The City: Constantinople in 1200

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to actually WALK THROUGH CONSTANTINOPLE?  This wonderful web site is a re-creation based on archeological records and the knowledge of great scholars merged with a wonderful geeky computer person.  Go see what they have done! It is WONDERFUL!

APPROACHING BY SEA the traveler could have seen these sea walls and marveled at the size and scope of the defenses! They would see the Hagia Sophia in the distance on a rise– imagine approaching at night during Easter with the entire place lit up?

I can just imagine sitting in these seats (scroll down a bit) and watching the races. I love horse races! Scroll a bit further down and imagine driving your horses through the arch onto the track and the cheering of the crowds.

The Monastery of St John the Baptist was of great influence in the 9th century and very likely in my focus on the 10th century. The architecture dates back into the mid to late 400’s. It is very beautiful and the original funding was by a senator Stoudios.

Home to Basil II in the 10th century: the Boukoleon Palace.

Of course I had to visit the page for the Hagia Sophia. I read a book on Liturgy for my period and region of the world. It talked about where the Divine Liturgy began and from which point it moved. Quite the complicated liturgical pattern!  Now I can “see” the building and imagine each part of the Divine Liturgy.

Of course, this wonderful site has a page of links to similar sites that cover places like ROME and BABYLON.  Go look, the work is so awesome and amazing!

Oh the joy I feel when perusing these pages!

I am very much hoping that this marvelous web site eventually will become a full color table top book with a CD– that is what I want. I would happily spend for a book and CD like that– and might even give a copy as a gift if I knew of a family member who would appreciate it enough!

Or maybe a wonderful app for the IPad where you could walk through and click on the map and read about each place.  I would download that to my iPad in a heartbeat, and again to my kid’s iPad!  I’d buy such an app!

So, go visit this wonderful site and enjoy. Wish they had a go-fund-me so they can do even more of this sort of work.  I love archeology recreated so we can better understand what the places were like in the past.

Two Favorite Museums: Dumbarton Oaks and Getty Museums

These two museums are wonderful examples. The first for their diligent efforts to further scholarship and the second as an example of how user friendly a museum can be.

DUMBARTON OAKS RESEARCH LIBRARY AND COLLECTION

First, Dumbarton Oaks Museum is so much more than a museum. I love using their web site. Of their Byzantine Collection they say,

The Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection is one of the finest collections of artifacts from the Byzantine Empire. Spanning the imperial, ecclesiastical, and secular realms, the collection comprises more than twelve hundred objects from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries.

I would add that their publications are of great value to anyone who wishes to delve into the thinking of scholars of Byzantine and related studies. Be sure to explore their coin and seal collection.

Dumarton Oaks also offers manuscripts in digital form. Of the Manuscripts in the Byzantine Collection they say,

Illustrated manuscripts are not simply texts. Neither are they simply a series of images. They are objects which combine text and image into a visual and verbal tool with particular uses and behaviors. We experience books sequentially by turning the pages. We can only experience a real book as openings, and then only one opening at a time. These animated manuscripts allow you to page back and forth through these books as they were intended to be used, and as they were used for hundreds of years before arriving at the museum.

The Dumbarton Oaks search page for the collections is easy to use. Simply choosing from the icons or heading leads to this early Byzantine pendant or this one.

J PAUL GETTY MUSEUM

The J Paul Getty Museum is a delightful museum with a wonderful, easy to use search pattern. J Paul Getty Museum-Byzantine search and the example:Bead 9-10 century. I would love to see more museum web pages this easy to use.

Byzantine Tents

I love the idea of a vardo-type conveyance, but so many events relegate them to an area away from the tents, which puts me off a bit as I am incredibly introverted and prefer to attend events with my local group.  So, I reverted to looking at tents.

There is clear evidence that the Romans used large round tents with a center pole, and, some say spokes radiating out from the center pole. This is speculation because while the scholars say round yes, they note a lack in the written or pictorial record for the inside of the tent roofs.
Assedio di Messina 1040              By John Skylitzes (Madrid Skylitzes) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That said, there is abundant pictorial evidence of the round tent from exterior views and many internet friendly places to explore them. For example, Levantia, the blog of Dr. Timothy Dawson re-creator of history and academic, has a wonderful page on tents. On Facebook I frequent several Byzantine oriented pages: SCA Byzanteam where we had a long discussion of tent styles suitable for an SCA persona who is 10th Century and Byzantine and Byzantine Army where the scholarship is delightfully good, and participants give evidence (and sharing images) to support their positions.
Alusian appears before Peter Delyan and the Bulgarian camp              By John Skylitzes (Madrid Skylitzes) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The favored images from the historical record brought up in each discussion and on Dr. Dawson’s web page, are similar if not the same.  Looking on my own via “googling” turned up pretty much the same images. Being that I am not planning on becoming a scholar specializing in research on tent usages in the 10th century, I decided to count the fact that I am interacting with persons far better educated in the field than myself, that it is safe to say the round pavilion with a center pole is an excellent choice.

Panther Primitives Round Pavilion

In modern tent makers there are several who produce suitable tents. I am drooling over the Panther Primitives version. Midwest Tent has a less expensive and serviceable version. Both companies have happy customers. I like the options available with Panther Primitives. (A nice modern option is from Canvas Camp. The entry is low, but it visually fits into a crowd of period tents.)

White is the basic color of the canvas, and some persons use paint to decorate the walls–like the image from Panther Primitives. This has lots of FUN ideas bouncing around my head.

