The illustrated Alexander romance in Byzantium and its reception in the West and the Orient from the 13th to the 15th century

The aim of the present dissertation project shows the attempt to reconstruct the archetypical Alexander romance by means of preserved illustrated, Byzantine and non-Byzantine manuscripts. This includes the exploration of Alexander the Great’s image in Byzantium to elaborate the importance of the Byzantine Alexander reception in other, non-Byzantine cultural circles and thus to understand cultural transfers between Byzantium and Western and Eastern cultures.

The text and pictorial cycle from the archetype of the Alexander romance have not survived. This is an ancient epic about the life and deeds of Alexander the Great written by the Greek author Pseudo-Callisthenes (3rd century). With the help of the various text versions the original text was largely reconstructed by researchers, while the illustration of the archetype remains lost. The oldest illustrated manuscripts of Alexander’s story date back to the 13th century, the production of which grew steadily in various cultural circles until the 19th century. The increased production of Alexander romance manuscripts confirms the cross-border fascination for the Alexander figure in Byzantium, the West and the Orient, especially in imperial usage. Many illustrated manuscripts, whose texts are essentially based on the epic of Pseudo-Callisthenes, prove an imperial, aristocratic patronage through their detailed, exquisitely executed illustration of Alexander's story.

In encomiastic and panegyric literature, the Alexander figure served as a positive imperial paradigm from the Middle Byzantine period onwards. Alexander the Great embodied the ideal type of ruler, which became a model for the Byzantine emperor and for other non-Byzantine dynasties of the respective cultural circles between the 13th and 15th centuries. Accordingly, the pictorial cycles were used in manuscripts of the Alexander romance for propagandistic purposes and as legitimation of the claim to power of each individual cultural circle.

The attempt to reconstruct the illustration cycle in the original Alexander romance is based on the method of analysis used in art history. The basis for the reconstruction of the illustration is formed by the pictorial cycles of the Byzantine manuscripts, which are compared with various miniatures of non-Byzantine descent, including Latin, Armenian, Persian and Ottoman sources. The analysis further examines the text-image relationship of various manuscript versions. The aim of the art-historical study is to answer the question, if there was a common pictorial tradition, despite the fact of different text versions. Consequently, the analysis compares preserved Byzantine and non-Byzantine miniatures of the Alexander romance with images from other art genres, trying to approach the original, ancient pictorial cycle.

In the second part of the dissertation, other Byzantine texts beside the Alexander romance are going to be examined to clarify which circumstances favoured the positive Alexander paradigm in Byzantium and if there was a negative Alexander image vice versa. It remains to be answered, why a pagan king could become the ideal for the Christian Byzantine emperor. Finally, it will be examined which influence Byzantium had in the reception of Alexander for other cultures and how the Alexander image was adapted in those. The transcultural processes in each manuscript version of the Alexander romance will be scrutinized to prove the cultural transfer between Byzantium and western and eastern cultures from the 13th to the 15th century.

Alexander entombs Darius, King of the Persians, Cod. gr. 5, fol. 86r (Digitalisat:

Alexander entombs Darius, King of the Persians, Cod. gr. 5, fol. 86r (Digitalisat:


Univ.-Prof. Dr. Vasiliki Tsamakda


Anette Mazur M.A.

B. Cultural Contacts and Cultural Transfer