Reframing Empire: Byzantium and the Transformation of European Identity, C. 1400–1520
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CitationAschenbrenner, Nathanael. 2019. Reframing Empire: Byzantium and the Transformation of European Identity, C. 1400–1520. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation investigates the social and political functions of ideas of empire in sustaining, subverting, and reshaping communities in late medieval and early modern Europe. Examining fifteenth-century imperial thought in and about the Byzantine empire drawn from rarely examined Greek and Latin texts, this dissertation shows how empire became a critical category in negotiations over political legitimacy and identity amidst the rapid reconfigurations of the Mediterranean world c. 1400–1520. In the dying Byzantine empire, oratorical celebrations of imperial authority bound elites together, but also magnified deep social and political divisions over church politics, imperial territory, and succession, hastening the empire’s demise. This Byzantine oratory, performed at the imperial court, also provided tools for the reconceptualization of Byzantium’s historical and ideological relationship to Latin Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans. This cataclysmic event prompted intellectuals in the Latin West to use Byzantium’s imperial past to justify contemporary programs of religious warfare, European harmony, and universal kingship. But it also sparked profound revisions to existing concepts of Europe, Christendom and the Roman Empire, granting the previously marginalized Byzantium a place at the heart of these cohering conceptions of community.
By examining the way ideologies of empire drew communal and cultural boundaries, this study connects political developments in the eastern Mediterranean with late medieval and humanist political and historical thought, as well as modern scholarship on the formation of enduring concepts, such as the “West” and “Europe.” Drawing together the theories of empire articulated in Latin and Byzantine learned cultures, this dissertation illustrates the significance of the Byzantine legacy in the ideologies and politics of early modern Europe. Even more, it shows a new facet of empire’s persistent utility to thinkers and political actors in the late medieval and early modern world, even at a time when imperial states and institutions appeared decrepit. Reframing empire not only animated the politics of exploration, conquest, and state formation in early modernity. It also marked a critical development in the European colonization of a complex medieval past, and sketched the cultural frontiers of the European community that would persist into modernity.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029579
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