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Prologue: the two worlds of Christendom

[From, Byzantine East & Latin West: Two Worlds in Middle Ages and Renaissance, Harper Torch books, New York 1966]


Before the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 the Byzantines were noted for their industrial techniques -techniques carried over in some cases from the ancient Greco-Roman world, but in others involving processes perfected in Byzantium. Silk manufacture, especially the making of magnificent gold embroidered brocades and the designing of patterns on rich materials, though partly inspired from the ancient Near East, became a speciality of the medieval Greeks. Remarkable for their longevity are some of the Byzantine textiles still remaining, such as those found in the tomb of Charlemagne dating from the ninth century. The products of Byzantine silk manufacture were so prized by the West that when, early in the twelfth century, the Norman King Roger II attacked Byzantine Greece, he took special care to transport to Palermo the most skilled Theban and Peloponnesian silk workers. The historian of science George Sarton believes that this marked the beginnings of silk production in the West.(46) But it is perhaps more likely that the production of the finer western silk may be dated from this time.

We have already referred to the Byzantine reputation for the casting of bronze doors -examples of which are still to be found in the cathedral of Pisa, the church of St. Paul -outside-the-walls in Rome, at the great monastery of Monte-Cassino, the cathedral of Amalfi(47) and elsewhere. Byzantium until 1204 was also Europe's chief centre for the making of glass. After that date the industry began to revive in the West, especially in Venice. There can be little doubt but that the many centuries of Venetian trade with the East and particularly her conquest of the Greek capital in 1204 had a good deal to do with her newly found technological supremacy for which she soon became famous.(48) Interestingly enough, one of the best accounts we have of medieval glassmaking, a treatise of the German priest Theophilus, dating from the early twelfth century, prominently mentions the

Byzantine methods of manufacturing certain types of glassware such as plate glass and drinking vessels decorated with gold leaf.(49)


46. - G. Sarton, An Introduction to the History of Science (Baltimore, 1931) 171. F. Chalandon, Les Commenes (Paris, 1912) ΙI, 317 ff. On the Byzantine silk industry see esp. R. Lopez 'Silk Manufacture in the Byzantine Empire', Speculum XX, 1 ff. Talbot Rice, Art of the Byzantine Era (New York, 1963) 106, believes Otto IIΙ put Byzantine silks into Charlemagne's tomb in 1000.

47. - Η. Βloch, 'Monte Cassino, Byzantium, and the West in the Earlier Middle Age', Dumbarton Oaks Papers, IIΙ (1946) 163-224. In the tenth century bronze doors were cast at Hildesheim for Bishop Bernward who had them copied from the Byzantine-inspired doors made at Aachen for Charlemagne. See F. Tschan, St. Bernard of Hildesheim, II (Notre Dame, 1942) 142, 168-69 and 200, n. 6.

48. - Arabic Egypt had a remarkable glass industry as a heritage from Hellenistic Roman-Byzantine times. Venice may have been influenced by this too.

49. - See Theophilus Presbyter, Schedula Diversarum Artium, ed. Η. Hagen (Vienna, 1874), esp. 114-117.

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