Demonic Prophecy as Byzantine Imperial Propaganda: The rhetorical appeal of the tenth-century Narratio de Imagine Edessena
In the summer of 944 CE, a sermon was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII (r. 945 - 59) to explain the history and significance of one of the most famous pieces of visual religious rhetoric in the medieval Middle East: a cloth that according to legend miraculously bore the imprint of the face of Christ. This object, also known as the mandylion or Image of Edessa, was transferred to Constantinople in the summer of 944; the sermon commemorating this event was delivered on August 16, 945. The date of the sermon is important, because it combined the translation of the relic with Constantine VII’s recovery of the throne from the usurper Romanos I. The sermon itself (hereafter Narratio) proved a powerful tool of propaganda, because it presented the story of the object’s translation to Constantinople in a way that subverted its previous history, portrayed Constantine as a divinely ordained ruler, and in the process employed a shrewdly creative exegesis of biblical texts for the emperor’s political gain.
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