Location of the International Congress of Byzantine Studies 2022

News from the AIEB:

The deadline for submission of votes from national committees to decide on the new location of the postponed Congress of 2021 (originally in Istanbul) has now passed, and the final results are as follows:

In favour of Cyprus (Nicosia and other locations): 14 votes

In favour of Italy (Venice and Padua): 22 votes

Abstention: 1 vote

The next international Congres of Byzantine Studies will take place in Venice and Padua in August 2022. The International Bureau will now begin liaising with our Turkish and our Italian colleagues to assist the process which, as you may all imagine, will require the establishment of a new Congress website as well as some revised deadlines and other arrangements. We will keep you all fully informed about the next steps.

Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya

Professor Judith Herrin, one of our Executive committee members had the following piece published in the Washington Post on Wednesday; you can read it below:

Converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque is an act of cultural cleansing

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famous for saying, “If we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey.” Last year, he lost the city’s municipal elections. Today, he is trying to reverse his sliding popularity by backing a religious fundamentalism that threatens Turkey’s minorities, the country’s secular character and Istanbul’s historic role as a tolerant metropolis where Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths coexisted for centuries.

On Friday, Erdogan’s shortsighted, cynical campaign struck at the very heart of world culture and Istanbul’s essential character. At his instigation, Turkey’s highest administrative court issued a scandalously dangerous and bigoted decision: Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO world heritage site in Istanbul and a global symbol of world history and multicultural representation, should convert from a museum back to a mosque.

By serving as a museum, Hagia Sophia, a vast, 1,500-year-old structure that previously served as a church and then a mosque, represented the essence of Istanbul, a place where world-changing empires and religions conflicted and intersected but whose monuments and artifacts can be enjoyed by all. Friday’s ruling marks a symbolic end to this legacy of tolerance.

Hagia Sophia’s history contains the city’s history. It is a Byzantine church that has dominated the skyline of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, for the city’s entire history. When the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453, it became a mosque. In 1935, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey, made it a museum, and Hagia Sophia was opened to all as a cultural and scientific site. It became a tremendous tourist attraction. Visitors marvel at not only its structure but also the layers of history it embodies.

Constantinople was founded in 330 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine I. He selected an amazing site overlooking the Bosporus with strategic control of the Black Sea. In his “New” Rome, he built an imperial capital that outstripped “Old” Rome.

His son constructed the first church dedicated to “Hagia Sophia,” Holy Wisdom. It served as the cathedral, where the patriarch conducted services attended by the emperor and empress as well as the local population.

As the city expanded, so did the church. In 537, Emperor Justinian, whose rule stretched from Italy to Sinai, dedicated the present structure as an expression of might and piety. It has an enormous dome, 102 feet in diameter, at a height of 184 feet. For nearly 1,000 years, it was the highest and largest in the world.

Decorated in contrasting colored marbles brought from all parts of the Mediterranean, the entire interior surface of Hagia Sophia glowed with golden and silver mosaics that reflected the light flooding in through its many windows.

Justinian’s original church had one internal decoration: a monumental, glittering cross in the dome, now removed. In the late ninth century, figural mosaics were added: the Virgin and Child in the main apse, with the archangels Michael and Gabriel on either side. Later rulers, including the Empress Zoe, commemorated themselves with beautiful gold mosaic portraits and Christian icons.

The great church established the standard. When the Arabs broke out of the deserts to proclaim the faith of Islam, they modeled their first mosques on the Christian domes pioneered by the Byzantines. So when the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II breached the triple walls and rode into Constantinople in May 1453, he could order the symbol of the city, Hagia Sophia, to be transformed into a mosque rather than destroying it.

Under Islamic law, the figural mosaics were either removed or plastered over, a huge loss and a warning of what might happen again. Indeed, while Turkish officials on Friday promised the mosaics won’t be removed, on Monday they announced that they will be covered by curtains or lasers during Muslim prayers.

To turn the unrivaled building back into a place of worship threatens open access to a magnificent structure and the building’s invaluable mosaic decorations. By restricting access to Istanbul’s greatest historical legacy, Erdogan assaults the cosmopolitan traditions that make the city and Turkey itself a crossroads for the world. It is an act of cultural cleansing.

