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Culture

Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation’s Online Seminar on Byzantium

NEW YORK – The Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation (HACF) presented Professor Maria Mavroudi on How Byzantine Civilization Influenced Modern-day Culture, an online seminar via Zoom on June 18. The fascinating lecture offered insights into the ways scholars once viewed Byzantium, how views are evolving, and how the influence of Byzantium in art, culture, and civilization continues today.

HACF Chairman Nicholas Kourides gave the welcoming remarks and thanked all those who made the event possible, noting that the event was the first in a series of virtual events “which may become the new normal for the foreseeable future.”

He continued, “This foundation was organized nine years ago to promote high quality and relevant educational and cultural programs for persons interested in the rich history and legacy of Greece. Our goal is to remain relevant and inspirational even during a pandemic and we will continue to find ways and different media to reach our audience and the community.”

Kourides then introduced HACF Board member Pericles Mazarakis who introduced Prof. Mavroudi, noting that she is not only a renowned scholar but also his koumbara. Mazarakis pointed out “her encyclopedic knowledge around the intersection between Greek history, Byzantine culture, and Islamic studies.”

Prof. Mavroudi was born in Thessaloniki, Greece and studied Philology before earning a PhD in Byzantine studies at Harvard. Her work was recognized with a MacArthur fellowship in 2002. She is a Professor of Byzantine History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Scholars from the 19th and 20th centuries assigned Byzantium a marginal role in the development of world civilization, one limited to the preservation of "classical" Greek texts. However, during the last two or three decades, new interpretations of Byzantine civilization have begun to challenge this view. Prof. Mavroudi's presentation focused on Byzantium's economy and monetary system, its art and its literature, in order to explain the global importance of Byzantine civilization.

Prof. Mavroudi began by thanking everyone who organized the lecture, especially Mazarakis who suggested the topic, and her son who acted as her “Technical Consultant” for the event. She noted that “Byzantium is the eastern part of the Roman Empire that never fell to the barbarians,” and “‘Byzantine’ is a neologism, it’s not a term ever that the Byzantines used for themselves and it was not a term that others used for them, in fact their neighbors to the east would call them Romans which is how they referred to themselves, as they understood themselves as heirs to the Roman Empire and this is the reason that modern Greeks still call themselves Romioi.”

She continued, “The complication with the name Roman started in the early 9th century when Charlemagne and later monarchies in western Europe started claiming the legacy of Rome for themselves more and more forcefully and this has determined a lot of the modern perception of Byzantium.”

Prof. Mavroudi noted that it was a 16th century scholar, Hieronymus Wolf, who introduced the neologism and continues to be influential in how Byzantium is studied to this day and how we understand medieval history as the section of history “between antiquity and modernity.”

The presentation was highlighted by many slides of maps and photographs of artwork in the Byzantine style from various places, including the famed mosaic featuring the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, an important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture. The remarkable paintings in the Town Hall of Athens, Greece by the influential 20th century Greek artist Photis Kontoglou, and works by iconographer Mark Dukes from two nationally recognized churches, St. Gregory of Nysa Episcopal Church and the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, both in San Francisco, as well as works by artist Robert Lenz, also highlighted the powerful artistic influence of Byzantium to the present day. 

Following her lecture, Prof. Mavroudi answered questions from the audience with many offering their thanks and appreciation for the event. Kourides then offered his closing remarks and thanks as he noted that over 200 people had participated in the online event. He also pointed out that anyone with suggestions for future events should contact HACF and the recording of the lecture would also be available online.

More information is available online: www.hacfoundation.org.

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