Abdera  — Abdera was an ancient city, and later a Byzantine settlement, located in northeastern Greece.

aedicula — An aedicula is a miniature building or architectural frame; often a niche marked by columns and a pediment.

Aegean Islands — The Aegean Islands are islands in the Aegean Sea, off the east coast of mainland Greece.

Afro-Eurasia — Afro-Eurasia refers to the landmasses and interconnected societies of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Agnes of France — Agnes of France was born in 1171 and became a Byzantine empress (renamed Anna) when she married emperor Alexios II Komnenos in 1180. In 1183 she married emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, who had Alexios II killed.

Alexander Romance — The Alexander Romance is an account of the life and exploits of Alexander the Great.

Alexios II — Emperor Alexios II Komnenos reigned from 1180–83.

Alexios V — The brief reign of emperor Alexios V in 1204 lasted less than a year.

ambo — An ambo was a raised platform, or pulpit, from which the bible was publicly read in Byzantine churches.

ambulatory — An ambulatory is the passage around a central space, such as the apse of a basilica or the middle of a centrally-planned building.

ambulatory-planned church — An ambulatory-planned church has a central space enveloped by a curved aisle, or ambulatory.

amulet — An amulet is an object that imparts protection, usually through motifs believed to carry supernatural power or natural materials believed to exercise beneficial effects.

Anastasis — The Anastasis (Greek for “resurrection”), also known as the “Harrowing of Hades” or “Harrowing of Hell,” is an episode based largely on non-biblical sources, in which Christ descended into the underworld following his crucifixion to raise the dead from their tombs. It was depicted in Byzantine art from the 8th century onward.

Anastasis Rotunda — The Anastasis Rotunda is a circular structure enclosing Christ’s Tomb at the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Anatolia — Anatolia, also known as “Asia Minor,” is a large peninsula in West Asia and the westernmost protrusion of the Asian continent.

Andronikos II Palaiologos — Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos reigned from 1282–1328.

Ankara — Ankara was an ancient city in Anatolia, which is now the capital of Turkey.

Annunciation — The Annunciation (Greek: Evangelismos), recounted in Luke 1:26–38 and commemorated on March 25, refers to the Archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that she would conceive the Son of God.

apotheosis — Apotheosis refers to the elevation of a figure to the status of a god.

apse — An apse is a semicircular recess, usually terminating the longitudinal axis of a church, containing the altar.

aqueducts — An aqueduct is an artificial conduit used to supply water to a city from another location.

Arab conquests — In the seventh and eighth centuries, Arab invaders conquered significant parts of the Byzantine Empire.

Arab incursions — see Arab conquests

Arabo-Muslim — Arabo-Muslim refers to those identifying with the Arab world (Western Asia, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa) and the Islamic faith.

arcosolium — An arcosolium (plural: arcosolia) is an arched burial niche.

Ark of the Covenant — According to the Hebrew Bible, the Ark of the Covenant was a wooden chest covered with gold containing the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed.

Ascension — The Ascension of Christ into heaven, following his resurrection from the dead, is described in Luke 24:50–53 and Acts 1:9–12 and is commemorated on the Thursday that falls forty days after Pascha (Easter).

ascetic — Asceticism, from the Greek word for “training,” refers to self-denial as a spiritual discipline.

ashlar — Ashlar is cut-stone masonry.

Athonite plan — An “Athonite” church plan refers to churches as at the Megisti Lavra and Vatopedi monasteries on Mount Athos that have lateral apses called “choroi” and subsidiary chapels.

atrium — The atrium is the forecourt of a church, usually surrounded by porticoes.

atrophied Greek-cross plan — An atrophied Greek-cross plan is a centrally planned church with a dome braced by arches or narrow barrel vaults on four sides.

Baldwin II (of Constantinople) — Baldwin II reigned as Latin emperor of Constantinople from 1228–61 (and in exile until his death in 1273).

Baldwin II (of Jerusalem) — Baldwin II ruled as king of Jerusalem from 1118–31.

Baltic Sea — The Baltic Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that was an important center of trade in the middle ages.

Baptism of Christ — The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (sometimes called “Theophany” or “Epiphany”) is recounted in Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, and Luke 3:21–22, and is commemorated by the Eastern Orthodox Church on January 6.

baptistery — A baptistery (also spelled: baptistry) is a building or room containing a font for Christian initiation.

barrel vault — A barrel vault is a type of ceiling that forms a half cylinder.

Basil I — Emperor Basil I reigned from 867–86.

Basil II — Emperor Basil II reigned from 976–1025.

basilica — A basilica is a type of church based on Roman assembly halls, usually composed of a longitudinal nave flanked by side aisles.

basilican — see basilica

belfry — A belfry is a tower that houses bells.

bema — The bema, or sanctuary, refers to the area of the church containing the altar, typically located at the eastern end of the building.

beyliks — Anatolian beyliks were small principalities in Anatolia founded at the end of the 11th century.

bezel — Bezel refers to the primary decorative area of the hoop of a ring, often flat and usually ornamented with a design or other decorative feature (such as a gem).

Birth of the Virgin — The birth of the Virgin Mary to Joachim and Anna is an episode recounted in non-biblical texts and commemorated on September 8.

bishop — A bishop (episkopos, literally “overseer”) held the highest rank of the three major orders of the clergy in Byzantium (above priest and deacon) and was recognizable by a large sash, known as an omophorion, which was worn around the shoulders and often decorated with crosses.

Blachernae Palace — The Blachernae Palace was located in northwestern Constantinople and served as the primary imperial residence in the Late Byzantine period.

Black Sea — The Black Sea lies between Europe and Asia and was of great strategic and commercial importance in the middle ages.

blind dome — A blind dome is a low windowless dome, usually without drum.

bookmatching — Bookmatching refers to a technique by which the Byzantines placed slabs of marble side by side to mirror each other, creating the appearance of an open book.

