Macquarie University
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Superstition, sin and subversion: maritime culture in Constantinople and port cities of the East in Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium

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posted on 2022-03-29, 00:45 authored by Janet Wade
The importance of sea-going trade to the Late Antique economy is widely recognised in scholarship, yet the people associated with this trade and its social impact are often overlooked. The sea played a significant social and cultural role in the lives, traditions and psyche of those living in and around the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. In large port cities like Constantinople and Alexandria, the maritime community must have had a substantial effect on everyday life, culture and social dynamics. This thesis examines the people and professions which comprised maritime society. It looks at leisure establishments such as taverns, theatres, baths and brothels, and at those who worked in them, servicing mariners when they were onshore. Civil and maritime legislation, literary sources and archaeological evidence are investigated to conduct a sociological study of maritime society, its associated culture, and its influence on general society in the fourth to seventh centuries. The idea that members of the maritime community were collectively viewed as outsiders on the periphery of society is explored. So too is the role of sailors and sea-merchants in lower-class leisure culture in urban centres. Distinguishing features of maritime sub-culture are considered, including seafaring superstitions, traditions and practices. The role of maritime society in episodes of unrest is also investigated. Mariners provided strong-arm support for religious and political leaders, displayed a natural propensity for trouble, and were the perfect recruits for a range of uprisings. Importantly, the maritime community also facilitated communication networks that enabled institutions like the Church and circus factions to function as successful empire-wide organisations. Maritime sub-culture may have been an undesirable element of society, yet it was a significant one. It helped to shape the nature of Late Antique and Early Byzantine society and culture; even in Constantinople, the Queen of Cities.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- 1. The maritime world of Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire -- 2. On the fringes of society: the men who sailed the seas of Byzantium -- 3. Perception versus reality: the maritime community of outsiders -- 4. Superstition: religion, ritual and belief in the maritime community -- 5. Sin: the (anti-)social life of the maritime crowd and the lower-class leisure industry -- 6. Subversion: the role of the maritime crowd in social, political and religious unrest -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 272-303

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kenneth Parry


Copyright Janet Wade 2017 Copyright disclaimer:




Mediterranean Region; Mediterranean Sea


1 online resource (303 pages : illustrations, maps)

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