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Egypt and the Byzantine World, 450–700

Byzantine 2004 Symposium, Symposiarch: Roger Bagnall

The relatively early loss of Egypt to the Byzantine empire has contributed to its marginal role in Byzantine studies. For the early Byzantine period, however, Egypt is an exceptionally rich field, with a range of evidence unparalleled elsewhere in the empire, thanks largely to its preservation of organic materials. The speakers in this Symposium contributed to a synthesis that reflects the major discoveries and broad intellectual trends of the study of early Byzantine Egypt in recent years. The Symposium resisted the commonplace division of the society and culture of Egypt in this period into "Greek" and "Egyptian" (or "Coptic"), an old dichotomy increasingly rejected by recent scholarship. Rather, each speaker reflected on how the complex cultural amalgam of early Byzantine Egypt appears as a case study in the light of the empire as a whole. In this way both Egypt's participation in the metropolitan culture of the period and its more distinctive traits can be brought out.

Among the questions speakers considered were the nature and development of the Roman cities of Egypt in the fifth to seventh centuries, their relationship to the surrounding villages, and their functions as centers of government and the economy. The urban role in the production of artóin a period where monasticism dominates the surviving recordówill also was assessed. A second set of contributions looked at Egypt's place in the empire, both in its participation in common institutions like the army, public administration, law, and the hierarchy of the church, and in its distinctive but by no means isolated religious life and identity. On the cultural side, speakers looked at Egypt's role as both producer and consumer of literature and art and considered how far the place of gender roles in Egypt was characteristic of Byzantine society more broadly. The final session focused on monasticism, an area in which Egypt made particularly distinctive and renowned contributions to the larger world.

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