24th OUBS International Graduate Conference, 2022

The 24th International Graduate Conference of the Oxford University Byzantine Society will be held at the History Faculty in Oxford on 25th–26th February, 2021, with papers live-streamed in parallel on Zoom. We look forward to welcoming speakers and attendees. To register or view the conference programme and abstracts of papers, please navigate to the conference landing page.

Image: OUBS International Graduate Conference Call for Papers. Background image: Detail of Moses, Basilica di San Marco, Venice.

Reshaping the World: Utopias, Ideals and Aspirations in Late Antiquity and Byzantium

24th International Graduate Conference of the Oxford University Byzantine Society

There is nothing better than imagining other worlds – he said – to forget the painful one we live in. At least so I thought then. I hadn’t yet realized that, imagining other worlds, you end up changing this one’.

– Umberto Eco, Baudolino

It is the creative power of imagination that Baudolino described to a fictionalised Niketas Choniates in this dialogue from Eco’s homonymous novel. The creation of idealised imaginary worlds has the power to change the past, the present and the future. When imagination is directed towards more worldly goals, it becomes aspiration and such aspiration can influence policies of reform. When imagination is unrestrained, utopias are born. The Oxford University Byzantine Society’s twenty-fourth International Graduate Conference seeks to explore the impact utopias, ideals and aspirations had in changing the course of history and, therefore, how imagined or alternative realities shaped the Late Antique and Byzantine world(s), broadly understood.

Literature is the natural habitat of idealisation. Fictional realities and utopian societies are common in works of Byzantine literature; however, a broad understanding of utopia also includes allegory as a versatile tool for rearranging a written reality and allowing alternative readings to spring from long-established ‘classics’ like the Iliad or the Song of Songs. Similarly, recent approaches to historiography have emphasised the influence of authorial conceptions of the ideal in the creation of a historical narrative.

The writing of history in Late Antiquity and Byzantium often entailed judging historical figures and contemporaries alike against ideal ‘models’ – be they Biblical, classical or from living memory. This is even more true for encomia, where, under the cover of praising the current ruler, rhetors could urge the pursuit of particular virtues and advocate for their personal vision of ideal rulership.

Naturally, aspirations go beyond the textual dimension; they are often manifested as reforms – whether legal, administrative, martial, economic or religious – but they can also be realised architecturally and visually. Examples include the renovation of Byzantine cities to mirror their heavenly counterparts, and numismatic imagery which visually depicted victory and concord. Art, architecture and material culture strove to reproduce – sometimes even just symbolically – those same imaginaries. These are the utopias we see – or could formerly see – and their very existence altered the world. Our conference seeks to join the ongoing dialogue on utopias, ideals and aspirations in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies by providing a forum for postgraduate and early-career scholars to reflect on this theme through a variety of cultural media and (inter)disciplinary approaches. In doing so, we hope to facilitate the interaction and engagement of historians, philologists, archaeologists, art historians, theologians and specialists in material culture.


The OUBS Logo: Roundel with double-headed eagle circumscribed with the text 'Oxford University Byzantine Society'.

The Committee of the Oxford University Byzantine Society wishes you all a very warm welcome to our 24th International Graduate Conference, ‘Reshaping the World: Utopias, Ideals, and Aspirations in Late Antiquity and Byzantium’. We hope the next two days will raise as many questions as they will resolve. Above all, we aim to provide a forum for interdisciplinary discourse on Late Antiquity and Byzantium.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues who helped with the organisation of the Conference, without whom it would not have been able to take place: Per Jonas Jordfald, Benjamin Sharkey, Josh Hitt, Alexander Sherborne, Chloé Agar, Nathan Websdale, Esme Gray, Zhang Kaiyue, and Daniel Murphy.

We look forward to listening to and engaging with our speakers’ research.

