School of History, Classics & Archaeology

History (and the Frontier) as Literature in Eleventh-Century Byzantine Historical Accounts

Approaching ‘history as literature’ has allowed byzantinists to pinpoint and examine the narrative conventions (largely derived from a common rhetorical education) that shaped Byzantine narratives of the past. In particular, narratology (or ‘narrative studies’) poses as a suitable methodology for such examination, as it is devoted to the study of the principles and practices of narrative representation. Narratologists research on aspects such as the position of the narrator in relation to the narration, the pace of the narrative, or the description of the characters and the space around them.

This paper discusses different approaches to the frontier space conveyed in the eleventh-century Byzantine historical accounts of Michael Psellos, Michael Attaleiates, and John Skylitzes. The frontier is evoked in the three accounts as a literary space where characters are tested in their abilities to survive, away from the commodities and privileges enjoyed in the inner lands or the capital. Survival in this space is therefore interpreted as a further proof of the characters’ abilities, often in contrast to individuals who remain in a more secure position.

Each one of the aforementioned authors made use of these narrative conventions in order to pursue different goals, portraying the same events from remarkably dissimilar perspectives. The paper focuses on how each one of our authors depicted the civil war between Michael VI Stratiotikos and Isaak I Komnenos (AD 1057). The explicit definition of frontier spaces in each one of the narratives played a crucial role in legitimising, or not, Isaak’s candidacy to the throne.



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Sep 18 2019 -

History (and the Frontier) as Literature in Eleventh-Century Byzantine Historical Accounts

Research meeting with Francisco Lopez-Santos Kornberger as part of the 'Classicising Learning in Medieval Imperial Systems: Cross-cultural Approaches to Byzantine Paideia and Tang/Song Xue' project.

David Hume Tower, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JX