The Metropolitan Museum exhibition charts the fascinating, if complex, process of cultural transformation that took place throughout the Middle East during the seventh to ninth centuries. For all of the thrust-and-parry military campaigns that took place, a spirit of mutual accommodation often characterized relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates that governed the Islamic world for much of the Middle Ages.
After Christianity was recognized as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380, a number of Christian groups, notably monks in Egypt, changed roles from martyrs to persecutors. A magnificent head of Aphrodite, dating to first century Athens, bears the marks of Christian vandalism. The eyes and lips have been chipped to “blind” and “silence” the deity. A cross was then inscribed on the forehead of Aphrodite.