Abstracts, 2006 Symposium


Ideal Children:
The Childhood of Great Men and Women

Dimiter Angelov

The paper focuses on the idealized presentation of childhood in Byzantium: the childhood and upbringing of individuals of power such as emperors, empresses, generals, and patriarchs. The main source for the study is laudatory orations or panegyrics: a genre of rhetorical literature often featuring sections on childhood. The comparative examination of this body of literary evidence will be complemented by a look at saints' Lives of emperors, empresses, and patriarchs, where the subject of childhood is often treated. Special attention will be paid to the presentation of the childhood of the emperor Constantine the Great, a traditional model ruler in Byzantium, and to the development of the Constantine-legend in hagiography insofar as the origins and upbringing of the first Christian emperor are concerned. Evidence derived from historical works will, too, be considered as appropriate. Naturally, due to the distribution of the surviving evidence over time, great attention will be paid to images of childhood found in literary works composed between the eleventh and the fifteenth century. Yet the earlier period will not be ignored, and the paper will pose the question as to whether the ideal of childhood underwent any change in Byzantium over the centuries.

Coming of Age in Byzantium:
Rites of Passage for Children

Jane Baun

The process of 'becoming Byzantine' was inextricably linked with a series of ritual acts, through which the Byzantine child was gradually drawn into the full web of adult social and religious bonds and obligations. Baptism, usually at birth, was the fundamental rite of incorporation into the body of Christ and the Church. Baptism also created important ties of spiritual kinship between families and individuals, taken as seriously as blood relationships. Such ties could exercise a profound influence on a child's future. The choice of a child's name-and therefore, his or her patron saint-was often attended by solemn rites, and sealed by a priestly blessing. Prayers and ritual also attended the first cutting of a child's hair, the first trimming of a boy's beard, and the first veiling of a girl. Betrothal, sometimes as early as the age of five, marked another stage in the child's social incorporation. Not all ritual happened in church, as solemn rites also sanctified, protected and shaped the child in the domestic sphere. Such rituals (and taboos) were directed towards ensuring the safety and health of the growing child, and, ultimately, the prospect of a good marriage. Ritual marked important stages in the development of the child's identity and spiritual integration. Social integration occurred through the relationships created by baptism and betrothal. Spiritual integration brought the child more fully into the belief systems which underpinned all of Byzantine life, in which fulfillment of ritual responsibilities was the key to a proper relationship with the heavenly beings (God, Jesus, the Theotokos, the saints), and protection against malign spiritual forces (whether the Devil, the lesser demons, the Evil Eye). This paper will explore evidence for the ritual life of the Byzantine child, as found in liturgical books, hagiography, edifying tales, theological treatises, canon law, historiography, letters, material culture, and folklore. Parallels will be drawn where appropriate with the ethnography of twentieth-century Greece.

On the Bioarchaeology of Birth and Death:
Aspects of Childhood and Subadult Mortality Patterns during the Early and Middle Byzantine Periods in Greece

Chryssi Bourbou

In this paper a bioarchaeological investigation will be attempted, bringing together data from written sources, as well as from funerary archaeology and anthropology, in order to shed more light on aspects of motherhood and the lives of children in Early and Middle Byzantine Greece (7th-11th centuries AD). The first part discusses general issues regarding the powerful link between marriage and reproduction in the Byzantine period, the measures taken to protect both the mother and the child during the vulnerable periods of pregnancy and delivery, the methods of labor, the role of midwives, and the initial given to the child upon birth. The second part includes data obtained from the study of subadult skeletal remains that came to light during the excavation of various Early and Middle Byzantine cemeteries throughout Greece. The anthropological and paleopathological examination of these remains provided interesting information on the biological profile of this segment of the population (i.e., on mortality patterns). Furthermore, the diagnosis of a number of pathological conditions (i.e., metabolic disorders, infectious diseases), enhanced the reconstruction of the general living conditions and hygiene status of the populations in question.

Data from subadult skeletal material are widely believed to represent the most demographically variable and sensitive barometer of biocultural change within a society. Bioarchaeological studies in Greece, although at a preliminary stage, especially when it comes to subadult material, are expected to thoroughly highlight the importance of this type of approach, and pave the future in a field where fruitful work remains to be done.

