Summer Sequel: Three Roads to Miklagård

Brigid Ehrmantraut from Princeton University has been generous to offer her recent essay on Scandinavian mercenaries in Constantinople as a reading feuilleton for the Nordic Byzantine Network. Before we do so, we are happy to have Brigid’s attention for a few questions.

19030570_1893688160893584_4989903031293527064_n.jpgWhat background do you have?

I am an undergraduate Classics concentrator and Medieval studies certificate at Princeton University. In addition, I’ve studied abroad for a spring at the University of Cambridge’s Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic department.

You are both a historian and a writer of fiction; which interest came first?

I think both interests developed at roughly the same time, in an intertwined fashion. Stories have always fascinated me, regardless of how ostensibly true they may be, and I think the best fiction tends to build from strong historical foundations, be they real-world settings or imagined chronologies.

Do you find it particularly challenging to bridge the two roles in cases such as this?

I think the two complement each other nicely. It’s always important for a project like this one to give preference to the historical features, but since so many of those come to us from primary accounts – each with their own unique perspectives and biases – I think historical details and sources inspire rather than limit creativity. This piece came out of a class prompt to engage in ethopoeia, or the Greek term for rhetorically representing another person or character, and the engagement with different perspectives that allowed provided a wonderful way to supplement established historical material, while grounding the fictional aspects against a believable backdrop.

Which scholarly aspect of the Varangians in Byzantium interests you most?

The opportunities for cultural interchange. One of my favorite features of Classics and Medieval Studies is the degree to which you get to study evolving interaction between all areas of culture; one of my particular interests is religious/mythological syncretism.

Are there any literary depictions of the same topic that you find especially recommendable?

I haven’t come across many contemporary literary depictions of the Varangians, but I would always recommend saga material! Anna Comnena’s Alexiad occasionally engages with them as well, and certainly presents its nominally historical account in very dramatic, literary prose.

To which topic will you devote yourself in the nearest future?

Probably religious syncretism in the late antique and early medieval insular world, specifically between Celtic, Roman, and eventually Anglo-Saxon populations in Britain and Ireland.

Interview: OH

The NBN will publish the three parts of Þrír Vegir í Miklagarð (Three Roads to Miklagard), with approximately ten-day intervals over the course of  July 2017.

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Workshop on Religious Poetry and Performance at Uppsala University

The end of May was a busy and exciting time for byzantinists in and around Uppsala. From 18-21 May, the university hosted the big conference on spatialities of Byzantine culture (see below), organised by Myrto Veikou and Ingela Nilsson. The conference was followed by a smaller scale workshop on religious poetry and performance in Byzantium, organised by post doc Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen. It took place from 23-24 May at Uppsala University. The close proximity of the conference and the workshop was due to the fact that several scholars were able to participate in both events.

The aim of the workshop was to gather specialists in the fields of theatre and performance studies, musicology, hymnography and hagiography in order to come closer to an understanding of how religious texts were performed in the Byzantine society. The speakers were Spyridon Antonopoulos (City, University of London), Thomas Arentzen (Oslo University), Mary Cunningham (Em. Nottingham University) Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen (Uppsala University), Derek Krueger (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Alexander Lingas (City, University of London), Margaret Mullett (Em. University of Belfast and Dumbarton Oaks), Przemyslaw Marciniak (University of Katowice), Fr. Damaskinos Olkinuora (University of Eastern Finland), Christian Troelsgård (University of Copenhagen), Julie Van Pelt (University of Ghent) and Andrew Walker White (Stratford University).

Besides the speakers, the workshop was visited by among others Helena Bodin (University of Stockholm) and Stig Frøyshov (University of Oslo). Also participating in the workshop was the choir Psaltikon ( The choir performed a concert at the end of the workshop with hymns transcribed from medieval manuscripts.

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Przemyslaw Marciniak (Katowice) presenting on Byzantium as a ”performative society”

Although it is difficult to determine exactly how hymns and hagiographical texts were performed, the workshop offered several perspectives on the performance. Przemyslaw Marciniak gave a broader view on Byzantium as a ”performative society”, and Andrew White took the participants back to a classroom in medieval Byzantium to reflect on how commentaries on tragedies (scholia) actually contain performance indications. Julie Van Pelt and Christian Troelsgård both focused on hagiography, Van Pelt especially on performances by cross-dressers, and Troelsgård on how hymnographers turned hagiography into short hymns for the saint’s feast day. Thomas Arentzen explored the quite erotic texts for Holy Week in 6th century Constantinople, whereas Margaret Mullett looked closer at the resurrection narrative in the 12th century Christos Paschon. In different ways, Alexander Lingas, Derek Krueger, and Spyridon Antonopoulos looked at various ways in which Byzantine clerics and manuscripts gave instructions for singers. Finally, Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen introduced to his post doc project on performance and participation in Byzantine liturgy and focused on the pun as oral performance in the kontakia of Romanos the Melodist.

