Byzantine ceremony

From Cunnan
Jump to navigationJump to search

Byzantine Ceremony was very elaborate and cosmopolitan, and often emphasized order in a chaotic world. Byzantine Imperial life revolved around the concept of order; which was expressed through the ceremonies that were used to show the Emperor to the people. (Indeed, the same word, taxis was used in period to denote both ceremony and order.) For the Byzantine Romans, terrestrial order was merely the imperfect reflection of celestial order. At its summit was God's lieutenant, the emperor, whose court "mirrored that of heaven".

Ceremonial ordering can best be seen in a court procession. This example below is from the tenth century, but it stayed similar right up to the end in 1453.

If the emperor had to leave the palace, the road he was taking was repaired, cleaned and sprinkled with sawdust scented with rosewater. The streets would be hung with garlands, sweet-smelling plants and such items as rich textiles and silverware. Merchants who thus both showed their loyalty in glorifying the emperor and also advertised their wares often provided the latter.
Along the way staged events would take place. This could include the singing of paeans of praise to the emperor by choruses or individuals. A fountain near where they were located could be filled with wine, almonds and pistachios. Bleachers were built for spectators (including ambassadors) to watch this staged affirmation of power and order. Petitioners would take advantage of this opportunity to circumvent the palace hierarchy by throwing petitions at the emperor's feet (presumably there was someone to pick them up).
The cortege had a set order. First to appear are the banner bearers and the Cross of Constantine. Next were state functionaries, graded by rank. Strict sumptuary laws governed what they wore so that it was of lesser splendour than the items worn by the emperor(3). Lastly came the Imperial group of the emperor, bodyguards, family and chief eunuchs.
Upon arrival at the destination (perhaps a church, or even back to the palace) another set of rituals took place. Among other things this usually included gifts to all officials. This could be up to 10lbs of gold coin and was usually at least 2lbs. Favoured foreigners could also receive gifts of silk(4). Not even the poor were neglected. Money would be set aside to provide food, lodging and even pay taxes for them.

These elaborate events would also be used to overawe foreigners with the glory and majesty of Byzantine power. Ambassadors would usually be greeted in the throne room; The Emperor was initially seen behind a series of silken screens, which would be pulled aside if the foreign visitor was sufficiently important. As the throne was approached mechanical animals would make the appropriate sounds and pipe organs would play. On reaching the throne it would rise into the air in front of the astounded supplicant.

All these stage devices were intended to impress the majesty of the emperor on the viewer and to show the order that held the empire together. From the records we have, they worked. Even the Latins and western barbarians, arriving determined to scoff, were invariably impressed. Such groups as the more primitive Rus were awed and stunned.