Sunday, January 2, 7476

Fall of Rome - Beginning Byzantine Chant (c. 476)

The Fall of Rome, is a historical term of periodization for the end of the Western Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon, in his famous study The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), was the first to use this terminology after Montesquieu, but he was neither the first nor the last to speculate on why and when the Empire collapsed. "From the eighteenth century onward," Glen W. Bowersock has remarked, "we have been obsessed with the fall: it has been valued as an archetype for every perceived decline, and, hence, as a symbol for our own fears." It remains one of the greatest historical questions, and has a tradition rich in scholarly interest. In 1984, German professor Alexander Demandt published a collection of 210 theories on why Rome fell, and a number of new theories have emerged since then.

[Western and Eastern Empires in 476]

The traditional date of the fall of the Roman Empire is September 4, 476 when

Romulus Augustulus (461 - c. 477), the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire was

deposed by

Odoacer (435-493).

Some modern historians question the relevance of this date, as the Ostrogoths who succeeded considered themselves as upholders of the direct line of Roman traditions, and noting, as Gibbon did, that the Eastern Roman Empire was going from strength to strength and continued until the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453.

Some other notable dates are the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the death of Theodosius I in 395 (the last time the Roman Empire was politically unified), the crossing of the Rhine in 406 by Germanic tribes after the withdrawal of the legions in order to defend Italy against Alaric I (such invasions had occurred many times previously but this time it was successful), the death of Stilicho in 408, followed by the disintegration of the western legions, the Sack of Rome (410), the first time in almost 800 years that the city of Rome had fallen to a foreign enemy, the death of Justinian I, the last Roman Emperor who tried to reconquer the west, in 565, and the coming of Islam after 632. Many scholars maintain that rather than a "fall," the changes can more accurately be described as a complex transformation.

Over time many theories have been proposed on why the Empire fell, or whether indeed it fell at all.

The terms Byzantine Empire (a historiographical term used since the 19th century) and Eastern Roman Empire are expressions used to describe the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, centered on its capital of Constantinople, referred to by its inhabitants simply as the Roman Empire) or Romania, its emperors continuing the unbroken succession of Roman emperors, preserving Greco-Roman legal and cultural traditions; to the Islamic world it was known primarily as (Rûm, "land of the Romans"). Due to the dominance of Medieval Greek language, culture and population, it was known to many of its western European contemporaries as Empire of the Greeks.

As an outgrowth of the eastern portion of Empire founded in Rome, the Byzantine Empire's evolution into a separate culture from the West can be seen as a process beginning with Emperor Constantine's transferring the capital from Nicomedia in Anatolia to Byzantium on the Bosphorus (then renamed Nova Roma, and later Constantinople). By the 7th century under the reign of Emperor Heraclius, whose reforms changed the nature of the Empire's military and recognized Greek as official language, the Empire had taken on a distinct new character.

During its existence the Empire suffered numerous setbacks and losses of territory yet it remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural and military forces in Europe. The empire's influence also spread into North Africa and the near East for much of the Middle Ages. After a final recovery under the Komnenian dynasty in the 12th century the Empire slipped into a long decline culminating in the capture of Constantinople and the remaining Roman/Greek territories by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.

During its thousand-year reign the Empire, a bastion of Christianity and one of the prime trade centers in the world, helped to shield Western Europe from early Muslim expansion, provided a stable gold currency for the Mediterranean region, influenced the laws, political systems, and customs of much of Europe and the Middle East, and preserved much of the literary works and scientific knowledge of ancient Greece, Rome, and many other cultures.

Justinian I, who assumed the throne in 527, oversaw a period of Byzantine expansion into former Roman territories. Justinian, the son of an Illyrian peasant, may already have exerted effective control during the reign of his uncle, Justin I (518–527).

The Byzantine Empire reached its height under the Macedonian emperors of the late 9th, 10th, and early 11th Centuries, when it gained control over the Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, and all of the territory of tsar Samuil of Bulgaria. The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the new-found security. The population rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand while also helping to encourage trade. Culturally, there was considerable growth in education and learning. Ancient texts were preserved and patiently re-copied. Byzantine art flourished, and brilliant mosaics graced the interiors of the many new churches.

Byzantine Chant 1

Byzantine Chant 2

The tradition of eastern liturgical chant, encompassing the Greek-speaking world, developed in the Byzantine Empire from the establishment of its capital, Constantinople, in 330 until its fall in 1453. It is undeniably of composite origin, drawing on the artistic and technical productions of the classical Greek age, on Jewish music, and inspired by the monophonic vocal music that evolved in the early Greek Christian cities of Alexandria, Antioch and Ephesus.

Byzantine chant manuscripts date from the 9th century, while lectionaries of biblical readings in Ekphonetic Notation (a primitive graphic system designed to indicate the manner of reciting lessons from Scripture) begin about a century earlier and continue in use until the 12th or 13th century. Our knowledge of the older period is derived from Church service books Typika, patristic writings and medieval histories. Scattered examples of hymn texts from the early centuries of Greek Christianity still exist. Some of these employ the metrical schemes of classical Greek poetry; but the change of pronunciation had rendered those meters largely meaningless, and, except when classical forms were imitated, Byzantine hymns of the following centuries are prose-poetry, unrhymed verses of irregular length and accentual patterns.


A castrato is a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto voice produced either by castration of the singer before puberty or one who, because of an endocrinological condition, never reaches sexual maturity.

Castration before puberty (or in its early stages) prevents a boy's larynx from being transformed by the normal physiological events of puberty. As a result, the vocal range of prepubescence (shared by both sexes) is largely retained, and the voice develops into adulthood in a unique way. As the castrato's body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his epiphyses (bone-joints) did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice, as well as higher vocal ranges of the uncastrated adult male (see soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, sopranist, countertenor and contralto). Listening to the only surviving recordings of a castrato Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922, available on YouTube), one can hear that the lower part of the voice sounds like a "super-high" tenor, with a more falsetto-like upper register above that.

Castration as a means of subjugation, enslavement or other punishment has a very long pedigree, dating back to ancient Sumer (see also Eunuch). In a Western context, eunuch singers are known to have existed from the early Byzantine Empire. In Constantinople around 400 AD the empress Aelia Eudoxia had a eunuch choir-master, Brison, who may have established the use of castrati in Byzantine choirs, though whether Brison himself was a singer, and whether he had colleagues who were eunuch singers, is not certain. By the ninth century, eunuch singers were well-known (not least in the choir of Hagia Sophia), and remained so until the sack of Constantinople by the Western forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Their fate from then until their reappearance in Italy more than three hundred years later is by no means clear, though it seems likely that the Spanish tradition of soprano falsettists may have "hidden" castrati (it should be remembered that much of Spain was under Arab domination at various times during the Middle Ages, and that eunuch harem-keepers and the like, almost always taken from conquered populations, were a commonplace of that society: by sheer numbers, some of them are likely to have been singers).

[7480 St. Benedict / 7476 Fall of Rome]