The 26th annual Runciman lecture: Greece in the Balkans: A Cohabitation of Past, Present and Future – 2 February

Throughout the last two centuries of Balkan history, national identities have been transformed, political cohesion of nation states has given way to segmentation and pre-modern creeds have existed next to modernist ideas.

Location: King’s College, Great Hall, King’s Building, Strand Campus, London

When: 02/02/2017 (18:00-19:30)

This event is open to all and free to attend. No booking is necessary. Please direct any queries to

As is the case with most of Europe, cultural syncretism in the Balkans permeates all aspects of life. Culinary habits, education, even politics attest to these realities. In our global world, nation-states coexist in different stages of development. States still in a pre-modern phase live side by side with modernity as well as post-modernity. If pre-modernity is characterized by religious devotion, modernity is about unitary states and their secular priorities. Post-modernity is best exhibited by the influence of supranational organisations such as the EU, with multicultural values and transnational partners.

While Greece is struggling with accumulated debts to its western creditors, the Greeks are losing sight of their relationships with their southeastern European neighbours. Previous fruitful investments in the Balkans made Greece a major contributor to regional growth. A paragon of modernity since the war of independence in the 1820s, thanks to its active diaspora, Greece has suffered from a dearth of political leadership during the last three and a half decades. Whereas its northern neighbours are narrowing the gap between their economies and the only frontrunner state that belongs to all western institutions, Greece will have to make a new political start in order to maintain its lead in the region.

Thanos Veremis is Professor Emeritus of Political History at Athens University. He has been a founding member and former President of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). He has served as Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London (for which he wrote Adelphi Paper No. 179), as well as Visiting Professor at Princeton, LSE, Oxford and the University of Illinois-Chicago. He was appointed President of the National Council of Education (2004-2012) and was Constantine Karamanlis Professor in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Boston. He gained his DPhil at Trinity College, Oxford. He is the author of many books, including, in English: Modern Greece – A History since 1821 (with John S. Koliopoulos, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) ,The Military in Greek Politics (Hurst, 1997) and Greece’s Balkan Entanglement (ELIAMEP-YALCO, 1992).

The lecture is preceded by Orthodox Vespers in the Chapel at 17.15. The event is sponsored by Nicholas and Matti Egon.

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The music of Saint Kassiani or Kassia the nun

Saint Kassiane the Hymnographer

Saint Kassiane the Hymnographer

Kassiani (also known as Kassia) was a ninth-century abbess and composer born in Constantinople around 810 AD. And her music is very beautiful.

She was one of the first composers – and is the earliest female composer whose music has survived to the present day.Around 25 of her pieces survive, along with a wealth of verses and epigrams.

She was famous in her own day, partly because of legendary story of her encounter with the emperor Theophilus.

You can listen to her music here.

The Orthodox wiki tells us more.

Kassiani is one of the first composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in the Orthodox Church liturgical books. The exact number is difficult to assess, as many hymns are ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often identified as anonymous. In addition, some 789 of her non-liturgical verses survive. Many are epigrams or aphorisms called “gnomic verse”. An example:

I hate the rich man moaning as if he were poor.

She was born between 805 and 810 in Constantinople into an wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. Three Byzantine chroniclers, Symeon Metaphrastes, George the Monk (a.k.a. George the Sinner) and Leo the Grammarian, claim that she was a participant in the “bride show” organized for the young bachelor Theophilos the Iconoclast by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Smitten by Kassia’s beauty, the young emperor approached her and said:

“Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things]”, referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve’s transgression. Kassia promptly responded by saying: “And through a woman [came forth] the better [things]”, referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation of Christ through the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary.

According to tradition, the dialogue was:

“-Εκ γυναικός τα χείρω.” (Ek gynaikós tá cheírō)”-Kαι εκ γυναικός τα κρείττω.” (Kaí ek gynaikós tá kreíttō)

His pride wounded by Kassia’s terse rebuttal, Theophilos rejected her and chose Theodora as his wife.