Boris and Gleb — Boris and Gleb were sons of prince Vladimir I of Kiev who were murdered by their half-brother Svjatopolk in 1015 and were subsequently venerated as martyrs.

Buildings — The Byzantine historian Prokopios of Caesarea wrote Buildings in praise of emperor Justinian’s public works projects in the mid-sixth century.

Burning Bush — The Burning Bush, located at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai, is believed to be the bush through which God revealed himself to Moses Exodus 3:1-5.

Bursa — Bursa was an ancient city in northwestern Anatolia, today one of the largest cities in Turkey.

Byzantine foot — The Byzantine foot, or pous, was approximately 31.23 cm, or 1.02 ft.

Byzantine rite — The “Byzantine rite” refers to the liturgical system of the Byzantine Orthodox Church, which includes sacraments, hours, vigils, and a liturgical calendar of feasts and fasts.

Cappadocia — Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia (modern Turkey).

cardo — The cardo is the north-south street in an ancient Roman city or military camp.

casting — Casting is a process by which molten metal is poured into a mould to produce an object’s shape and decoration.

catacomb — Catacombs are underground cemeteries consisting of passages and rooms with recesses for tombs.

Caucasian — see Caucasus.

Caucasus — The Caucasus is the area situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, today mainly occupied by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia.

chancel slab — Chancel slabs, also known as parapet slabs, are flat pieces of stone used to create a low barrier, for example, as part of a templon that divides the bema from the rest of the church.

chasing — Chasing is a technique of metalworking that involves pressing metal on its front surface with the application of force and tools to create sunken patterns and designs by compressing (rather than removing) the metal.

cherubim and seraphim — Cherubim and seraphim are angelic beings described in the Bible.

chorosChoros (plural: choroi)—literally “choir”—refers to the lateral apse of an Athonite church.

ciborium — A ciborium, also called a baldachin, is a canopy raised above an altar, throne, or tomb.

city-state — A city-state is an autonomous city governing the region surrounding it.

Clare of Assisi — Saint Clare of Assisi, who lived from 1194–1253, was a noblewoman who became a nun and follower of Saint Francis of Assisi.

clergy — The term “clergy” refers to church leaders; in Byzantium, the three major orders of the clergy were the bishops, priests, and deacons.

cloisonné masonry — Cloisonné masonry is a masonry technique with which individual stones are framed with bricks.

colonette — A colonnette is a small, slender column.

column — A column is a cylindrical support, commonly consisting of a base, shaft, and capital.

conch — A conch is a half-dome or quarter-sphere vault.

Constantina — Constantina was the daughter of emperor Constantine.

Constantine — Constantine was a Roman emperor who ruled from 306–37 C.E.; Christianity enjoyed greater toleration during his reign.

Constantine IX Monomachos — Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos reigned from 1042–55.

Constantine V — Emperor Constantine V reigned from 741–775.

contact relic — A contact relic is an object of common material (like clay or textile) that was imbued with holy power by putting it in contact with sacred substances, for example, the body of a holy person or oil exuded from a relic.

control stamp — A control stamp was a mark guaranteeing the metal content of an object and, thereby, its monetary value.

Corinth — Corinth was an ancient Greek city located in the Peloponnese.

Council of Nicaea II — In 787, imperial and Church authorities met at a council in the city of Nicaea to try to resolve the Iconoclastic Controversy over images.

cross-domed — see cross-domed unit

cross-domed unit — A cross-domed unit is a structural unit comprising a central dome braced on four sides by vaults.

Crucifixion — The Crucifixion refers to Christ’s death on the cross, described Matthew 27:32-56, Mark 15:21-41, Luke 23:26-49, John 19:16-37, and commemorated on Holy Friday (known as “Good Friday” in the west) during Holy Week.

cruciform — Cruciform refers to something that is cross-shaped.

crusader art — Crusader art refers to art commissioned for western European patrons in the crusader states in the 11th–13th centuries, which often combined elements from western European, Byzantine, and local artistic traditions.

crusader Levant — Crusader Levant refers to the region occupied by crusaders on the eastern Mediterranean shores, including modern-day Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.

crusaders — The crusaders were western European fighters, often supported by the pope in Rome, who sought to capture the Holy Land (Palestine) and other regions from Muslims—and sometimes fellow Christians—during the 11th–14th centuries.

cubiculum — Cubiculum (plural: cubicula) can refer to a small room in a Roman house or a burial chamber in the catacombs.

cul-de-sac — A cul-de-sac is a dead end street.

damnatio memoriaeDamnatio memoriae (literally “condemnation of memory”) refers to the official erasure of someone’s legacy.

David — David was a king of Israel in the Hebrew Bible to whom the book of Psalms is attributed and who became a model for Christian kingship in the medieval period.

deacon — A deacon (literally “servant”) held the lowest rank of the three major orders of the clergy in Byzantium (beneath the bishop and priest) and wore a sticharion (tunic) and orarion (sash) that draped over the shoulder; there was also an order of women deacons in Byzantium, although this order fell out of use by the 12th century.

decumanus — The decumanus was the east-west street in an ancient Roman city or military camp.

DeësisDeësis (Greek for “entreaty”) refers to a motif in Byzantine art that commonly depicts the Virgin and John the Baptist asking Christ to have mercy on humankind, which in some cases may include other holy figures.

Deposition — The Deposition refers to the removal of Christ’s dead body from the cross following his crucifixion.


diadem — A diadem is a headband, often adorned with jewels and sometimes serving as an indication of rulership.

diakonikon — The diakonikon was a chamber often located to the south of the altar in Byzantine churches where vestments and other church objects could be stored.

divination — Divination refers to the occult arts of trying to foresee or predict future events.

