Byzantium & the West

Byzantium & the West

A fascinating (Hi)story

In 2018, Schallaburg Castle is recalling a fascinating story from the past. It is about prejudices and the thirst for knowledge, about greed and fascination, about two worlds that were so intimately interwoven and yet so far apart. It is the story of Byzantium and the West. We put to sea with pilgrims, merchants and crusaders, meet Charlemagne at his coronation in Rome, and accompany the Byzantine Princess Theodora on her way from Constantinople to Austria; we meet French knights looking for treasures and adventures in Greece, and Byzantine scholars who were acclaimed in Italy; we expose charlatans and look at the wheelings and dealings of relic traders.

Exhibits from around the globe make “Byzantium & the West” a unique exhibition indeed, including pieces from renowned collections such as the Paris Musée de Louvre and the French National Library, the Treasury of San Marco in Venice, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens.

The show is an exciting expedition for all age groups, with interactive games, booklets and audio stations making the journey to the medieval Mediterranean an adventure for the whole family.

The sciences enter the limelight! A large team of scientists made sure the exhibition is based on the latest research findings. They will answer any questions you might have regarding Byzantium.

United empire: comb with personifications of the metropolises of Rome (image) and Constantinople © Benaki Museum, Athen

Ivory comb

United empire: comb with personifications of the metropolises of Rome (image) and Constantinople

© Benaki Museum, Athen

Byzantine ivory plates were reused in the West for adorning book covers © Domkapitel Aachen, Picture: Pit Siebigs

Book cover with ivory relief

Byzantine ivory plates were reused in the West for adorning book covers

© Domkapitel Aachen, Picture: Pit Siebigs

Byzantine masters adorned Venetian churches with artful mosaics © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre), Picture: Martine Beck-Coppola

Head of an angel

Byzantine masters adorned Venetian churches with artful mosaics

© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre), Picture: Martine Beck-Coppola

Grave finds in the West document the military service of Germanic noblemen in the Byzantine army © GDKE, Landesmuseum Mainz,Picture: U. Rudischer

Spangenhelm

Grave finds in the West document the military service of Germanic noblemen in the Byzantine army

© GDKE, Landesmuseum Mainz,Picture: U. Rudischer

Highly coveted in the West: outstanding relic associated with Jesus, including a Holy Nail from the True Cross © Domschatz Essen, Picture: Jens Nober

Cross Nail reliquary

Highly coveted in the West: outstanding relic associated with Jesus, including a Holy Nail from the True Cross

© Domschatz Essen, Picture: Jens Nober

In cooperation with

RGZM Logo Leibniz ScienceCampus Mainz Logo OEAW Logo

The story of "Byzantium & the West" began in the 4th Century ...

... when the Roman Empire was partitioned.

The Roman Empire encompassed all of the Mediterranean. Because of its size it was difficult to administer and even more difficult to defend. Hence it was divided into two halves – a Western and an Eastern Empire.

For the Western Roman Empire, this was the beginning of the end: it struggled against unrest at home and abroad and was overrun by countless invaders.

In the East, things looked quite different: the Eastern Roman – or Byzantine – Empire would survive to become a global power, with Constantinople as its capital and the political and cultural centre of the Mediterranean.

Yet in spite of the partition people continued to travel from East to West and, above all, from West to East: many came to make money by fighting for Byzantium. Even more set out on pilgrimages to visit sacred sites. Some stayed in foreign parts and started a new life. Others returned. In their baggage they had precious artefacts, new ideas and fantastic stories.

Byzantium was all gold. It beamed out brilliance and glamour. Its treasures were hot property in the West, where anyone who wanted to be part of the elite wore Byzantine silk, owned relics of Eastern saints, or even married a Greek princess. Yet the Byzantines guarded their riches greedily and would only give them away to special people as gifts – that was their way of appeasing enemies and winning friends.

Political and religious differences, as well as language barriers and clashing interests increasingly strained relations between Byzantium and the West and deepened the divide even further. Both sides fuelled existing prejudices and were keen to emphasise cultural differences. This fatal game ultimately caused the demise of the former Byzantine superpower.

The exhibition “Byzantium & the West” is a time journey through a millennium forgotten. It is about the history of two empires, but also about communication and mutual perception, about conflicting opinions and prejudices, about longing and fear. This makes it a universal narrative of humanity.

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

Research

Byzantium & Science

Some of the leading research institutions in the field of Byzantine culture were involved in the exhibition “Byzantium & the West”, including the Romano-Germanic Central Museum and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The latest findings from various research projects create a vivid picture of an imposing empire which has shaped Europe’s history to this day.

“Byzantium & the West”: science to the fore!

How do we know what happened a thousand years ago? Scientists who contributed to the exhibition describe their work in a number of interviews, giving a thrilling insight into practical research.

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