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Byzantine Dress Accessories in North Africa: Koiné and Regionality

Byzantine Dress Accessories in North Africa: Koiné and Regionality

By Christoph Eger

‘Intelligible Beauty’: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery, edited by Chris Entwistle and Noël Adams (British Museum, 2010)

Introduction: ‘Byzantine dress accessories in North Africa’ has a twofold meaning: either dress accessories of Byzantine origin or of the Byzantine period. The two are not necessarily identical. For more than 160 years, from 533/4 until 698, North Africa was ruled by Byzantium and produced one of the most important emperors of the time, Heraclius (610–41). However, the region between Septem (mod. Ceuta) and the border to Cyrenaica was not one of the core regions of the Byzantine Empire, but was situated on its south-western periphery. And it did not belong to the Byzantine world from the outset: the Late Antique period in North Africa can be divided into two phases: until 429 the whole of North Africa formed part of the western half of the Roman Empire; then from 429 until 533/4 the Vandals controlled major parts of the former diocese of Africa. The geographical situation and historical development alone make quite clear that the material culture cannot have been shaped solely by eastern Mediterranean influences, but was also influenced from elsewhere.

In North Africa, as in other regions of the Byzantine Empire, supra-regional types and fashions sometimes co-existed with local traditions. In terms of provincial Byzantine archaeology, it is therefore desirable to establish a clearer regional differentiation of the find material which records the idiosyncracies of craftwork within the Byzantine Empire. Despite the still unsatisfactory state of publication this seems possible, at least for some groups of objects, amongst them belt buckles. The pre-condition for this is a detailed typological and stylistic analysis, which also includes technical details as far as possible. On this basis, types and variants can be defined and their distribution patterns consequently analysed. It has long been known that the main distribution concentrations of Byzantine small finds do not necessarily indicate major market areas where production sites may be assumed. Inevitable filters for the interpretation of distribution maps are the different quality and quantity of available source material (e.g. different burial customs, which become particularly apparent in finds outside the Empire) and the widely variable state of publication in the various regions of the Mediterranean. The last is particularly true for North Africa where, hitherto, it has been impossible to obtain a clear idea of Late Antique dress accessories

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