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Landscapes of Power

Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference

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Edited By Maximilian Lau, Caterina Franchi and Morgan Di Rodi

This volume contains selected papers from the XV International Graduate Conference, highlighting the latest scholarship from a new generation of Late Antique and Byzantine scholars from around the world. The theme of the conference explored the interaction between power and the natural and human environments of Byzantium, an interaction that is an essential part of the empire’s legacy. This legacy has come down to us through buildings, literature, history and more, and has proved enduring enough to intrigue and fascinate scholars centuries after the fall of Constantinople. From religion and trade at the end of Antiquity, imperial propaganda and diplomacy at the end of the first millennium, to culture and conquest under the Komnenian and Palaeologan dynasties – this volume demonstrates the length and breadth of the forays being made by young academics into the still often undiscovered country of the Late Antique and Byzantine world.
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The Power of Poetry – Portraying the Expansion of the Empire under John II Komnenos

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‘Against a cup of water you take the whole Halys,Against a small amount of earth you take hold of vast lands…’

 

Historians should be naturally wary of mining poems for historical facts – philologists make the valuable point that these may well be rhetorical devices that at worst are barely far from myth, and so should be trusted about as much as the Iliad for historical information. Recent approaches to poetry have thus been to assess what their style and content can tell us about the culture they come from. Though it is true that poems cannot be seen as ‘storerooms’ of historical facts, to cite Floris Bernard and Kristoffel Demoen’s recent work on eleventh century Byzantine poetry, it would be equally foolish to disregard our only contemporary source for some events.1 If there existed no other source would we disregard Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade as a source for the battle of Balaclava just because it was a poem? Though we might assume the number of cannons was being overstated, and the number of men heroically understated, in essence it does give us crucial details as to the events and nature of the battle.

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