Grant Report: Byzantine Worlds Seminars

Byzantine Worlds SPBS report, February 2020

As convenors of the Byzantine Worlds Research Network in Cambridge (with Edward Zychowicz-Coghill, Stephanie Forrest), we are most grateful to The Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies for the support we have received to run our seminar in the 2019-20 academic year. Together with funding from the Centre for Research in the Arts Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) in Cambridge, this has made it possible to invite speakers from within and beyond the United Kingdom to explore the material and intellectual entanglements between the medieval worlds of the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

In 2019-20, so far we have welcomed Foteini Spingou (Edinburgh) to talk about classicising learning and the Hippodrome in Constantinople after 1204, Paul Wordsworth (Oxford) on perceptions of decline and the medieval archaeology of the Kura Plain, in Azerbaijan, Benjamin Anderson (Cornell) on George Pachymeres and the Acropolis at Sardis and Judith Herrin (KCL) on the Anonymous Cosmographer of Ravenna. We also collaborated with Cambridge Ukrainian Studies to host the annual Public Lecture in Medieval and Early Modern Slavonic, delivered by Petra Melichar from the Czech Academy of Sciences, on foreign brides in late Byzantium.

Our visiting speakers, in their different ways, all disrupted traditional ways of seeing the relationship between the local and the global: from the specific context in which Niketas Choniates articulated his view of the Hippodrome to the vision of a world centred on Ravenna, and from perceptions of the geostrategic significance of Bardha’a or Sardis to insights into the contingent local circumstances shaping the histories of these settlements.

In the coming term, our seminar speakers will include Christian Sahner (Oxford), Ekaterina Mitsiou (Vienna) and Anna Chrysostomides (QMUL). We will also be organising a workshop on Modes of Exchange in Late Antique and Medieval Eurasia, with additional support from the History Faculty of the University of Cambridge, on 2 May. We will be joined by speakers from Vienna, Princeton, Oxford and London.

Alongside our seminar, the Byzantine Worlds Network has organised Byzantine Greek, Medieval Greek and Classical Armenian primary source reading groups. In the past two terms, we have been reading George of Pisidia’s Bellum Avaricum, the Acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Agapius of Manbij, Yaqūt’s Geographical Dictionary, the Armenian Gospel of John and the Canons of John Odznec’i the ‘Philosopher’.

The support of the SPBS has enabled us to put on a varied programme that has attracted audiences from several faculties, undergraduates, graduates, researchers, and interested members of the public. It has brought together researchers within and beyond Cambridge in discussions of Byzantium and its neighbours that have ranged widely in chronology, geography, methodology and source material. With SPBS support, we feel that the Byzantine Worlds Network has made a valuable contribution to the promotion of Byzantine studies among the students and wider research community at Cambridge.

Nick Evans ( Clare College, Cambridge CB3 9AJ

Photo of seminar in progress, Cambridge 2019