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Byzantine Missions: Meaning, Nature, and Extent

April 29  –  30, 2022
Through this two-day symposium, scholars aim to better understand how the Byzantines perceived the universal claim of their empire and their church.

ProgramBook Discounts

The event will be held at Dumbarton Oaks and will be accessible to the public via live-stream

Though closely connected with the study of conversion and Christianization in the premodern era, the history of Christian missions has received little attention in recent scholarship. The recipients of Christian faith—individuals, nations, or social groups—and the processes of integrating the new religion have continued to attract analysis, but the agents of religious transformation have been relatively understudied, especially beyond the boundaries of medieval western Europe.

How did Byzantium missionize “barbarians”? To what extent did the motives, goals, or methods of missionaries themselves correspond with the vision of Byzantine rulers who may have sponsored them? This symposium examines the meaning of religious mission in Byzantium and how this concept shifted over time under changing political circumstances. Speakers consider literary works, linguistic evidence, and archaeological traces from Lithuania in the north to Nubia in the south, from Croatia in the west to the Golden Horde in the east. They examine how imperial policy built on or coincided with the unofficial missionary activity of monks, merchants, exiles, refugees, and captives. Concurrent with imperial efforts, Miaphysite and East Syrian churches, deemed heretical by the Orthodox Byzantines, conducted their own missionary endeavors reaching as far as Central Asia and China. What do the mission strategies of sibling Christianities suggest about underlying theological ideals, and what light might these comparisons shed on the nature of Byzantine missions?

The symposium aims to illuminate the inner motives that characterized Byzantine missions, the changing incentives that inspired them, and the nature of their missionary activity; and ultimately to better understand how the Byzantines perceived the universal claims of their empire and their church. At the same time, the organizers hope to throw light on the broader religious dynamics of the medieval world.


  • Sergey Ivanov (National Research University, Higher School of Economics, Moscow)
  • Andrea Sterk (University of Minnesota)


  • Jonathan Shepard (University of Oxford), “Missions, Emissions, and Toolkits: Byzantium’s Creative Untidiness”
  • Alexander Angelov (William & Mary), “Byzantine Missionaries, Foreign Rulers, and Conversion to Christianity: Historical Events and Byzantine Reconstructions”
  • Andrea Sterk (University of Minnesota), “Building, Teaching, Caring for the Poor: Byzantine Missions in Theory and Practice from John Chrysostom to Clement of Ohrid”
  • Anna Lankina (University of Florida & Santa Fe College), “Interpreting Accounts of Non-Nicene Mission: Ecclesiastical Historians on Missionary Bishops”
  • Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent (Marquette University), “Mission, Conversion, and Myth in Syriac Christian Memory”
  • Joel Thomas Walker (University of Washington), “The Road to Bulayïq: Mission and Translation in the Church of the East”
  • Tim Greenwood (University of St. Andrews), “Remembering Saint Gregory: Armenian Tradition and Byzantine Mission”
  • Jitse H.F. Dijkstra (University of Ottawa), “Sixth-Century Byzantine Missions to Nubia in Context”
  • Andrey Vinogradov (National Research University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow), “Byzantine Mission οn the Black Sea and in the Caucasus: New Data”
  • Maja Petrinec (University of Zagreb), “Byzantine Missions in the Western and Central Balkans in the Light of Archaeological Findings”
  • Li Tang (University of Salzburg, Austria), “From Byzantium to China: Syriac Christian Missions along the Silk Road”
  • Thomas A. Carlson (Oklahoma State University), “‘Peace be upon whoever follows the guidance:’ Christian and Muslim ‘Mission’ in the Late Medieval Middle East”
  • Sergey Ivanov (National Research University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow), “Byzantine Missions and the Mission of Byzantium”
Jesus Christ among the kynokephaloi [dog-headed people], 1397. Russian National Library, Kiev Psalter, fol. 28r.