Sibel Kayan (née Ousta), M.A.

Project title: Concepts and practices of ideal dying in Byzantium from the 4th to the early 13th century

Supervisors: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Johannes Pahlitzsch, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jochen Althoff


The concept of the ideal dying includes the Christian preparation for a ‘good’ or salvific death. In the Middle Ages, the European West produced a genre of edificatory literature developed specifically for this purpose, which was subsumed under the term ars moriendi. In the Byzantine East, a comparable ars moriendi culture did not exist. This raises the question of whether and how the Byzantines prepared themselves for the hour of their death.

The present project is therefore dedicated to the investigation of the concepts and practices of ideal dying in Byzantium. Therefore narrative and normative text sources are used for this study. Methodologically, a distinction is made between primary sources (hagiography, historiography, epistolography, eulogies and poetry) and secondary sources (homiletics, journals, legal texts and acta), the latter of which are used in addition. The evaluation of these written sources should serve to identify the Byzantine ideas of ideal dying and the practices associated with it, which were intended to help the dying person to attain salvation. The period covers the early and middle Byzantine period (330-1204), in order to illustrate that the concepts of ideal dying existing in Byzantium underwent developments that began with the model of martyrdom in early Christianity and were given the most powerful model in the 6th century in the Assumption of Mary (κοίμησις) as the epitome of Christian dying. Among other things, the question is asked about the models on which the ancient and medieval authors based their concepts and about the function of the companion of the dying person (relatives, priests and doctors), taking into account theological treatises and canons. Furthermore, special attention is paid to the individual practices that were created for each concept and adapted to the needs of the people over the centuries. The historical discourse analysis is used as a methodological approach to work out the relevant discourses on ideal death within the selected written sources and to trace their change over time.