The next nagging question is: Which dagging option for around the top of the tent walls do I want? Which is more likely to have happened in period?

According to my reading (and if I could find the book I would give you the title), tents of the wealthy were heavily decorated, another version of the flashy use of color and design to signify position in society. I will update when I find the book…

Coriander Seed in Sauerkraut

OH WOW!  This is an eye opener, indeed.  I put coriander seed in a fermentation of cabbage and this morning the resulting excess brine was added to breakfast.  This is a one bowl sort of meal, with the steamed veggies and cut up meat mixed together with whatever interesting flavor is available. Today, it was coriander seed brine and cinnamon.   Coriander with cinnamon produces a pungent odor, almost like the smell of a really strong cheese. I enjoyed the flavor to a surprising degree.

So my breakfast, in addition to the lovely probiotics found in the brine after fermentation, was amazingly flavorful.

As this is a fermentation process that was common in the 10th century, and the coriander seed was a common seasoning in that period, and human beings love to eat what tastes really good, and the Byzantines loved strong smells (just research their take on perfumes!), I suspect I just ate a breakfast that would not have been out of place on the table of my SCA persona. FUN!

I apologize for scarfing it down before I thought to take a photo for the blog. MUST improve on my habits!

CABBAGE!

Started my first crock of cabbage fermenting a few days ago, and so far it is off-gassing exactly as it should! Happy cabbage! I am using the lactic acid fermentation that takes place on a salt brine. I made my salt brine with pink salt that has been mined in the same place since before my 10th century time period. So my persona could very well have purchased this sort of salt in the market of Constantinople.

Due to a discussion on whether or not the Byzantines would have spiced their ferment of cabbage, I did not spice this batch. Meanwhile, I have been reading up on the history of cabbage and attempting to discover if any of the heirloom versions resemble what my persona would have used. If I find one, I will see if I can manage to grow it in a pot and try it in another ferment.

Meanwhile, I used the modern head cabbage that was developed much later in Europe. It is inexpensive so makes a good choice for learning the method. If I mess this up it will not cost me so much to try again.

And I am still seeking out sources to find, if I am able, an example of spiced cabbage ferment.

Sometime in October this first crock will be ready to eat! I am very excited and barely can wait!

Spices for Fermented Cabbage

I have been speaking to persons on one of the Society for Creative Anachronism pages about the right spices to use in my fermenting cabbage if my persona lived in 10th Century Constantinople and was part of a well off family.

So we have coriander, cumin, mustard seed, dill, fenugreek, peppercorn, & dill weed as all likely common spices for 10th Century Byzantium.

Further inquiry about the whole process brought out the recommendation that I choose no more than three off the list, and use no more than a table spoon of each in a one gallon crock of fermenting cabbage. Someone also suggested using the spices whole when possible.

Now, none of this is documented.  I suspect that from the extant materials, that the list of spices can be verified.  That cabbage was preserved by fermentation is well attested in the records. Pliny mentions it, and it is also ubiquitous, the Vikings made sauerkraut, the Koreans made Kimchi, and I read somewhere that the Romans would take it with them when they had to go East to help their digestion cope with the changes in food and water.

So I expect that with some work, if I wanted to document it for a paper, I could do so from the books I have on hand or can get ahold of without too much difficulty.

Meanwhile, the debate on facebook was IF cabbage would have been seasoned at all during fermentation.  With all the coming and going along the silk road, connecting everywhere from Scandanavia to Korea, there must have been variations. Would everyone have fermented their cabbage plain? The Koreans certainly didn’t leave theirs plain, even including fish parts in their fermentation process, but even there, the documentation is scanty until after the Koryo dynasty.

The Byzantines spiced a lot of things.  They fermented fish guts to make garum. They put that on all sorts of foods. But we do not have a document that indicates that the fermented cabbage was spiced. Thus we speculate.

So, we know what spices were common in my period and place. We know that cabbage and other vegetables were commonly fermented to preserve their nutrition. We do know that a 10th century Byzantine household would have had fermented foods with most meals, and liked to spice things, but we don’t know if they spiced their cabbage.

I am going to speculate that cabbage was fermented all sorts of ways. Mine will be spiced.

Now to figure out how to keep my crock cool enough, and find a place to cut up cabbage.  I wonder….

 

Book Recommendation: DAILY LIFE IN THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE

DAILY LIFE IN THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE by Marcus Rautman is a good starting place for anyone interested in the Byzantine Empire. Sections on every imaginable aspect of daily living can be found in this book. The author gives references for further reading by way of chapter end-notes and a Bibliography. The book includes nice clear maps, a glossary of terms, index, list of rulers and their years in power, timeline, and illustrations. Chapter titles and headings are bold and informational and make finding a specific bit of information easier for the reader.

As an over-view of life in Byzantium the book is naturally limited in how deeply it can delve into each topic. In spite of this, the amount of detail the author has brought together is quite good. What is more, the types of information given serve well to help the reader imagine the details of life for a person living in the Byzantine Empire. For topics I have read about more extensively, I found this author to have given a good balanced over-view of what is known. I may update my evaluation of the book as I read further in new topics but as of this writing I approve of this book.

I highly recommend this book both for home school use (middle school or higher) and for the purposes of developing a persona to play in the Society for Creative Anachronisms.

I hope a good over-view book like this one will encourage more persons to opt for Byzantine in the SCA.