The Archaeology of Intermediation: Prolegomena on Mongol Elements in Later Byzantine Art and Material Culture

In: Crossroads
Nikolaos Vryzidis Department of History and Archaeology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Greece

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Later Byzantine (1261–1453) diplomacy was generally characterised by pragmatism, especially in the empire’s choice of allies that could foster its political stability and mitigate its financial burdens. Among its more distant allies were the different Mongol polities that stretched from Central Asia up to the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Despite not being immediate neighbours, the relationship between Byzantium and the Mongols was marked by intermediation, both in terms of the actors that functioned across the two realms and of the service the one could provide to the interests of the other. Within this frame, the following article will attempt a preliminary assessment of the Mongol element in later Byzantine art and material culture, and its possible use as a secondary source on this complex relationship. It will argue that while the Mongol contribution to Byzantine art and material culture was visible especially during the fourteenth century, there are instances which reveal a certain ambivalence towards it.

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