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The Comnenian Prokypsis* At some point in the later centuries of Byzantium there took place, suddenly or over a period, a major change in Constantinopolitan political ceremonial. Throughout the early and middle Byzantine periods the central focus of contact between the Emperor and his people had been the hippodrome of the capital. Formally, at least the Emperor appeared there, like the populace, to watch the chariot-racing. But it was not merely a sporting occasion: around it there had grown up in the Roman Empire a complex of conventions andritualsof a basically political character, which continued to develop in the Byzantine period in parallel with the evolving significance of the imperial office.1 Yet in spite of the many developments in the contests, the ceremonial and their political symbolism, the chariot races and their setting in the hippodrome imposed a framework which ensured a certain conservatism. One imagines that Constantine would have felt more at home in the twelfth-century hippodrome than in most other parts of his capital at that date. However, the conservative pressures were, in the twelfth century, about to give way. The hippodrome ceremonial was time-consuming and expensive, and had become less frequent as the centuries passed. Equally, one may speculate that a Byzantine Emperor no longer felt the need to stress his simple virtues; he no longer needed to be seen watching and taking sides in the most popular sporting contests of the day. In other aspects of imperial life the stress was on difference from the common herd, an aristocratic emperor in his enclosed palace among his high-born nobles, or a mighty warrior with his army on campaign. In fact the hippodrome as a regular constituent of imperial ceremonial did not An earlier version of this paper was given in the Byzantine Studies Seminar at Birmingham University in 1981 and similar issues were canvassed at the Third Australian Conference of Byzantine Studies, Melbourne, 1982. The author gratefully acknowledges the stimulus provided by both occasions, including several helpful comments and criticisms. Different facets of scholarly opinion may be observed in the following: A. Alfoldi, Die Ausgestaltung des monarchischen Zermoniells am rSmischen Kaiserhofe, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archdologischen Instituts, Romische Abteilung 49, 1934, 3-118; O. Treitinger, Die Ostromische Kaiser- und Reichsidee nach ihre Gestaltung im hofischen Zeremoniell, Jena, 1938 (hereafter Treitinger, Kaiser- und Reichs-idee); Alan Cameron, Circus Factions. Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium, Oxford, 1976; S.G. Macormack, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981; M . McCormick, Eternal Victory. Triumphal rulership in late antiquity, Byzantium and the early medieval West, Cambridge and Paris, 1986. The Comnenian period is best covered by the introduction to Theodoras Prodromos, Historische Gedichte, ed. W . Horandner, Wiener Byzantinische Studien 11, 542-555 (hereafter HSrandner, Prodromos). Comnenian Prokypsis 39 survive the decisive break caused by the Latin Conquest of 1204.2 Its function was taken over by the Prokypsis, a ceremony involving an appearance made by the Emperor and his family on a high platform, accompanied by music and the recitation of appropriate eulogies.3 The Prokypsis seems normally to have taken place after sunset, for it is nearly always connected in the sources with light, which, w e may surmise, often implies artificial light.4 The imperial party was concealed by curtains till the right moment, when they were suddenly revealed, in glittering, bejewelled costumes, set off by as much illumination as contemporary technology could produce. After an appropriate period of display, music and poetry, the curtains were lowered. The point of the ceremony was not complicated by a race-meeting or any other extraneous event: it was to allow the people of Constantinople to give due reverence to their ruler at a great religious festival or a moment which marked some landmark in his reign. Great importance was placed on the relative height of thefigureswhich were displayed, and the proportions of their bodies visible above the parapet I hope that, as an Englishman, I may be excused the thought that in Byzantine ceremonial Royal Ascot had been replaced by the balcony of Buckingham Palace. There is no scholarly agreement over the date of this fundamental change. A major dating factor, of...


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