Overriding fields and subject areas

The spectrum of topics for cultures of war is divided for heuristic reasons into two overarching fields:

A. Forms of Expression

Here the various forms of expression of cultures of war will be examined, including the army, martial practices, rituals connected with military actions, as well as religious cults and objects or the daily life of soldiers. For this purpose military manuals, historiography or hagiographic literature (e.g. in the context of religious rituals), for example, might be employed. Military architecture is to be evaluated on the basis of archaeology and religious objects, and the type of worship they were used in should be taken into account. Different texts and media (including music) require a nuanced analysis, both within and across genres, taking into account topoi and the persistence of traditional concepts. More concretely, this applies inter alia to the illustrations of Byzantine taktika and belopoiika or the depiction of captives, wounded and slain, where in particular the continuance of or contrast to antique modes of portrayal can be fruitfully analyzed, or, for example, to the depiction of military saints, a new phenomenon.

B. Interpretative Concepts

This includes theories, concepts, strategies and conceptions of war, the legitimation and normative basis for martial conduct, as well as the self-depiction of rulers and warrior elites or the conceptualization of foes in their various manifestations and adaptations. For instance, the idealization of the warrior and his function as a means of legitimation for authority, the justification of wars through the recourse to biblical texts or war propaganda and bogeymen can be analyzed on the basis of written and archaeological sources. Also worthy of consideration would be panegyric, mirrors of chivalry, theological tracts, forms of representation in a funerary context, festal cycles in church painting or propaganda music.

Both of these overarching fields will be employed within two thematic clusters, which appear to be fruitful for the all the participating disciplines. Through this focus a clearly-delineated research program will be established which allows an interdisciplinary treatment of the overarching question on the place of Byzantine culture in the Euro-Mediterranean sphere, from both a synchronic and diachronic perspective. In this way a nuanced relationship of the projects between the fields of research and the thematic clusters will be striven towards, so that as many aspects as possible of the research agenda and the various fields can be connected with each other. Individual initiatives can also be categorized within multiple thematic clusters or touch upon levels of expression or meaning. The research group members working on a thematic cluster will thus profit from the research of other members from other thematic clusters, both in informal exchange as well as in the discussion in the colloquium, which focuses on a particular thematic cluster on a rotating basis.


1. Thematic Cluster “Strategies of Justification and Legitimation”

In this thematic cluster various legitimation strategies for war will be examined, as well as war as a resource for political legitimation. Religious justification and legitimation strategies form a nexus of issues, for instance in the writings of theologians of West and East or as part of the militarization of the festal cycles of churches. In addition, the resort to Byzantine traditions also was prominent, with regard to exempla for wars or battles, which could also be connected with religious justifications, when, for instance, the czar waged war against “unbelievers”. Even reference to military confrontations between Byzantium and the Ottomans by Byzantine successor states as well as the presence of the renovatio imperii concept in the legitimation of later Crusades can be documented.

2. Thematic Cluster “Conceptualizations of Persons and Groups”

In the second thematic cluster conceptualizations of certain persons and groups in the various cultures of war within the context of self- and outside-attributions are analyzed on the basis of different media. Under consideration as fields of analysis are the conception of one’s own warriors and of foreign ones, as well as the depiction of the vanquished in war or various models of enemy. Also of interest is how, for instance, in Byzantium the presentation of foreign mercenaries differed from that of Byzantine soldiers. What depictions of the “losers” in war are to be found, of captives, wounded or killed? How are foes conceptualized in the various cultures of war, such as in Byzantium or the post-Byzantine Orthodox tradition? And vice-versa: how was Byzantium perceived, for instance, among the Carolingians and in the Slavic reception? The question likewise arises what repercussions religious constructions of identity had on the conceptualization of the enemy. Also noteworthy in this context would be depictions of orthodox, in contrast to heretics, in “intra-Christian” military encounters (e.g. in the post-Byzantine period between the Latins, Orthodox and Protestants)? Yet identity constructions in the context of the attribution of Muslim foes in Christian sources or the reverse also represent an exciting field of analysis.

3. Thematic Cluster “Rituals and Cults”

In this thematic cluster rituals, practices and cults will be examined which were performed in war or in connection with the preparation for or recovery from battles. In particular, ceremonies, the use of relics on campaign, religious acts of soldiers or in particular the meaning of Christian feasts and liturgical procession are the focus of attention. This transcultural comparison will likely result in new perspectives on this aspect of cultures of war. Yet soldiers also represent an interesting field of analysis as a religious community. In addition, the function of Christian symbols in the designation of militaria, and in particular the role of military saints, is discernable in pictorial representations and written sources.

4. Thematic Cluster “Knowledge and Infrastructure”

In the context of this thematic cluster military strategies and technologies will be considered, as well as the recruitment of soldiers, their legal status, tasks and daily life. Byzantine taktika and belopoiika with their illustrations can like likewise be studied, whereby the use of antique models as well as their reception in the Early Modern Period should also be taken into account. In the context of military technology, on the one hand foundational works on Byzantine weapons and armament could be written, possibly by using experimental archaeological methods, on the other hand, the adoption of antique, Western or Byzantine technologies can be evaluated on the basis of written sources as well as material culture, such as e.g. the acquisition of Norman technologies in Byzantium or Byzantine technologies in France. Further topics that could be mentioned would be, for example, Latin mercenaries in the Byzantine army or the Varangian Guard, as well as examinations on the work and leisure of soldiers, over the course of time from the Roman Imperial Period through Late Antiquity to Byzantium. Logistics and infrastructure represent in general an important nexus of topics.