A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
MUSIC IN CEREMONIES

I. ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE ACCLAMATIONS

A FEATURE characteristic of all Byzantine ceremonies, secular as well as ecclesiastical, was the acclamations. It was with these panegyric salutations that the factions of the Blues and the Greens1 used to greet the public appearances of the Emperor, the Empress, the Porphyrogenneti--the children of the Emperor, born in the Purple Chamber of the Palace--, other members of the Imperial family, and high officials and dignitaries. Similar acclamations were sung in church when the Emperor as head of the Church, or a high ecclesiastical dignitary, came to visit it. The stylized form of these panegyrics, which were apparently intended to give the impression of the spontaneous outburst of feelings of loyalty, devotion, gratitude, or admiration, reflects the highly organized system of Byzantine public life, in which the Emperor and his family played the foremost part. 'The task of applause was not abandoned to the rude and spontaneous voices of the crowd. The most convenient stations were occupied by the bands of the Blue and Green factions of the Circus; and their furious conflicts, which had shaken the capital, were insensibly sunk to an emulation of servitude.'2

The origin of the acclamations has not been fully investigated. Rehearsed cheering was already customary in Imperial Rome. When the Forum, formerly the scene of turbulent outbursts of passion, was reduced to order at the end of the Civil Wars, it was to the Circus, with its chariot-races, games, and fights, that the emotions of the populace were diverted.3 The Roman Caesars, some of whom were passionately interested in the races, favoured the faction to which their own charioteer belonged. Since not more than four chariots took part in one race, and each charioteer was dressed in the colour of his party, Rome had already the factions of the Blues, Greens, Whites, and Reds, of

____________________
1
Cf. J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, i. 84 sqq. An excellent study on 'The Acclamations of Emperors in Byzantine Ritual' has been published by H. J. W. Tillyard in A.B.S. xviii ( 1911-12), 239-60.
2
Gibbon, Decline and Fall, vi, Bury's ed., p. 85.
3
Cf. A. Rambaud, Études sur l'histoire byzantine, pp. 5-6.

-98-

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