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God and Taxes in the Medieval Roman Empire

April 8, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Photograph of a mosaic depicting the "census to collect taxes." Mary and Joseph (shown with halos) appear before a man on a throne, two armed soldiers, and a man writing details on a scroll.
Image: Mosaic from the church Kahrié-Djami in Istanbul. Scene depicting census to collect taxes before Kyrenios (Quirinius). 1315-1320. Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche in Istanbul. Former Chora Monastery Church, commissioned by Théodor Metochite, mosaic program on apocryphal texts of the childhood history of Christ, on the life of Mary and the miracles of Christ. Image Credits: Collection of the Kahriye-Cami Church. The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202.

Monday Seminar:

Leonora Neville

Resident Fellow (2018-2019)

John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Professor of Byzantine History and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor, History; Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, UW-Madison


We don’t tend to think of taxes as having much of anything to do with religion. But in the medieval Roman Empire (sometimes known as Byzantium), one’s relationships with the polity and the divine were deeply intertwined. Taxation was an experience that was conducted in religious terms and quite possibly filled with religious awe. Yet, scholarly presumptions that an unchanging Greek Orthodoxy was the only form of religion in Byzantium have led scholars to overlook the many religious aspects of taxation and other government rituals, or dismiss them as ‘ideology.’ This presentation contends that, just like the ancient pagan Roman Empire, the Christian Roman Empire practiced what classicists call “civic religion” and tries to explain the religious sentiments animating medieval Roman taxation.


Leonora Neville studies the medieval eastern Roman Empire. She is the John and Jeanne Rowe Professor of Byzantine History and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison. She is particularly interested in religion, gender, and the importance of the classical past for medieval Roman culture. She reconsidered the strength of the famed Byzantine bureaucracy and presented a new understanding provincial government in Authority in Byzantine Provincial Society, 950-1100 (Cambridge, 2004). The study of cultural memories of classical Roman masculinity led her to write Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium (Cambridge, 2012). She offered a new interpretation of Anna Komnene’s strategies for writing classicizing Greek history as a woman in Anna Komnene: The Life and Work of a Medieval Historian (Oxford, 2016). To help open her field to broader study she wrote a Guide to Byzantine Historical Writing (Cambridge, 2018). Her interpretation of Byzantine Gender is forthcoming from Arc Humanities Press.


April 8, 2019
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States