When the religious Iconoclastic dispute ended (726- 843), Byzantium, now restricted to the eastern provinces of the Empire, became more homogeneous and enjoyed an era of great prosperity. The Christian religion, the Greek language and the Graeco-Roman tradition ruled state organization, daily life, art and culture. In the 9th century, the Empire had a vigorous economy, a strong military organization and a complex state machine, all under the emperor’s absolute control. The corresponding head of the Church was the Patriarch.
The Byzantine Empire, with its ecumenical character, was the greatest economic and cultural power of its day, the glory of which radiated throughout the entire known world. In Constantinople, the Queen of Cities, arts, letters, science and philosophy flourished.
After the turbulent times of the period known as the Dark Ages (7th-8th c.), Boeotia remained an important political and economic centre. From the late 7th century it was subject to the large administrative and military province of the Thema of Hellas, which encompassed Attica, Euboea and other areas of Central Greece. In the late 9th century, Thebes was designated capital of the thema. In the late 10th-early 11th century, the city was elevated to the ecclesiastical status of a Metropolitan See.
High-ranking secular and ecclesiastical officials and representatives of the Empire’s provincial administration settled in Boeotia. The most important of these, such as the Strategos (General) of the Thema of Hellas, who was appointed by the emperor himself, was stationed in Thebes. Among the ecclesiastical officials, outstanding for his manifold work and social welfare activities was Ioannes Kaloktenes, Metropolitan of Thebes in the second half of the 12th century, and today the city’s patron saint.
Boeotia experienced an economic and mercantile boom in Middle Byzantine times. Technicians and craftsmen of all types were active in the region, while merchants, local and foreign, sold a variety of products. The Cadastre of Thebes, an official taxation register of the Byzantine State from the late 11th or the early 12th century, provides valuable information about the rural economy of the period. In it are recorded the large landowners of Boeotia and the tracts of land suitable for agriculture or stock-breeding that were in their possession.
The high point of Byzantine art is showcased in the church of the Virgin of Skripou at Orchomenos (872/3), one of the earliest monuments of the period in all of Greece, as well as in the monastery of Hosios Loukas, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Byzantine Thebes was home to many churches, not one of which survives intact, due to the vicissitudes of history and the devastating earthquakes of the 19th century. Archaeological investigations to date have brought to light the remains of 26 churches, testimony to the construction boom in the city. Several have elaborate inlaid marble (opus sectile) floors and are decorated with sculptures and wall-paintings of exquisite quality. The heyday of Byzantine sculpture is testified by the remarkable local sculpture workshops of the period such as the so-called ‘Theban workshop’ of the late 9th century or the ‘Hosios Loukas workshop’ of the early 11th century. Their activity has also been identified in areas neighbouring Boeotia, such as Euboea and Phthiotis, and played a decisive role in the burgeoning of sculpture all over Greece. Life in the Boeotian countryside continued to flourish during Middle Byzantine times. The archaeological evidence, which is being enriched almost daily, in combination with the written sources, document the existence of a dense network of large and small settlements throughout Boeotia. Most of them were long established and developed on sites of earlier habitation in antiquity. Three significant Boeotian settlements, Thisbe, Xironomi and Akraiphnio, are represented in the exhibition. Thisbe, with an ancient history centuries long, or Kastorion, as it was renamed in Byzantine times, continued to be an important town in the Middle Byzantine period. A significant contribution to the town’s prosperity was made by fishing and the processing of the pigment porphyra from murex molluscs that was essential for the purple textiles produced in Thebes.
In the modern village of Xironomi, a short distance from Thisbe, the remains of a church from the first half of the 10th century were unearthed. Its architectural type is characteristic of the period (transitional domed cross-in-square). In the churchyard, part of a small cemetery belonging to a Byzantine settlement, as yet unknown, also came to light. A short distance from the present settlement of Akraiphnio and alongside the Athens-Lamia motorway, extensive excavations have revealed the remains of a rural Byzantine settlement east of Lake Kopais, that existed from the 10th to the late 13th century. The visitor to section 12 will see first the highly significant silver plate that was found in Thebes (showcase 184) with seals of the Empress Eirene the Athenian, the first woman to occupy the Byzantine throne, and that of the top state official Ioannis, royal spatharıos and chartoularıos of the sakellıon, dating to 780-797.There are also objects associated with the activity of state and church officials in Boeotia, such as the inscription from the church of Saint Gregory the Theologian, one of the most significant monuments in Thebes (872-3) which was financed by a state officer, the royal candidatus (official) Vasileios (stand 129).
Lead seals are exhibited in showcase 186, the most important of which is that of the Metropolitan of Thebes, Ioannis Kaloktenis (showcase 186), as well as characteristic coins that reflect the financial prosperity of the period. In showcase 187 and on stand 130 are objects associated with trade and the economy of Boeotia, such as scales and amphorae. Showcases 188-189 follow with their elaborate jewellery, toiletry articles and clothing accessories that reflect the Byzantines’ love for toiletries, despite the limitations that were frequently set by the Fathers of the Church.
On the last stand are representative tools used by women engaged in the timeless tasks of sewing and weaving; on stand 131 are the tools of rural occupations, the foundation of the economy at that time.
Then, a digital show on the subject of the Byzantine city introduces the visitor to the organisation of a Byzantine household. Clay tableware and cooking utensils (stands 132-134) and objects from the furnishings of a Byzantine household (showcase 190-191) create an image of the interior of a Byzantine home. Showcase 192 exhibits objects associated with entertainment, which was also part of Byzantine life.
In the following section, on the theme of the decoration of Byzantine churches (stands 135-142, 154-155), noteworthy sculptures and wall paintings from Thebes are exhibited, and in showcase 193, objects associated with the private devotion of the city’s inhabitants.
The next part of the exhibition concerns Thisbe, Akraiphnio and Xironome, in correlation with showcases 194-201 in which objects are exhibited from the two latter settlements.
Section 12 concludes with an interactive show about the Byzantine monuments of Boeotia and closes with showcase 201a in which a manuscript sheet is exhibited from an evangelistario or liturgical bible of the early 14th century.