Holy Childhood, Ordinary Childhood:
Children in Saints' Lives

Béatrice Caseau

In the Life of Saint Euthymios of Sardis, written by Methodios (BHG 2145), the author declines to write about the childhood of the saint on the grounds that he does not know anything about it and feels no need to provide his readers with this type of information. He does not deny that some children are more innocent than others, better disposed for studies and behaving in a calmer manner than most, or that it is possible to follow their spiritual progress from their early years until they reach adulthood. However he feels it is pointless to underline what is a matter of chance. Having a saint as a child is a God-given gift. Nobody can imitate being the parents of a saint, because no one can choose to have such a gift. From his statements, we can deduce that Methodios considers that, had he written about the childhood virtues of the saint, he would make parents wish to have such a child. He thus reveals the discrepancy between ideal children described in the common narratives of the saints' childhood and real children. A saintly child was considered a blessing, "an adornment to a family," to reproduce the words in the Life of Saint Thomaïs of Lesbos.

Saints' Lives tend to depict future saints as model children born to pious parents, in a very stereotyped manner. Their vocation to holiness can and should be foretold by their behavior as early as possible. This paper proposes to study these stereotypes and see if and how they evolve with the different rewritings of the Lives: from premetaphrastic Lives, to metaphrastic Lives, to the summaries introduced in menologia. If we compare saints' Lives of Late Antiquity to those of the Middle Ages, it is clear that these stereotypes are stronger and more binding with the passing centuries. They reveal what constitutes holiness for children and also provide an ideal type for each category of saint. Little Anthousa has a yearning for purity from her tender years, announcing her vocation to become a nun. Little Symeon Stylite the Younger refuses to take milk from the left breast of his mother, announcing his ascetical prowess, and little Theodore of Sykeon skips lunch in order to pray in different churches. However, the stereotypes are never completely binding. Not all saints have an ideal childhood. Some discover their vocation rather late. Saint Ioannikios, for example, joins the army when he reaches adulthood and very little is said about his childhood. Saint Theodora of Thessalonike is married and bears children. Her childhood virtues were modesty and piety, commonly valued in all females.

Finally, we shall study how the images of perfect little children devoted to asceticism and prayers contrast with the images of other children also found in Saints' Lives or in Miracle Stories, children playing and running and scraping their knees. If some children show irreverence for the saints, as in holy fools' Lives, they are just following the behaviour of adults, while others show signs of piety and enter monasteries or become clergymen of their own accord, while still others are given to monastic communities or betrothed at such an early age that their consent is immaterial. Miracle stories also abound in examples of child victims of accidents and reveal all the disasters encountered by children in a medieval society: illnesses, injuries, war, loss of parents. Thus, saints' Lives provide us with a window on both ideal childhood preparing for holiness and the ordinary life of other children. They are a gold mine for the comprehension of values as well as depicting real life scenes.

Les variations du désir d'enfant à Byzance

Marie-Hélène Congourdeau

The general desire or non-desire of women for a child can be summed up in three categories. Firstly, the desire for a child, when not naturally fulfilled (due to celibacy or widowhood, sterility, inadequate fertility in the face of infant mortality), can induce the woman to try various means, ranging from prayer and the invocation of wonder-working saints, to drugs which promote conception and astrological or magical practices. Secondly, the non-desire for a child, whatever its motivation, manifests itself mainly in the use of various means of contraception. Thirdly, the rejection of an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy leads to the use of procedures of abortion. Using hagiographical, medical, astrological, juridical and canonical sources, I shall first assess the value of procreation in the Byzantine mentality in general, and then I shall examine the attitude of the Byzantine woman in these various situations. Finally, I shall attempt to analyze differences in the perception of women's behaviour within Byzantine society, in particular that of the physician, the judge, and the Church.

Children in Byzantine Monasteries

Richard Greenfield

Many, perhaps a majority, of those involved in the world of Byzantine monasticism clearly believed that the monastery or convent was no place for children, just as it was not a place for eunuchs or members of the opposite sex. Others, however, could not so easily forget the exhortation of Jesus in the Gospel to "Let the children come to me," nor the precedent set by influential individuals in the early history of monasticism who did permit children in their foundations. As a result, despite frequent prohibitions and dire warnings of the consequences, children appear quite regularly within the fabric of Byzantine monastic life. It is evident that they were present in many communities throughout the period, albeit usually in small numbers and under carefully controlled circumstances.

In the late seventh century, the Sixth Ecumenical Council established the age of ten as the minimum at which a child might begin life in a monastery, but most later monastic founders and commentators set the bar much higher at the mid-teens to the early twenties. The temptations of sexual misconduct were always prominent in the minds of ascetics and monastic regulators, and the fear that the presence of beardless youths might prove too much for the monks clearly lies behind most attempts to exclude them. Also at work in such prohibitions, however, was evidently a desire to prevent women or eunuchs slipping undetected into monasteries, to ensure that vows were taken only by those who knew what they were doing, to forestall the ordinary distractions that might be produced by frivolous and irresponsible youths and girls, and to keep monks and nuns from the attachments of family life. The ban on children was extended in some places to cover not only those testing a vocation but also those who might be brought to an institution out of need (orphans or beggars, for example), in the course of everyday life (on errands or on feast days, perhaps), or in the course of work (such as apprentices or the offspring of manual laborers).