Best wishes from the OUBS Committee,

Alberto Ravani, James Cogbill, Arie Neuhauser, and Tom Alexander

We are grateful for the support of:

  • The Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research (OCBR)
  • The Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS)
  • The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies (Hellenic Society)
  • The Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity (OCLA)
  • Oxford Medieval Studies, in association with the Oxford Research Centre for Humanities (TORCH)
  • The Faculty of History of the University of Oxford

Conference Timetable:

The conference is structured into 5 sessions. For each session, 2 separate themed panels will run in parallel in separate rooms and on separate livestreams.  Details of both livestreams (labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’) are provided to attendees registered with the Eventbrite page (http://bit.ly/35S3OPp). Each panel consists of 3 papers of 20 minutes each (or 4 papers in the case of the fourth session), with 10 minutes of questions after each paper. Livestream participants should post questions using the Zoom chat function either by typing out the full question or indicating that you have a question for a participant so that we can unmute you.

Friday, 25th of February

10.00: Introductory Remarks
11.00: First Session:
– Panel 1a: ‘Utopias and Dystopias’
– Panel 1b: ‘Constructing Holiness through Hagiography’
12.30: Lunch
14.00: Second Session:
– Panel 2a: ‘On Parody and Praise: Late Antique Literature and the Ideal’
– Panel 2b: ‘Holy Spaces and Creating Christian Utopias’
15.30: Break:
16.00: Third Session:
– Panel 3a: ‘Byzantine Heroes and Antiheroes’
– Panel 3b: ‘Aspirational and Ideal Administrations’
17.30: Wine Reception

Saturday, 26th of February

10.30: Fourth Session:
– Panel 4a: ‘Standards of Imperial Leadership in Literature and Historiography’
– Panel 4b: ‘Faith Communities and Ideal Christian Order’
12.30: Lunch
15.00: Fifth Session:
– Panel 5a: ‘Paradise and its Antithesis’
– Panel 5b: ‘Praise and Persuasion Towards the Ideal’
16.30: Break:
17.00: General Discussion and Concluding Remarks
18.00: Wine Reception

Schedule of Papers:

Session 1: Friday, 11.00–12.30

Panel 1a: ‘Utopias and Dystopias
Chaired by Tom Alexander
Panel 1b: ‘Constructing Holiness through Hagiography’
Chaired by Chloé Agar
Yael Krämer & Sarah Yona Zweig
 (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) 
Shedding Light on the Land of Darkness: An Intertextual Study of the Syriac Song of Alexander 
Göksu Kolaylı
(Bilkent University, Ankara)  
A Trapezuntine Mystery: (Mis)conceiving the Empire of Trebizond in the European Imagination during its Period of Decline 
Simona Puca
(Federico II-University of Naples)  
Louis XIV in Front of the Basileus: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Istanbul 
Natacha Puglisi
(King’s College, London) 
The Invention of St. Macrina the Younger: The Idealised Incarnation of the Cappadocian Spiritual and Social Model 
Daniel Murphy
(Exeter College, Oxford) 
Marching in Defence of the Faith in Late Fifth-Century Constantinople 
Nicolas Varaine
(École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)
Shaping the Holy Body in Pictorial Hagiography: Two Examples from Venetian Crete 

Session 2: Friday 2pm–3.30pm

Panel 2a: ‘On Parody and Praise’: Late Antique Literature and the Ideal
Chaired by Esme Gray
Panel 2b: ‘Holy Spaces and Creating Christian Utopias
Chaired by Zhang Kaiyue
Alexander Sherborne
(Magdalen College, Oxford)
Mentula Omnipotens and the Playful Subversion of Christian Ideals in the Sixth-Century Elegies of Maximianus
Francesco Mori
(Roma Tre University)
Utopia and Ideal in Julian’s Misopogon
Antonella Carbone
(University of Liverpool)
Papyrus Encomia in Late Antiquity. The Rhetoric of Praise in Late Antique Greek Poetry
Alina Kondratiuk
(National Preserve “Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra”)
The Idea of Kyiv as a New Jerusalem in the Murals of the Church of the Saviour at Berestove (1643/1644)
Andrew Hochstedler, OFM Conv.
(Campion Hall, Oxford)
Egalitarianism in Evergetis Dining? Hierarchical Refectory Seating and the Question of Evergetine Monastic Reform 
Daria Likhacheva
(Higher School of Economics, Moscow)
In Search of Ideal City: The Architecture of Constantinople and Byzantine Artists in the Macedonian Period

