Exhibition on Rare Trebizond Alexander Romance Codex Opens in Thessaloniki

(Photo by MotionTeam/Fani Tripsani)

THESSALONIKI – A unique medieval illuminated manuscript on the life and works of Alexander the Great – Codex 5 of the Venice Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and post-Byzantine Studies – has been unveiled in digital form to the public for the first time, in an exhibition organised as part of the 84th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).

The exhibition was set up in collaboration with the foreign and education ministries in Greece and is taking place in Thessaloniki’s Alexandreio Melathron indoor sports complex, where it will run until September 16.

According to researchers, the manuscript is a romance based on the life of Alexander the Great and gives a detailed account of the events before and during his campaign of conquest, which took him as far as India, where he also carried the ideals and values of Greek thought and science taught to him by his teacher, the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

The specific account was the most widely read romance in the Middle Ages and was translated into 30 languages, overcoming boundaries of language and culture to spread throughout the world and act as an inspiration to historians, writers and even play directors.

It includes more than 250 illuminated illustrations decorated in gold leaf and an almost ‘cinematic’ approach to the life of the ancient Macedonian king. The codex was digitised and presented in the exhibition with the title “The legend of Alexander the Great as a Byzantine heritage. The testimony of a Byzantine manuscript.”

The events of the story are relayed through holograms and 3D projections and the exhibition is to travel throughout the world, with stops in New York, China, Istanbul, Jerusalem.

Attending the inauguration on behalf of the government was Deputy Foreign Minister for Diaspora Greeks Antonis Diamataris.

According to the Venice Hellenic Institute’s Supervisory Committee President Christos Arabatzis, Codex 5 is unique in the world, since it is the most richly illustrated version of the Alexander romance and has exceptional artistic value.

According to Byzantine expert Flora Karagianni, the Alexander Romance appears to be based on an account written by the ancient historian Callisthenes, who had accompanied Alexander on his campaign, shortly after Alexander’s death. In the centuries that followed, this became the most widely read romance of medieval times, spreading from Istanbul to the west and from Trebizond to Mongolia, Persia, Sumatra and China – even making its way into Moslem religious texts.

“For the Byzantines, especially, Alexander came to have almost mythical dimensions, fighting whole armies, mythical monsters and defeating many Roman and then Byzantine emperors…he was the model of a hero, warrior and hunter,” she said. In the mid-14th century, Alexios III Megas Komnenos of Trebizond ordered a manuscript with the Alexander romance to be prepared for his personal library and this was then copied and illustrated with four miniature illustrations depicting Alexander’s life and works until his death, she added.

When Trebizond was taken in 1461, the new Turkish owner added notes to each illustration in Ottoman script and then the manuscript reappeared in the hands of a Venice merchant, Konstantinos Maroutsos, in the early 19th century and from him to the Greek community.

The exhibition is held under the auspices of the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopios Pavlopoulos and will be open from 10:00 in the morning until 20:00 at night.