Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

10. European Pottery to the Fall of the Romans

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However, the Eastern Byzantine Empire considered itself to be the continuation of the “Roman” Empire and a major objective was to regain control of Rome. They continued to speak Greek and followed the orthodox version of Christianity for another 1000 years. The Eastern view of Christianity was more philosophical than the pragmatic West, and they picked up on the purist view of the Muslims concerning the worship of idols and images. This Iconoclastic controversy seriously split the religious beliefs East and West from 726 to 843 AD.

Since the Byzantine Empire was Christian, it was not the custom to bury pottery with the dead; so again fewer examples survive from this era. What does survive is a red-bodied ware sometimes with stamped relief under a clear glaze, or a sgraffito ware with white slip covered with yellow or green glazes decorated with animals (including humans), plants, the Greek cross and monograms. Examples have been found in Greece and Cyprus.

Byzantine sgraffito plate 13th century AD, white slip and yellow glaze - source Ancienttouch

Byzantine sgraffito plate 13th century AD,
white slip and yellow glaze - source

Although it was constantly raided by Germanic and Eurasian tribes, the Byzantine Empire did not suffer the “dark ages” of Western Europe. However, it suffered from the plague in the 540’s AD; and from 560 to 630 AD a Turco-Mongol Confederation carried out a number of damaging attacks. Constantinople lost control when Slavs and Bulgars invaded Macedonia and most of Greece. The Byzantines recovered in the 8th century and from 800 to 1000 AD their commerce and industry were at a height. They gradually drove the invaders north in the 10th and 11th centuries. From 1030 to 1190 AD the Frankish Normans (Norsemen) ruled southern Italy and Sicily and vied with the Byzantines for control of the Mediterranean. However, the Byzantines continued to benefit from their economic upswing until the “Latin” or Roman Christian fourth Crusade unexpectedly and ruthlessly sacked Eastern Orthodox Christian Constantinople in 1204 AD. The European leaders then carved up parts of the Empire, so that Greece went to Frankish rule and Venice controlled the islands including Crete and Rhodes. (The city of Venice was founded in the 5th century AD; its fleet joined in the Crusades as Venice had become a major maritime nation and trading centre for the Mediterranean, with settlements around the Mediterranean including in Euboea and the Peloponnese by 1450 AD). The Latin Empire, which claimed to rule the whole Byzantine Empire, ruled Constantinople, but Western Anatolia remained independent as the Nicean “Greek” Empire. By 1261 AD Constantinople had been recovered by them, and by the end of the 13th century part of Greece was also back in the Nicean Empire.

The Ottoman Turks were moving westwards and by 1350 AD they had reached Europe, invading Thrace in the 1360’s AD and Thessalonica in 1387 AD, so that by 1400 AD none of Greece remained in the “Byzantine” Empire. Constantinople fell to the Ottomans on 29th May 1,453 AD with the “Byzantine” Emperor Constantine XI dying on the battlements defending the city. Some of the inhabitants were relieved as the Ottomans were perhaps more tolerant of other faiths and ethnicity than the Christians had been. Ironically, one of the titles taken by “Mehmed the Conqueror” was “Roman Emperor”

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