Divine Liturgy — The Divine Liturgy is a service of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which, like the Roman Catholic Mass, includes hymnography and readings from the Bible, and culminates with the celebration of the Eucharist.

Dnieper River — The Dnieper River flows from central Russia to the Black Sea and was used for travel and trade in the middle ages.

domed basilica — The domed basilica is a variation of the basilica type—a church composed of a longitudinal nave flanked by side aisles—to which a dome has been added over the nave.

Dormition — The Dormition (Greek: Koimēsis, literally “falling asleep”) refers to the death of the Virgin Mary, described in non-biblical texts and commemorated on August 15.

double-shelled octagon — Double-shelled octagon refers to a building whose outer walls and interior space are created with two concentric octagons.

drum — A drum is the cylindrical structure on which a dome is raised.

Early Byzantine — Early Byzantine generally refers to the period of Byzantine history before the end of Iconoclasm in 843, although scholars disagree over the use and definition of this term.

Eastern Orthodox Church — The Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian community after the Roman Catholic Church. Christianity split between Orthodoxy in the East and Roman Catholicism in the West in 1054, an event known as the Great Schism.

Edict of Milan — The Edict of Milan (313 C.E.) was a decree, supposedly issued by Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius, which granted toleration to Christianity in the Roman Empire.

effigy — An effigy is a representation of a specific person, typically in sculptural form.

elevation — An elevation is an interior or exterior view of a building seen from one side.

Elijah — Elijah is a prophet in the Hebrew Bible.

Elis — Elis was an ancient district in the Peloponnese in Greece.

enamel — Enamel is a decorative technique in which glass, colored with metallic oxides, is melted and fused with metal. The Byzantines are well known for their cloisonné enamels, which employ strips of gold (cloisons) to create cells that are filled with glass and fired.

encaustic — Encaustic is a wax-based painting technique used in Egypt from at least the late 1st century C.E.

enceinte — An enceinte is a line of fortification enclosing a castle or town.

encomium — Encomium is a genre of classical rhetoric that aims to praise a person or thing.

engraving — Engraving refers to cutting or carving into a hard surface (such as metal) so as to create a pattern.

enkolpion An enkolpion (plural: enkolpia) is a pendant worn on the chest, usually decorated with sacred imagery and used in personal devotion.

Entry into Jerusalem — The Entry into of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey before his crucifixion is recounted in Matthew 21:1–11, Mark 11:1–10, Luke 19:29–40, and John 12:12–19 and is commemorated on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Pascha (Easter).

Ephesus — Ephesus was an ancient Greek, and later Roman, city in Anatolia, near the west coast of modern Turkey.

epigraph — An epigraph is an inscription.

epigraphy — Epigraphy refers to inscriptions.

epitaph — An epitaph is an inscription at a tomb or grave commemorating the person buried there.

Eucharist — The Eucharist is the ritual offering of bread and wine to God to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ for worshippers to eat.

evangelist — The evangelists were the writers of the four gospels included in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

extramural — Extramural refers to something taking place outside or beyond the walls of a town or city.

faceting — Faceting is the cutting the surfaces of stones to increase their refraction of light, thereby enhancing their color and luminosity.

filigree — Filigree, or wirework, is a jewelry making technique involving the twisting of thin metal threads into intricate lace-like patterns.

folio — Folio (Latin for “leaf”) refers to a single page in a manuscript, typically one half of a larger sheet known as a bifolium. The front and back of a folio are referred to as recto and verso, respectively.

fora — see forum

Forerunner — see John the Baptist

forum — A forum (plural: fora) is a public space surrounded by civic buildings and colonnades
in a Roman city.

Franciscans — The Franciscans are an order of mendicant friars, or monks who take an oath of poverty.

fresco — Fresco is a painting technique in which artists apply pigments to wet plaster so that the painting becomes chemically bonded to the wall itself.

frontispiece — A frontispiece is an ornamented page at the start of a book.

Fulk — Fulk of Anjou ruled as King of Jerusalem from 1131–43.

gallery — The gallery is the upper level in a church, above the side aisles and narthex, where worshippers could participate in church services.

George — Saint George was a martyr who was widely venerated in the Byzantine Empire and often appears as a youthful warrior in Byzantine art.

Ghassanids — The Ghassanids converted to Christianity in the early Christian period and became vassals of the Roman state; they lived at the eastern edge of the Roman-Byzantine Empire and acted as a buffer against the eastern enemies of Rome and as allies fighting on behalf of Byzantines against the Sasanians.

gold tesserae — In Byzantine mosaics, gold tesserae were not solid gold, but were created by “sandwiching” thin pieces of gold leaf between two pieces of clear glass.

Gospels — The Gospels (“good news”), attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the first four books in the Christian New Testament and recount the life and teachings of Jesus.

granulation — Granulation is a jewelry making technique in which a surface is covered with spherules or granules of precious metal.


Greek and Arab-Christians — In Sicily, Greek- and Arab-Christian communities worshipped according to the Orthodox Christian tradition of the Byzantine world. While the language of the liturgy was Greek, Arab-Christians may have also worshipped in Arabic, as well as spoke Arabic in their day-to-day interactions.

griffin — A griffin is a mythical animal that combines the physical aspects of a lion and an eagle.

groin vault — A groin vault is a type of ceiling made from intersecting arches and often strengthened by added strips of stone (ribbing).

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople — Hagia Sophia, also referred to as “the Great Church” by the Byzantines, was the cathedral of Constantinople.

hagiography — A hagiography (from the Greek words for holy and writing), or “vita,” is the biography of a saint.

Helena — Helena was the mother of emperor Constantine.

heroon — In ancient Greece, a heroon was a monument or sanctuary dedicated to a hero.

