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Byzantine Legacies of the Ottoman Long Nineteenth Century

Panel X-16, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
This panel traces the interest in the Byzantine heritage found in the Ottoman capital and across the Ottoman Empire in the long nineteenth century, discusses the ways in which such interest was expressed, and provides a critical analysis of the purposes that it served. This panel looks at a variety of actors - both state and societal ones - with a view to establishing their quest for identity, as seen through their engagement with the material and immaterial remains of Byzantium, while exploring how and why these actors might have instrumentalized Byzantine heritage for political purposes. It examines the vantage point of the Ottoman state, which embraced Byzantium as a mode of defense against third countries as well as a factor that could reinforce the formation of a supranational Ottoman identity. It looks at the ways the Greek state utilized Byzantine heritage in its Anatolian mandate (Smyrna Zone) as a means to promote its territorial claims against the crumbling Ottoman Empire following World War I, and the role of the Greek Archaeological Service in this. It similarly investigates the place of Byzantium in the activities of non-Orthodox western countries that actively apportioned between them Ottoman provinces rich in Byzantine monuments in the Middle East in those decades. As for the societal actors, this panel discusses the importance of Byzantium for autochthonous populations, particularly Ottoman Muslims and the Greek Orthodox, with an emphasis on the Byzantine heritage located in Istanbul. In doing so, it questions established approaches that treat Byzantium and its legacies in a binary fashion that pits Christians and Muslims. This panel benefits from largely unpublished material found in a number of state archives (Ottoman Empire, Greece, various European countries), as well as period books, scholarly and other journals, newspapers, maps and illustrations, in various languages, such as Ottoman Turkish, Greek, English, French, and Italian. It combines historical analysis and the tools of Ottoman studies with insights from archaeology and social theory. Overall, this panel contributes to a better understanding of the uses and misuses of the legacies and heritage of Byzantium in the Ottoman long nineteenth century. Given the salience of Ottoman history in Turkey in recent years, it thus also aspires to further the current discussion on the Byzantine heritage found in that country as well as the larger Middle East.
  • This paper explores the place of Byzantine heritage and Byzantine studies in the period immediately after the First World War in the Ottoman/post-Ottoman lands. The interest in the Byzantine heritage increased in the empire in the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a part of the accepted Ottoman heritage. This was partly due to Russian and Greek interest in the subject; as these two states made historical claims over the Ottoman territory, the Ottomans grew defensive and started to underscore the connections between the Ottoman and Byzantine empires. Another reason for rising interest was the construction of a larger Ottoman identity that encompassed different layers and peoples of the empire. Antiquities were very useful in this construction. The First World War and the following Allied occupation disrupted the field and reshuffled the actors in the field of cultural heritage. The Russians were no longer claim-makers and the Greeks were not able to play an active role in Byzantine antiquities in Asia Minor due to the occupation of western Asia Minor. The British, French, and Italian occupation of Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Greater Syria provided new opportunities to interact with Byzantine antiquities. This paper questions the meanings and roles given to Byzantine heritage by a wide array of actors in the post-war Middle East. What were the value and uses of Byzantine heritage to non-Orthodox Christian states of western Europe? What were its uses of it for the various autochthonous populations of the Middle East? The paper explores the development of Byzantine studies and its relationship with other fields like Biblical Studies and ancient Greek and Roman history and archaeology. It investigates the period before the solidification of preferences of European powers and the crystallization of national identities of the newly formed states and mandates by studying archival documents, contemporary scholarly journals and newspapers, and memoirs.
  • This paper focuses on the transformation of the research on the Byzantine layer of Istanbul by the Greek Orthodox intellectuals throughout the long nineteenth century. Spanning from an antiquarian interest in the historical texture of the city in the early decades of the nineteenth century, followed by an “encyclopedist” approach, this paper traces this transformation into the emergence of a new, proto-(urban) archaeological research effort accompanied by institutionalization in the second half of the nineteenth century. As widely known, the historiography of the Byzantine Empire and its material residue is extremely pertinent to the formation of Modern Greek identity from the eighteenth century onwards. However, an exclusivist focus on the research conducted by the Greek Orthodox intellectuals on the Byzantine texture of İstanbul bears the risk of falling into the traps of “nationalism,” even more so “nationism” in Cemal Kafadar’s terms. According to Kafadar, despite their alertness to the pitfalls of nationalism or their open dismissal of its ideology, many scholars continue to base their analysis in national terms, with the result that ethnic-national identities and cultures still dominate the scholarship. For all their value, such identity-driven studies tend to underestimate the multifarious structure of the broader Ottoman society ignores the significant extra- and supra-communal impact of these intellectuals, their works, and institutions. In this light, this paper follows the Latourian terminology in employing the historical material texture of Constantinople as a ‘non-human actant’ in the form of an ‘object of knowledge’ which enables the ‘formation of a new social.’ Such an approach has the potential to allow this study to go beyond the established categories within Ottoman historiography, and convey a far more complex picture, especially when it comes to ethnoreligious communities such as the Greek-Orthodox. Accordingly, in this paper, the Byzantine texture of Istanbul is an object of knowledge that creates links between various actors that were, in one way or another, engaged with that object. The representation of this object is formed through the accumulation of knowledge on the historical urban material context and its emergence in different solid forms, such as books, journals, maps, illustrations, and the like. Through close scrutiny of examples of these representations and the network that surrounds them, the paper investigates the transformation of knowledge on the historical material context of Istanbul, that is, the Byzantine heritage, from ‘urban antiquarianism’ to ‘urban archaeology’ throughout the nineteenth century.
