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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Replacing Byzantium: Laskarid Urban Environments and the Landscape of Loss (1204-1261)

  • Author(s): Pitamber, Naomi Ruth
  • Advisor(s): Gerstel, Sharon E. J.
  • et al.

The year 1204 witnessed the cataclysmic fall of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, to western crusaders. Following the exodus of many from the city, the Laskarid dynasty rose to power, established their capital at Nicaea (modern Iznik), and ruled until 1258. Their realm straddled Thrace and the eastern Aegean Sea to the western Anatolian coast and its river valleys. The dynasty consisted of four emperors: Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1204-1222); his son-in-law, John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254); John III's son, Theodore II Doukas Laskaris (r. 1254-1258); and Theodore II's son, John IV Laskaris (r. 1258-1261). In 1261, Michael VIII Palaiologos, co-emperor and regent for John IV, usurped the throne, recaptured Constantinople, and inaugurated the last great Byzantine dynasty, the Palaiologoi. Laskarid art, architecture and material culture reflect the adaptations and transformations resulting from traumatic urban displacement, diaspora and a period of exile. A thematic, comparative study focusing on urban environments, key monuments, and material culture through the lens of exile positions my dissertation to fully illuminate the Laskarid realm's singular transition from Constantinople's hinterland to Byzantium's heartland. Laskarid architecture and material culture act as the fulcrum between loss and reclamation, between a connection to a common Constantinopolitan past and an exiled present. The Laskarids also provide the logical cultural and artistic link between the Komnenian dynasty that ruled preceding the fall of Constantinople (1081-1185) and the Palaiologan dynasty that flowered after its recovery (1261-1453). The extent to which the art, architecture and material culture of the Laskarids is self-conscious of its Byzantine past, subject to contemporary circumstances, and the extent to which the Laskarid dynasty fostered the efflorescence of Palaiologan art in Constantinople after 1261 are questions this dissertation aims to answer.

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