Coping with crisis: invasion, defeat and apocalyptic discourse in seventh-century Byzantium
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 00:24 by Ryan Wayne Strickler
The seventh century was a period of transformative crisis for the Byzantine Empire. Conquests by the Sassanid Persians and ascendant Islamic Arab forces reshaped the region for centuries to come. This sudden change in fortune is witnessed in the decline of triumphalist rhetoric in Byzantine literature which, in the wake of defeat, began to ring false. To comprehend their circumstances, and bolster Byzantine identity, many authors turned to apocalyptic discourse to emplot themselves and their enemies into a providential plan, to provide both meaning and hope. Most scholars have considered Byzantine apocalypticism to be part of a general interest in eschatology and speculation about the end of days. Such scholarship tends to centre around the so-called genre of apocalypse which is, in turn, relegated to the realm of Volksliteratur. This thesis argues that Byzantine apocalyptic discourse was less concerned with the eschaton than with providing an explanation for contemporary crises and predicting God's imminent deliverance. Byzantine authors employed apocalyptic discourse to address imperial decline at the hands of Persian and Arab forces and to transform Roman and Christian identity. Furthermore, considering widespread usage of apocalyptic discourse, this thesis questions whether a generic approach is the most effective way to discuss Byzantine apocalypticism. Chapter 1 introduces the historical and intellectual background to the thesis, and provides the methodology for the remaining chapters. Chapter 2 addresses sixth-century antecedents which provided the literary foundation for seventh-century apocalyptic discourse. Chapter 3 discusses positive depictions of the emperor. Chapter 4 addresses the role of apostasy in prompting apocalyptic speculation. Chapter 5 studies the dehumanization of Roman adversaries, including the Persians, Arabs, and evil emperors. Chapter 6 concludes the thesis by arguing that seventhcentury Roman authors used apocalyptic discourse to rhetorically construct their political and religious identities, and provide hope, in the wake of unprecedented defeat.