Byzantium is short for the Byzantine Empire
Byzantium is short for the Byzantine Empire. It can also be used to refer to the capital city of the Roman Empire, later renamed Constantinople after Emperor Constantine who rebuilt the city into a modern capital of Christianity at the time. Byzantine was heavily influenced by Greece and the Greek culture. With that came the Greek mythical gods and icon culture representing ones religious beliefs. Constantinople also became the seat of the pope of the Catholic Church (“History of the Byzantine Empire”).
Icons can be defined as representations of deities, saints or sacred scenes such as the crucifixion of Christ. In the Byzantine Empire these were very popular and were made from any medium including gemstones, wood, stone, marble, enamel, precious metal, and mosaic.
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Additionally, they ranged in size from small to huge and were even painted on walls as murals (Brookes). It was believed that these icons would bring success in battle and were often carried when troops were going to war. They were also believed to bring healing to the sick and good fortune.
By being in contact with the icons, it was said that one was able to directly communicate with the deity or saint represented by the icon (Brookes). As the culture of creating icons grew, it began to clash with the teachings of Christianity which had taken root as a major religion in the Byzantine Empire. The first commandment in the 10 commandments given to Moses clearly stated that there should be no graven images made as this would make the people prone to the worship of idols. As such, iconoclasm took root. The term iconoclasm means ‘image breaker’ which referred to the habit of breaking images for political or religious reasons.
In ancient times, if a ruler was conquered by another, any image of that ruler was quickly broken by their successor or conqueror, hence the term. In Byzantium, iconoclasm referred to a theological debate that spanned about a century between the state and the church (Brookes). As Christianity grew, the creation of icons was barred by the state and the cross was promoted as the only representation of the church. The main motivation for this was so the people would stop looking to the icons as the source of their healing, good fortune and success and start looking to Christ and by so doing discourage veneration of the icons.
The issues surrounding the icons were that whereas one faction saw the icons as a representation of their faith and salvation, the other group saw them as mere idols. Their argument being that the only representation of Christ given to the church was the holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion (Trakakis). The iconoclast found a dilemma in the icons in that an image of Christ was supposed to capture the humanity of Christ without taking away the divinity. However, the Godhead could not very well be represented by an image of Christ.
The Iconophile, saw it as not trying to capture the divinity or humanity of Christ but the person of Christ, which then tied the human and divine together. To the Iconophile, the fact that Christ had come in a human body made a depiction of him possible. Therefore whereas Iconoclasts were bent on depicting the spirit as superior to matter, the Iconophile so the created matter as a perfect means to see God in the created matter thus deifying the said matter. This became the crux of the controversy (Trakakis).
Procopius’ book “Secret History” had been hidden for centuries until it was discovered in the Vatican library and printed in 1623 AD (Glenn). Procopius was a famous historian in the time that Justinian ruled Byzantium. Having written other texts on the Roman Empire in the 6th century, he wrote this secret book that gave the details of how Justinian and his wife Theodora a former courtesan plundered Rome and murdered millions of people. Justinian is said to have forced people into the Christian faith, while his actions remained decidedly contrary to its teachings.
He and Theodora made people pay for Justice, belittled their needs and robbed Roman citizens of their property and money. Justinian would side with priests who stole and murdered and even took property from citizens to give to the church thinking that he would have favor with God for doing so (Altwater) This book is significant because it reveals a different side of the history of Byzantium in the time of Justinian, unlike the official annals of history written for the empire. In the Byzantine Empire, Pagan art was seen as leading people to false gods. It was mainly based on the polytheistic Greek gods and was figural.
As such, it was shunned by the growing Christian population. Due to the iconoclasm controversy, much of the art of the Byzantine Empire did not reflect one figural scene to avoid the said controversy. Because of the persecution that followed Christians who supported icons, Byzantine religious art shrunk to focus mainly on the cross and symbolic birds and plants (“The Byzantine Empire”). The Byzantine Empire is an intriguing time with tales like no other. Ranging from the amphitheaters to the arena where offenders where crucified to death or torn to pieces by wild animals.
The religious mix was no less intriguing and the rise of Christianity in the Byzantine Empire brought with it many controversies. Justinian became an enforcer of Christianity in the empire causing its spread, but at the same time going against the tenets of the faith according to the ‘Secret History’ by Procopius. Additionally, because of the first of the Ten Commandments, there arose a controversy as to whether icons were graven images, which were forbidden, or not. This in turn affected the way the people of Byzantium perceived pagan art, which was mainly based on pagan gods, goddesses and symbols.
As such, Byzantine religious art was narrowed down to include the cross and other symbols that bespoke Christianity without compelling veneration. Works Cited Atwater, Richard. “Procopius of Caeasrea: The Secret History. ” Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/basis/procop-anec. HTML> Brooks, Sarah. “Icons and Iconoclasm in Byzantium”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www. metmuseum. org/toah/hd/icon/hd_icon. htm> Glenn, Joshua.
“A Brief History of Secret Histories. ” 2008. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www. boston. com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2008/03/secret_history. html> “History of the Byzantine Empire. ” 24 Feb. 2009. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www. historyworld. net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories. asp? historyid=ac59> “The Byzantine Empire: The Roman-Byzantine Period. ” 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www. crystalinks. com/byzantine. html> Trakakis, Nick. “What was the Iconoclast Controversy About? ” Theandros. 2 vols. 2004-2005. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www. theandros. com/iconoclast. html>