New issue of Scandinavian Journal of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies

In volume 3 (2017), the editor Vassilios Sabatakakis is happy to welcome a guest-editor, Dr AnnaLinden Weller, who has edited five articles from a conference that she organized at Uppsala University in 2016 within the frame of the ‘Text and Narrative in Byzantium’ research network (2015-2017). The articles are written by Baukje van den Berg, Stanislas Kuttner-Homs, Markéta Kulhánková, Jonas J. H. Christensen and Jakov Đorđević, provided with an introduction by AnnaLinden Weller. In addition, the journal includes two more articles: one by David Konstan, based on his 2016 lecture in memory of Professor Lennart Rydén, and one by Adam Goldwyn. Two reviews of recent books by Claudia Rapp and Olof Heilo are also included. Available open access online:

If you would like printed copies of this or previous volumes for your library, please contact the editor.

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BBC radio drama on Zoe Porphyrogenita – available for another week!

Mosaïque de l'impératrice Zoé, Sainte-Sophie (Istanbul, Turquie)

Radio dramatist Robin Brooks plays with (and against) the prejudices of a Byzantium filled with intrigues, murder and drama, turning the events of Zoe’s life into a play that sometimes feels like a reality show. The narrative voice of Michael Psellos guides the listener through the shady corridors of the palace, while Zoe herself describes her claustrophobic upbringing within its golden walls. Don’t miss this opportunity to follow them into eleventh-century history, narrated in the manner of a Byzantine story and filled with playful references to both Gibbon and the Chronographia.

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In memoriam: Elisabeth Piltz (1938-2018)

Elisabeth Piltz died on January 23, 2018, in Uppsala. She was born on March 7, 1938, in Ödeborg, municipality of Färgelanda, Dalsland, where she will be buried on February 23.

Elisabeth Piltz studied art history and languages at the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm, and Byzantine studies in Paris (with André Grabar) and München (with Hans-Georg Beck). As an historian of Byzantine art, her first interest was Byzantine ceremonial clothing and insignia, both secular and ecclesiastical, a field to which she would make her greatest contribution. In 1976 she defended her thesis on Trois sakkoi byzantins. Analyse iconographique, followed up by Kamelaukion et mitra. Insignes byzantins impériaux et ecclésiastiques (1977). In 1994 she returned to the subject with Le costume officiel des dignitaires byzantins à l’époque Paléologue. Recently she revised a long essay, written already in 1970 (but never printed), and published it with the title Loros and sakkos. Studies in Byzantine imperial garment and ecclesiastical vestment (2013). She contributed to the article on “Insignien” in the Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, vol. 3 (1978). Articles in the field also include “Middle Byzantine court costume” in the Dumbarton Oaks publication on Byzantine court culture from 829 to 1204 (1996), “Costume comme communication théologique” and “Liturgische Gewänder im byzantinischen Ritus“, the latter two in Byzantinoslavica (2003 and 2009).

Elisabeth Piltz also explored other research areas. One such area was Nordic-Byzantine/Muslim relations and its impact on Nordic material culture. For the byzantinizing church paintings in Gotland and Södermanland, she participated in the international project Corpus de la peinture monumentale byzantine (two instalments, 1989 and 2008). Moreover, she organized an international conference in Uppsala in 1979, published as Les pays du Nord et Byzance (ed. by R. Zeitler, 1981). In 1986 she lead a course on the same subject, which also resulted in a publication (partly in Swedish): Bysans och Norden (ed. by E. Piltz, 1989). Yet another conference took place in 1996 in Uppsala on her initiative, and the papers were published in Byzantium and Islam in Scandinavia (ed. by E. Piltz, 1998). When Elisabeth Piltz began working on this subject in the seventies it was a largely neglected area in West-European scholarship. Today the field is more firmly established with large-scale projects such as e.g. “Dirhams for slaves” (

Her research into the Scylitzes Matritensis was presented in Byzantium in the mirror: the message of Skylitzes Matritensis and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (2005). A selection of her minor works were collected in From Constantine the Great to Kandinsky. Studies in Byzantine and post-Byzantine art and architecture (2007). In Det levande Bysans (1996) she gathered shorter essays in Swedish for a broader audience.

Elisabeth Piltz was one of the founders of the Swedish committee for  Byzantine studies as part of the Association internationale des études byzantines (AIEB).

Johan Heldt

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Förberedelser inför Istanbul 2021

Planeringen för nästa internationella kongress – The 24th International Congress of Byzantine Studies, som kommer att hållas i Istanbul 23-28 augusti 2021 – är redan i full gång. Kongressens tema är ”Byzantium – Bridge Between Worlds” / “Byzance – Pont entre des mondes”.

