What is an I912

(B2-8) Moses and David: Ambiguous typologies for patriarchs and emperors in Byzantium

Patriarch and emperor not only worked with and against each other in public, the relationship was also expressed on other levels. The image of the ideal emperor or the emperor's propaganda can be grasped both through pictorial and written evidence and also partially researched. The "image" and the medial figuration of the patriarch, however, have been neglected because there are almost no images and one is mostly dependent on written evidence. In contrast to the case of the emperor, the public appearance of the head of the church was not dealt with independently either.

Over the centuries, however, a patriarchal ideal has developed, which culminates in a rich patriarchal panegyric and becomes clearly tangible in the twelfth century; there is competition to the imperial eulogy, which in turn reveals the positions of the two powers in the state. Both institutions have a philanthropic effect, although this ideal expresses itself differently: the emperor donates material things, while the patriarch takes care of spiritual salvation.

In typology, figures from the Old and New Testaments are used in both the secular and the spiritual milieu. The ambiguity of the biblical protagonists, especially David and Moses, allows use in both areas - this process can already be identified in late antiquity, but has not yet been systematically researched for the Middle Byzantine period. Since the time of the Church Fathers, Johannes Prodromos has also been viewed as the model of an ideal bishop. Ambiguity (amphoteroglossia) is a hallmark of Byzantine rhetorical literature and can also be grasped here.

Project steps:

  • Since a balanced comparison is only possible on the basis of written records, historiographical, hagiographical and other rhetorical works are evaluated and unpublished sources are made accessible.
  • Investigation of the change or flexibility of motifs and typologies of Old Testament figures in panegyric and eulogy as well as examination of imperial and patriarchal reservations.
  • Concepts of the ideal patriarch as a counterpart to the emperor - what is the quality of an ecclesiastical leader in contrast to an emperor?
  • The ambiguity of the leading figures of the Old Testament opens up room for maneuver in terms of rhetorical design, but the Byzantine political / ideological system is understood as a unit.

The project is part of the coordinated project group Medial Figurations of the Political and the Religious.

Transformation of the concept of martyrs in the Middle Byzantine period (sub-project within the framework of the coordinated project group "Martyrdom and the cult of martyrs")

After Christianity was recognized as the state religion, the concept of martyrs and the veneration of martyrs also lived on in the Byzantine (Orthodox) East. The meaning of the word martys (“witness”) was expanded or emphasized, which is evident from the epithet “homologetes” (“confessor”).

In Middle Byzantine history one encounters developments within the empire and also through contacts with non-Byzantine powers that favored the appearance of martyrs in the proper (pre-Constantinian) sense.

  • The Byzantine Empire experienced a religious and imperial political crisis during Iconoclasm (726-843). In retrospect one found many believers in worshiping images who were mutilated or even had to give up their lives. After that there were hardly any martyrs within the borders of the Byzantine-dominated world, with the occasional heretical currents, the "state" authorities were careful not to carry out rash executions without normative procedures. As a new phenomenon, from the 4th century onwards, the type of the "holy man" or the "holy woman" emerged, whose appearance reached a final climax in the 12th century. Similar to the stylites of late antiquity, they made their confession to God public and effective.
  • Martyrs and confession with the commitment of one's own life can also be found in the areas that the Byzantine central power lost or where there were conflicts with people of different faiths (southern Balkans or in the eastern border regions).

The aim of the project is to first deal with the change, the flexibility and the transformation of the concept of martyrs; In a further step, the waves of hagiographic and martyr literature are to be examined and brought in relation to possible social moods and needs (increase in the production of martyrs and saints after iconoclasm). Furthermore, it should be checked whether a shift in attitudes towards (physical) violence can also be determined.

It must also be examined whether and how martyrdom was also instrumentalized by the church or the state, because descriptions of martyrs and (saints) not only served to strengthen faith, but also conveyed subtle imperial propaganda. In addition, martyrs and saints have an authoritative function, which enables them to mediate between the poles of power - standing outside or above, as it were.


The project is part of the coordinated project group Martyrdom and the Cult of Martyrs.

© 2020 Cluster of Excellence Religion & Politics