Middle Byzantine Thessaloniki: Art, Architecture and History of the Ninth through Twelfth Centuries

Middle Byzantine Thessaloniki: Art, Architecture and History of the Ninth through Twelfth Centuries

By Amelia Robertson Brown

BA Thesis, Princeton, 1999

Introduction: Few cities possess the rich assortment of monuments or extensive unbroken urban history of Thessaloniki, Greece, the city perched between the Balkans and the Aegean in Macedonia. Indeed, from its founding around 316 B.C.E. by Cassander, the city was successively an urban center under the Hellenistic kingdoms, the Roman Republic and the Empire. She then became the second city of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and, since 1912, the second city of modern Greece. Each of these periods was characterized by different urban institutions and composition, from the Hellenized center of Roman Illyricum to the polyglot, majority Jewish city of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1997, Thessaloniki was Cultural Capital of Europe, an event which was celebrated with the publication of an extensive volume of articles on the city. Although the Byzantine Emperor ruled over the city for approximately one thousand years, a period filled with danger and declining urban life, especially in the Balkans, this tome devotes a mere three articles to the Byzantine Empire; the Middle Byzantine Period, from the end of Iconoclasm in 843 until the fall of Constantinople in 1204, rates only three pages. This is due partly to the lack of evidence, partly to a lack of scholarship, but in any case it is a shame, for this period was in many ways the heyday of the Empire. More specifically, although Thessaloniki was sacked twice during this period, under siege during several invasions and civil wars, and suffered from Imperial preoccupations in Asia Minor, the city survived. While many of the other Roman cities of the Balkans dissolved into villages or disappeared entirely, Thessaloniki remained a flourishing urban center throughout the period, changing with the times but also preserving those qualities which kept her whole.

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