Approaching Byzantium in Ottoman Istanbul: the Reception of the Byzantine Heritage of Constantinople by Scholars from the Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century

The study of Byzantium was inaugurated within the context of humanism, after the end of the Byzantine Empire. However, it is unclear what the concept of Byzantium meant during the 16th century, since research in Byzantine history and culture was usually a subsidiary means to investigate other fields of knowledge, such as classical antiquity, Orthodox Christianity, and the geographical space of the Ottoman Empire. The main goal of the proposed project is to study the direct encounter of humanists from the Holy Roman Empire with the capital of the Byzantine Empire itself as an effective way to understand how the idea of Byzantium developed and affected humanist thought; this will reveal crucial links in the relations between East and West. In order to analyze how visiting the city of Constantinople affected the reception of Byzantium by humanists from the Holy Roman Empire, diverse types of evidence, which reflect the ways visitors experienced the city, will be examined: a. references in texts (mainly travel accounts) and images (e.g. panoramic views of Istanbul) to the Byzantine monuments and landmarks of Constantinople as preserved in the 16th century and b. Byzantine manuscripts transferred from 16th-century Istanbul to collections in Central Europe by humanists from the Holy Roman Empire. I will thus explore how the scholars under investigation made sense of various elements of Byzantine culture and how their concept of Byzantium developed as a consequence of viewing the monuments, collecting the manuscripts, and meeting the Orthodox populations they encountered in the city. By taking into account this array of media it will be possible to follow the multifaceted activity of humanists, which encompassed portraying Byzantine monuments in words and images and collecting Byzantine codices as parts of the same process of discovering Byzantium in 16th-century Istanbul.





Dr. Nicholas Melvani