The next we hear of Kassiani is that in 843 she founded a monastery in the west of Constantinople, near the Constantinian Walls, and became its first abbess. Although many scholars attribute this to bitterness at having failed to marry Theophilos and becoming Empress, a letter from Theodore the Studite indicates that she had other motivations for wanting a monastic life. It had a close relationship with the nearby monastery of Stoudios, which was to play a central role in re-editing the Byzantine liturgical books in the 9th and 10th centuries, thus ensuring the survival of her work (Kurt Sherry, p. 56).

She wrote many hymns for liturgies; the most famous being the eponymous Hymn of Kassiani, sung every Holy Wednesday (liturgically; actually chanted late in the evening of Holy Tuesday).

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Like a Tramp 2016

Completing my first walk to Bath in 2014

Completing my first walk to Bath in 2014

Hello to all Blog readers!

First off, I hope that you had a happy and peaceful Christmas with those that you love. I would like to say thank you to so many of you for sponsoring me in the past as I have walked across southern England raising money for charity, raising over £7,000 in what has become an annual event. This year, despite promising myself that I would retire from international competitive charity fundraising, I have completed another walk.

Between 17-20 December, I walked 70 miles along the South Downs Way with my son Patrick and his friend Teddy Chabo. We walked as before, as tramps, sleeping rough and seeking charity and shelter along the way to continue our fund raising for Combat Stress and Shelter. We slept in churches and were very lucky to find friendly vicars who supported us.

Our goal is to continue to raise awareness of the need for support to veterans with mental health and PTSD issues, and the homelessness that can often come with it. These are two very worthy charities, and at this Christmas-tide, I am asking you once more to make a small donation to help these causes. So far this year we have raised over £1,800, and we are hoping to exceed £2,000 by the time we close the fundraising page after New Year.

Please visit our fundraising page linked below, and perhaps split any donation that you may make between the two charities, or give as you please.

To donate please click here to go to our Just Giving page.

Thank you from the three of us, and for all those who will be helped by your generosity and kindness.

A merry Christmas and a happy 2017 to you all.

With warm regards.

Tom Sawford

To donate please click here to go to our Just Giving page.

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Christmas Day diversion – In Our Time Byzantium

The Emperor Justinian and courtiers - Basilica of San Vitale

The Emperor Justinian and courtiers – Basilica of San Vitale

If you need some diversion from food family and fatuous television this Christmas, you might like to listen to this BBC Radio 4 In Our Time programme from 2001, where Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the culture, history and legacy of the eastern Byzantine Empire.

In 453 with the Barbarians at the gate, through the gate and sacking the city of Rome “the wide arch of the ranged empire” finally began to fall…Or did it? In AD 395 the Emperor Theodosius had divided the vast Roman Empire between his two sons. The Northern and Western Europe provinces were governed from Rome, but the Eastern Empire became based on the Bosphorous in the city of Constantinople. And when Rome crumbled and the Dark Ages fell across Western Europe, the Eastern Roman Empire endured, with its ancient texts, its classical outlook and its Imperial society…for another one thousand years.

How did the East survive when the West fell, were they really Romans and why do we know so little about one of the most successful and long lived Empires ever to straddle the globe? Did its scholars with their Greek manuscripts enable the Western Renaissance to take place? And why has it so often been sidelined and undermined by history and historians?

With Charlotte Roueché, Reader in Classical and Byzantine Greek, Kings College London; John Julius Norwich, author of a three part history of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, The Apogee and Decline and Fall; Liz James, Senior Lecturer in the History of Art, University of Sussex.

Visit the IOT page to download or listen via the link below.

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Ancient Ottoman and Byzantine shipwrecks discovered in pristine condition in Black Sea

explorers-found-a-graveyard-of-preserved-ancient-shipwrecks-at-the-black-seaThe Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project has been on a mission to map out the floor of the Black Sea. The study was geared towards understanding how quickly sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago. So it was to the researchers’ surprise when they stumbled upon a Byzantine shipwrecks that’s been remarkably preserved by the ocean itself, with some of the vessel belonging to the Ottoman period.

