Scroll Top

Minority Status and Identity: A Case Study of Jewish-Christian Relations in Early Byzantium

by Alexander Panayatov, ANAMED Senior Fellow (2020–2021)

My project at Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED) aimed to clarify the place of the Jewish community occupied within the social structures of Byzantine society between the fourth and the eighth century in the Balkans and the Aegean. 

The ultimate aim is to allow the inclusion of the widest possible selection of epigraphical, literary, legal, and archaeological sources. The geographical scope was defined by the evidence from the areas concerned, which is less studied and requires a new investigation and analysis. This required a study of Jewish everyday life, and I focus on the communal organization and leadership of the Jewish community, as well as the social status, occupation, and cultural concerns of its members. An important aspect of my project is a comparison of the legal, economic, and social aspects of adaptation of the Jewish minority in Byzantine society. The changing policies of the Roman and Byzantine emperors towards Judaism affected life in the Jewish community and the social status of its members—from the traditional Roman policy of protection of Jewish privileges to the reaction against Judaism and Jewish religious influence among Christians under Justinian I (527–565) and the forcible baptism of Jews under Heraclius (610–644). My research suggests that Jews were, however, never isolated from Byzantine society, and their communal structure was influenced by its institutions. This facilitated the involvement of the Jewish minority in the public life of the Byzantine empire and relations with Christians, the wider Jewish world, and other minority groups, like the Samaritans.