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Early Christian and Byzantine
The Fall of Rome and the Rise of the Worshipping Community

Origins --- Belief System --- Political Situation --- Byzantine Architecture

Justinian-----

Ravenna--- St. Apollinare --- San Vitale-
Istanbul---- Hagia Sophia _-__
Venice---- San Marco _-__
Moscow-----Saint Basil---

Squinches and Pendentives----Byzantine Arch --- Byzantine Capital ---- Mosaics

Origins

By 300 A.D. the Romans were having increasing difficulty protecting their lands. Seventy-five percent of the Roman army was not Roman born. As they were taken over by "barbarians" from the north and intruders from the east, their military power was eroding. With it went their engineering competence and many of their technological traditions. The fall of Rome, after 300 and up to 700 AD is referred to as the Late Antique and Early Middle Ages era. A great many Europeans were relocating themselves for a better life, no longer having the central Roman power to protect them. Consequently the era is also referred to as the Migration Period.

Belief System

The basilica was the single most important building style created by the Western Roman empire. The Eastern empire of Byzantium, introduced by Constantine in 312 and solidified by Justinian in the sixth century, was centered around the new religeon Christianity. This new religeon proved to be the cheif source of architectural inspiration for the next ten centuries.

In late Roman life, the basilica was used to house the increasingly sophisticated legal and commercial activities of the public sector. When Constantine became the first Christian Emperor in 312 he started to build a basilica style church in honor of St. Peter, then transferred his imperial capital to Constantinople. It was later returned to Rome but Constantine's reign initiated a long, drawn out decline. In 402, harried by Goths and by malaria from the surrounding swamps, the emperor Honorus moved the capital to Ravenna. By the fifth century the land holdings of Rome had shrunk to the limits of modern Italy and by 475 Rome was finally occupied by the Germans.

After 150 years of decline, the Roman empire was centered once again in Constantinople under Justinian. The monumental architecture of the Western Roman Empire seen in the Pantheon, 120 AD, was revived under the reign of Justinian in the form of a series of monuments dedicated to the Christian God and to himself as the man who represents God on earth.

The monument is that which is bigger than man, which dominates him and makes him aware of his place in the universe. Man relates everything to himself. In primitive communities, man observes

the world around him, judges it to be useful or harmful, then loads it up with metaphysics. In large political communities, man is still the measure, but he creates Gods to lead him and develops a hierarchy headed by a God/man within which most people can live in communal harmony. In Egypt, the Pharaoh became a God. The pyramids, built on a monumental scale, were meant to represent the house for the Pharaoh, and the statues and pictures of the Pharaoh are also created on a mammoth scale. The Greeks brought representation back to a human proportion and only rarely created enlarged figures. Their Gods represented the most beautiful among the people. The monuments were to house the Gods and bring favour to those who kept the house in immaculate order. The Romans made good use of the Greek ideas, but were also tremendously impressed with the Egyptian forms of monument and erected huge buildings such as the Pantheon to house their beliefs. But these were pagans, thought to be decadent by good Byzantine Christians.

Political Situation

When Justinian first became Emperor, he started securing the empire against intruders and providing his subjects with churches and monuments to aggrandize the empire. By the end of his reign, the empire was once again in ruin. During his reign he had been the patron of a cultural change that was as important in the development of the Middle Ages as his buildings were in the metamorphosis from Roman architecture to Byzantine. He was the first to design towns and communities centered around a Christisan church or chaple and thus the application of a Christian community and lifestyle that was to last in the Western hemisphere for at least 1500 years.

After Justinian's reign, the Roman Empire went once again into decline. Many city-states developed over the next few centuries, and many kingdoms and fiefdoms existed, largely Christian, but none to match that of Justinian. The architecture that developed was largely defensive and generated by an obsession with security that was fully warranted. The development of the Romanesque style was the direct result of these influences.

Byzantine Architecture

Byzantine architecture can be summed up in one word: Justinian.

Justinian

The history of the architecture of the western world, from 3500 BCE to present, is the story of a slow, steady advancement in building methods, materials, and styles, punctuated by a few short bursts of terrific activity that produce both monuments and techniques that have a lasting impact on future generations. The great age of Justinian during the sixth century is one of the most extraordinary of these creative explosions. If the outstanding contribution of Rome to the development of civilization was the rule of law, Justinian's codifying of the laws alone would justify his notable place in world history. In addition to the laws, he reconstructed the flagging fortresses of the Roman Empire providing cisterns, ramparts, civic buildings, residences, waterways, churches, and indeed whole cities, an achievement that dwarfs any other architectural accomplishment by a single individual in the Roman or any other empire. Finally, he was responsible for the supreme creation of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia.

Justinian's aim was to restore the Roman empire to its former glory within a Christian context.