Hetoimasia — The Hetoimasia, or “prepared throne,” is a symbolic image that combines such elements as a throne, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, a Gospel book, a cross, and instruments of the Passion.

hippodrome — A hippodrome was a course for horse or chariot racing surrounded by stepped seating.

Holy Apostles, Constantinople — The Church of the Holy Apostles (no longer extant) was a cruciform church of Constantinople—first built by Constantine’s sons, and rebuilt in the sixth century under emperor Justinian I—containing relics of some of the Apostles and incorporating mausolea where Byzantine emperors were buried until 1028.

Holy Sepulchre — The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, originally constructed by Constantine, marks the sites of Christ’s crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection according to Christian tradition.

Holy Thursday — Holy Thursday, known as “Maundy Thursday” in the Roman Catholic church, commemorates the Last Supper during Holy Week.

Huns — The Huns were a late antique nomadic group that threatened Byzantium’s border territories in the fourth and fifth centuries, but by the sixth century they were employed as mercenary soldiers by the Empire.

hymnography — Hymnography refers to the poetic songs sung in Byzantine churches.

Hypapantē  — see Meeting of the Lord in the Temple

Iberian Peninsula — The Iberian Peninsula is the peninsula that encompasses Spain and Portugal.

icon — Icon (from the Greek eikо̄n, meaning “image”) is an image of holy figures or events.

iconoclasm — Iconoclasm refers to any destruction of images, including the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries, although the Byzantines themselves did not use this term.

Iconoclastic Controversy — The Iconoclastic Controversy refers to dispute centered in Constantinople in the eighth and ninth century over the use of religious images, or icons.

iconoclasts — Iconoclasts (Greek for “breakers of images”) refers to those who opposed icons.

iconodules — see Iconophiles

iconography — Iconography refers to conventional imagery and meanings in an artwork.

iconomachy — Iconomachy (Greek for “image struggle”) was the term the Byzantines used to describe the Iconoclastic Controversy.

iconophiles — Iconophiles (Greek for “lovers of images”), also known as “iconodules” (Greek for “servants of images”), refers to those who supported the use of religious images.

illuminated manuscript — An illuminated manuscript is a hand-written book that includes painted decorations, such as initials, borders and illustrations.

Incredulity of Thomas — The Incredulity of Thomas, described in John 20:24–29, refers to one of Christ’s disciples who doubted Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is commemorated in the Eastern Orthodox Church the Sunday after Pascha (Easter).

Innocent IV — Innocent IV was pope from 1243–54.

intercolumnar icons — The term “intercolumnar icons” refers to the icons sometimes placed between the columns or colonnettes of a templon.

intercultural — Intercultural refers to something occurring between or involving contact across two or more cultural groups, usually across geographic and/or political divides.

invective — Invective is a genre of classic rhetoric that aims to denigrate an individual.

Irene — Empress Irene ruled as regent for her son Constantine VI from 780–90, as co-ruler with Constantine VI from 792–97, and as sole ruler from 797–802.

Irene of Hungary — Empress Irene of Hungary married John II Komnenos in 1104 and reigned with him from 1118 until her death in 1134.

Isaac Komnenos — Isaac Komnenos was brother of emperor John II Komnenos and held the title of sebastokrator (crown prince).

Ivan III — Ivan III reigned as Grand Prince of Moscow from 1462–1505.

John II — Emperor John II Komnenos reigned from 1118–43.

John the Baptist — John the Baptist was a Jewish itinerant preacher and one of the most significant figures in the New Testament, frequently referred to as the Forerunner (Greek: Prodromos) of Christ by the Byzantines and the prophet John in Islam.

John VI Kantakouzenos — John VI Kantakouzenos was a Byzantine nobleman, statesman, and general, who also served as emperor from 1347–54.

Justinian II — Emperor Justinian II reigned from 685–94 and again from 705–11.

Justinianic — Justinianic refers to the reign of emperor Justinian I who reigned from 527–65.

kastraCastrum (plural: castra) was a Roman term for a fortified military camp.

katholikon — Katholikon (plural: katholika) is the modern Greek term for the main church in a monastic complex.

Kievan Rus’ — Kievan Rus’ was a confederation of city-states that emerged in the second half of the ninth century, whose capital was Kiev.

Komnenian dynasty — The Komnenian Dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1081–1185.

Komnenian period — see Komnenian dynasty

Lamentation — The Lamentation, or Threnos, refers to Christ’s mother and other followers mourning over Christ’s dead body following the crucifixion.

Laskarids — The Laskaris family was a Byzantine noble family that formed the ruling dynasty of the Empire of Nicaea, a Byzantine successor state established following the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by crusaders of the Fourth Crusade.

Last Judgment — The Last Judgment refers to Christ’s second coming and judgment of all people at the end of time.

Last Supper, The — The Last Supper, “Mystical Supper,” or just “Supper” (Greek: Deipnos), represents the meal that Christ shared with his disciplines before his crucifixion, which is recorded in Matthew 26:20–29, Mark 14:17–25, Luke 22: 14–23, and I Corinthians 11:23–26, and is commemorated on Holy Thursday (known as “Maundy Thursday” in the Latin church).

Late Byzantine — Late Byzantine generally refers to the period of Byzantine history following the reestablishment of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1261 (following its occupation by Latin crusaders from 1204–1261) and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453.

Latin Empire — Western European crusaders (also called “Latins” and “Franks”) of the Fourth Crusade sacked and occupied the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1204, establishing a “Latin Empire.” The Byzantines reclaimed Constantinople in 1261.

Latins — The Byzantines used the term “Latin” to refer to western Europeans loyal to the pope in Rome.

lay people — Lay people are members of a religious faith, but not members of the clergy.

lectionary — A list or book of portions of the Bible appointed to be read at a church service.

Lent — Lent (or Great Lent) is an annual, forty-day period of fasting that precedes Holy Week and the celebration of Pascha (Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Leo III — Emperor Leo III reigned from 717–41 and was founder of the Isaurian Dynasty.

