An interview with Sharon Gerstel, author of Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium

Sharon Gerstel, author of Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium, kindly agreed to answer a few questions. The answers are so interesting and so evocative of village life in Greece that even a second interview wouldn’t do justice to everything there is to say.

Sharon, you have made a very comprehensive study of life in villages in the Late Byzantine period. You distinguish your approach from that of some earlier studies. How would you characterise your own approach?

As a specialist in art history, archaeology, and ritual studies, my interest was to look across traditional disciplinary boundaries at Byzantine villages. Having lived for many years in Greece and having spent twenty years walking the landscape and discussing life stories with the older residents of small villages, it was also important for me to layer their stories onto the histories of their villages. While I’m very aware of the scholarly hazards of crossing between the medieval and modern periods, the fact that the villages and buildings have been in continuous habitation and use from the Late Byzantine to the modern period argued in favor of including personal testimonies within my research. Here, I was inspired by the work of a number of ethnographers, including that of Juliet du Boulay, who was a Runciman Award winner in 2010!

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An excerpt from Sharon Gerstel’s entry, Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium

In 1998, Mrs. Kanella Georgopoulou guided me over stone fences and through fields of donkey thistles to a dilapidated chapel below a small village in the Mani. Bleeding from scratches and parched by the heat of the high sun, we contemplated the face of the Virgin. Once found in the apse of the church, a section of the painting now lay shattered on the ground below. Gazing at the pieces of her village’s history, Mrs. Georgopoulou asked why no one was interested in the past. “When we are gone,” mused the octogenarian, “there will be no one left to tell the tale.” Mrs. Georgopoulou was one of the numerous elderly villagers in the Mani, Boeotia, and Crete who expressed to me the same concern — village life would soon disappear.

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This week’s focus: Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium, by Sharon Gerstel

This week we focus on Sharon Gerstel’s book, shortlisted for this year’s award. From the book jacket: “This is the first book to examine the Late Byzantine peasantry through written, archaeological, ethnographic, and painted sources. […] The village is a micro-society, with its own social and economic hierarchies. This text reveals lesser-known individuals – such … Read more