October 13, 2003

Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty...

Today's Letters and Science Faculty Forum was about sculpture in the city of Aphrodisias, capital of late-Roman Imperial Caria, in southwestern Anatolia. Located next door to a marble quarry in one of the most heavily-populated regions of the Roman Empire, the ruins of Aphrodisias are filled with marble statues from apprentices' attempts to carve feet to cult images of gods to the statues of the family that funded the building of Aphrodisias's Council Hall. Because the marble was so nearby and so cheap, sculptors could get lots of practice and become genuinely great. Works by sculptors from the Aphrodisian school are found around the Roman Empire--in Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, for example.

But sometime in the seventh century people stopped quarrying the marble of Aphrodisias, stopped carving the marble into statues, and stopped living in the city itself. Although Caria is about as far as you can get from the Rhine and the Danube across which the Goths and the Huns came, and about as far as you can get from the upper Euphrates across which the Sassanids and the Arabs came, it is still the case that "the barbarians will find you." Global weather disturbances causing famines. Plagues. Barbarian raids. High taxes. Earthquakes. In the reign of Justinian I (527-565) Aphrodisias appears to have still been doing fine. But sometime between the reign of Heraclius (610-641) and Justinian II Rhinotmetus (the Slit-Nosed) (669-711) Aphrodisias was abandoned. The Dark Ages came even to the well-protected Anatolian heartland of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Posted by DeLong at October 13, 2003 03:47 PM | TrackBack

Comments

I always felt sorry for Justinian II Rhinotmetos. Getting captured and mutilated by the Huns is one thing, but having your dual reigns remembered for that and that alone must be the final indignity.

Constantine XI Porphyrogenitos (purple-born) and Basil II Bulgaraoktonos (Bulgar-slayer) did somewhat better.

Posted by: Alan Grieve on October 13, 2003 05:11 PM

Justinian II Rhinotmetos wasn't mutilated by the Huns but by his domestic political enemies; he took refuge among the Huns, and made a brief comeback from that base.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on October 13, 2003 05:52 PM

Sort of lends one to think that the Dark Ages were the result of economic decline or fiscal rather than simply invasion. As I understand, the barbarian invasions were in part the result of failure to pay tribute, failure to pay soldiers' wages, etc., and some of the invaders had previously been in the Roman service. The politics of last century or more of the W. Roman empire was dominated by disgruntled soldiers.

The Goths, Huns, et al, IIRC, had little or no direct effect on the E. Empire, which was successful in shunting them west.

Posted by: Zizka on October 13, 2003 08:49 PM

There's a picture of the (restored) gateway at Aphrodisias here.

Posted by: C. Schmelling on October 14, 2003 09:13 AM

Sorry, the html tags didn't work on that. Here's the URL:

http://veneziano.tripod.com/bikeeurope/greeceturkey/aegeancoast.html

Posted by: C. Schmelling on October 14, 2003 09:17 AM

The so-called dark ages were not really so dark, that appelative is ideological. As I see it, what dissolved the western roman empire was rather the inability to collect taxes in an efficient way. Fighting technology had obsoleted the legion tactics, giving small groups the ability to strike fast and deep in the empire, so the decisions had to be taken more locally. The result was that the only remaining central institution was the Church.

The eastern roman empire was more compact, rich and populated. I have read somewhere that they had bought some invaders to go past them into the western provinces...

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on October 14, 2003 09:51 AM

From a high culture point of view, the Dark Ages were pretty dark in the West. The great authors between the death of Boethius (~525 AD) and Charlemagne (~800 AD) are Isadore of Seville, Paul the Deacon, Jordanes, and a few others that are now only read for historical reasons. Exception: John Scotus Eregina (Irish) is a philosopher actually read as such. Beowulf may be another exception, but that text's dating varies over about three centuries (700-1000 AD).

The interesting and peculiar thing is the way that the Greek heartland of Western civilization, after the fall of Rome, was excluded from the Western canon even while the earlier Greek classics were being made central to it (replacing Latin, to a degree). Partly this was because the Greeks after ~1500 were Ottoman subjects and thus part of "The East". But the fact is that Eastern Rome lasted a full millenium longer than Western Rome.

In one of Bertrand Russell's letters there's an amazing passage in which he comments on how hairy and dark his Greek-American student Paul Demas was. (Demas became an eminent scholar, though not an original philosopher.)

Places which have been Rome: Rome, Constantinople, Ravenna, Aix-la-Chapelle, Palermo, Avignon, Vienna, Moscow, and Paris. Did I miss any?