This is a decision of a beleaguered autocrat — the most dangerous — motivated by a desire to punish Istanbul’s inhabitants, who voted decisively against him, and by a desire to consolidate his position by stirring sectarian animosity between his pious followers and those attached to secular traditions.

Hagia Sophia belongs to the world. Its fate is not just a matter, as Erdogan defensively insists, of Turkish sovereignty.

Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya

Members who have been following developments may be interested to read the following open letter which circulated widely in the lead up to the decision and can be found here.

Dr Angeliki Lymberopoulou, Chair of the SPBS Publications Committee, has prepared a petition which you can sign up to by clicking on this link. If you would like to discuss this with her, please contact her via email (a.lymberopoulou@open.ac.uk).

Professor Robert Ousterhout has written a long blog on the same topic which can be accessed here:

https://blog.iae.org.tr/en/uncategorized-en/from-hagia-sophia-to-ayasofya-architecture-and-the-persistence-of-memory

Bulletin of British Byzantine Studies

The entire series of the BBBS, from issue 1 in 1975 through to issue 45 in 2019, is now available to download. Collectively they provide a unique insight into the development of Byzantine Studies in the UK.

Thanks are due to the present BBBS editor, Dr Fiona Haarer, for her diligent efforts in digitising the older issues.

Statement regarding archaeological finds at Venizelos Metro Station, Thessaloniki

The Executive Committee of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies expresses its wholehearted support for the position adopted by the International Association of Byzantine Studies regarding the proposed relocation of the Byzantine finds in Thessloniki, opposing the removal of these finds and calling upon the relevant authorities to reconsider their recent decision.

Below are attached the statements of the AIEB’s Commission for Byzantine Archaeology and the appeal of the AIEB President, Professor John Haldon, to the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

CBA-AIEB letter 21-4-20

Letter from the President

Update: SPBS Spring Lecture postponed

The SPBS is sorry to announce that its Spring Lecture – ‘The fortifications of Byzantine and Crusader Cyprus’, by Dr James Petre – will be postponed indefinitely owing to ongoing measures against the spread of COVID-19. The lecture was due to take place on 31 March in Senate House, London. We intend to reschedule the event at a later date when public gatherings become more practicable. In the meantime, please stay well!

URGENT: Spring Symposium Postponement

A message from Professor Leslie Brubaker:

We are sorry to inform you that, due to the ongoing risks of the COVID-19 virus and the possibility of a full campus closure at the University of Birmingham, and on the advice of administrators, we have decided to postpone Nature and the Environment: the 53rd Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies until 27th-29th March 2021.

This postponement will not affect the advertised programme for Nature and the Environment, and we will look forward to welcoming you in Birmingham next year, should you still wish to attend.

If you have already paid for registration, and would still like to attend in 2021, we can roll over your registration until next year and keep the funds in our dedicated account. Alternatively, if you would prefer a refund, please feel to contact Daniel Reynolds (D.K.Reynolds@bham.ac.uk) or Thomas White (T.P.White@bham.ac.uk) in the University of Birmingham Department of History Office.

For those of you who have already booked travel, the majority of flight operators are offering to rebook flights for people whose travel plans have been disrupted by the virus. We also recommend that you contact your insurance company as soon as possible.

Further advice may be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus

If you require a formal letter to confirm the cancellation of the event, we will be happy to provide one for you. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch. In either case, please contact Dan Reynolds or Tom White, as above.

With all best wishes, and please stay well!

Leslie Brubaker

Chair, SPBS and
Director, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies
University of Birmingham, UK.

SPBS Subscription Rates

Please note that subscription fees for SPBS membership will be increasing on 1 January 2020, as announced at the Society’s AGM in March. Our subscription rates have been unchanged for decades and it has become necessary to raise them to support the Society’s continuing operation and ability to provide grants.

Standard membership will increase to £30/year, with student membership increasing to £15/year. All new members joining from 1 January will pay the new rates, while existing members will become liable only upon the date of their membership renewal; current Life members will of course remain unaffected.

Until January, new members are welcome to join at the present rates, either online or offline.

The Executive Committee thanks all the Society’s members for their continuing support for the promotion of Byzantine Studies.