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Simon Suttmann





Curriculum vitae


Phd project: "Conflicts of rank and order in imperial peripheries in the Mediterranean around 1100 in medieval historiography"

My project aims at analysing conflicts of rank between members of a newly established “Latin” lay aristocracy in the periphery of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th and early 12th centuries.

Rank I consider to be a central category in the medieval conception of society, which was essential to determine hierarchy and thereby create social order, especially within the strata of socio-political elites. The factors contributing to a medieval person’s position in social hierarchy include titles, holdings, possessions or noble descent, but also renown, prestige and personal reputation gained through deeds of prowess or largesse. The efficacy of these factors depended to a great extent on the aristocrat’s capacity to display them in front of other noblemen, peers and followers, whose approval was crucial. Consequently, the means by which rank was expressed were manifold and encompassed a variety of gestures, rituals and performative acts, that followed unwritten but widely acknowledged rules of communication and therefore could be understood and interpreted by participants and spectators alike.

The specific regions of interest are Southern Italy from the beginning of the so called “Norman” conquest up to the foundation of the kingdom of Sicily under Roger II, and the Levant at the time of the First Crusade and its aftermath.
Both regions were located in the periphery of the Byzantine Empire. Hence, they were rather far from the imperial centre in Constantinople, but nonetheless they belonged to its sphere of influence, and the empire claimed some authority over them. Within these regions, there were areas where Byzantine control was rather firm, areas where imperial influence had to be wielded more indirectly, and areas where attempts to push its claims proved to be in vain.
Furthermore, in both regions the conquest by warlords of Western European origin or descent created a situation in which the socio-political order was reshaped and new rank hierarchies were established. As the warlords had acquired their titles and holdings as well as their rank positions mainly due to military success, the newly established order of ranks was fragile and could easily be contested by almost any participant who had sufficient military capabilities. Consequently, the process of conquering territories in the Byzantine periphery was accompanied by intense rank competition between its protagonists.

In this context I am going to analyse rank competition by examining how rank conflicts arose, by which means they were fought, by which means they could be solved, and how their outcome affected the relationship between the regions’ new social elites and the Byzantine Empire.

To this end I rely on narrative sources which portray in detail single episodes as well as entire sets of conflicts, and thus contain rich descriptions of aristocratic conflict behaviour. Although critical analysis of these sources does not always allow definitive statements on how the participants behaved in a particular historical situation, it does allow conclusions to be drawn on how participants were expected to behave in similar situations, and consequently, on the practices that were generally in use.