Nytt för i år är att förslag på round table-sessioner skickas in till AIEB via de nationella kommittéerna. Kontaktuppgifter till samtliga nationella kommittéer återfinns här. Deadline för förslag är 22 juni 2018. Ett ”Call for free communications” kommer att gå ut under 2019.

För mer information om kongressens organisation och anvisning för round tables, se här.

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Byzantine News

From now on, the AIEB will communicate through a newsletter called “Byzantine News”. Its aim is to facilitate information exchange among Byzantine scholars worldwide and function as an information hub, i.e. by receiving and distributing news and information about activities and events that may be of interest to Byzantine scholars throughout the world. In particular, it seeks to collect and distribute calls for papers; announcements of forthcoming congresses, conferences and similar events (presentations of volumes, seminars, public lectures, etc.); and news about exhibitions and museum events. A special section entitled “Opportunities” lists job postings, scholarships, and other funding opportunities for scholars at all levels, junior through senior. The Newsletter is published by the AIEB, and collection and distribution of information is carried out by an editorial team approved by the Bureau of the AIEB and on its behalf. They welcome submissions from National Committees of Byzantine Studies, universities, scholarly and research institutions, museums, libraries, galleries, as well as individual scholars at any stages of their careers and members of the general public interested in scholarly research on Byzantium and its heritage. The editorial team of the Newsletter reserves the right to choose what to publish, particularly when submissions are deemed or may be deemed to contravene the Mission Statement of the Newsletter. The Newsletter does not publish announcements of recent publications.

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Interview: Annalinden Weller

The two-year postdoc in Text and Narrative in Byzantium at Uppsala University is over, and Annalinden Weller is leaving Sweden after two productive years that were concluded with a conference on Reception Histories of the Future in August 2017. As the title of the conference indicates, Annalinden is, in fact, not only a Byzantinist but also a prolific writer of science fiction under the pen name of Arkady Martine. The NBN has managed to catch her for a quick interview on the topic.

After a little more than two years in Uppsala you now have contracts for both a monograph and a novel – how did that happen? Was Sweden that stimulating or was it, in fact, really boring?

It turns out that fiction influences academic work and the other way around! My academic passions – looking at community formation and identity on borderlands in the Byzantine East, a topic I have been exploring in one way or another since my dissertation – easily blended with my life-long love of science fiction, and I found myself writing a space opera about empire, identity, and literature at the same time as I was working on a project about Byzantine empire, identity, and literature. I never felt like the two projects were in conflict: the ideas I encountered and the data I wrestled with in my academic work would show up, transformed or reused, in my fiction.

In terms of getting a monograph and a novel written at the same time in Sweden – well, I was really lucky to have a lot of time devoted to research as part of my postdoctoral position, plus a lot of stimulating conversation about rhetoric, narrative, identity-formation, Byzantium in general … so I had both the space to get this work done and an environment conducive to it. And in addition, I use fiction writing as a break from academic writing – and vice versa! If I’m stuck on one, working on the other for a day or even a week can feel really refreshing.

You’re a historian and a writer of fiction – how do you combine these two personas?

I write fiction under an open pen name – ‘Arkady Martine’ – so that people who are primarily interested in my fiction can find it easily, and people who are primarily interested in my work as a historian can google my legal name and find what they’re looking for, too. But despite this I feel like there’s very little difference between being a good historian and being a good writer – I am telling a story both ways. I am describing a narrative and making my audience pay attention, both ways. I simply use different tools. And because my fiction has always been inspired by my academic research, writing science fiction often feels like an extension of, or a development of, the theories I’ve worked out and the beliefs I have about societies and cultures as a historian.

Can you tell us something about the novel without giving away too much?

I got the idea for the novel from thinking about the Armenian Catholicos Petros I Getadarj, who in 1044 CE was involved with turning over the Armenian kingdom of Ani to the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos. I kept wondering – what would it be like to be that person? The person who decided to give over sovereignty to a culturally oppressive and invasive empire, in hopes of preserving some kind of autonomy?

So at first my main character in the novel was someone who did just that. In the course of writing, though, I ended up switching protagonists – my protagonist now is the successor of the man who betrayed her country to the empire, and I’m more interested in thinking about what happens afterward…

Also there are spaceships, mind-sharing, and plot-bearing poetry contests.

Interview: IN

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Þrír Vegir í Miklagarð (part three)

Wulf: A Displaced Anglo-Saxon, c. 1090

It had been the better part of a lifetime since the Conquest, and Wulf was resolved to stay and settle in his adoptive city. His loyalty to his former liege lords had been remote and largely inherited; he had never seen Harold Godƿinson in the flesh and never personally sworn him an oath of fealty. The emperor Alexios I was another matter entirely. He was not terribly tall or broad shouldered, but Wulf had always found him firm and well spoken. He was courteous and generous with his foreign soldiers’ pay. Wulf was proud to be one of his personal guards and had thwarted several attempts on his life with zeal. He had fought with the emperor before in the field as well, and had no reason to think him anything but a capable commander. Wulf was generally fatalistic in temperament, but when he looked around him at the wonders of Alexios’s splendid city, he could not help praying that such a great and godly land would never be left open to foreign conquest.

