What is the International Congress of Byzantine Studies?
The International Congress of Byzantine Studies is the world’s largest scholarly event devoted to the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire. It has taken place every five years for almost a century (the first Congress was held in Bucharest in 1924) and draws 1,500 scholars from around the world. Congress participants and those accompanying them will have the opportunity to explore different aspects of the Byzantine World through exhibitions in Venice and Padua that will be open to the public, and other related events.
The logo of the 24th International Congress brings together several iconographic elements dear to the Byzantine tradition.
Photo Leo Schubert
What does Byzantine Studies deal with?
Byzantine Studies explores every aspect of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire, which flourished from AD 330 to 1453. Its heart was the city of Constantinople, also known as Byzantium and today as Istanbul.
Byzantine Studies covers a vast range of research areas: archaeology and art history; linguistics, philology, and literature in Greek and other languages; economic, social, religious, military, and environmental history; and the history of philosophical thought and spirituality.
Why is the subject of Byzantine Studies important?
Because it safeguards, studies, and promotes the material and intangible heritage of numerous countries in Europe, the Middle East, and certain parts of Asia.
In what countries do we find centres and universities that study Byzantium?
Byzantine Studies is taught in all the leading universities in Europe and the Americas, as well as in Australia, Africa, and Asia, with thousands of researchers, students, lecturers, and enthusiasts active in this field.
Who organises the Congress?
Every five years the International Association of Byzantine Studies, an umbrella association encompassing the world’s 42 national Byzantine Studies committees, selects a country to host the Congress from its list of candidates.
The 2022 Congress is organised by the Italian Association of Byzantine Studies, coordinated by its president, Prof. Antonio Rigo, in collaboration with the Turkish National Committee. The latter had been entrusted with the 2021 Congress, which regrettably did not take place.
and the Byzantine world
The centuries-old history of the relationship between Venice, Padua, and
Byzantium began with the founding of settlements in the Venetian lagoon
(Eracliana, Torcello, Malamocco, and many others) and of Venice itself. It
continued down to the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, in 1204, and beyond. Traces of Byzantium in Venice are strikingly evident and include St Mark’s Basilica, with the treasures it encloses (from the Pala d’Oro to reliquaries), the horses of St Mark’s, the Tetrarchs, and the Pillars “of Acre” in St Mark’s Square.
The interest in Greek culture which flourished during the Italian Renaissance found two leading and closely interconnected centres in Venice and Padua: the Byzantine erudite John Argyropoulos, for example, studied at Padua University from 1441 to 1444, while the Athenian Demetrios Chalkokondyles became the University’s first Professor of Greek in 1463.
The Congress’ logo
The symbol is made up of concentric circles.
The first circle is formed by a headless ouroboros. The ouroboros is an ancient symbol, already found in Egyptian paintings. It represents the sun’s eternal return and the seasons’ cyclical nature. It predates the Classical image of Aion, the personification of time holding the astrological circle. The ouroboros occurs as a snake biting its tail in Byzantine alchemical texts, where it stands for the transmutation of matter.
The second circle is formed by an amphisbaena: a two-headed snake born from the Gorgon’s blood in Libya, according to Lucan. Nicander of Colophon claims that this mythical animal can move in opposite directions, following one of its heads. In the Congress logo it is shown as a snake with a bulging double belly, suggesting it is fertile – laden with consequences. The two heads are not facing opposite directions, but in dialogue.
The logo’s centre features a tree of life with two peacocks, symbolising resurrection.
This image, which is a free take on the ornamental enamelled tondi on the Pala d’Oro in St Mark’s Basilica, may be described as a rich allegory of the Congress, which cyclically returns despite all adversities.
The Congress takes place within a well-defined space, in a specific period of time; therefore, it constitutes a limited event in itself. However, it brings together a range of topics, methodologies, and outcomes that go in different, even opposite, yet converging directions – sometimes despite linguistic divergences – thereby illustrating the fertile flexibility of scholarly research.
Like the tree of life with its peacocks, the complex symbol is an auspicious one, serving as a kind of amulet to ensure that each person’s efforts and contribution may aim at the fruitful circulation of people, ideas, projects, and bonds of friendship.