Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Social and Intellectual Life in Byzantine Macedonia

Social life in Macedonia was decisively influenced by Christianity which, particularly after its establishment in the first decades of the fourth century as the official religion of the empire, marked men's souls as well as their way of life and social milieu. The church and its associated buildings now became the focus of city and village alike and the heart of social and religious activities.

Yet, despite the spread of Christianity, paganism was not stamped out for a very long time, as we will see below. After the Council of Nicaea (325) the problem of dogmatic heresies also began to take on worrying dimensions, preoc­cupying clerics and laymen alike. In opposition to these two threats, the Christians of Macedonia sought to propagate their orthodox faith in all manner of ways. For example, early Christian funerary inscriptions in Macedonia make a point of emphasizing the faith of the deceased in the main dogmas of the Christian religion, and especially in the doctrine of resurrection. Moreover, the name of the deceased is almost invariably accompanied by the words 'Christian' or 'servant' of God, of Christ or of the Lord. Again, the term 'newly illuminated' that is found on many inscriptions indicates the pride felt by those who had experienced the sacrament of baptism.

The fact that Christians and pagans were for a long period compelled to live side by side, and the natural an­tagonism that they felt towards each other, led the Chris­tians to stress their special identity in various ways. Thus they made extensive use of the Christian symbol par ex­cellence, the cross, which was their main instrument of ex­orcism against paganism. We find, for example, crosses scratched on temples on the acropolis at Philippi as also on the images of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and other oriental deities. It is not unlikely that, rather than destroying pagan temples and other symbols of worship, the Christians of the region preferred simply to purify them and put them to use for Christian worship.

In this connection it is worth mentioning a discovery at the Octagon in Philippi. The small fourth century place of worship which was discovered next to the Octagon and close to a Hellenistic tomb may well have kept alive through the fourth century an older cult, possibly that of the 'heroized' occupant of the tomb, whose place was now probably taken by some local martyr. The discovery of a small column and of hundreds of fourth century copper coins around the tomb argues for the continuity of worship in this area.

The Christians of Macedonia seem to have continued their own way another ancient custom, that of the gods who guarded gateways and turned away evil (Propyla and Apotropaeic gods). There too it was the sign of cross that was most often used. The large relief cross t was found in the walls of Philippi near the western g (above which it must have been placed), is an example. Here the Cross stands for Christ, who took the place of ancient god who protected the entrance. In a Greek la such as Macedonia, pagan survivals (which, as we shall below, are more pronounced in funerary customs) are ι a strange phenomenon; their existence attests the continuity of the ancient Greek heritage. What is of interest us is the way in which the Christians of Macedoi transformed these survivals in order to adapt them to ι needs created by the new religion.

At a time when Christianity was struggling to achive final victory, the faith of the Macedonian Christians was testified by the multitude of martyrs they produced. Apart from Saint Demetrios, the inscriptions, martyrologies a synaxaria mention many other martyrs: Nestor, Dominos, Akakios, Alexander, Theodoulos, John Agathopous, Anysia, Matrona, the sisters Agape, Chioi and Irene and many more. Churches were erected memory of many of them. Thus, according to the written tradition, bishop Alexander of Thessalonike founded church in memory of St. Matrona, while another chur was dedicated to the memory of the sisters Agape, Chioi and Irene.

One of the results of the triumph of Christianity Macedonia at this period was the emergence of monastic life. Though we do not know much about it, especially about its beginnings, it is certain that monastic life w organized in Macedonia at a fairly early date. This is confirmed both by the monuments and by popular traditic Some remains of early Christian architectural complexes can be identified as monasteries, among the more certi examples being the Latomos monastery (Hosios David) Thessalonike. According to the text of Ignatios, this monastery was first built in the name of St. Zachari, soon after the Greek (pagan) mist had been dispersed and the King and Master of all had bestowed the Roman sceptre on Christian emperors'.

