New Publication!


Roman identity is one of the most interesting cases of social identity because in the course of time, it could mean so many different things: for instance, Greek-speaking subjects of the Byzantine empire, inhabitants of the city of Rome, autonomous civic or regional groups, Latin speakers under ‘barbarian’ rule in the West or, increasingly, representatives of the Church of Rome. Eventually, the Christian dimension of Roman identity gained ground. The shifting concepts of Romanness represent a methodological challenge for studies of ethnicity because, depending on its uses, Roman identity may be regarded as ‘ethnic’ in a broad sense, but under most criteria, it is not. Romanness is indeed a test case how an established and prestigious social identity can acquire many different shades of meaning, which we would class as civic, political, imperial, ethnic, cultural, legal, religious, regional or as status groups. This book offers comprehensive overviews of the meaning of Romanness in most (former) Roman provinces, complemented by a number of comparative and thematic studies. A similarly wide-ranging overview has not been available so far.


Dates: June 18-19, 2018
Venue: Austrian Academy of Sciences, Seminar room, first floor, Hollandstraße 11-13, 1020 Wien
Organisers: Yannis Stouraitis – Ilya Afanasyev

According to Charles Tilly’s famous statement, “war made the state, and the state made war” in the long-drawn process of the emergence of the modern nation-state. If this statement pinpoints the important role of war in the formation of nation-states and national identities in the modern era, the impact of warfare on shaping and reshaping various types of polities and visions of communities in the Middle Ages deserves more attention than it has hitherto received – especially in the context of the ongoing debate regarding modern and pre-modern forms of nationhood and ethnicity. It is a common place to claim that collective identifications, group solidarity and homogeneity are not a cause but rather a product of war and inter-group violence. On the other hand, historical evidence demonstrates that the impact of war on the social cohesion and/or cultural homogenisation of various kinds of groups, such as ethnic or national communities as well as kingdoms, empires and nation-states, can be both constructive and destructive. This means that, even if wars favour discourses of demarcation and othering that can sharpen group boundaries and harden stereotypes, a stronger collective identification is neither a natural nor an automatic result of war.
Our workshop will bring together scholars of various medieval cultures in order to discuss and problematize the role of inter-group and in-group warfare in the emergence or disintegration of medieval social orders, as well as in shaping, changing or marginalizing ideas, values and norms that informed practices of collective identification within them. Two key-note speakers, a sociologist and an anthropologist, will introduce the topic from their disciplinary theoretical view-points with an aim to promote the dialogue and exchange of ideas between modern sociology, anthropology and medieval history. 

Our discussion will be focused on but not restricted to the following key questions:

·      What does studying war tell us about the relationship between ethnicity and political loyalty in medieval polities?
·      Can the role of the ‘entrepreneurs of ethnicity’ be traced for pre-modern history in a way comparable to Rogers Brubaker’s conceptualisation of the ‘ethnic’ conflicts of the 1990s?
·      What was the role of war in the institutionalisation, reproduction, renegotiation and change of cultural meanings and memories?
·      How did war impact upon the creation or renegotiation of various visions and forms of community (ethnic group, kingdom or empire)?
·      What does the history of warfare tell us about the role of pre-modern state structures in maintaining or marginalizing collective identifications?
·      How did the material organisation of pre-modern armies and wars influence the construction and reproduction of collective identifications?

Using these questions as a point of departure, the workshop aims to contribute to an alternative approach to the study of peoplehood in the medieval world by redirecting focus from collective identities in the hard sense to collective identifications as ideological practices. 

The workshop is organised by the FWF-funded project “Contested Empire: Civil War in the Medieval East-Roman Imperial State, c. 500–1204”, hosted at the Department of Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies at the University of Vienna

International Workshop!

Imagined Geographies 
in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Beyond

A two-day workshop co-sponsored by the School of History and Dumbarton Oaks
New Seminar Room, St John’s House, 69 South Street, St Andrews


As is well known from the work of Edward Said and other authors, ‘the rise of academic geography in the nineteenth century… was largely complicit with European colonial expansion, to which it contributed through the production of cartographic knowledge, but also by generating “imagined geographies” that mediated the spatial appropriation and colonial subjection of other cultures’ (Bazzaz, Batsaki and Angelov, Imperial Geographies in Byzantine and Ottoman Space, Harvard CHS 2013). Such a connection is clear in the case of the modern Middle East, a term invented in the nineteenth century with a shifting meaning that still remains vague to the present day. However, there are still many aspects of colonial imagined geography that remain largely unexplored. Even less understood is the geographical imagination of other cultures and historical periods. It is well known that Byzantine authors tended to conceive of the world in ancient geographical terms, which they applied to peoples living at their own time; but the precise details of how this was done by different authors is still the subject of ongoing study. As for the Ottoman Empire, it is clear that along with Byzantine territory it also took over from Byzantium the concept of an eastern Roman space (Rum); but the specifics are still largely unclear, as are shifting Ottoman views of the larger world in the early modern and modern period. Finally, East Asia and other regions of the world had their own conceptions of geographical space, which especially in premodern times were radically different from those held by Mediterranean and western European civilizations. This workshop aims to explore the concept of imagined geographies through an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together specialists in historical and literary studies with expertise in different time periods and regions of the world. Specific themes to be discussed include human migration, which carries with it specific notions of geographical space; political and cultural geography in different periods of Byzantine, Ottoman, and European history; and finally, supernatural and eschatological conceptions of space, which especially in premodern times were often associated with distant and unexplored parts of the world.
Hans Hummer, Visions of Kinship in Medieval Europe, Oxford University Press 2018, 400pp.