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Andrew White teaches how to pronounce certain words with passion and emotion according to the Byzantine scholiasts

As mentioned earlier, the workshop concluded with a concert sung by the choir Psaltikon. The choir is founded by Spyridon Antonopoulos who is also the director of the choir, which has its base in Boston. For the concert, he had transcribed several medieval hymns, among them a stanza from a kontakion of Romanos the Melodist. The repertoire also included hymns for the festal season, that is hymns from Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost. The concert took place in the magnificent Anatomical Theatre at Museum Gustavianum. Both the singers and the audience were surprised by the amazing ambience in the theatre – the voices intermingled and the overtones blended perfectly. The choir also gave concerts the following days in Stockholm and Copenhagen, thanks to a donation from the Carlsberg Foundation in Denmark.

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The choir Psaltikon singing in the Anatomical Theatre in Gustavianum. Clockwise from right: Alexander Lingas, Fr. Damaskinos Olkinuora, Dimos Papatzalakis, Spyridon Antonopoulos, Vasileios Lioutas, Haralambos Hamos and Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen (photo: Myrto Veikou)

All in all, the workshop on religious poetry and performance in Byzantium was an important step towards getting a deeper understanding of different kinds of performances and their contexts. It also provided the foundation for a continued scholarly dialogue. All of this was made possible thanks to a generous grant from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (

Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen

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From the Human Body to the Universe… Spatialities of Byzantine Culture

This international conference was organized by the Department of Linguistics and Philology of Uppsala University, as part of the Research Project “Text and narrative in Byzantium” lead by Professor Ingela Nilsson ( It was hosted by the Museum Gustavianum, from the 18th to the 21st of May, 2017, and sponsored by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

The conference began with Professor Ingela Nilsson’s welcome and scholarly contextualization followed by a keynote lecture by Professor Johannes Koder (University of Vienna) on the relation between space and identity, and Byzantine conceptions of geographic belonging. Thereafter, a visit to Olof Rudbeck’s Anatomical Theatre, guided by Dr Myrto Veikou, offered the participants an opportunity to realize how spaces make people feel, think and act in specific ways. The great importance of this in Byzantine culture – no matter what aspect someone is looking at (material culture, art or texts) – was the main field of inter- and cross-disciplinary problematization during the conference proceedings on the next three full days.


A total of fourty-three papers on Byzantine spaces were presented by specialists on Byzantine philology and literary studies, history, archaeology, topography, and history of art. Different aspects of notions of space in Byzantine culture were scrutinized and discussed, thereby offering an excellent opportunity for experimentation. The process of inter- and cross-disciplinary problematization on the single common interest of Byzantine spaces aimed to allow these specialists realizing the – often plasmatic – dichotomies between modern fields of research. It also aimed to develop the field, and provide future scholars with:

  • an, as much as possible, complete range of vocabulary and available methodologies for looking into Byzantine spaces, and
  • an example of creative and reconciliating synthesis of different, old and new, theoretical approaches to spatial issues.

In this context, many interesting discussions foregrounded the parallel existence of two different currants of research within the Byzantine studies, nowadays. These two currents develop concurrently on parallel yet separate trajectories, they are based on different theoretical and methodological backgrounds, and they use different vocabularies. Giving the floor for these two currents to meet up and discuss a single cultural topic of common interest allowed exposing each side’s work to one-another. This condition first produced some confusing – or ‘conflictual’ – reactions but later delivered very imaginative and creative solution plans; in any case, it exposed the problem, and the urgency for mutual comprehension, as well as the potential of informed collaboration from both sides.


The event will be followed by a publication project which will take place during the next few years. Information on this project, as well as on the conference program and speakers’ abstracts, including several resources on the topic, can be found on the project’s webpage ( Anyone interested in knowing more about it or contributing to it may contact Professor Ingela Nilsson and Dr Myrto Veikou at the Department of Linguistics and Philology of Uppsala University.

Myrto Veikou

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Byzantium, alt-right and hooliganism

As our readers will know, the Nordic Byzantine Network is not only preoccupied with the study of Byzantium as such, but also with the metahistory of its past and contemporary use. Such was, for instance, the topic of a two-day workshop in Stockholm last November, and is the focus of the Byzantine receptions network where several of our own members are active.

A topic that we have previously noted on this page is the possibility of Byzantium becoming a battering ram in contemporary political debates. In a sense, it is surprising that it has not already happened. Still to Anders Behring Breivik, Vienna and Tours rather than Constantinople served as sources of inspiration in the alleged fight against Islam; but as anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe takes on a more coherent form, partly in opposition as well as imitation of contemporary pan-islamism, it is tempting to predict an imminent wave of renewed interest for Byzantium among the so-called alt-right. As one of our members has just noted, this might indeed be the case.

