In medieval histories of the Eastern Roman Empire—also known as the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium—emperors and other elite men invariably occupy more prominent roles than labourers, women, eunuchs, slaves, soldiers, and foreigners. The unevenness with which attention, space, and importance are distributed between different types of characters produces hierarchies within these narratives.
This research project will analyse the characters which appear in seven late Byzantine (c. 1200–1460 AD) histories, with a particular focus on the minor characters that are subordinated within their narrative hierarchies. Analysis will focus not on reconstructing these characters, but on understanding the discursive logics that inform their presentation. Systematic analysis of these logics across multiple Byzantine histories will allow the narrative functions of ostensibly minor characters to be understood and alternative histories of Byzantium to be told. If examined individually and in reconstructive terms, for example, the two-line description of the citizens of Constantinople refusing to let the emperor enter the city is insignificant, but if considered alongside the hundreds of examples of urban action in the seven histories examined, both the structural importance of urban populations and the logics and power disparities that inform their textual presentation are revealed.
Initial findings from the seven Byzantine histories will be compared with other relevant medieval historical traditions in order to identify the idiosyncrasies of Byzantine historical narrative and to create a framework by which the study of Byzantine history writing can be meaningfully placed in conversation with wider pre-modern European and global traditions of history writing and narrative.
This project will transform the study of Byzantine history writing, gender, and power relations. It does so by pioneering a narratological mode of analysis, focused on how Byzantine histories distribute space and importance between characters. The systematic analysis of the character systems of the seven late Byzantine histories (ca. 1200-1450), which have defined modern understanding of the period, provides empirical foundations for this study. The narratological analysis of whole character systems enables the detailed critical examination of minor characters, in particular non-male and non-elite characters, who have been ignored by traditional methodologies and theoretical frameworks.
The examination and comparison of narrative hierarchies, gender relations, and power structures within and between Byzantine narratives in the corpus will be supplemented by extended transhistorical comparative case studies. These will be employed both to identify the idiosyncrasies of Byzantine historiography and to place that tradition in meaningful conversation with global traditions of history writing. Transhistorical analysis will focus on contemporary Florentine history writing, but will expand both within and beyond the chronological limits of the proposed project to include other historical traditions.
As well as repurposing narrative theory to ask new questions of Byzantine histories, this project offers an intervention into the narrative theory of characters. This narratological study of pre-modern, non-fictional, medieval Greek narratives offers a useful corrective to the modern, fictive narratives (principally novels) in imperial European languages from which so much narrative theory has been derived. In so doing, this project will place the study of Byzantine historical tradition at the centre of the emerging field of diachronic narratology.