Justinian's building program, in terms of architectural history, can be seen as the culmination of early Christian art and the beginning of Byzantine. By the sixth century, the Christian lifestyle had wrought changes on civic life that developed along completely different lines than the pagan. "City dwellers watched with apparent unconcern as their theatres and amphitheatres decayed through lack of maintenance." The community and the church in civilian life were taking over where the agora and civic center had once been. In Constantinople alone Justinian is said to have restored thirty churches. The manifestation of the church as a focal point of the community was solidified by Justinian in all of his city and town reconstructions.

Justinian is the one who brought monumental architecture to Christianity. On the one hand he was denouncing everything pagan and on the other he was reviving it on an unprecedented scale.
The church building program of Justinian, financed in part by the preceding emperor Justinianus, was composed of glorious churches constructed to aid the Emperor in his religious unification undertaking.

Sant' Apollinare in Classe

534 - 539

Saint Apollinare in Classe, five miles from Ravenna, is a typical example of an early Byzantine church. It is one of the earliest examples of a round tower, separate from the main structure, making a campanile. The exterior of the churches are largely simple and austere, perhaps to prepare the humble penitent for the vision of heaven awaiting inside.

St. Apollinare in Classe

Campanile of Sant'Apollinare

This church was constructed by Byzantine craftsmen for the emperor Justinian on the site of a Roman Temple of Apollo. The influence of Constantinople is very strong. While Justinian and his powerful wife Theodora never visited Ravenna, there are huge mosaics commemorating their influence in Ravenna.

The Campanile or bell tower was used as a lookout as well as a time piece, and to call the people to church services. This is typical in its virtually impregnable lower level. The first row of openings is relatively small, the larger openings are above that. Justinian's reign was full of conflict as can be seen in Procopius' The Wars.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sant'Apollinare

The apse on a well designed medieval or Gothic church is always in the east. Almost all churches in Europe follow this plan. In North America there are many unexplained deviations.

The apse is generally circular on the inside, forming a large, deep area which houses the altar. Often they are polygonal on the outside. The apse terminates the nave in a basilica or cruciform church.

Apses and apse-chapels can also be found on the eastern side of transepts.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sant'Apollinare

The basilica was an architectural form created as a civic building by the Romans. The early Christian communities used the basilica form for their churches, and this became the stock church form until the beginning of the Gothic era, some 900 years. Basilicas are now generally built by Catholic communities.

This exterior view of Sant'Apollinare shows the heavy, fortress-like construction of the outer walls. Again there are few openings on the lower level, and these are heavily constructed. The building was used both as a church and as a civic building.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sant'Apollinare

The construction of S.Apollinare in Classe is a wonderful blend of the traditional Roman basilica style with Byzantine structural elements. The nave makes up the center of a simple basilica plan. The arcade of the nave is composed of cipollino columns, dosseret block bases and Byzantine capitals, not just Byzantine style capitals, but capitals carved in Consantinople and shipped to Ravenna.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sant'Apollinare

S. Apollinare in Classe is not simply a traditional Hellenistic basilica with the timber roof. The barrel -vaulted basilica came from Greece and then was refined in Mesopotamia before it reached Ravenna.

From the Greek world came the colonnade, bold sculptural modeling and high relief. From the East came mosaics, luxuriant carved foliage covered with birds, and sophisticated black and white patterning on neutral backgrounds found on the column capitals.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sant'Apollinare

This building was built almost 200 years after Christianity became the religion of Constantine. There are few built before this for many reasons. The Roman emperors were not convinced that Christianity was the true religion, and, depending upon the emperor, the Christians suffered much persecution. They were inclined to hide rather than announce their presence. In addition, early Christians were entirely opposed to the pomp and circumstance associated with the pagan temples and rituals, and were very critical of the trappings of the pagan political structure where gods and emperors were worshipped side by side. Clearly this didn't last.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sant'Apollinare


Ravenna was the centre of Byzantine power in Italy, so most of the major Byzantine buildings are here. It is also the base of the best mosaic school in the World.

Each animal, tree, branch piece of fruit, or geometric form has a symbolic meaning. Margaret Visser's The Geometry of Love does a wonderful job of explaining the context and history of some of these.

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

San Vitale

During the fourth and fifth centuries the circular, octagonal and cruciform plan of the churches started to develop. New architecture acquired from Iraq the use of the dome. S. Vitale in Ravenna is a church with a centralized or radiate plan which clearly comes from Roman monuments such as the Pantheon, but also reflects an Eastern octagon. There has been much debate on the subject of the origins of domed and octagonal structures. The current state of the debate is that the domes of Byzantine architecture are a mixture of Eastern and Roman influences. Justinian's contribution to the domed structure is in multiple applications of unprecedented size.

