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­Symbolic behavior in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period

Priority areas of development: humanitarian

The goal of the project is to test the applicability of the notion of symbolic behaviour to certain historical material, as well as its methodological and empirical potential and limitations. Namely, the project aimed at understanding how and in what circumstances in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period certain types of symbolic behaviour were set and what meanings a historian may find in them today.

Goal of research

The project is divided into five subprojects. Each of them had its own goals. Subproject “Inscriptions and power: divine mandate of the Emperor in early Byzantine epigraphy” that analyzed late Roman epigraphy, aimed at finding out from what time the emphasis on the link of the Roman emperor with divine power started to be embodied in the image the coronation of the emperor by God. Subproject “Symbolic aggression during the 1156–1169 church crisis” explored the church and political circumstances of the introduction in Russia of the new symbolic actions, both positive, rewarding (even inaugural), and punitive. The purpose of subproject “The symbolism of the terms of kinship and of patrimonial ties in Northern and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages” was to detect the motives that underlay the choice of certain terms of kinship in the contacts within inter-dynastic relations in Rus’ in 14–17 c., what principles were used in the application of the terminology of affinity as the instrument of building political ties. Subproject “Symbolic behaviour and the system of values in Italy, 10–13 c.” targeted at revealing the similar and distinct features in the symbolic behaviour of medieval Italian nobles and the Italian intellectuals at that time. The aim of subproject “Symbolic behaviour in the Western European political ceremonial, 14–15 c.” was to reveal the political circumstances due to which the sections regulating symbolic behaviour of the emperor and the princes appeared in the Golden Bull of 1356. Finally, subproject “‘The Protonational’ in the symbolic behaviour of the elites of Muscovy, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and France in 15–17 c.” aimed at finding out the differences or acknowledging the similarities of the symbolic behaviour of the elites of Muscovy, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and France in the conditions of intensification of the ‘national’ self-identifications of these three political entities.


A wide range of methods were applied in all the subprojects. The methods corresponded to the variety of the studied sources and the tasks of each subprojects. In the subprojects on the inscriptions and power the specific methods of epigraphy were mainly used. The other subprojects relied on historical textology, lexicology and historical criticism, as well as on diplomatics and legal history (for legal sources) to some extent. Besides, the subproject on ‘protonationalism’ in the symbolic behaviour used methods of historical comparative studies.

Empirical base of research

The common empirical base of research for all participants of the project consisted of historical sources of different types. These are the sources that bear information of certain traits of people’s behaviour in the European Middle Ages. The research is implemented based on abundant primary sources and a wide range of secondary sources in all major languages of academic communication.

Therewith, each of the subprojects was based on certain types of sources. The sources of the subproject studying late Roman imperial epigraphy were the inscriptions devoted to the emperors of 3–5 c. The sources of the subproject dealing with the church and political crisis of 1156–1169 in Rus’ were primarily the chronicles and monastic rules. The chronicles were also the main sources for the subproject investigating the strategies of name-giving and building kin relations in Old Rus’. The subproject about the symbolic behaviour in the system of values in Italy in 10-13 c. was based on the Salerno Chronicle. The main source of the subproject on the symbolic actions presented in the Golden Bull of 1356 was the Golden Bull of 1356 itself. Finally, the subproject on the symbolic behaviour in relation to the protonational discourse in the orthodox culture of Eastern Europe had the most vast empirical base: chronicles, monastic inventories (and even monastic architecture), Polish chronicles, French political and religious treatises from the period of the Reformation (the range of the empirical base is explained through comparative tasks of the subproject).