Wulf had never considered himself particularly devout until coming to Constantinople. The world was turbulent enough and it was said permanence rested with the Lord alone, but that hadn’t done him any good in the meantime when he wandered without king or home. He recalled an old sentiment, Wel bið þam þe him are seceð, frofre to Fæder on heofonum, þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð (“It is well for him, the one who seeks grace, comfort from the Father in the heavens, there, for us, all security stands”), but wondered if perhaps its author had never seen a city as magnificent as Constantinople. Wulf knew better than to assume any city could maintain unfailing stability, but surely this one more than most embodied permanence in Middangeard.

Wulf’s favorite thing about the city was, in fact, its many basilicas and monasteries, which he could survey from the life-guard’s quarters at the top of the imperial palace. He liked being able to turn any street corner and encounter a saint’s relic or local shrine. The largely unaltered nature of the rite, whether he accompanied the emperor to Hagia Sophia or attended services in any of these smaller chapels, reassured him. Even the smaller buildings tended to be larger and more ornate than anything he remembered from his childhood, in thicker-walled, dimmer structures across Wessex. Alexios’s Orthodox Christianity was of a different sort than Wulf’s Catholicism, but Wulf had so rarely been to regular church services when he was young, or in his travels across Europe, that it bothered him little. He had never spoken Latin, so he acclimated to the Greek liturgy easily enough. For all intents and purposes, Wulf was content to share God and temple with his emperor, and Alexios Komnenos was far more his emperor than Harold Godƿinson or the bastard William with his invading army would ever be.

Many of Wulf’s fellow life-guards were English as well, and he believed they tended to share his views of religion and allegiance. The majority of the guards hailed from the Northlands, and, while some were unrepentant adventurers who intended to return home wealthy, he found they predominantly agreed in attitude. Wulf had grown up with a nagging distrust of Danes, but face to face, they seemed like any other fighting man and their language was familiar from traders and settlers who remained in Wessex from Cnut’s time. Wulf noticed that the English portion of the guard was growing, however, and he found their company heartening. Some Greeks claimed they were all from Thule, but the emperor and many members of his court seemed to be able to tell most of them apart. Wulf himself was not necessarily much better when it came to distinguishing Geonoese from Venetians, or Arabs from Turks, though he believed he was gradually improving. As Wulf intended to stay in the emperor’s guard for the foreseeable future and remain in the city after that, he assumed his abilities to recognize other foreigners would develop with time.

Brigid Ehrmantraut


The walls of Constantinople (Wikimedia commons)


Further Reading

Primary Sources (listed in their English translation ed.):

Accounts of Medieval Constantinople: The Patria. Translated by Albrecht Berger. Harvard: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2013.

Grettis Saga. Translated by William Morris & Eirikr Magnusson. Edited by Sveinbjorn Thordarson. Icelandic Saga Database, 2007.

Hrafnkells saga freysgoða. Translated by John Coles. Edited by Sveinbjorn Thordarson. Icelandic Saga Database, 2008. .

Komena, Anna. The Alexiad. Translated by E.R.A. Sewter. Edited by Peter Frankopan. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.

Laxdæla saga. Translated by Muriel A.C. Press. Edited by Sveinbjorn Thordarson. Icelandic Saga Database, 2007.

Liutprand of Cremona. “Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana,” in The Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Translated by F.A. Wright. London 1930.

Psellos, Michael. Chronographia. Translated by E.R.A Sewter. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.

“The Wanderer.” In The Old English Elegies, edited by Anne L. Klinck. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2001.

Secondary Sources:

Blöndal, Sigfús and Benedikt S. Benedikz. The Varangians of Byzantium: An Aspect of Byzantine Military History. 1978. Reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Androshchuk, F. O. Vikings In the East: Essays On Contacts Along the Road to Byzantium (800-1100). Uppsala : Uppsala Universitet, 2013.

Marinis, Vasileios. “Defining Liturgical Space,” in The Byzantine World, edited by Paul Stephenson. New York: Routledge, 2010.

“Viking ‘graffiti.’” National Museum of Denmark. 2017.

Thomas, Hugh M. “The Significance and Fate of the Native English Landholders of 1086.” The English Historical Review 118, no. 476 (2003): 303-33.

A quick note on translations:

The Old English quotation comes from the closing lines of “The Wanderer,” and Anglo-Saxon poem found in the Exeter Book; the translation is my own. Heilagr fróðleikr is my attempt to render “Hagia Sophia” in Old Norse. Old English and Old Norse proper nouns are all attested in the Primary Reading list.

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