If Byzantium were to gain a new role as a political mark of identification, this would of course not be the first time. In the Balkans, where communities keep identifying along the borders of the bygone Habsburg, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Byzantium has never ceased to be a political reality – it is part of an everyday culture of symbols, rituals, and narratives. For all of Greece’s efforts to identify with its Classical past, it remains a post-Byzantine as much as post-Ottoman state. In a recent basketball match between the Athenian team Olympiakos against the Istanbul team of Fenerbahçe, Greek fans sported t-shirts featuring the image of a minaret-less Hagia Sophia and the caption “Constantinople”.

Istanbul – or Constantinople – has in fact provided Greece with two football teams with considerable fan bases in Thessaly and Macedonia: the PAOK (Πανθεσαλονίκειος Αθλητικός Όμιλος Κωνσταντινουπολιτών) and the AEK (Αθλητική Ένωσις Κωνσταντινουπόλεως), both founded less than a hundred years ago when the city was still home to hundreds of thousands of Greeks. The AEK, which roughly translates as “Athletic Union of Constantinople”, features the Palaologean double-headed eagle in black against a golden background, just like the official flag of the Ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople. The two Constantinopolitan teams met in the 75th Greek cup finale just two days ago, and as can be seen from the picture gallery here the iconography can sometimes be far blunter.

A recent visit to the picturesque Thessalian town of Trikala, situated between the Meteora and Vissarion monastic complexes, also added an extra twist to the implications of Byzantine history: here local AEK fans seem to have made it a habit to smear down the old Ottoman mosque – a work by the famous Sinan and now a museum – with their signature and the Greek word for “pork”:


The difference between these and similar outbursts that we might tentatively find coming from the far right in Western Europe is that where both Byzantium, Islam, and their long history of encounters and confrontations remain a lived reality in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, in the West they are more likely to actualise other and totally different historical conflicts. Already nineteenth-century conservatives showed an interest in the notion of Byzantium as a bulwark against Islam; during and after the Crimean war this went hand in hand with the same kind of rampant Slavo- and Russophilia, mixed with Occidentalism, as can be seen in many parts of the alt-right movement today.

The piece linked to above is not unaware of the problems that a Byzantine infatuation might cause, such as the pro-Orthodox, and consequently anti-Western, stance that might follow, or the possibly bad example of an empire that, for all of its exemplary conservatism, ultimately succumbed to the Muslim Turks. In an age of alternative truths we should perhaps not expect this inconvenient course of events to bother those who wish to exploit the concept. But it does raise important questions on how far right the West can actually go until it turns totally Eastern.

OH – with thanks to Jakob Törneke, Dimitris Agoritsas, and George Winter

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Byzantine spaces

Uppsala University is happy to host the conference “From the Human Body to the Universe: Spatialities of Byzantine Culture” on May 18-21, 2017. More info here.

The arranger is Myrto Veikou, whose recent article on the topic was published in the last issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.

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Armenian days in Uppsala

On March 14-16 the Text and Narrative project will be hosting a series of Armenian Studies lectures in Uppsala, followed by a workshop. All are invited to attend.

On Tuesday, March 14, at 17:00 Theo van Lint, Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian Studies in Oxford, will hold a public lecture on the topic “The Role of the 11th-Century Nobleman Grigor Pahlawuni Magistros in Armenia’s Culture, Church and Politics”. (Engelska parken 2-0076)

On Wednesday, March 15, at 16:00 Emilio Bonfiglio from the institute of Byzantine and modern Greek studies in Vienna will hold a Patristics seminar on the topic “Armenian Translations of Patristic Texts”.

On Thursday, March 16, from 10:00 to 17:00 a workshop on new research will take place at Engelska parken 16-1059. It will be open to the public.

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Kurs i klassisk armeniska vid Uppsala universitet

I vår finns en unik möjlighet att läsa en kurs i klassisk armeniska vid Uppsala universitet. Det är grekiskans post-doc AnnaLinden Weller som ger kursen under första halvan av vårterminen 2017. Kursen ges på engelska och beskrivs så här:

This course offers a basic introduction to the Classical Armenian language, designed to acquaint specialists in Late Antiquity and Byzantium with the tools to explore Armenian subjects in their research. It will provide an overview of grammar and syntax and introduce students to the process of reading actual Classical Armenian prose. In addition it will offer some history of the interaction between the Armenian plateau and the Greek-speaking world of Late Antiquity.


En sen anmälan till kursen kan göras på För frågor, kontakta gärna

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