Results of research

The results of the project are as follows. The later Roman subproject revealed that while the topos of the connection between the emperor and the deity (first, pagan, later – Christian) had different lexical and symbolic embodiments, during the rule of Justinian I it is the act of the coronation of an emperor by God that became an element of political symbolism. The study of the crisis of 1156–1169 discovered that the new forms of political actions were apparently brought to Rus’ by the Greek clerics who tried to interfere with purely political affairs more frequently and decisively than earlier the Greek metropolitans and the Russian bishops. The subproject on the terms of kinship concluded that a family status of a woman was defined by a term of affinity in two cases: when a woman became a widow or her husband stopped participating in the life of the clan; and in case of breaking kin relations when an open enmity occurred between blood brothers extending to the infringement of freedom and property of the other’s wife. Subproject on symbolic behaviour in the system of values in Italy in 10–13 c. discovered protorenaissance and humanistic features of the symbolic behaviour already a century before Petrarch. Subproject on the symbolic behaviour in the Western European political ceremonial found out that the descriptions of the symbolic actions in the Golden Bull of 1356, including feasts, processions and performances were inserted in the text not for fixing common norms, but each time in accordance with immediate political events, in this case the most important event being the expected visit of the French king and dauphin. Finally, subproject “‘The Protonational’ in the symbolic behaviour of the elites of Muscovy, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and France in 15–17 c.” resulted in three conclusions. First, Muscovy and the traditional orthodox culture of the Ukrainian and Belorussian lands in 15–16 c. developed different understanding of ‘nations’ and ‘nationalism’ as compared to Poland and France of the same period. Secondly, the main difference was that in the orthodox culture of Eastern Europe (and especially in the culture of Moscow Rus’) eventual discourses of ethno-national identity were replaced by the discourses of confessional and political identity as well as confessional and territorial identity. Thirdly, these differences and the asymmetry between the historical experience of the orthodox cultures and the experience of the Latin West influenced greatly on the development of the nationalisms and nations in the Russian and “Western” regions of Greater Europe in the Modern Period.

Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results

The participants of the project participated in a great number of Russian and international seminars, colloquia, and conferences, gave personal talks, delivered lectures and special courses, appeared in the open public, presenting some results of the project. Moreover, the participants of the project prepared a number of publications (see the list in the final report), part of which have already been published. The results of the project are also planned to be published in a separate book (the next volume of Polystoria) in the HSE Publishing House.


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Воскобойников О. С. Ресторо д'Ареццо: художник и энциклопедист XIII века // Новое литературное обозрение. 2018. Т. 6. № 154. C. 131-140. 
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Виноградов А. Ю. «Геральдические» надписи византийского Крыма, in: Материалы и исследования Отдела нумизматики (Труды Государственного Эрмитажа; 94). Санкт-Петербург : Издательство Государственного Эрмитажа, 2018. С. 223-232. 
Дмитриев М. В. Конфессиональные и «этнические» факторы в религиозном насилии времени восстания Богдана Хмельницкого (1648-1649 гг.), in: Три даты трагического пятидесятилетия Европы (1598-1618-1648): Россия и Запад в годы Смуты, религиозных конфликтов и Тридцатилетней войны.: ИВИ РАН, 2018. С. 119-132. 
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Виноградов А. Ю. Проблема фасадной полихромии в Закавказье и Малой Азии (X–XI вв): «лучевая» декорация и «полосатые» арки, in: Россия. Грузия. Христианский Восток. Духовные и культурные связи: Сборник статей по материалам V Научных чтений, посвященных памяти Д.И. Арсенишвили.. Москва : Центральный музей древнерусской культуры и искусства имени Андрея Рублева, 2018. С. 77-85. 
Avdokhin A. Plutarch and Early Christian Theologians, in: Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Plutarch. Leiden : Brill, 2019. С. 103-118. 
Năstăsoiu, D. G., Rossi M. A., Sullivan A. I. Byzantine Forms and Catholic Patrons in Late Medieval Transylvania, in: Eclecticism at the Edges: Medieval Art and Architecture at the Crossroads of Latin, Greek, and Slavic Cultural Spheres (c. 1300 – c. 1550). Berlin : De Gruyter, 2020. С. 70-91. 
Avdokhin A. Pagan and Christian language: an Epigraphic Case Study, in: Language and Culture in Early Christianity: A Companion. Leuven : Peeters, 2020.