First published in iTech Post

Byzantine Shipwrecks Found At The Black Sea’s ‘Dead Zone’

The find was located at the Black Sea’s “dead zone” which begins 150-meters blow the water’s surface. The region is named like so because at this depth no life is capable of surviving as light and oxygen doesn’t exist here, which means that there is nothing that would feed on organic materials such as wood and flesh. Hence, the wreckage’s exceptional preservation.

The maritime archaeologists said that there are 41 of the said ships lying on the ocean floor which were identified to have belonged to the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire. “The wrecks are a complete bonus, but a fascinating discovery, found during the course of our extensive geophysical survey,” said Jon Adams, a professor at the University of Southampton and principle investigator of the project. To be precise on the location, the team found the Ottoman and Byzantine shipwrecks off the coast of Bulgaria, according to the Digital Journal.

Archaeologists To Collect Data And Move Retrievable Items From Byzantine Shipwrecks

They spotted and analyzed the ancient ships using two remotely operated underwater (ROV) vehicle as they were scanning the sea bed. One of the ROV is outfitted with a high-resolution camera capable of producing a 3D image of the environment. The other vehicle has lights and laser scanner designed to travel at a record-breaking 6 knots underwater, four times the speed of conventional ROVs.

Adams said that the two underwater vehicles were able to record astonishing 3D images without disturbing the sea bed. What really fascinated the researchers, however, was that the ships they uncovered were present in historical sources, but were never seen before. That is, of course, until now.

The next step for the archaeologists is to analyze as much as they can about the wreckage while leaving the vessels in place, reported the Independent. Following that, they will carefully take whatever they can move from the ship and transport it back to the surface. The discovery of the Byzantine shipwrecks will add new information regarding how the empires used the sea thousands of years ago.

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Ancient Coins Bearing Byzantine Emperor Constantine the First Found in Japan

Pretty amazing. This probably doesn’t indicate trade between Japan and the Roman empire but possibly later trade, and shows that the Roman coins were still in use. But they have travelled a long way!

First published in Greek Reporter.

Ancient coins minted during the era of the first Byzantine Empire were found in the excavations of ancient castle ruins in Okinawa, Japan.

According to a Japan Times report, four bronze coins were found, which archaeologists believe date back to the Roman Empire of the 3rd and 4th century AD. They were found in the ruins of the Katsuren castle — a UNESCO world heritage site — which stood from the 12th to the 15th century AD.

At that time the trade between China and South East Asia were in bloom, and these findings are of particular importance, and indicate trade links between Okinawa and the West, as announced by the Uruma education board, a city near the site where the coins were discovered.

The coins have a diameter between 1.6 and 2 cm, and their surfaces are worn. However, X-ray analysis showed that they bear the image of Constantine the First, considered to be the first emperor of the Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire as it was called then. Along with Constantine there is a soldier bearing a spear.

Among other findings are a coin of the Ottoman Empire, the 17th century, and five other round metal pieces, also considered to be coins.

– See more at:

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Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman


Birdman – a portrait of Steven Runciman by Cecil Beaton (1920’s)

By the time he died, in 2000 at the age of 97, Sir Steven Runciman knew that he was a “‘relict of a past age’”, the “embodiment of a…nearly mythical era.” Minoo Dinshaw’s brilliantly entertaining biography of the great historian of Byzantium restores him to public view and provides a vivid picture of many aspects of 20th-century Europe that now seem almost as remote as the crusades and religious schisms he described in his books.

