquity and after, ...

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2. Byzantine Information-Gathering behind the Veil of Silence

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pp. 26-43

The contention of the next section will be that the writing of ethnography declined severely in the middle Byzantine period (in fact, until the fourteenth century), certainly in comparison to the rich collection of sources that we have for late antiquity. This decline was not, however, due to a lack of knowledge, and that is what this section establishes. ...

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3. Explaining the Relative Decline of Ethnography in the Middle Period

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pp. 44-81

The decline of Byzantine ethnography draws our attention first to the genre of historiography, for that, given ancient precedents, is where we most expect to find it. If we look closely at the historical sources for the middle period, and also realize that our expectations are preconditioned by the classical and late antique evidence ...

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4. The Genres and Politics of Middle Byzantine Ethnography

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pp. 82-139

The genre of Byzantine ethnography that has received the most attention is the military manuals, especially Maurikios’ Strategikon (ca. 600) and Leon VI’s Taktika (ca. 900), but largely from a positivist point of view, that is, from historians who are searching for facts about military history and are evaluating the reliability of the manuals from that standpoint. ...

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5. Ethnography in Palaiologan Literature

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pp. 140-183

In 1204 the armies of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and set about the conquest and dismemberment of the Byzantine empire. They were to have only partial and temporary success. The Byzantines-in-exile managed to hold on to many regions, chiefly western Greece, Trebizond and its hinterland, ...

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Epilogue: Looking to a New World

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pp. 184-186

Until the 1360s, the Palaiologan empire produced a diverse range of sources that pertain to our theme, written by intelligent men who recast traditional forms and images to fashion new perspectives and arguments. Byzantium was now a much smaller fish in a more dangerous ocean, but it nevertheless produced some of the most innovative thinkers in its history. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 187-188


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pp. 189-228


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pp. 229-268


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pp. 269-276

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pp. 277-278

As with much that I have written, this book owes its inception to a question casually posed to me by Stephanos Efthymiades in 2001: Why does it seem that the Byzantines abandoned the classical genre of ethnography after the seventh century? ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208405
E-ISBN-10: 0812208404
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245318
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245318

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Empire and After

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Byzantine literature -- Themes, motives.
  • Ethnic attitudes in literature.
  • Foreign countries in literature.
  • Ethnology -- Byzantine empire.
  • Ethnic attitudes -- Byzantine Empire.
  • Cultural awareness -- Byzantine Empire.
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