1st Edition

Isaac Komnenos Porphyrogennetos Walking the Line in Twelfth-Century Byzantium

Edited By Valeria Flavia Lovato Copyright 2025
    320 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Twelfth-century Byzantium is characterized by a striking artistic vitality and profound socio-political changes. The Constantinopolitan elites, led by the Komnenian dynasty initiated by Alexios I, were the driving force behind the renewed intellectual landscape and power dynamics of the century. Despite the wealth of studies devoted to the Komnenians, the sebastokrator Isaac (1093–after 1152) has received limited attention in modern scholarship.

    Yet, Isaac is a fascinating figure at the crossroads of different worlds. He was an intellectual, the author of the first running commentary on the Iliad ever written in Byzantium. He was a patron, sponsoring magnificent buildings and supporting artists in and outside the capital. He was a would-be usurper, attempting to seize the throne several times. He was a shrewd diplomat, forging alliances with Armenian, Turkish, and Latin rulers.

    Modern scholars have so far failed to see the interplay between Isaac’s multiple personae. Isaac the scholar is rarely brought into conversation with Isaac the usurper, Isaac the patron, or Isaac the world traveller. Bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, this book fills a significant gap in the literature. As the first comprehensive study of one of the protagonists of the Komnenian era, it is essential reading for students of the Byzantine Empire. In addition, the portrait of Isaac presented here provides scholars of pre-modern civilizations with a relevant case study. By exposing the permeability of the theoretical and geographical ‘borders’ we use to conceptualize the past, Isaac epitomizes the interconnectedness at the heart of the so-called Global Middle Ages.

    Introducing Isaac Komnenos

    Valeria Flavia Lovato


    1. Ties of blood, bids for power: usurpation attempts during the reign of John II Komnenos

    Angeliki Papageorgiou


    1. Isaac in exile: Down and Out in Constantinople and Jerusalem?

    Maximilian Lau


    1. From Christ the Saviour to the Mother of God ‘Saviour of the World’: the sebastokrator Isaac and his place within the first Purple-born generation of the Komnenoi

    Vlada Stanković


    1. The sebastokrator Isaac at home

    Paul Magdalino


    1. Change and innovation in twelfth-century Byzantium: the case of hair and hairstyles

    Alex Rodriguez Suarez


    1. Komnenian book culture: tracing tastes, mapping networks, unravelling self-(re)presentation

    Kallirroe Linardou


    1. Notes on the construction of Isaac Komnenos’s imperial profile by Theodoros Prodromos

    Marina Loukaki


    1. The dignity of kingship asserted: Isaac’s ‘political’ notes on the Iliad

    Filippomaria Pontani


    1. Isaac Komnenos and the scholarship of a learned prince

    André-Louis Rey


    1. It runs in the family: Proclus, pronoia and the Komnenoi

    Aglae Pizzone


    1. Isaac Komnenos and the Letter of Aristeas: a Byzantine Ptolemy between Homer, Aristotle and the Bible

    Valeria Flavia Lovato


    1. Isaac Komnenos Porphyrogennetos as a founder: philosophical implications in architectural patronage

    Giulia Troncarelli


    1. A ‘barren and senseless shoot’, a ‘flawless ally’ and an ‘enkolpion of pearls’: Isaac at Kosmosoteira

    Margaret Mullett


    Valeria Flavia Lovato is a Research Fellow at the Center for Classical Studies of the University of Lisbon. After receiving her Ph.D. from the Universities of Turin and Lausanne, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southern Denmark, where she focused on Isaac Komnenos Porphyrogennetos, and at the University of Geneva. Her current book projects include a monograph on Odysseus in twelfth-century Byzantium and, in collaboration with Silvio Bär, the first English translation of John Tzetzes’ Little Big Iliad. Her other publications deal with various aspects of Komnenian literature, with a focus on Homeric scholarship and practices of authorial self-fashioning.