School at the church of St. Tryphon of Nicaea

1. Foundation and Operation of the School

As part of the wider policy of the Laskaris dynasty of reorganising educational structures and favoring the study of sciences in the Empire of Nicaea, Emperor Theodore II Laskaris made a significant contribution. The new emperor aimed to continue the work of his father, John III Vatatzes, in the field of letters. Therefore, immediately after he ascended the throne (1254) he promoted the foundation of a state school for high studies. The school was founded beside the Church of St. Tryphon, near Lake Ascania; the church was inaugurated around 1255 by Theodore II in honour of the martyr and patron saint of Nicaea St. Tryphon.

Information about the foundation and operation of the school is mainly derived from the emperor’s correspondence and Synopsis Chronike of Theodore Skoutariotes. According to the latter, the school at the Church of St. Tryphon was backed by state subsidies, while various commodities and foodstuff were also offered to the institution.1 More information about the organisation and the curriculum of the school is included in a letter sent by Theodore II to the “teacher of poetics” Andronikos Phrangopoulos and the teacher of rhetoric Michael Kakos (Senacherim).2 As indicated by the available evidence, the school had two chairs: one of “poetics” (actually meaning grammar) and one of rhetoric. There must have been only six students, while the level of knowledge was quite high for that period, as some of the graduates finally returned to Nicaea, although they tried to continue their studies in other places. The studies were organised at two levels. The first included the basic subjects (enkyklios paideia) and the second rhetoric. The institution had a large library with several codices including ancient texts. As for the curriculum, it is known that it included reading and analysis of ancient writers.3 In order to serve the needs of teaching, Senacherim prepared an annotation about Homer described by his unique rhetorical style.4

The operation of the school and the course of the lessons were closely supervised by the emperor, who was satisfied with the students’ progress. The main objective and direction of the institution was without doubt to provide important skills to the young people who were going to assume high state or ecclesiastical positions. However, it seems that the operation of the school was interrupted shortly after the death of Theodore II Laskaris (1258), when the state abolished its subsidies.5 The head of the school, Michael Kakos (Senacherim), followed the new emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos to Constantinople after 1261.

In chronological order, the school at the Church of St. Tryphon of Nicaea was the last educational institution founded in the Empire of Nicaea after the schools of Theodore Hexapterygos, Demetrios Karykes, Nikephoros Blemmydes and George Babouskomites.

It should be noted that the school was the only fully state school for high studies where emphasis was placed on rhetoric, a subject traditionally taught at private schools.

1. Heisenberg, A. (ed.), Theodorus Scutariota, Additamenta ad Georgii Acropolitae historiam (Leipzig 1903), p. 291: “καὶ σχολεία γραμματικῶν καὶ ῥητόρων ἔταξεν ἐν αὐτῷ , διδασκάλους καὶ μαθητὰς ἀποτάξας ἐκ βασιλικῶν θησαυρῶν τὰ σιτηρέσια τούτους ἔχειν διορισάμενος φιλοτίμως”.

2. Festa, N. (ed.), Theodori Ducae Lascaris Epistulae (Firenze 1898), pp. 271-276.

3. See also Browing, R., “Homer in Byzantium”, Viator 6 (1975), p. 29.

4. See also Κωνσταντινόπουλος, Β., “Σεναχηρείμ. Υπόμνημα στον Όμηρο”, Ελληνικά 35 (1984), pp. 152-153.

5. See also Andreeva, M.A., Ocerki po klul’ture vizantijskogo dvore v XIII veko (Praha 1927), p. 135.