San Vitale

Hagia Sophia

Justinian the Lawgiver and his wife Theodora dedicated their lives to keeping the Barbarians out of the territory, and constructing a myriad of monuments and churches in honour of Justinian the Emperor. To support the monuments and churches built in his honour, which totaled over 1000 in his lifetime, Justinian imposed massive taxes. In 532 the population of Constantinople - now Istanbul - revolted. In a period of just a few days 30,000 men, women and children were left dead in the streets.

(The minarets were added later.)

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Whatever the political and social background for it, Hagia Sophia is the most spectacular building of the Byzantine period. Already by the year 1000 it had taken its place beside the Temple of King Solomon in popular legend, the Narratio de St. Sophia bears witness to this, and was the inspiration for an entirely new style of architecture, the Gothic style, simply through its reputation. Abbé Suger, when planning Saint Denis, had only written and verbal descriptions to go by, but was convinced that his new design was based on it.

 

Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Hagia Sophia

One of the "major disasters" was that the original Hagia Sophia, that had a wooden roof, was burnt to the ground. Within 30 days, Justinian had decided to rebuild the church and had a full set of plans from which to do it.

The exterior of the church had massive abstract geometric patterns, the interior had sumptuous marble and mosaics.


 

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The Romans had perfected dome construction out of concrete, with very thick domes and substantial support around the base. This was not documented, however, and the tradition was lost.

The domes, arches and pendentive of this church were made of stone, and thus had to be buttressed. The church stood up for 21 years with no problem, and Anthemius died the recognized master builder of all time.

Art Moderne Cinema

Hagia Sophia

After 2 earthquakes, in 553 and 557 part of the dome collapsed and was rebuilt by Isidorus the Younger. He replaced the original dome which was a dish shape with a full half sphere which had much less lateral pressure. This is the church that can still be seen today.
It has a square plan with a nave and galleried aisles; a shallow central dome almost as big as the Pantheon's and only eight feet smaller than St. Paul's in London.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Light limits and defines the space pouring in through 40 windows around the drum. Below the shallow floating dome, pouring through arches from apse windows or piercing unexpectedly from the triforium above the galleried side aisles.

In 1847 two Swiss brothers, the Fossati brothers, were hired to reinforce the dome with an iron chain. Just out of interest they also sketched some of the beautiful mosaics on the walls. In the 1850s the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque, but the original leader felt that the mosaics and marble should remain in all its splendour.

By 1860 the new leader had all of the walls whitewashed to maintain the strict Koran rules of adornment. In 1932 the whitewash was removed on some of the mosaics, and the results of this can be seen today.

Hagia Sophia

Squinches and Pendentives

Domes had been built regularly on baths, small public buildings and in, of course, the Pantheon. The problems started with the weight of a dome on the four barrel vaults of a cruciform style church. In Persia we have the first instance of a "squinch", or a lintel replaced by an arch. This was carried further in the pendentives.

The weight of a heavy dome not only bears down with crushing weight on the supporting pillars, but it also tends to push those pillars outwards. The

solution, called a pendentive, came by resorting to the elementary technique of building out brick courses to make a beehive dome. Each beehive shape would start at the corner junction of two supporting arches, but stop when level with the top of the arches, forming curving triangles that met in a ring poised on top of a canopy formed by the pillars and the arches; on this ring the dome would rest, thrusting the weight back down onto the massive corner piers.

Pendentives

The major technological development of the Byzantine period was the pendentive used to support a dome. Domes had been made before, of course, as can be seen in the Pantheon, but unless they were secured on a rotunda, the dome was quite small. The dome atop an octagon had been seen before, but never in such grand proportions, and always with a more easily identifiable series of vertical weight-bearing members. The domes of the Byzantine empire were built to rest on a square base.

The Hagia Sophia was the largest dome in the world for 1200 years. The small jewel SS Sergius and Bacchus on Justinian's estate could well have been the scale model for it.

Pendentive

Corbelling

The squinch and, later, the pendentive are all dependant upon corbelling. This is a method of making first an arch, later a dome with overlapping courses of stone or brick.

Each successive course overhangs the course below it. The superstructure provides enough weight to keep these bricks in place.

 

Corbelled domes are found in Sardegna in Nuragi dating from the 6th millennium BC.

Pendentive

Pendentives

Once the cruciform shape for churches was introduced, there was even more reason to develop the dome as the dome must rest on the four arches which gave way to the arms of the cross. The pendentive starts with a corbelled, beehive shape that starts at the corner junction of two arches and advanced upwards. The corbelling stops with the top of the arches providing a series of curved triangles to support the dome.

