Eleonora Kountoura-Galaki, Nike Koutrakou

Locals vs “foreigners”: criteria for the formation of local identities in Late Byzantium. An approach to Modern Graecitas through Late Byzantine writers


Late Byzantine historians and hagiographers reporting on movements of people throughout the Byzantine space and beyond did not fail to point out the provenance, if not the origins of their dramatis personae. What strikes the reader in this respect is the manner in which they do exactly that. Many of them mention ethnic origins, often with a specific (sometimes critical) comment, especially when dealing with a broader spectrum of events. A well-known example of this tendency is George Acropolites’s description of the acclamation as emperor of Michael VIII Palaeologus. The historian, “beautifying” Michael’s usurpation, presents the people as giving their consent to the events surrounding Michael’s accession to the throne, both by social and by ethnic segments: first the “Romans” and then the “Latins” declared themselves for Michael VIII. Finally the “Scythes” who, “however, did not answer as Barbarians but as Greeks and sage people”, as Acropolites pointed out, also accepted the accession. It is quite obvious from the previous passage that for the historian, language and customs are paramount as distinguishing features among people. However, this passage has to do with a specific event that did not concern movements of people and the identities underlined were defined by the allegiance expressed. Things were not always as clear-cut. When dealing with people’s movements in space, Late Byzantine historians usually mention not only ethnic or local provenance, but also cause and effect. The usual differentiation technique is to point out allegiance. Cantacuzenus, for instance, mentions “τὰ ἡμέτερα ᾑρημένας πόλεις” while he contrasts the “Βυζαντίου φυγάδες” with the situation “οἴκοι”, thus making distance a distinct feature in identification of people. Byzantine historians, accustomed to dealing with events impacting on the empire’s overall situation usually pointed out provenance as well as differences and particularities of customs, language and allegiance in passing, mostly taking them for granted. The situation in Hagiography was slightly different. Late Byzantine hagiographers were often the same literati to whom we owe histories and chronicles and they used the same high level of language. However, in this case the author’s point of view dealing with one specific subject/person usually appears more personalized. When perusing the Lives of Saints of Late Byzantium, we often come across mentions of how one or other locality was called “locally” (“ἐγχωρίως”, as for instance in Constantine Acropolites’s, Λόγος εἰς τὸν Ἅγιον Βάρβαρον) or what the name of a given place was in a common, popular local parlance/dialect (“ἀγροικικῶς” as in Theodore Studites’s Λόγος εἰς τὴν ἀνακομιδὴν τοῦ πατριάρχου Ἀθανασίου ). The same distinction often exists when hagiographical texts deal with people who could be locals (“ἐγχώριοι”, “αὐτόχθονες”), near neighbours (“περίοικοι”,“τῆς περιχώρου”) or foreigners coming from elsewhere (“ἐπήλυδες”) to quote Patriarch Philotheus Coccinus and his Λόγος εἰς τὸν ἐν ἁγίοις πατέρα ἡμῶν Γρηγόριον ἀρχιεπίσκοπον Θεσσαλονίκης. Furthermore, the concept of a particular locality which was perceived and felt as “country”, “patria” (πατρὶς) becomes paramount. Also, mentioning his own or his hero’s origins, often in conjunction with other localities he visited or in which he resided was, by Late Byzantine times, almost an obligation for the writer. Theodore Metohites, for instance, in his Life of St. John the Younger pointed out that he was writing while he found himself out of his “patria”, in Thrace, near Didymoteihon. It is interesting to note in this instance that Metochites used the word “ὑπερόριος”, which in Greek is also the term pertaining to exile. This paper will examine such instances and the terms used by Late Byzantine high level writers on a case by case basis, often in conjunction with ethnic names and characterizations which appear in the same sources. It will thus endeavour to draw some conclusions as to the differentiation criteria used (consciousness of difference and/or alienation, language, distance and relevant feelings, etc) and as to how these criteria might have impacted upon the formation of local identities, in contrast or in parallel to general (such as the notion of Romanitas or ethnic denominations) ones.

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