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Imperial Ceremonial in Palaiologan Constantinople

Ruth Macrides, University of Birmingham, Fellow 2009–2010, Spring

The so-called Treatise on Court Offices by Pseudo-Kodinos, a work of the fourteenth century, is the main textual source for ceremonial in the capital of the Byzantine Empire in the last 300 years of its existence. My research at Dumbarton Oaks from mid-January to mid-May 2010 was based on this text, as the necessary preliminary to any study of ceremonial in Byzantium. My project includes a translation, commentary, and study of the work, its method of composition, date, and its characteristics. I completed the commentary and revised it, filling in bibliographical lacunae; I wrote most of the introductory study on ceremonies, their origins, and their evolution. While I arrived with a good working knowledge of the issues raised by the text, I leave with a much broader and deeper knowledge of its significance. My research was on two levels: the identification of realia, such as clothing, hats, musical instruments, colors, and ceremonies represented in images; and the evolution of the ceremonies.

Dumbarton Oaks was the ideal place to carry out this research, both in terms of physical and human resources. From the lectures and colloquia I attended, both Pre-Columbian and Byzantine, I was put into contact with work in related areas (e.g., architecture and liturgy, epigrams and objects on which they were inscribed). Scholars, both those passing through Dumbarton Oaks and other fellows, shared their knowledge of texts and bibliography. I was able to identify works on ceremony books and ceremony in the medieval west and the Islamic east, and to put Pseudo-Kodinos's text in this broader context. Finally, I have strengthened my knowledge of the character of the text so that I can argue confidently that this is a ceremony book that was more descriptive than prescriptive.