The story of "Byzantium & the West" began in the 4th Century ...

... when the Roman Empire was partitioned.

The Roman Empire encompassed all of the Mediterranean. Because of its size it was difficult to administer and even more difficult to defend. Hence it was divided into two halves – a Western and an Eastern Empire.

For the Western Roman Empire, this was the beginning of the end: it struggled against unrest at home and abroad and was overrun by countless invaders.

In the East, things looked quite different: the Eastern Roman – or Byzantine – Empire would survive to become a global power, with Constantinople as its capital and the political and cultural centre of the Mediterranean.

Yet in spite of the partition people continued to travel from East to West and, above all, from West to East: many came to make money by fighting for Byzantium. Even more set out on pilgrimages to visit sacred sites. Some stayed in foreign parts and started a new life. Others returned. In their baggage they had precious artefacts, new ideas and fantastic stories.

Byzantium was all gold. It beamed out brilliance and glamour. Its treasures were hot property in the West, where anyone who wanted to be part of the elite wore Byzantine silk, owned relics of Eastern saints, or even married a Greek princess. Yet the Byzantines guarded their riches greedily and would only give them away to special people as gifts – that was their way of appeasing enemies and winning friends.

Political and religious differences, as well as language barriers and clashing interests increasingly strained relations between Byzantium and the West and deepened the divide even further. Both sides fuelled existing prejudices and were keen to emphasise cultural differences. This fatal game ultimately caused the demise of the former Byzantine superpower.

The exhibition “Byzantium & the West” is a time journey through a millennium forgotten. It is about the history of two empires, but also about communication and mutual perception, about conflicting opinions and prejudices, about longing and fear. This makes it a universal narrative of humanity.

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