Pendentive

Byzantine Arch

500 AD

The Byzantine arch is destinguished by a central colonette or colonettes. The arch can be round headed, lancet , multifoil, or indeed any other kind of arch. This design was popular in Spain all through the ages, and was revived in other parts of Europe and North America during the 19th and twentieth centuries when a fashion for Orientalism, seen in the paintings of Delacroix and Ingres, the literature, Coleridge and Shelleyand the writing of Wilde spilled over into architecture.

Byzantine Arch

San Juan

 

San Juan

Brooks Brothers Chicago

Chicago

Byzantine Capital
Hagia Sophia

Chicago

Byzantine Capitals
Hagia Sophia

Chicago

Mosaics

Mosaics are a very permanent wall and floor decoration dating from the Roman times. During the Byzantine era, they were used largely for religious imagery. The gold tiles are small pieces of glass that have a piece of gold leaf imbedded within.

Chicago

San Marco

1063

The Basilica of san MArco was started in 1063 on the site of at least two other churches that succumbed to fire. It was finished structurally within a few years, but the adornments continued for centuries thereafter. Venice was a very powerful merchant and religious center. Venetian ships took merchanise as far as the near east and returned with statues, columns, gold and marble which became part of the facade. The structure is definitely Byzantine.

San Marco

San Marco

 

San Marco

San Marco

 

San Marco

Saint Basil 1554

Several churches in Russia are a development of the Byzantine style. Saint Basil is a good example of the most flamboyant of these. It has eight domes, all different shapes and finishes and all painted in the most brilliant colours.

Saint basil was built by Ivan the terrible in thanksgiving for his victories. The gay and skittish appearance of the church is more remeniscent of a fairground than of a medieval church, and its location in the middle of Red Square in Moscow is nothing if not ironic.

 

San Marco

Saint Basil 1554

Several churches in Russia are a development of the Byzantine style. Saint Basil is a good example of the most flamboyant of these. It has eight domes, all different shapes and finishes and all painted in the most brilliant colours.

Saint basil was built by Ivan the terrible in thanksgiving for his victories. The gay and skittish appearance of the church is more remeniscent of a fairground than of a medieval church, and its location in the middle of Red Square in Moscow is nothing if not ironic.

 

San Marco

AR173

Byzantine and Romanesque Extra Reading

Books

Baynes, Norman H. and Moss, H. St. L. B. , Byzantium : an Introduction to East Roman Civilization, London : Oxford University Press, 1969

Boorstin, Daniel, The Creators, New York : Random House, 1992

Bury, J.B., History of the Later Roman Empire from the death of Theodosius I. to the death of Justinian., New York : Dover Publications, [1958]

Cameron,Averil, Procopius and the Sixth Century, Berkeley: University of California Press, c1985.

Cameron,Averil,Agathias, Oxford, Clarendon P., 1970.

Croke, Brian, 1981,, "Two Early Byzantine Earthquakes and their litergical Commemoration", Byzantion 51 , [pp. 145-147; cf.Nov. 77] pp. 122-147

Croke, Brian, and James Crow. "Procopius and Dara." Journal of Roman Studies 73 (1983):143- 159

Cutler, Anthony,"Structure and Aesthetic in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 25, No. 1, (1966), pp. 27-35

Downey, G., "Justinian as a Builder", Art Bulletin, XXXII (1950), 262 -266

Downey, G. "Procopius on Antioch: A Study of Method in the De Aedificiis", Byzantion. 14 (1939)

Downey, Glanville, The Late Roman Empire, Indiana University, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969

Evans,J. A. S. Procopius, New York, Twayne Publishers [1972]

Evans,J.A.S., The Age of Justinian : the Circumstances of Imperial Power , London ; New York : Routledge, 1996.


George, W.S., The Church of St. Eirene at Constantinople, London, 1913.

Lombard Architecture, Its Origin, Development and Derivatives, NA 1119.L8R7

Books

Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume IV, London, Methuen & Co.

Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume VI, London, Methuen & Co.

Kaldellis,Anthony, Procopius of Caesarea : Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity .Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c2004

Maas, Michael, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, New York, Cambriddge University Press, 2004

Mango, Cyril, The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453; sources and documents, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, [1972] N6250.M25

Mango, Cyril and Roger Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997

Krautheimer,Richard, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1986.

Mathews, Thomas F., The Byzantine Churches of Istanbul : a Photographic Survey, University Park ; London : Pennsylvania State University Press, c1976.

Norwich, John Julius, Byzantium, The Early Centuries, London, Viking, Penguin Group, 1988

Procopius, Book VII The Buildings, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1940

Rivoira, G. T. Lombardic Architecture: Its Origin, Development and Derivatives, London: William Heinemann, 1910

Ure, P.N., Justinian and His Age with an English translation by H.B. Dewing,Middlesex, Penguin Books, 1951

Van Millingen, Alexander, Byzantine churches in Constantinople, London : Variorum Reprints, 1974.

 

 

 

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