What was ‘Greek’ about the ‘Greek’ Migrant Popes? Attitudes and Perspectives of the Liber pontificalis

I had the opportunity to present and disccus my recent research at the LOST & FOUND:
the legacies of greek culture in the global middle ages
coference March 4-5, 2023, organised by the Center of Medieval Studies at Fordham University in New York. Amazing conference, intriguing speakers, excellent organisation. Thank you, Fordham!

Here comes the abstract:

The late 7th and early 8th centuries were a period of many transitions in Rome. The glory of the old days was long gone and the city, alike large parts of Italy were the Western frontiers of the Byzantine Empire. Weakened by continuous external pressure in the East, the Empire successively lost influence and a papal state slowly emerged. The knowledge of Greek gradually disappeared, and Latin dominated public life and administration. At the same time, larger numbers of migrants fled the East of various reasons. They brought their language, culture, liturgy, doctrines, saints, and their stories to Rome. In this period, considerable number of Greek monasteries and migrant churches were built in Rome. What is more, also several ‘Easterners’, that is mainly Greek-speakers born in Sicily or in the eastern regions of the Mediterranean world ascend the throne of Peter. Previous scholarship often referred to this period as ‘Byzantine captivity’ of the papacy. Others argued that ‘Greekness’ is irrelevant because Byzantine political structures and Greek culture influenced if not dominated Rome’s political and cultural life. In contrast, recent scholarship advocated a more balanced picture and stressed that ‘Greekness’ was neither irrelevant nor a decisive marker of (individual) loyalty of popes.

The Liber pontificalis (henceforth LP), a collection of successive biographies of Roman bishops from Peter to the compilers’ present day offers contemporary account to the lives or rather gestae of those ‘Greek’ popes. Since educated yet hardly intellectual local Latin-speaking clerks updated those lives, the LP shed authentic light on non-intellectual insider elite’s perspective on an extraordinary group of outsiders: those, who despite (or because of?) their non-Roman origins made to the absolute top. By analyzing the lives of four prominent ‘Eastern’ popes, Sergius, John VI, Constantine, and Gregory III, this contribution asks whether the individual compilers were ‘ethnically’ sensitive or did they simply follow the predefined schematic structure? Did they distinguish between ‘Greeks’ and ‘Romans’ or did they still operate in a single oikumene of Romanessness? And if they distinguished, what was distinctive, and worth acknowledging? In short, what made Greeks to Greeks in the eyes of Romans? The talk will conclude with synthetic comparison of the individual compiler’s attitudes.