Alexander Beihammer, the Heiden Family College Professor in the Department of History and a faculty fellow in the Medieval Institute, has been awarded a $480,000 research grant from the Austrian Research Foundation for his project, “Medieval Smyrna/Izmir: The Transformation of a City and its Hinterland from Byzantine to Ottoman Times.”
The project examines the development of the medieval city of Smyrna — now Izmir, Turkey — from its last heydays under Byzantine rule in the 13th century to the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. Beihammer, along with colleagues in Austria and Sweden, will take an interdisciplinary approach to the project, focusing on the historical geography, social and economic history, and archaeology of the area.
Smyrna is one of the Mediterranean’s most exciting crossroads of cultures, littered with remains of ancient sites and monuments of different periods, Beihammer said. And while its significance as an international trade hub in the late Ottoman Empire has been explored by many scholars, the region’s Byzantine and medieval period has received much less attention.
“This region of western Asia Minor has a lot of historical significance in the Middle Ages,” he said. “On the one hand, there was a longstanding Greek Byzantine tradition going back to the Roman Empire. On the other hand, there was the Turkification and Islamization of Asia Minor. And these trends and developments came together and created a sort of cultural encounter.
“We want to focus on this gradual transformation from a Byzantine city with a Christian identity and culture into an Islamic Ottoman city with Turkish identity patterns and reconstruct how this took place over time.”
“This region of western Asia Minor has a lot of historical significance in the Middle Ages. On the one hand, there was a longstanding Greek Byzantine tradition going back to the Roman Empire. On the other hand, there was the Turkification and Islamization of Asia Minor. And these trends and developments came together and created a sort of cultural encounter.”
The project was inspired by Beihammer’s latest book, Byzantium and the Emergence of Muslim-Turkish Anatolia, ca. 1040-1130, which examines the earliest stage of the Seljuk conquest and the first encounter between Byzantium and the Turks in western Asia Minor. With his new project, Beihammer seeks to delve deeper into the issues of social, structural, and economic changes during the cultural transformation of the area.
“It’s important to understand these processes in order to gain a better understanding of European and Mediterranean history,” he said. “We aim to create a transposable case study that will help elucidate similar processes in other parts of the Mediterranean and other time periods up to modern times.”
During the four-year project, the team will complete survey archaeology in the villages and rural areas just outside Izmir, as well as conducting research in Austria, Turkey, and at Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute.
The institute’s scholars and resources are invaluable to the project, said Beihammer, who joined the College of Arts & Letters faculty in 2015.
“The Medieval Institute brings together faculty from many different departments at Notre Dame coming together and has a strong interdisciplinary character,” he said. “It also has a considerable strength in Mediterranean studies and one of the best Byzantine studies collections in the U.S. We have many people who are eager to take advantage of the resources here and the opportunity to have multiple disciplines working successfully together.”
Beihammer also received an initiation grant to conduct preliminary research from the College’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, which helped move the project forward in a significant way — and ultimately made him successful in securing the Austrian Research Foundation grant.
“With the initiation grant, I was able to travel a lot and to build my network of collaborators, which was quite important to the project,” Beihammer said. “We have such great resources at Notre Dame and that makes the whole process of preparing for such a big project much, much easier.”