Levant — The Levant refers to the eastern Mediterranean region, especially the area around Syria.

liturgical — Liturgical refers to church services.

liturgical calendar — The liturgical calendar refers to the schedule of Church services that commemorated holy figures and events each year.

liturgical fan — Liturgical fans, known as rhipidia in Byzantium (and flabella in the Roman Catholic Church), served a largely symbolic function: deacons carried them in processions and waved them over the Eucharistic bread and wine during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

liturgical vestments — Liturgical vestments are the special clothing worn by the clergy during church services.

loculus — A loculus is a horizontal, rectangular burial niche.

Lombards — The Lombards were a Germaic people who ruled parts of the Italian Peninsula from the sixth to eighth centuries C.E.

Louis IX — Louis IX reigned as king of France from 1226–70.

Louis VII — Louis VII reigned as king of the Franks from 1137–80.

lunette — A lunette is a semicircular architectural space.

Lycaonia — Lycaonia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, southwest of Cappadocia.

lyre-backed throne — The “lyre-backed” throne, named for its resemblance to the ancient musical instrument, appears in Early and Middle Byzantine art and may have been associated with a mosaic image of Christ in the Chrysotriklinos (main throne room) in the Great Palace of Constantinople.


Macedonian dynasty — The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056.

machicolations — Machicolations are floor openings through which stones or other materials could be dropped on attackers.

Maghreb — The Maghreb refers to Northwest Africa, including modern-day Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Portugal, and Spain.

Magi — The Magi, also known as the “wise men” or “three kings,” follow the star from the east to visit the newborn Jesus in Matthew 2.

mandorla — A mandorla is an aureole of light surrounding a holy figure.

Manuel I — Emperor Manuel I Komnenos reigned from 1143–80.

manuscript — A manuscript is a book or other document written by hand.

Manzikirt — At the Battle of Manzikert, fought near Lake Van (modern Turkey) in 1071, the Seljuq Turks defeated the Byzantines, captured the Byzantine emperor Romanos Diogenes IV, and opened Anatolia to Turkish expansion.

Margaret of Cortona — Saint Margaret of Cortona, who lived from 1247–97, was a Franciscan nun.

martyr — A martyr is someone who suffers persecution and death for adherence to a cause (especially religious faith).

martyria — A martyrium is the tomb of a martyr or site that bore witness to the Christian faith.

Mary the Younger — Mary the Younger was a Byzantine saint of Armenian origin who died c. 902.

masonry — Masonry is the building of structures from units of materials such as stone or brick.

mausoleum — A mausoleum (plural: mausolea) is a monumental building for burial.

mechanikos — In Byzantium, a mechanikos (plural: mechanikoi) was an architect-engineer with a broadly based, theoretical education.

Meeting of the Lord in the Temple — The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (Greek: Hypapantē), recorded in Luke 2:22–38 and commemorated on February 2, describes how Mary and Joseph entered the Jewish temple with the infant Jesus to make a sacrifice and encountered the prophet Simeon and prophetess Anna, who identified Jesus as the Messiah.

Melisende of Jerusalem — Melisende was queen of Jerusalem from 1131–53 and regent for her son Baldwin III from 1153–61.

mendicant — The medieval Mendicants were Christian monastic orders that lived in community, took vows of chastity and poverty, adhered to the particular rules of the order, and attempted to proselytize among non-Christian peoples. Examples of the Mendicant Orders include the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians.

menologion — A menologion was a book containing descriptions of saints’ lives and sacred events arranged according to the date of their commemoration in the Church calendar.

mercy seat — According to the Hebrew Bible, the mercy-seat was the gold cover on the Ark of the Covenant, which was understood as God’s resting place.

Metaphrastean Menologion — The Metaphrastean Menologion was a book compiled in the 10th century by Symeon Metaphrastes, which contained the lives of saints arranged according to the dates of the saints’ commemorations in the Church calendar.

Methodios I — Methodius I was Patriarch of Constantinople from 843–47.

Michael Glabas Tarchaniotes — Michael Doukas Glabas Tarchaneiotes was a Byzantine aristocrat and general who lived c. 1235 to c. 1305-08.

Michael VIII Palaiologos — Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos reigned from 1261–82.

microcosms — A microcosm encapsulates in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.

Middle Byzantine — Middle Byzantine generally refers to the period of Byzantine history between the end of Iconoclasm in 843 and the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

Milutin — Stefan Uroš II Milutin reigned as king of Serbia from 1282 to 1321.

miniatures — A miniature is an image in an illuminated book that is set apart from the rest of the page by a discrete border or frame.

mithraeum — A mithraeum (plural: mithraia) was a temple for the worship of the god Mithras.

modeling — Modeling is the use of light and dark hues to depict volume.

monastery — A monastery is a religious community of monks or nuns.

monastic — Monastic refers to monks or nuns.

monastic typikon — A monastic typikon was a document outlining the organization, rules, and liturgical observances for a monastery.

Monemvasia — Monemvasia was a fortified city on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese.

Mongols — Genghis Khan united the Mongols—a nomadic, East Asian people—as the Mongol Empire in the early thirteenth century. Under Genghis Khan and his successors, the Mongols swept across much of Asia and Eastern Europe, conquering most of Kievan Rus’ by 1240.

monogram — A monogram is a combination of letters that form a name, title, or invocation.

Morava School — The so-called Morava School was an ecclesiastical architectural style that flourished in the Serbia Late Middle Ages, from around the mid-14th to the mid-15th century.

Morphia — Morphia of Melitene was queen of Jerusalem from 1118–1126 or 1127.

mosaic — A mosaic is a work of art (and an artistic technique) involving the piecing together of bits of material (such as glass, marble, tile, mother of pearl) to produce a pattern or image; in Byzantium, mosaic was commonly fabricated from bits of glass (on walls) or marble (on floors).

