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Byzantine consumers focal point of a new publication

Recently Professor Joanita Vroom’s book Feeding the Byzantine City was published by the prominent academic publishing house Brepols. This volume is the fifth in a series called Medieval and Post-Medieval Mediterranean Archaeology, of which she is the editor. ‘This series aims to offer new perspectives and innovative insights in this relatively new and exciting field.’

Consumption patterns

In Feeding the Byzantine City, Vroom and her colleagues look at consumption in the Byzantine world. ‘And that in the widest possible sense of the word. For example, we have been investigating the ‘consumption’ of a wide range of products,’ Vroom notes. ‘Varying from durable goods, like furniture and marble ornaments, to non-durable products, like food, beverages, and services.’ A pottery specialist herself, Vroom takes an interdisciplinary perspective on the Byzantine economy’s cyclical and structural aspects. ‘We have employed archaeological methods, of course, but we have also used written sources, pictorial evidence, and ethnographic research. Relating pottery studies to consumption patterns means looking at innovations and continuity in manufacture techniques, storage and distribution of goods, as well as at changes in consumer demands over long periods of time.’

Vibrant economy

An example of one of the book’s chapters is an article on the Byzantine market and the marketplace. ‘This is a state-of-the-art introduction to this rarely discussed, but fascinating topic. And we have many more wonderful articles, which throw new light on both spectacular and ordinary artefacts found in excavations,’ she explains. ‘Earrings and golden jewelry in provincial towns, for example, but also objects that travelled beyond the Byzantine world. We know of Byzantine products ending up all the way to Eastern Sweden.’

In an overview chapter, Vroom wrote about ceramics production and consumption from the 7th to the 15th century. ‘We see developments and changes in fine tableware and the use of amphorae. New manufacturing techniques came in from the East, from China and the Islamic world, and were adopted by Byzantine potters. Through Byzantium these new production techniques travelled to Venice, and then on to Northwest Europe. This was not a stagnant economy.’

Editing a series

A decade ago, Vroom was contacted by the publishing house Brepols with the invitation to create and edit a series of books in her field of study. ‘I was a bit reluctant at first,’ Vroom notes. ‘It takes a lot of work. But in the end, they convinced me that this would be a great way to create a valuable and durable collection of introductions to and overview of this specific subject area by the best and the brightest, both established academics and emerging talents.’ In 2015 the first volume was published on medieval and post-medieval ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean, while subsequent volumes covered subjects such as foodways and eating habits, the use of textiles in the Byzantine world, and the many faces of trade in this period.

‘While the series is focused on the Mediterranean and the Middle Ages, the scope is quite elastic. When relevant, we include topics related to other regions from late antiquity to early modern times.’ The sixth edition of the series will not be written by Vroom. ‘That volume will actually be written by a scholar who happened to have been one of my postdocs, and will shed new light on the archaeology of Byzantine Attica.’

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