  • In 1910, Mehmed Ziya, an Ottoman Muslim high school teacher and an intellectual active on a number of heritage-related initiatives of his time, published an illustrated book on the Kariye mosque (Chora monastery) in Istanbul. This 70-page long publication is largely an art historical account, and provides useful documentation (also by means of photography) on the state of this Byzantine monument at that time. More than a purely art historical treatise, however, “Kaʻriye Cami-i Şerifi” is a testimony to an Ottoman Muslim interest in safeguarding the Byzantine heritage of the Ottoman capital. In this book, one finds information on what galvanised Mehmed Ziya to study this monument, and on his efforts to raise awareness, inter alia, among his students by organising a group school visit to it. Also, uncomfortable at the thought of Ottoman destruction of Byzantine monuments at the time of the conquest of Constantinople (1453), he shares his own understanding on that matter. At the end of the book, Mehmed Ziya has added copies of (a) his letter on the Chora monastery to Halil Bey, Director of the Imperial Museum, and (b) a letter by his students requesting the protection of this monument. Overall, Mehmet Ziya’s “Kaʻriye Cami-i Şerifi” is a window into the Ottoman Muslim reception of Byzantine heritage in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire. Studied in conjunction with other material, such as the views of other Ottoman Muslim intellectuals on the material remains of the Byzantine past in the Ottoman capital, it allows for an in-depth discussion of the ideology that supported such an interest, as well as the demands that accompanied it. Given that “Kaʻriye Cami-i Şerifi” remains to this day seriously understudied, a contextualized critical analysis of its content shall much enrich our understanding of Ottoman Muslim elite concerns on the Byzantine heritage of Istanbul. Besides that, at a time when emblematic Byzantine churches in Turkey are being (re)converted into mosques (largely in the name of Ottoman history), Mehmed Ziya’s book on Chora monastery/Kariye mosque may also be read as an alternative approach to Byzantine heritage from Ottoman times themselves.
  • The Greek occupation and administration of the Smyrna Zone began with the landing of the Greek army in the city's harbor in May 1919 and ended with its disorderly retreat in September 1922. Within these three years, the Greek State established and funded the High Commission, a local government scheme, formulated as a League of Nations’ mandate. Greek archaeologists settled in Asia Minor along with political and military forces. Thus, the Antiquities Department of Smyrna of the local Directorate of Education was established in 1919. In the following years the Department of Antiquities achieved the safekeeping, preservation, rescue, collection and research of antiquities and the establishment of a few Museums. The Greek archaeological mission was intended to support the national narrative of the ‘timeless presence of the Greeks’ and to reinforce the national ideology of the time: the Megali Idea (Great Idea), i.e. the revival of Byzantium, which was considered as the medieval stage of ‘eternal Greece’. In this context, excavations were carried out in ancient Greek cities and in Byzantine Ephesus. The High Commission invited from Athens the famous Byzantine scholar, Georgios Sotiriou to excavate the 6th century cathedral in the acropolis of Ayasuluk (Old Ephesus). The first excavation period in the summer of 1921 brought to light the 100-meter cross shaped basilica. The excavation, which cost 15,000 drachmas, took place at exactly the same time as bloody battles were being fought for the expansion of the Greek territory beyond the Sangarius (Sakarya) River. The second excavation period in the summer of 1922 brought to light the mausoleum of St. John, gifting the Christian world with a valuable pilgrim site. This discovery was rivaling the House of the Virgin Mary in Roman Ephesus, which was highlighted by the Vatican a few decades earlier. The Greek excavation at Byzantine Ephesus in 1922 cost 20,000 drachmas and ended abruptly, due to the collapse of the war front, the retreat, the mass slaughter and complete destruction of the Greeks in September 1922. This work presents for the first time unknown administrative records, unpublished photographs and valuable evidence for understanding the political importance of Byzantium for the national vision of modern Greece. It also demonstrates the decent and methodical work of the Greek archaeologists who managed to keep their distance from the national excitement of their times.