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Vision and Punishment: Blinding in the Byzantine World

Jake Ransohoff, Harvard University, Tyler Fellow 2017–2019

I split my first year between working as an editorial assistant for the Greek series of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library and dissertation research. My dissertation studies mutilation penalties and political legitimation in Byzantium and the medieval West. In particular, I examine the rise and development of blinding as the standard punishment for political enemies in Byzantium. I ended the year by completing the first chapter of my dissertation. The second year of my fellowship took me abroad for manuscript research in archives in Rome, Venice, Paris, Vienna, and Istanbul. My archival work focused on unpublished and undigitized manuscripts spanning a variety of genres, including medical texts on vision, legal collections in Latin and Greek concerning mutilation penalties, and Byzantine commentaries on key biblical passages about sight, disfigurement, and justice. In Vienna, I was a visiting researcher at the Byzantine Division of the Austrian Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition to two chapters of my dissertation, I also completed two peer-reviewed journal articles and an introduction to an edited volume.