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Crossing Frontiers: Christians and Muslims and their Art in Eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus

Project Background Information

Crossing frontiers church


In the twelfth to fourteenth centuries four worlds met in the region of eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus: the Christian cultures of Anatolia (including Byzantines and Syriacs) and the Caucasus (principally the Georgians and Armenians, each allied to different Christian confessions), the Turkic cultures of Anatolia (the Seljuk Turks and other Turkoman groups), the Arabic culture of Syria that reached into northern Mesopotamia, and the Persian culture of Iranian Azerbaijan. The invasions of the Khwarazmians and then the Mongols in the 1230s and 1240s added yet more distinct ethnic, religious and cultural groups. All these societies were culturally vibrant and produced high quality works of art in the region, principally architecture, but also precious arts (ceramics, metalwork, manuscripts, etc.). These works of art are now divided by modern frontiers (Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran), but the medieval cultures were not themselves discrete, isolated entities, rather they were overlapping and interdependent. This seminar seeks to reunite the study of these monuments, to examine cross-cultural interaction across the region.

Crossing Frontiers arch carvingThe constant shifting of political and cultural frontiers in the Middle Ages meant that populations became interlaced and artists might work for very different patrons. Each new war and conquest overlaid an additional culture on already complex and intertwined societies. There is a wealth of material evidence through which to explore the networks of relationships that resulted: primarily buildings (mosques, madrasas, monasteries and churches; caravanserais, hospitals, bridges; palaces, city walls), but also ceramics, metalwork and manuscripts. Frequently Christian populations were allowed to maintain their worship under Muslim rule, and vice versa. Shared shrines and common popular beliefs (e.g. in astrology and apotropaic imagery), and trans-regional trade routes all facilitated the development of common visual languages. The surviving network of caravanserais that connect Anatolia to Armenia, Syria and Iran are testimony to the importance of travel and movement across the region in this period.


  • The fundamental aim of this seminar is to study the interaction of all the cultures in the region through their principal surviving remains: the buildings and art works that they commissioned.
  • We aim to show that monuments can participate simultaneously in multiple art histories across the region, and that the understanding of individual monuments benefits from studying them from multiple viewpoints. This is a pluralistic approach to the study of each monument and of the region as a whole.
  • We will map the ways in which architectural forms were employed across the region, to think more about networks of buildings across modern frontiers and across medieval religious and cultural boundaries. When set in the context of a number of different, parallel cultural traditions, each monument emerges as a richer source of information about how the societies of Anatolia and the Caucasus interacted.
  • When in front of the monuments we will consider the function and uses of the shared visual languages that emerged: do they reflect shared beliefs and practices, or do they deliberately disguise differences? We will take account of interaction and similarities as much as any hostility and difference.
  • We seek to encourage debate as to how we can develop a truly interdisciplinary examination of the artistic and cultural history of this region during this period of enormous change, but also of great vitality and innovation.

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