Yet monasticism must have existed in Macedonia long time before the foundation of the Latomos monastery at the beginning of the fifth century, especially in areas which were isolated from the great religious centres of t province, such as Thessalonike and Philippi. In a funerary inscription from Herakleia Lynkestis, one Spurcius is mentioned as a 'former soldier and holy man'. On other early funerary inscriptions from Edessa and Thessalonike, the adjectives 'brothers', 'fathers', 'holy mother' 'virgin' etc. definitely refer to the monastic vocation of the dead.

There are indications that monks occupied themselv with political affairs too. For example, according to the Life of Hosios David of Thessalonike, the holy man travelled to Constantinople at the head of an embassy order to intercede with Justinian on behalf of his city concerning an important political question.Though this source is not regarded by most scholars as being trustworthy, it is at least an indication of the way in which could intervene in politics.

As natural, funerary rites were also altered by the hristian beliefs. Under the influence of Christian teaching on resurrection and the afterlife, the dead were tried full length, with arms crossed on breast, and d pointing towards the East. Tombs became more humble and modest than before, and only the most prominent citizens were buried in small underground mausoleums, containing sarcophagi. The internal walls of the tombs were often covered with frescoes, whose subjects the Christian teaching on death, usually expressed in symbolic fashion. According to information that can be extracted from their inscriptions, tombs were privately owned, that is they were destined for the burial of the sers and their relatives, though sometimes other were buried in there as well.

Survivals of paganism, a subject already alluded to, are to be detected in funerary customs as well, especially in northern and north-western Macedonia. Many tombs from the region of Prilep, for example, offer evidence of the survival of pagan burial customs in the fourth century, such for example as the burning of the dead, the construction of cenotaphs and libations and animal or vegetable offerings. Broken fragments of glass and clay vases and plates and other offerings are often found in these tombs in fourth century. In this connection the most interesting of the region is that of an adolescent in the necropolis terica, in which, amongst other things there was a pair of gold-plated strigils and, more importantly, a silver coin placed in the mouth of the dead — clearly a reminiscence of the ancient custom of offering an obol to Charon, who led the dead to Hades.

A general trend in late Roman Macedonia is the weaking of Latin influence in general, and especially of in language, as can be shown from the evidence of inscrptions. Indeed, even in those very few areas in which Latin was strongly represented in the early imperial era, that is the Roman colonies of Macedonia (Dion or Philippi etc) number of Latin inscriptions from the early Christian Period is extremely small in comparison with the many inscriptions. This adoption of the Greek language is evidence for the assimilation of the Roman colonists by the population.

To illustrate the predominance of Greek over Latin one may mention an incident that took place during a journey by the orator Himerios to Constantinople, whither he had been invited by the emperor Julian (360-63). Stopping at Philippi , Himerios addresed the crowds which were waiting for him in Greek.This event is particularly significant, if one considers that Philippi was one of the largest Roman colonies in Macedonia.

As regards the cultural life of Macedonia and the type of entertainments which were popular in the early Christian period, our information is very limited. Such evidence as we have comes from the fourth century and shows that the basic entertainment of the inhabitants of Macedonia was watching gladiatorial combats, wild beast fights and animal hunts within the special arena-theatres.

Theatres specially adapted for these performances ex­isted in all the big cities of Macedonia, such as Thessalonike, Philippi, Stoboi and Herakleia Lynkestis. Most of them had originally been built as theatres of the traditional Greek type, but at some point in the middle or late third century they were modified to allow the perfor­mance of this kind of spectacle.

A particularly popular spectacle at this period was chariot racing. Thessalonikans gathered in the hippodrome of their city by the thousands to admire their favourite charioteers.

All the above mentioned places, destined for the enter­tainment of the masses, ceased functioning some time in the fourth century after the edicts that the emperors Con-stantine and Theodosios the Great issued in this connec­tion. The spirit and claims of the new Christian religion prevailed in this field as well.

for fair use only

Abstract from A. Tsitouridou - R. Browning in the Volume "Macedonia: 4000 years of Greek History and Civilization"

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