Such attempts to exclude children ran largely counter to the practice and sentiment evident in monastic institutions of the early Byzantine period, however, and it is clear that many individuals and communities in the later centuries, even during the period of reform, still saw no need to comply with the wishes of the rigorists. Hagiographies thus abound with saints and monastic founders who flee their families at a very early age and find a welcome in the monastic communities for which they pine, while relatives of prominent monks and nuns are adopted in their infancy and reared within the institution, often becoming ascetics and monastic administrators in their own right. At the same time orphans are cared for, prospective monastic or clerical candidates are educated and trained, young relatives are allowed to visit, youthful servants and workers are employed, and sick or possessed children are treated. Typically in the Byzantine world, behind the rhetoric of principled declarations and legal documents requiring the exclusion of children from monasteries, lies a rather different reality where children flit through the shadows of the courtyard and peep from the doorways of the outbuildings and dependencies of the monastic community.

The Visual Representation of Children in Byzantine Art

Cecily Hennessy

Children and childhood are widespread subjects in Byzantine imagery: playful girls pick flowers on mosaic floors, athletic boys perform tricks on manuscript borders, and naked infants cavort on ivory boxes. Youthful martyrs stand gracefully on painted icons, devoted children revere saints on church walls, and solemn princes hold insignia in illuminated portraits. Contrary to expectations, children were depicted frequently and sometimes in consequential contexts or locations. That children played a significant role in visual representation suggests that they had a central part in Byzantine life. The accepted view that art was made for adults is only our perception, and children's interest in and appreciation of visual material is probably very much at the centre of imagery. Serious art is suitable for adults, but also for children: both religious and political or official art can be created for children and portrays them in it. An area of particular interest is objects made for imperial children. Byzantium was typical of pre-modern societies in that at least half the population were aged under twenty. To what extent does this affect the production and reception of art?

This paper draws on representations from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries, from various parts of the Byzantine empire, and in a wide range of media. The aim is to investigate particular images of children, the manner in which they are depicted, with whom they appear, and the contexts in which they are found, with the purpose of determining the place and significance of children in visual representations. This affects our understanding of three areas of study: the role of art, of children in art, and of children themselves in society.

Childhood Education in Byzantium

Nikolaos Kalogeras

Childhood education in Byzantium is a topic still scarcely investigated. The main reason for the absence of studies concerning the education of children could perhaps be detected in the neglect of childhood in general by Byzantine scholarship. This paper will investigate the "formal" (i.e. non-familial) schooling of children in Byzantium and will emphasize the social aspects of education for which the most important sources are saints' Lives. Other sources that document childhood education in the period of study are epistolography, grammar books, and school exercises. Texts that less systematically refer to the education of children such as the Alexiad or Psellos' works of rhetoric will also be considered because they can be equally illuminating on children's life at school.

The education of children in Byzantium had a private character and there was no state initiative for the schooling of children. Taking into consideration that only a small number of Byzantine children had access to "formal" education at a school or under a tutor, I shall first define the types and the levels of childhood education, and shall then attempt to examine the possible changes it underwent in the course of the period under examination. A considerable part of this paper will focus on the relationship between a certain type of education and the social background of students.

The viewpoint that I am applying in this paper stems from the interrelation of education to society. Through the study of childhood education, I shall attempt to examine not only the appreciation of the Byzantines for learning but also-most importantly-their appreciation of children and childhood, given that education is a social as well as cultural commodity.

Breast-feeding and Weaning Patterns in Byzantine Times:
Evidence from Human Remains and Written Sources

Chryssi Bourbou and Sandra Garvie-Lok

Stable nitrogen isotope analysis of subadult skeletal remains has become an accepted method for estimating the timing and duration of the weaning progress. However, curently only a small amount of stable isotope data are available for subadults from Byzantine Greece. In this paper we present the stable isotope data obtained from the analysis of subadult remains from Middle and Late Byzantine sites in Greece. While these data do not allow precise weaning age to be assigned to any one community, they suggest that breast-feeding may have continued up to the age of three years for some individuals. This evidence may be compared to recommendations by medical writers of the preceding eras, such as Galen and Soranus (2nd century AD). Both authors, who wrote extensively about infant and child care, provide useful information regarding breast-feeding, the selection of a wet-nurse, when and how to wean an infant, and the type of supplementary foods introduced. A final source of evidence for weaning in the period is the study of acquired pathological conditions possibly associated with poor weaning diet. Together, these lines of evidence allow a partial picture of infant health and weaning in the Byzantine era to be developed.