What meaning did human kinship possess in a world regulated by Biblical time, committed to the primacy of spiritual relationships, and bound by the sinews of divine love? In the process of exploring this question, Hans Hummer offers a searching re-examination of kinship in Europe between late Roman times and the high middle ages, the period bridging Europe's primitive past and its modern future. Visions of Kinship in Medieval Europe critiques the modernist and Western bio-genealogical and functionalist assumptions that have shaped kinship studies since their inception in the nineteenth century, when Biblical time collapsed and kinship became a signifier of the essential secularity of history and a method for conceptualizing a deep prehistory guided by autogenous human impulses. Hummer argues that this understanding of kinship is fundamentally antagonistic to medieval sentiments and is responsible for the frustrations researchers have encountered as they have tried to identify the famously elusive kin groups of medieval Europe. He delineates an alternative ethnographic approach inspired by recent anthropological work that privileges indigenous expressions of kinship and the interpretive potential of native ontologies. This study reveals that kinship in the middle ages was not biological, primitive, or a regulator of social mechanisms; nor was it traceable by bio-genealogical connections. In the Middle Ages, kinship signified a sociality that flowed from convictions about the divine source of all things and which wove together families, institutions, and divinities into an expansive eschatological vision animated by 'the most righteous principle of love'.

51st Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies!

The Post-1204 Byzantine World: New Approaches and Novel Directions

School of History, Classics & Archaeology 
The University of Edinburgh
13–15 April 2018 

The 2018 symposium will be dedicated to the later Byzantine world, taking its starting point from the cataclysmic events of 1204.

Especially in recent years, the late Byzantine period has seen an increasing amount of exciting research activity: from continuing Grundlagenforschung (palaeography, critical editions, translations and commentaries) via the reevaluation of key social, political, and economic practices to the application of new methods such as network studies or sociolinguistics, our understanding of the society and politics of the final two hundred and fifty years of Roman rule in the eastern Mediterranean have much increased. If down to the late 1990s Laskarid and Palaiologan Byzantium was often still perceived as one of the (many) Cinderellas of Byzantine Studies, this is clearly no longer the case. Wherever one looks these days, exciting postgraduate projects are under way; in an increasing number of universities, Byzantine Studies is taught by colleagues with expertise in the later Byzantine period.

The 51st Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies seeks to take stock of these novel approaches to the post-1204 Byzantine world by bringing together established researchers, new voices, and open communications on all aspects of this newly polycentric world that stretched from Constantinople to Mystras and from Arta to Trebizond: we will explore the functioning of late Byzantine politics – the interaction of emperors and rulers with aristocratic, ecclesiastical, urban elites and the demos – look at the cultural, religious, and literary life in the various post-1204 polities from various angles, and explore the fragile position of the dwindling Eastern Roman polities in their wider Mediterranean context, from the Italian powers via the Balkans to the Mamluks, Ottomans, and Mongols.

Symposium venue
The Symposium will be held in the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology, located in the Willam Roberson Wing (Doorway 4) of the Old Medical School on Teviot Place (EH8 9AG), as well as in the Teviot Lecture Theatre (Doorway 5) of the same building (for campus maps, please consult; to download: 

The University of Edinburgh’s Central Area – along Teviot Place, recently renovated Bristo Square, and around beautiful George Square – is within convenient walking distance of Waverley Railway Station, Princes Street and the Royal Mile; close to the National Museum and National Gallery of Scotland; and only a short walk (15 minutes) from the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Arthur’s Seat. More information about the city and what to do during your stay can be found here:

Book tip!

A new interpretation of Arab origins and the historical roots of Arab identity

Who are the Arabs? When did people begin calling themselves Arabs? And what was the Arabs’ role in the rise of Islam? Investigating these core questions about Arab identity and history through close interpretation of pre-Islamic evidence and the extensive Arabic literary corpus in tandem with theories of identity and ethnicity prompts new answers to the riddle of Arab origins and fundamental reinterpretations of early Islamic history.

It is revealed that the time-honoured stereotypes depicting Arabs as ancient Arabian Bedouin are entirely misleading: the essence of Arab identity was in fact devised by Muslims during the first centuries of Islam. Arab identity emerged and evolved as groups imagined new notions of community to suit the radically changing circumstances of life in the early Caliphate. The idea of ‘the Arab’ was a device used by Muslims to articulate their communal identity, to negotiate post-Conquest power relations, and to explain the rise of Islam. Over Islam’s first four centuries, political elites, genealogists, poetry collectors, historians and grammarians all participated in a vibrant process of imagining and re-imagining Arab identity and history, and the sum of their works established a powerful tradition that influences Middle Eastern communities to the present day.