Posted by: Zizka on October 14, 2003 10:51 AM

From a high culture point of view, the Dark Ages were pretty dark in the West. The great authors between the death of Boethius (~525 AD) and Charlemagne (~800 AD) are Isadore of Seville, Paul the Deacon, Jordanes, and a few others that are now only read for historical reasons. Exception: John Scotus Eregina (Irish) is a philosopher actually read as such. Beowulf may be another exception, but that text's dating varies over about three centuries (700-1000 AD).

The interesting and peculiar thing is the way that the Greek heartland of Western civilization, after the fall of Rome, was excluded from the Western canon even while the earlier Greek classics were being made central to it (replacing Latin, to a degree). Partly this was because the Greeks after ~1500 were Ottoman subjects and thus part of "The East". But the fact is that Eastern Rome lasted a full millenium longer than Western Rome.

In one of Bertrand Russell's letters there's an amazing passage in which he comments on how hairy and dark his Greek-American student Paul Demas was. (Demas became an eminent scholar, though not an original philosopher.)

Places which have been Rome: Rome, Constantinople, Ravenna, Aix-la-Chapelle, Palermo, Avignon, Vienna, Moscow, and Paris. Did I miss any?

Posted by: Zizka on October 14, 2003 10:57 AM

How many high-culture had brought to the world the lands of Gallia, Germania or Britannia before 458?

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on October 14, 2003 01:15 PM

From the chronology, what looks to me like what's going on here is less the classical "decline of the Roman Empire" stuff than the Islamic conquests during the reign of Heraclius. Off the top of my head, has anyone considered the loss of Middle Eastern markets in Antioch and Alexandria as they were taken over by the not-crazy-about-sculpture Muslims?

Posted by: Bill Burns on October 14, 2003 01:21 PM

From the chronology, what looks to me like what's going on here is less the classical "decline of the Roman Empire" stuff than the Islamic conquests during the reign of Heraclius. Off the top of my head, has anyone considered the loss of Middle Eastern markets in Antioch and Alexandria as they were taken over by the not-crazy-about-sculpture Muslims?

Posted by: Bill Burns on October 14, 2003 01:22 PM

As I recall, and I'm not sure, various Romans from Gaul, Britain, and Germany participated in and contributed to Latin culture before 458. But they count as Romans.

The Dark Ages decline affected Mediterranean Rome too. In Gregory of Tours Latin culture seems confined to a few cities, and according to him the few remaining clerics (including himself) wrote poor, sometimes incorrect Latin. As I remember what Gregory wrote, travel was not safe because of local robber barons.

Posted by: Zizka on October 14, 2003 02:54 PM

As I recall, and I'm not sure, various Romans from Gaul, Britain, and Germany participated in and contributed to Latin culture before 458. But they count as Romans.

The Dark Ages decline affected Mediterranean Rome too. In Gregory of Tours Latin culture seems confined to a few cities, and according to him the few remaining clerics (including himself) wrote poor, sometimes incorrect Latin. As I remember what Gregory wrote, travel was not safe because of local robber barons.

Posted by: Zizka on October 14, 2003 02:59 PM

Bill Burns must have it right about Islam. Umayyad rulers may have kept on representational painting in the privacy of their palaces,like Saudis today with decadent Western flms on DVD, but sculpture is public.

But the market for marble sculpture may have tanked in the Orthodox Christian world too. An icon has to be two-dimensional because it's a window into or projection of eternity (I've never quite grasped the theory). Whatever, Orthodox churches evidently had little need for sculpture. The other big outlet for sculpture was memorials. Did rich Byzantines stop having fancy tombs?

And why did sculpture revive so dramatically in Western Europe in the 11th century, when every proper church had to have a tympanum and carved capitals? Why for that matter has public sculpture revived in the last decade as the bleak puritanism of the Bauhaus has lost its aesthetic grip?

Posted by: James on October 15, 2003 03:16 AM

There is a theory in art history that three-dimensional representation of the person (sculpture and perspective drawing) is associated with modernism, this-worldliness and individualism, whereas flat representation is iconographic, traditionalistic, and anti-individualist. (Modernism in this formula is a "kind" of society, not a stage, since the Byzantines were less modern than the classic Greeks).

The Renaissance is adduced as evidence for this view, along with some medieval stuff. In Buddhism there may have been a similiar development (with Bactrian Greek influence) and it has been claimed for modernizing primitive peoples (Do Kamo, by Leenhardt).

During the iconoclastic periods, even flat representations were discouraged in Byzantium.

Posted by: Zizka on October 15, 2003 09:11 AM
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