On Cecily Hennessy’s book, Images of Children in Byzantium:
Cecily Hennessy’s purpose is to determine “the place and significance of children in visual representations and, by extension, in Byzantine society at various points in the past”. This book, the first extensive and systematic treatment of the visual images of children in Byzantium, draws upon various sources–from monumental frescoes and mosaics to manuscript illumination and coins–dating from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. As Hennessy points out, children were not only subjects but also recipients and even makers of visual imagery.
In the first chapter on “Setting” the author provides a useful survey of the literature that pertains to children from antiquity to the present day, and any student of the topic could mine the chapter for references and thoughtful summaries. She also supplies information about the legal and cultural status of Byzantine children, briefly discusses various forms of available education, and examines the role of the church in defining various aspects of childhood. She notes that despite the pervasive role of Christianity in Byzantine society, there was not a uniform understanding of youth, and that children could be easily perceived as innocent or deeply flawed. The author generalizes that children in Byzantium had their own distinct identity to which pertained certain laws and culture-specific expectations.
Depictions of children in two ninth-century manuscripts–the Khludov Psalter and the Sacra Parallela–as well as in several copies of Gregory of Nazianzos’s liturgical homilies provide, according to Hennessy, a window into Byzantine perceptions of childhood and youth. The author emphasizes that the large number of children and adolescents found in these manuscripts may be a realistic reflection of the actual overall youthfulness of Byzantine society, where the average life expectancy was less than thirty years.