Society for the Medieval Mediterranean
Dionysius A. Agius Prize 2015
Cecily J. Hilsdale, Byzantine Art and Diplomacy in an Age of Decline
Cambridge University Press 2014.
In this book, Cecily J. Hilsdale subjects a well-known phenomenon, the inexorable political and financial decline of the Byzantine “empire” after the Latins had left Constantinople, to a series of unexpected and exciting investigations. In particular, she shows how the Byzantines, lacking real wealth and military clout, chose diplomacy and gift-giving as their weapons of choice in dealing with other polities. In particular, they exploited the unparalleled technical skill of Byzantine artists in the capital – and in the capital alone – in mastering recondite and exotic materials, and created political capital from those rare skills. In developing these two complementary themes, the author controls an astonishing variety of material – historical chronicles, Byzantine court ceremonial, epigraphy, numismatics, iconography, relics, textiles, mosaics, manuscripts and much more. The combination of close-focus textual work and art-historical analysis results in an absolute tour de force.
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