The Military Use of the Icon of the Theotokos and its Moral Logic in the Historians of the Ninth-Twelfth Centuries
Anthony Kaldellis (Department of Classics – The Ohio State University)
Estudio bizantinos: 1 (2013) 56-75
Starting at least by the late tenth century, Byzantine emperors took icons of the Mother of God with them on campaign. This article examines the appearance of such icons in the narratives of historical texts. It argues that the intercessory role of the icon in these episodes adhered distantly to the moral logic that determined the Virgin’s salvation of the City in the siege of 626, but was turned by each historian to serve the critical or panegyrical goals of his own work, often with an ironic effect. The emperor and the Virgin could not share the same stage as equal protagonists.
In the Byzantine historians of the ninth-twelfth centuries we encounter a set of stories about the military role of icons of the Theotokos. The set is small, but the stories are striking. The presence of the icon often frames events within a moral narrative, and the human protagonists are often defined by how they interact with the icon. Now, in real life most Byzantines, whether in peacetime or in war, would have prayed before such icons. By the eleventh century, their armies too were accompanied by a host of religious accoutrements, and the emperors, when they led military expeditions in person, would often take icons of the Mother of God with them and treat them as part of the army’s defensive arsenal.