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Subjects in FocusEvery day life in Byzantium

Every day life in Byzantium

Byzantine society
Urban professions
Rural professions
Monastic life
Women in Byzantine society
Children in Byzantine society

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Musicians playing drums
Section of the wall-painting 'Praise the Lord' by the Cretan artist Theophanis Strelitzas Bathas with a depiction of musicians playing drums, 1546, Katholikon of Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos.

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Musicians playing drums
Wall-painting, 1546, Katholikon of Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos

Byzantine society was strait-laced and did not encourage recreational pursuits. The patristic texts instruct man to live in accordance with Christian teaching, and not to deviate from it by engaging in improper diversions, such as dancing and the theatre. For instance, Eustathios of Thessalonike said of the 'syrtos' and 'antikristos' dances that others "rightly held them to be godless." Frequent repetition of advice and prohibitions of this kind, however, is an indication that they were probably often disregarded.

All Byzantine people enjoyed the distractions of religious feast-days, birthdays, and other anniversaries; important state occasions also provided the pretext for festivity.

Men belonging to the lower social order found evening entertainment in an abundance of wine-shops, eating-houses, and playhouses -- that is, popular theatres, in which acrobats and conjurors performed or where improper shows, for the most part coarsesatirical sketches, were staged. It was, of course, unseemly to frequent such places. Monks who did so were excommunicated, and women working in them were considered prostitutes.

Notwithstanding the widely held view that Byzantium was distinguished by its severity, religiosity and censoriousness, it would be nearer the mark to think of the Byzantine as being more worldly than we have suspected, and anything else but dull.

Macedonian Heritage
Content courtesy Ekdotike Athenon S.A.