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Eastern Roman Empire Essay, Research Paper

The greatest of medieval civilizations was the Eastern Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was divided in 395. The Western half, ruled from Rome, was ruled by the barbarians in the 5th century. The Eastern half, known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted for more than over 1,000 years. The Byzantine Empire was one of the leading civilizations in the world. Some of the reasons for the success of the Byzantine Empire was because of their strength is art and architecture.


One kind of metal that the Byzantine’s really liked to use was gold. They got the gold form a place called Armenia, and from mines and streams in Greece. Byzantine’s described gold as condensed light from the sun, and they made it the symbol of incorruptibility, truth, and glory. It was sometimes mixed with silver or copper. Gold was worked to create coins, medallions, enamel plaques, jewelry, elegant dishes for the home, and containers for the church. Gold foil was used in mosaic cubes, book illumination, and icon painting. Gold wires were even woven into textiles and used in embroideries.


Another type of metal that they liked using lots was Silver. The got most of their silver from mines in Armenia and Cyprus. It was used to create works of art for the church, including decorative pavements and icon frames. Not very much personal jewelry was ever made of silver, except for amulets. Some of the techniques that they used to work the silver included carving it, hammering it as a sheet from the reverse side or over a wooden form to make a raised image, engraving and chasing, they then filled the grooves with a black compound of silver and other elements, then decorated it with cords made by melting together metal grains or beads to create raised patterns on a metal surface. Silver works of art might be made to imitate the look of gold, especially if they were to be set with gold enamel plaques and gems

Icons and Manuscripts

Quite a few of the artists that created the Icon Panels were monks. The profession had quite a bit of prestige, since Saint Luke was believed to have painted icons. The artists that made the Icons were thought to have had supernatural aid in finishing their works. Although in the sixth and seventh centuries painters used both, pigments suspended in wax and pigments suspended in egg yolk were used to create the colors of sacred images on wooden panels. Painted icons could take the shape of a single rectangular panel, two joined panels, called a diptych, or three joined panels. No circular examples exist today, but they may have existed.

Byzantine manuscripts often reflected a deep devotion to Christianity and the state through the great art on them. Scribes, whose chief task was creating the script, and illuminators, who usually painted pictures in books after the scribe had made the text, most often worked on copies of the Bible, collections of saints’ lives, and sermons. They also produced illustrated volumes of classical Greek poetry, drama, philosophy, history, and secular poetry, as well as manuals on the law, veterinary science, military tactics, poisons, and medicinal plants. Although richly decorated at times, most of the nonreligious works had rather simple pictures.

Byzantine illuminators, who sometimes were scribes themselves, were influenced by mosaics, sculpture, and metalwork. To create their works of art, illuminators first made a sketch in the space left by the scribe, then covered it with colors. Sometimes the paintings were made on a separate sheet, which was added to the book when it was made. One of the most common book illustrations was the author’s picture, in which the author is usually shown sitting in his study, writing or pausing to reflect, sometimes looking toward the text of the facing page.


Elephant tusks were carved by some artists to create many works of art, including icons and panels covering furniture and doors. By the fourth century Constantinople was a center of ivory carving. Even though records indicate that ivory carvers passed on their skills to their children, we do not know of their production methods. Dependent on trade with Africa and India, the availability of ivory changed lots over the centuries. Ivory carving in Constantinople was interrupted in the late sixth and seventh centuries by Arab invasions in the Middle East, which cut them off from its supply. When the art from got popular again in the tenth century, its themes were both religious and secular. In the twelfth century the supply of ivory seemed to have vanished. They don’t know why but they think it is because it was diverted at its source to the west. Byzantine ivory carvers then used walrus or narwhale tusks, bone, and soapstone.


Although Byzantine artists often painted walls with pictures on fresh plaster, mosaic was the most elaborate and expensive form of decoration for the walls of churches and palaces. It was perfected by Byzantine artists during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Byzantine mosaics were so admired that mosaicists from Byzantium even traveled to Italy and the Kiev, Russia to practice their art.

To create their mosaics, the artists had durable multicolored stone and marble pieces as well as cubes of fragile materials, such as brick or terra cotta, semiprecious gems, and colored glass to create their wall mosaics. They also made gold and silver cubes by sandwiching foil between layers of translucent glass. To create a mosaic, the artist first covered a wall with one or more layers of plaster. A final layer of mortar was mixed with crushed pottery, called a setting bed, and often guidelines were painted on it. Finally the artist pressed the mosaic cubes into the setting bed, setting them at different angles to create a glittering effect when light struck them. A mosaicist could perhaps cover up to four meters of wall a day with mosaics.


Silk was made by moths, especially the Bombyx mori from China. The silk was used in yarns and textiles. Silk was always considered a luxury product in Byzantium; it was sold by weight. They first imported silk from China and other places. Then in the year 553, under Emperor Justinian I, silk moth eggs were reportedly smuggled into the empire by some monks who had learned the secrets of silk production in the Far East. From the seventh century onward the center of the Byzantine silk industry was Constantinople. Made either in imperial factories, or in private workshops, silk was used to make court and church clothing, altar cloths, curtains, couch fabrics, wall hangings, and embroidery. The Byzantine’s tightly controlled the manufacture and trade and then guaranteed its quality.

Most of the Byzantine silks still in existence date from the tenth and eleventh centuries. They mainly come from church treasuries of western Europe, where they were often used to wrap the respected remains of saints or objects associated with them. Their brightly colored designs in weave, include rows of animals, such as eagles; series of lions, griffins, and elephants in circles; hunting scenes; and images of Byzantine emperors.




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