Moscow Kremlin — The Moscow Kremlin is the fortified historical center of the city of Moscow and contains several palaces and cathedrals. It remains Russia’s center of government today.

muqarnas — Muqarnas are the complex, honeycomb-like decoration typical of Islamic architecture.

myrrh — In the Byzantine Empire, myrrh, or myron, referred to a variety of fragrant oils, ointments, and perfumes.

naos — Generally, the term naos refers to a church or temple; in Middle and Late Byzantine churches, the term naos often refers to the main space of a centrally planned church (equivalent to the nave of a basilica).

narthex — The narthex is the entry vestibule preceding the nave or naos of a Byzantine church, and may be doubled to create inner and outer narthexes.

Nativity of Christ — The Nativity of Christ refers to the birth of Jesus, commemorated on December 25.

Nativity of the Virgin — see Birth of the Virgin

naturalism — Naturalism is the faithful representation of the observable world.

nave — The nave is the central aisle of a basilica.

Nicaea — Nicaea (modern İznik) was an ancient Greek city, and later, one of the major cities of the Byzantine Empire, located in northwestern Anatolia (modern Turkey).

niche — A niche is a shallow recess.

Nicholas — Saint Nicholas of Myra was a fourth-century bishop to whom many miracles were attributed and who was widely venerated in the Byzantine Empire.

nicolo — Nicolo is semi-precious gemstone (categorized as onyx) characterized by a white-blue upper layer and black underlayer; its layered colors were prized in Roman intaglio carving to produce polychromatic effects.

Niello — Niello is an engraving technique where lines incised into metal are darkened with a black sulfuric compound.

Nikephoros Phokas — Emperor Nikephoros Phokas reigned from 963–69.

Nikomedia — A city located in northwest Asia Minor, Nikomedia was the residence of Diocletian and his successors.

Novgorod — Novgorod was a powerful city of Kievan Rus’, now located in Russia.

obol — An obol was a coin of ancient Greek origin.

octaconch — An octaconch is an eight-niched structure.

octagon — An octagon is an eight-sided shape.

octagon-domed church — An octagon-domed church is a centrally planned church with a dome supported above eight points.

Octateuch — A traditional name for the first eight books of the Bible, comprising the Pentateuch, plus the Book of Joshua, the Book of Judges, and the Book of Ruth.

ogival arch — An ogival arch is a type of pointed arch common in Islamic architecture. The use of pointed and ogee arch forms in Islamic monuments may have informed their later proliferation throughout Western Europe.

oikos — Oikos (plural: oikoi) is Greek for “house.”

opus sectile — Opus sectile refers to a technique for constructing decorative pavements with cut and shaped pieces of stone.

orans — Orans or orant refers to a gesture of prayer with both hands upraised, commonly used to depict the Virgin Mary in Byzantine art.

Orhan — Orhan was the son and successor of Osman I as leader of the Ottoman Turks, reigning 1323/4–1362.

orthodoxy — “Orthodoxy” refers to right Christian belief, believed to be essential for salvation.

Osman I — Osman I was the leader of the Ottoman Turks and founder of the Ottoman dynasty, reigning c. 1299–1323/4.

Otto II — Otto II reigned as Holy Roman Emperor from 973–83.

Ottomans — The Ottomans were a Turkish dynasty whose name derived from their founder, Osman, and who ruled from the late 13th century until the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1924.


paideia — Paideia refers to the Greco-Roman tradition of education that the Byzantines inherited.

Palaces of Theophilos — According to historical sources, emperor Theophilos, who reigned from 829–42, added to Constantinople’s Great Palace and constructed additional palaces as well.

Palm Sunday — Palm Sunday is the annual commemoration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before Pascha (Easter).

Panagia — “Panagia,” which means “all holy,” is a title of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Panteleimon — Saint Panteleimon (sometimes referred to as “Pantaleon”) is believed to be a healer who was martyred in Asia Minor in 305 C.E. during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

Pantokrator — The Byzantines referred to Christ as “Pantokrator,” which means “almighty” or “ruler of the universe.”

parekklesion — A parekklesion is a subsidiary chapel.

paschal candelabrum — The Paschal candelabrum holds a large candle burned in church services during the Easter (Paschal) season.

Passion — The “Passion” refers to Christ’s suffering during Holy Week, which culminated with the Crucifixion.

Passover — The Passover is a Jewish holiday, which commemorates God “passing over” the houses of the Israelites during the last of the ten plagues in Egypt, which led to the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

patriarch — The Byzantines used the term “patriarch” to refer to the bishop of Constantinople and other high ranking bishops of major cities.

Peace of the Church — The “Peace of the Church” refers to the toleration of Christianity following the Edict of Milan in 313 C.E.

pectoral cross — A pectoral cross is a pendant cross worn on the chest.

pendentive — A pendentive is a curved, triangular architectural element, used to make the transition from a square room to a circular base for a dome.

Pentecost — Pentecost (literally “the fiftieth day”) refers to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles as described in Acts 2, which is commemorated fifty days after Easter (Pascha).

personification — Personification is the human embodiment of an abstract concept; in the Roman pagan cult, personifications were worshipped as demi-gods. The Byzantines often personified natural forces and abstract concepts by imagining them as human characters in their art and hymnography.

pi-shaped — Something pi-shaped takes the form of the Greek letter Π (pi).

pier — Piers are large, often rectangular supports that help bear the weight of a building.

pilaster — A pilaster is a rectangular column that projects from a wall.

pilgrims — Pilgrims are people who embark on journeys for religious purposes.

polis — Polis (plural: poleis) was the Greek word for city.

polyptych — A polyptych is an artwork comprising more than three panels.

portico — A portico is a structure with a roof supported by columns at regular intervals, usually attached to a building as a porch.

post-Byzantine — “Post-Byzantine” refers to the period following the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in 1453.

post-Iconoclastic era — The post-Iconoclastic era refers to the period following 843, which marked the conclusion of the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy—a dispute over religious images—in the eighth and ninth centuries.

Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple — The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, an episode from non-biblical texts commemorated on November 21, recounts how the Virgin Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, offered the Virgin to God in the Jewish temple, where she subsequently dwelt and was miraculously fed bread by an angel.

Princes’ Islands — The Princes’ Islands, or Kızıl Adalar, are nine islands southeast of Constantinople (Istanbul) in the Sea of Marmara, which were occupied by several monasteries during the Byzantine period.

Prokopios of Caesarea — Prokopios of Caesarea was a Byzantine historian who also served as secretary and legal advisor to Justinian’s general Belisarios during the reign of emperor Justinian and empress Theodora in the mid-sixth century.

proskynetaria icons — Proskynetaria icons are large, framed icons often found on either side of the templon (the barrier dividing the bema from the rest of the church) in Middle and Late Byzantine churches.

prothesis — The prothesis was a chamber often located to the north of the altar where the bread and wine could be prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist and sacred vessels could be stored.

proto-maiolica — Proto-maiolica ware was a type of pottery with a tin glaze and light-colored fabric found throughout the eastern Mediterranean in the 13th to 14th centuries.

proto-Renaissance — The proto-Renaissance refers to the period immediately prior to the Italian Renaissance, when artists began to anticipate the artistic innovations in naturalism that later became hallmarks of the Italian Renaissance; it is also known as the late Gothic or late medieval era.

Protoevangelion of James — The Protoevangelion of James is a second-century narrative of the life of the Virgin which was not included in the Bible but was nevertheless read by Christians.

Psalms — The book of Psalms is a collection of poems in the Hebrew Bible traditionally attributed to King David.

psalter — A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms (one of the books of the Bible), often with other devotional material.

pseudo-kufic — “Pseudo-kufic” refers to decorative motifs that imitate Arabic scripts.

pulpit — A pulpit is an elevated platform used for reading and preaching during church services.

punching — Punching refers to the use of tools (punches) as part of repoussé and chasing to manipulate metal in relief and recess; or the use of tools to create holes as part of a metalwork design.

Raising of Lazarus — Christ raised his friend Lazarus from the dead in John 11:38–44. The Raising of Lazarus is commemorated in the Eastern Orthodox Church on the Saturday before Palm Sunday.

refrigerium — A refrigerium (plural: refrigeria) was a graveside meal to commemorate the dead.

registers — Register refers to a band of decoration.

relics — Relics are the remains of saints or holy objects associated with saints.

repoussé — Repoussé is a technique of metalworking that involves pressing metal on its reverse surface with the application of force and tools to create patterns and designs in relief by expanding (rather than removing) the metal.

Resurrection — The Resurrection of Christ from the dead occurred on the third day after his crucifixion according to New Testament accounts, and is celebrated each year on Pascha (Easter). Christians also anticipate the resurrection of all of the dead at the end of time.

revetment — Revetment is cladding or facing of marble or other luxury stones to decorate walls and piers.

rhetoric — Classical rhetoric refers to the tradition of persuasion through the art of public speaking, which was taught in ancient Greece and Rome, and which remained influential in the medieval period.

rinceaux — Rinceaux is a scrolling pattern of tendrils and leaves.

Roger II — Roger II reigned as king of Sicily from 1130–54.

Romanesque — Romanesque, which means “Roman-like,” is a nineteenth-century term that refers to European art and architecture from c. 1050–1200.

Romanos III — Emperor Romanos III reigned from 1028–34.

Romanos Lekapenos — Emperor Romanos Lekapenos reigned from 919–44.

rosette — A rosette is schematic flower motif in which the petals are arranged radially, in a regular pattern.

roundel — A roundel is a circular form that may contain an image or decorative element.

Sardis — Sardis was an ancient city in Anatolia, now located in modern Turkey.

seal — Seals were impressions made in lead, wax, gold, or any other malleable material that validated objects, such as letters, documents, and containers of goods.

Secret History — The Byzantine historian Prokopios of Caesarea wrote the Secret History (Anekdota) as an invective (a rhetorical genre aimed at denigrating an individual) condemning emperor Justinian I and empress Theodora in the mid-sixth century.

Seljuqs — The Seljuqs were a Turkic Islamic group originating in Central Asia and composed of several dynastic branches that invaded the Byzantine Empire and ruled in medieval Iran and Anatolia.

Silk Road — The Silk Road is a network of land and sea routes that ran from East Asia to the Mediterranean world, and dominated the trade of luxury items, such as silk textiles, jewelries, and gold and silver vessels.

Solomon — Solomon was the son of king David and a king of Israel who was renowned for his wisdom in the Hebrew Bible.

Sparta — Sparta was an ancient Greek city located in southeastern Peloponnese, known during the Byzantine period as Lacedaemonia.

squinch — A squinch is a curved architectural element used to make the transition from a square space to a circular or polygonal base for a dome.

stucco — Stucco refers to carved plaster (plaster is a pasty composition, often made from lime, water, and sand, that hardens on drying).

stylite — Stylite saints lived atop pillars (stylos is Greek for “pillar”) as a means of self denial.

superstructure — The superstructure of a building comprises the parts built above ground level, which are supported by the underlying substructure.

Suzdal — Suzdal was a city of Kievan Rus’, now located in Russia.

Symeon Metaphrastes — Symeon Metaphrastes was a Byzantine writer and official who lived in the 10th century.

synthronon — Synthronon refers to semicircular seating for the clergy in the curvature of the church apse.

