04 September 2013

Ceremonies, Part One

Nikephoros III Botaniates, 1078-1081,
(updated from a portrait of Michael VII Doukas, 1067-1078)

I have been rejoicing in the new English translation by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall of The Book of Ceremonies published by the Australian Association of Byzantine Studies -- splendid commentary, footnotes, explanations.  I have always been enthralled by lists -- priamels, the Biblical begats, the Catalogue of Ships, the contents of almost anything by Sir Thomas Browne -- and this is the ultimate collection of lists. Everything in the list of lists is gold-plated, littered with precious stones and pearls, hung with gold-woven draperies, and jammed with dignitaries who get up before dawn to stand and wait.

It dates from more than a century before the image above, from Constantine VII who compiled and edited it from much older documents, adding bits of his own. Constantine, also called Porphyrogennetos, is one of the most interesting, literate, and competent, of all the emperors, and I want to emphasize -- in the light of all the gold that glisters through the ceremonies -- that he left the empire off better financially than it had been in at least a century. 

Someone needs to try to map out on a calendar how much time an emperor of the middle-Byzantine period spent in a normal week [non-Holy Week, non-Russian-visitor week] in performing ceremonies.  The imperial capacity for tedium is astounding.  Take this passage describing acclamations in the Forum of Constantine for a triumph:

The demesmen of the two factions [in the picture above, the men in blue and green at the top] and the members of the arithmos and the oarsmen of the imperial crew and the church singers stand . . . on the small flight of stone steps there, and . . . they begin to cheer . . .: "Many years for the emperors!" three times. "Many years for so-and-so and so-and-so, great emperors and sovereigns!" three times.  "Many years for the divinely-appointed emperors!" three times.  "Many years for the world-constituted emperors!" three times. "Many years for the world-desired emperors!" three times. "Many years for the very courageous emperors!" three times.
This continues for sixteen more sets of three-times. Just before this extensive demonstration, the prisoners are brought into the Forum, and the leading emir of the captives is put on the ground before the emperor who puts his right foot on his head, and the point of his spear on his neck, more or less as Basil is shown below. Then all the prisoners fall face down on the ground.  After assorted hymns, the public cries out "Lord have mercy," forty times, and the emperor puts his foot on the emir's head again.  Then the prisoners are led away, backwards.  I have no idea what happens to the prisoners after that.  

Basil II, 976-1025, with spear on the neck of a prisoner.

The same kind of interminable acclamations happened at coronations and emperors' weddings. Take the ceremony when the newly-weds are brought into the bridal chamber.  The cheerleaders of the factions go in with them and join together in reciting the acclamations:
 "Many, many, many" The people: "Many upon many years." The cheerleaders: "Welcome, ruler of the Romans!' The people: "Welcome!" The cheerleaders: "Welcome, ruler with the augousta!" The people" "Welcome!" The cheerleaders: "Welcome, divinely chosen augousta!" The people: "Welcome!" The cheerleaders: "Welcome, divinely protected augousta!" The people: "Welcome!" The cheerleaders: "Welcome, the nobility of the purple!" The people: "Welcome!" The cheerleaders: "Welcome, the one desired by all!" The people: "Welcome!" The cheerleaders: "You who have been chosen by divine election, to the concord and exaltation of the world; you who have been married into the purple by God; God, the ruler over all, has blessed you, having given you your nuptial crown with his own hand; now may he who has summoned you for this honour and joined you, so-and-so, to the ruler, multiply your years in the purple.  May God listen to your people."

Skylitzes ms., 12th C.

The newly-weds take off their crowns, and it all starts up again with what I make out to be fourteen cries by the cheerleaders, each one responded to three times by the people. "The people" are not the people in general, but patricians, senators, officials, and such. After this the couple put their imperial crowns on the bed, and then go to dinner.

Constantine Porphyrogennetos liked this kind of thing.  He explained the book: "We thought it was not right . . . to allow vital aspects of the imperial glory to be mutilated . . . we embarked on an orderly plan . . . showing the emperor's power as more imperial and awe-inspiring.  We have provided the senatorial body and every subject with an orderly way of life and conduct, as a result of which they should become better regarded and behaved, as well as beloved by their emperors, respected by each other and admired and highly thought of by every nation."

As an example of this orderly conduct to be admired, consider the Monday of the first week of Lent when the emperor delivers an address at the Magnaura:
At about the third hour a move is ordered, and the whole senate goes and stands below the stairs of the Magnaura, as do the magistroi and patricians and all the emperor's men and the whole City throng and the droungarious of the Watch along with his regiment, and the imperial reserve, and the droungarious of the fleet, along with all those under him.  The rulers go out in skaramangia and wearing their gold-bordered sagia . . . into the great hall, escorted by the kouboukleion and the manglabitai and the hetaireia.        There in the great hall, beneath the right hand vault as one faces east, are the gold chairs of the rulers.  Sitting there for a little while they wait . . . the praipositos goes out along with the master of ceremonies to get ready the imperial secretaries and everything that custom requires. Up the stairs, right to the top, is placed a carpet on which the rulers stand.  To either side . . . from the top step to the bottom, the imperial secretaries and notaries stand in a line, ready to write down the address given by the emperor.  Up on the top step, to the right-hand side as one faces east, stand the logothete and the chief imperial secretary and the protonotary.       Note that while the rulers are seated, all the members of the kouboukleion and the members of the manglabion and the hetaireia, together with the members of the Chrysotriklinos, stand in attendance.
After a great deal of bowing, the emperor goes to the carpet, and makes his speech.  I would love to see the imperial secretaries and notaries at work.

To be continued, with more decorative items about clothing and golden tables.

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