From Foster Care to the Great Orphanotropheion

Timothy S. Miller

As Demetrios Constantelos proved forty years ago, one of the Byzantine Empire's greatest contributions to civilization was its organization of social welfare. Inspired by the Christian demand to assist those in need, Byzantine leaders reshaped ancient Greek traditions of the polis and Roman private law to provide food for the hungry, medical care for the sick, and nurture for orphaned children. Here I will examine Byzantine innovations in caring for children without parents.

Pre-Christian Jewish, Greek, and Roman societies protected orphans by encouraging the extended family to care for them. As these clan ties weakened, Roman law evolved rules for determining one relative who would bear responsibility for the orphan. Classical Roman law aimed at securing the property rights of the dead father's family; Byzantine innovations shifted the purpose of guardianship to protecting the orphan. These Byzantine changes entrusted the child to its mother, if she were still living, and granted the ability to adopt children to all women.

Byzantium's greatest contribution to child care, however, was the orphanage. Building on the early Christian obligation of bishops to shelter orphans, Byzantine communities maintained group homes for children from the fourth to the thirteenth century. The largest of these homes, the Orphanotropheion in Constantinople, evolved into a famous school which by the twelfth century hired some of the Empire's most talented intellectuals to teach the orphans.

In this study, I will focus on individual children who grew up under guardians or in group homes. Among these I will examine the case of Theodore Prodromos, perhaps Byzantium's most famous creative writer, who probably was educated at the Orphanotropheion.

Material Culture of Childhood

Brigitte Pitarakis

In this paper, I propose a reconstruction of the life of Byzantine children from the perspective of material culture. In spite of the difficulties raised by the identification and dating of objects related to childhood in the period following Late Antiquity, a thorough survey of archaeological finds in conjunction with an exploration of written sources makes such an approach possible. In my attempt to cover the different stages and aspects of the life of children, I will distinguish three main areas: feeding, clothing, hygiene and adornment; health, protection from evil, and religious life; education, games and toys. Perishable materials such as food, cloth, and perfumed oils will essentially be considered in the light of written sources and of the finds from Coptic Egypt. Funerary archaeology from the Early to the Late Byzantine period will provide elements for investigating the evolution of children's jewelry, amulets and objects of devotion. Toys, the most representative objects from the life of children, are also encountered in some children's graves from Byzantine levels in Greece. In addition to the fairly well known category of Coptic bone or wooden dolls and pull-toys, a wide range of terracotta toys (rattles, whistles, pull-toys) yielded by archaeological excavations in Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine and Russia bear testimony to the continuity in their production from Late Antiquity to medieval Byzantium. However, a chronological survey of the material also leads to the identification of a stylistic evolution. Finally, finds from the Athenian Agora and the recent excavations in the area of the Great Palace in Constantinople shed some light on the location of workshops and the organization of the trade of toys within the urban plan of a Byzantine city.

The Status of Children and Adolescents in Byzantium under Law and in Court

Günter Prinzing

It will not be easy for a Byzantinist who is not a legal historian to give an overview of the subject to be treated, since the legal status of Byzantine children was not only defined through extensive and complex legislation (including novels) by the emperors and by the synodal decisions of the church, but also by the Byzantine administration of law, both secular and ecclesiastical. That means the corresponding decisions and reports by judges of secular and ecclesiastical high courts in the capital and in provincial centres must be taken into consideration. The following abstract can at present be no more than a first attempt at sketching some provisional results:

1) The Byzantines distinguished at least two, actually three, periods of childhood (in combination with youth):

The first period covers babies and infants, i.e. children aged one to three. This is a group whose members were regarded as being completely without any responsibility or self-determination. Accordingly infants were exempt from the death penalty for murder.

The second period of Byzantine childhood covered minors aged between three and twelve (in the case of girls) or up to fourteen (in the case of boys). Members of that group were legally considered only in a very restricted sense (if at all) to be responsible from seven onwards. With regard to betrothals, which were generally arranged by the parents, the age of seven years is also very important, since up to the eleventh century betrothals were increasingly regarded as being invalid if concluded below the age of seven. (It is interesting here to also take into consideration cases of extremely early betrothals or marriages for political reasons, such as in the case of the betrothals or marriages of Romanos II and Bertha/Eudokia [944] or of Simonis and the Serbian king Milutin [1299]).