Tao-Klarjeti — Tao-Klarjeti is a historically Georgian region, which today is located in northeastern Turkey and southwestern Georgia.

tempera paint — Tempera paint is commonly made by mixing egg yolks with water and pigment.

templon — A templon is a screen separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church (also referred to as a chancel barrier).

templon beam — A templon beam, which may also be referred to as an epistyle or architrave, is a horizontal beam supported by colonnettes in a Byzantine templon (a barrier separating the bema from the rest of the church).

tesserae — Tesserae (singular: tessera) are small pieces of stone, glass, or other materials used to create mosaics.

tetraconch — “Tetraconch,” Greek for “four shells,” refers to a building with four apses.

Tetrarchy — The Tetrarchy was a system of rule shared among four Roman emperors instituted by emperor Diocletian in 293 C.E.

Thebes — Thebes was an ancient Greek city located in central Greece.

Theodora (wife of Justinian I) — Theodora ruled as empress of the Byzantine Empire from 527 until her death in 548.

Theodora (wife of Theophilos) — Empress Theodora ruled as regent for her son, Michael III, from 842–56.

Theodosian Code — The Theodosian Code was a collection of Roman law issued in 438 by Theodosius II and Valentinian III, which helped establish Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Theoktistos — Theoktistos was a eunuch and Byzantine official who served as a regent for the young emperor Michael III and advisor to Michael’s mother, the empress Theodora, in the ninth century.

theology of images — Those who argued in favor of images during the Iconoclastic controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries developed religious justifications for sacred images, or “icons”—creating a theology of images.

Theophano — Theophano was niece to Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes and married Holy Roman emperor Otto II in 972.

Theophilos — Emperor Theophilos reigned from 829–42.

Theotokos — “Theotokos” is a Greek term for the Virgin Mary that means “God-bearer.”

Theotokos Pammakaristos — “Theotokos Pammakaristos” is a title of the Virgin Mary, meaning “All-blessed God-bearer.”

Theotokos tou Libos — Dedicated to the Virgin Mary (“Theotokos” literally means “God-bearer”), this monastery is also named for its founder, Constantine Lips, an aristocrat and military official.

Threnos — see Lamentation

Transfiguration — The Transfiguration of Christ with divine light is described in Matthew 17:1–13, Mark 9:2–8, and Luke 9:28–36 and is commemorated on August 6.

trapeza — “Trapeza,” Greek for “table,” refers to the refectory, or dining hall, of a monastery.

triclia — A triclia is an open, ceremonial banqueting structure found above the catacombs in Rome.

triconch — “Triconch,” Greek for “three shells,” refers to a building with three apses.

tripartite sanctuary — In Byzantine churches, the sanctuary, or bema (where the altar was located), was often divided into three rooms.

triumph — A triumph was a victory celebration that the Byzantines inherited from ancient Rome, which featured a triumphal parade into the capital with troops, captives, booty, and the victorious emperor.

Triumph of Orthodoxy — The Triumph of Orthodoxy refers to the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy and affirmation of religious images (icons) in 843. It is commemorated annually on the first Sunday of Lent in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

True Cross — The True Cross refers to relics or remains believed to come from the wooden cross on which Christ was crucified by the Romans.

type — A type is a person or event in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) understood by Christians to prefigure events in the New Testament, usually from the life of Christ.

Umayyad Caliphate — The Umayyad Caliphate, whose capital was Damascus, Syria, ruled the Islamic world from 661–750, during which time it conquered significant parts of the Byzantine Empire.

veneration — The Byzantines often venerated (showed devotion to) icons by bowing before them and kissing them, believing that the honor shown to the image passed to the holy figure it represented.

vita — Vita is Latin for “life” and is also often used to refer to biographies of saints.

Vita Basilii — The Vita Basilii is an anonymous biography of Byzantine emperor Basil I.

Vladimir — Located east of Moscow in Russia, the city of Vladimir was an important medieval center from the late twelfth to the early fifteenth century.

Vladimir I of Kiev — Vladimir I reigned as Grand Prince of Kiev from 980–1015.

Vladimir the Great — see Vladimir I of Kiev.

Wars — The Byzantine historian Prokopios of Caesarea wrote Wars, a history of military and political events, during the reign of emperor Justian I in the mid-sixth century.

Washing of the Feet — Christ washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper according to John 13:2–15.

William I — William I reigned as king of Sicily from 1154–66.

William II — William II reigned as king of Sicily from 1166–89.

Woman with the Issue of Blood — The New Testament recounts among Christ’s miracles the healing of a woman who suffered from a persistent gynecological ailment that caused her to bleed uncontrollably. She had sought remedy for her condition from all available sources, but unsuccessfully. Because menstrual blood was considered unclean, her illness would have also caused social ostracization. Moved by her faith in Christ’s power to heal, she approached him from behind and touched the hem of his garment. Upon contact, she was relieved of her illness.

Yaroslav — Yaroslav “the Wise” reigned as Grand Prince of Kiev from 1019–54.

Zeno — Emperor Zeno reigned from 474–91.

Zoe — Empress Zoe, second daughter of Constantine VIII, reigned with Romanos III from 1028–34, with Michael IV from 1034–41, and with Constantine IX Monomachos from 1042 until her death in 1050.


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Smarthistory Guide to Byzantine Art Copyright © 2021 by Dr. William Allen; Dr. Magdalene Breidenthal; Dr. Andrew Casper; Dr. Paroma Chatterjee; Dr. Allen Farber; Dr. Ariel Fein; Dr. Evan Freeman; Dr. Beth Harris; Kalliroe Linardou; Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay; Kathleen Maxwell; Dr. Anne McClanan; Dr. Robert G. Ousterhout; Dr. Nancy Ross; Dr. Courtney Tomaselli; Dr. Nicolette S. Trahoulia; Dr. Alicia Walker; and Dr. Steven Zucker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.