Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

The political portrayal and affiliation of “Greek” immigrants in ninth-century Rome and Italy

This project builds on a key conclusion of my PhD dissertation, namely that the second half of the eighth century saw a conceptual shift in the characterization in Latin sources of the “Greeks” (Graeci) as the body politic of the Byzantine state. I now explore the impact of this conceptual shift on the portrayal of Greek communities and refugees in relation to Constantinople in ninth-century Italy, and especially in Rome. Until the eighth century, the Greekness of individuals dwelling in the City was not necessarily subjected to, or even associated with imperial policies, and individuals with a hellenophone background could demonstrate their full assimilation as Romans. I wish to gauge the impact of the new characterization of Byzantium as the “empire of the Greeks” on the political portrayal of the Graeci of past or recent immigration. Thus, the originality of my approach lies in the systematic study of the degree of political affiliation – if any – towards the imperial government that was expected from these “Greeks.” Were they portrayed following an expected subject status to – or rebellious stance against – the government of Constantinople? Could Italo-Greek communities, despite their assimilation or acculturation, avoid the sense of increased political, cultural, and religious estrangement conveyed by the label “Greeks”?

Of particular relevance is the time of the Second Iconoclasm in Byzantium (815-843), when a group of iconophile opponents fled to Rome. These “Greeks” were evidently perceived as refugees, paying with exile for their opposition to the resurgence of imperial iconoclast policies. Their portrayal in the sources should be compared with the “Greek” monastic communities which, by the ninth century, had long been assimilated to the spiritual and social panorama of the City. The newly arrived and the long-implanted Graeci were equally partisans of church images, but they assumed different positions regarding both the imperial government and the Roman Church. Thus, they seem to have been met with different political expectations despite their common Greekness: There were Graeci who had recently defected their emperor in Constantinople, and Graeci who shared the mindset of their fellow Romans, including in their devotion to icons. I attempt to find evidence of this different perceptions both in texts and iconographic programs: Some of the (former) “Greek” churches of early medieval Rome have preserved telling, although fragmentary witnesses of these communities’ devotion to images, and of their integration into the politics and social fabric of the City.