Finally, the Byzantines had a third period which covered minors, i.e. adolescents or juveniles aged between twelve or fourteen years respectively and twenty (age of emancipation). The Greek term used to indicate a (male) child of the second group (three to fourtenn) is in general ánhebos (sometimes also aphélix or atelès tes helikías), while the term used for a (male) child of the third group (aged twelve/fourteen to twenty-five years), is éphebos (or again aphélix or atelès tes helikías). Children of this group had normally reached the age of puberty and therefore were increasingly believed to be responsible for their actions. That is why they also had certain rights (and duties), including the right to marry (females of twelve years and over and males of fourteen years and over) and the duty, under certain circumstances, to care for their parents. They could also increasingly be punished for certain crimes or criminal acts.

Children of all three groups were classified as hypexousioi (persons under the patria potestas or the authority of a guardian), while the emancipated person was classified as autexousios.

2) The legal status of children was also defined by the distinction whether a child (pais, paidion) was nomimos, gnesios or eugenés, i.e. a legitimate child, or nothos or physikos, i.e. an illegitimate child.

Illegitimate children (as well as children belonging to the group of slaves) compared with legitimate ones were clearly legally discriminated against and had to face several disadvantages, often with regards to the right of inheritance (or succession). Since minors up to the age of twelve (fourteen) were not entitled to testify at all, they never appear acting independently in our sources. But as soon as they reached the age of epheboi (aphelikes), they could lay claim, for instance, to their own property which might have been illegally seized by someone else during their early childhood. However, more often they seem to have waited to reach the age of twenty-five, before they felt confident of being able to go to court in order to pursue their claim.

Constantinople and the Imperial Court as a Classroom:
The Shaping of a Social Identity

Claudia Rapp

The child and adolescent in Byzantium was exposed to a variety of contexts that contributed to shape its adult identity: the family and household, the church, and-in a few instances-the classroom. While the family and household largely contributed to social formation and the shaping of behavior through role modeling and the imposition of discipline, the church and the classroom in addition offered more structured education through ritual, the honing of intellectual skills and the acquisition of knowledge.

This paper will focus on alternative influences in the shaping of a specifically Byzantine social identity among children and young people. The emphasis is on the role of geographical and social dislocation for the sake of education and acculturation.

The first part will highlight the importance of Constantinople as the destination for boys with high ambitions who went there from other regions of the Byzantine Empire. The second part will concentrate on adolescent men and women from outside Byzantium, who spent extensive periods of time in the capital or indeed at the imperial court, such as young emissaries, hostages, and imported brides. Regardless of whether they returned to their homeland or remained in the Empire, the result of their sojourn was a deep familiarity and indeed personal identification with Byzantine manners and culture.

Working Kids

Youval Rotman

This paper focuses on the role of children as workers in Byzantine society. Most Byzantine sources describing everyday life do not pay much attention to the role children played as workers. Nevertheless, working children were an integral part of both rural and urban milieus. The paper examines different situations of children at work, starting with slavery. Slave children could be either born into slavery, imported, or sold by their parents. As such they were put into use in their master's household. This was not only the case of slave children. Free born children as well performed economic functions in their family household in both rural and urban society. Some children received special professional training, some worked as apprentices, and some were sent away either by their masters or parents to work outside the household. The paper outlines these different economic frameworks, and the social and juridical institutions that supported them. This will enable us, in addition, to understand how Byzantine society viewed the work of children. Special attention is given to the terminology the sources use to designate these children.

The Death and Burial of Children

Alice-Mary Talbot

Archaeological, literary, and documentary evidence all attest to the high rate of infant and child mortality in Byzantium, which may have approached fifty percent by age five. Although the almost universal practice of breast-feeding must have provided children with a relatively safe supply of milk and built up their antibodies, they were still prone to malnutrition and anemia, and many no doubt died from diarrheal diseases and infections. Some of those who did not succumb to sickness died in accidents, such as burns, falls, snakebites, and being suffocated while sleeping in their parents' beds.

One might expect that such high death rates might make Byzantines more accepting of the premature demise of their children, while they would also be comforted by their deep religious faith and expectations that their deceased offspring were leaving for a better place. Nonetheless Byzantine literature is filled with anguished descriptions of the grief of parents who lost their children, as well as letters of consolation from well-meaning friends. Psellos' eloquent funeral oration on the death of his nine-year-old daughter Styliane is perhaps the best known of these texts, but I will also draw on passages from hagiography, epistolography, and autobiographical notices to demonstrate the enormous affection that many Byzantines had for their children.

The paper will conclude with a survey of archaeological evidence for child burials, including the locations and types of grave, layout of the body, and typical grave goods.

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