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Narrative Hierarchies: Minor Characters in Byzantine and Medieval History Writing

This project explores late Byzantine and contemporary medieval history, gender, and power relations by examining the narrative organisation of history writing (ca. 1200–1460).

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Depiction of the capture of Constantinople from La Conquête de Constantinople by Geoffreoy de Villehardouin (Old French), featuring both crusader soldiers and the Constantinopolitan populace (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 587).

About the project

In the histories written in and about the Byzantine empire, 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 analyses these narrative hierarchies, with a particular focus on the minor characters that form the base of the character systems found in these histories.

The project will be grounded in the analysis of a corpus of late Byzantine histories (c. 1200–1460). This corpus will then be subjected to transhistorical comparison against texts drawn from a range of contemporary historical traditions, including (but not limited to) those of medieval Florence, Armenia, and Seljuk Anatolia. The objective is both to identify the idiosyncrasies of Byzantine history writing and to create a framework by which its study can be meaningfully placed in conversation with wider pre-modern traditions of history writing and narrative.


Guiding research questions include:

  • How do late Byzantine histories distribute space and narrative attention between characters, and what hierarchies do they produce?
  • Which characters are prioritised and which are marginalised in these systems? How does gender and socio-economic status map onto the distribution of narrative space?
  • How do the character systems and narrative hierarchies of Byzantine history writing compare to other contemporary historical traditions?
  • What further potential does the comparison of character systems in history writing have for the transhistorical study of the medieval world?
  • Do the character systems of Byzantine historical narratives challenge modernist narrative theories of character?


The Research Council of Norway, grant nr. 324754.


15.10.21 – 14.10.25.

Published Dec. 6, 2021 6:23 PM - Last modified May 24, 2022 2:16 PM


Project leader:

Matthew Kinloch