First published in The Economist, 9 September 2016

Runciman was not aristocratic by birth—his grandfather, a shipping magnate, had established the family fortune—but he was immensely grand and well connected. His parents were the first married couple to sit together in the House of Commons. And his father, who was part of Lord Asquith’s cabinet before the first world war, survived the declining fortunes of the Liberal party to lead the doomed mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938. He could claim in 1991 to have known every 20th-century prime minister except Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who died when he was a toddler, and Bonar Law, “‘whom nobody knew’”. Introduced by his governess to French, Latin and Greek by the age of seven, he won scholarships to Eton—in an era of clever men like George Orwell, Cyril Connolly and Anthony Powell—and to Cambridge, where he lived in the “scornfully beautiful Great Court” of Trinity College. Through his friend Dadie Rylands (they were named the Tea Party Cats “for their velvety urbanity”) he met Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and other members of the Bloomsbury group.

Despite frequent trips to London to socialise with the “bright young people” (and be photographed with his budgerigar by Cecil Beaton), Runciman won the first-class degree and prize fellowship that were to launch his academic career. Of the Cambridge spies recruited in the 1930s, Guy Burgess was a pupil and friend and Anthony Blunt a “supercilious” colleague. Employing political and diplomatic connections to the full, he travelled in style to Romania, Bulgaria and Asia. He established his reputation with histories of the emperor Romanus Lecapenus, the first Bulgarian empire and Byzantium. When he inherited wealth from his grandfather in 1938, he gave up his university fellowship.

Unfit for military service, Runciman spent the war in the Balkans and the Middle East: in Sofia as press attaché to the British Legation, Jerusalem, Cairo and Istanbul. There he narrowly escaped a bomb blast, spent three years as professor of Byzantine history and art, and became an honorary Dervish. Between 1945 and 1947 he led the British Council in Athens. Osbert Lancaster, a witty cartoonist, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, who would become a glamorous writer, were there. Greece was lurching towards civil war and Runciman gained an abiding love for the country, pleasure from upstaging the British ambassador and the position of Astrologer Royal.

On his return to Britain, Runciman split his time between London and the Hebrides, and wrote the books that were to make his name: the ground-breaking three-volume “History of the Crusades”; and a succession of works on Byzantine history that drew on a wide variety of sources, Muslim and Greek, most notably “The Sicilian Vespers” and “The Fall of Constantinople”. Francis Birrell, a Bloomsbury acquaintance, had greeted Runciman’s first book with the acknowledgment that fewer than “half a dozen people were really competent” to review it (and that he was not one of them). There were no such reservations about later volumes, which were lively, authoritative and well received.

Runciman was not to everyone’s taste. He loved to tease, possessed a “queenly persona”, snubbed people who failed to interest him and “had a tongue like a viper if he wanted to use it”. He was a gossip who adored royalty; he entertained the Queen Mother to lunch at the Athenaeum Club every year; four queens are said to have attended his 80th-birthday party.

Despite being able to compose an alphabet of lovers with every letter except Q (“I shall die Qless”), he was to claim that he had “never been in love”. He retained a wide circle of loyal friends and was a popular laird of the Isle of Eigg, not least because he would invite his musical friends to stay and perform at the village hall. (Yehudi Menuhin was “memorably described” by the ferryman as “a handy man for a ceilidh”). He gave his name and time to numerous public bodies and causes, at home and abroad. A final apotheosis, three months before he died, for his service as Grand Orator to the Patriarch of Constantinople, was a descent by helicopter on the Holy Mountain of Athos.

Mr Dinshaw’s choice of subject for his first book is an inspired one. He interweaves the strands of a long and variegated life with sympathy, elegance and awareness of the wider picture. In recognition of Runciman’s fascination with the supernatural, chapters are headed with quotations from Arthur Waite’s “The Key to the Tarot”. He refers frequently to novelists such as Evelyn Waugh and Olivia Manning, authors of trilogies about the war. And his turn of phrase is as arresting as Runciman’s own—one family friend is “unceremonious, crapulous”. Mr Dinshaw has done Runciman proud. To whom will he turn his attention next?

Buy Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman. Click the link.

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