Session 3: Friday, 16.00–17.30

Panel 3a: ‘Byzantine Heroes and Antiheroes
Chaired by Alberto Ravani
Panel 3b: ‘Aspirational and Ideal Administrations
Chaired by Arie Neuhauser
Nafsika Vassilopoulou
(University of the Aegean, Mytilene)
Reflections of the Byzantine ‘Chevalier’ in Late Byzantine Texts (Twelfth-Fifteenth Centuries) 
Carlo Berardi
(University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Old Tales Told Anew: Homeric Heroes and Komnenian Ideals in the Illustrations of the Marciana Iliad 
Yan Zaripov
(St. Hilda’s College, Oxford)
 Dispelling the Homeric Utopia: Antiheroic Tendencies in Twelfth-Century Byzantine Literature 
Zhang Kaiyue
(St. Stephen’s House, Oxford) 
 Aspiration of the Marketplace: The Political Participation and Civil Unrest of Agoraioi, A.D. 1180 – 1204
Nathan Websdale
 (Wolfson College, Oxford) 
 Contextualising the Ethnic Purges within Nicholas Mesarites’ Depiction of John ‘the Fat’ Komnenos’ Attempted Coup of 1200/01 
Thomas Laver
(St. John’s College, Cambridge) 
Monks, Priests, and the Ideals of Local Administration in Late Antique Egypt

Session 4: Saturday, 10.30–12.30

Panel 4a: ‘Standards of Imperial Leadership in Literature and Historiography
Chaired by James Cogbill
Panel 4b: ‘Faith Communities and Ideal Christian Order
Chaired by Nathan Websdale
Sean Strong
(Cardiff University)
Communicating the Changing Ideals of Imperial Leadership: Theophylact Simocatta on the Military Identity of Emperor Maurice,  578-602 
Nicola Ernst
(University of Exeter)
Constructing the Ideal Christian Emperor: Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the Emperor Constans 
Radka Pallová
(St. John’s College Cambridge)
 Processing the Empire? Modelling the Emperor and the City in the Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai 
Sofiya Shevchuk
(Higher School of Economics, Moscow)
‘All the West and All the East’: The Idealised Saint and Hagiographical Spaces of Empire
Tom Alexander
(St. John’s College, Oxford)
A Nubian ‘King of Rūm’, An Abyssinian Conqueror of Mecca: The Imaginaries of Christian Africa in Copto-Arabic Historiography 
 Daniel Alford
(Corpus Christi College, Oxford)
Priests and Psak: Christianisation and Compromise in the Late Antique Armenian Wedding 
Andrew Hochstedler, OFM Conv.
(Campion Hall, Oxford)
Egalitarianism in Evergetis Dining? Hierarchical Refectory Seating and the Question of Evergetine Monastic Reform 
Anna Carroll
(The City University of New York)
Patron, Bishop, Regent and Saint: The Siegburg Lion Silk and The Legacy of St. Anno 

Session 5: Saturday, 15.00–16.30

Panel 4a: ‘Paradise and its Antithesis
Chaired by Daniel Murphy
Panel 4b: ‘Praise and Persuasion Towards the Ideal’
Chaired by Alexander Sherborne
Chloé Agar
(St. Cross College, Oxford)
Utopias in Coptic Hagiography: Presentations of Heaven and Hell 
Frederick Bird
(Regent’s Park College, Oxford)
Dreaming of Paradise: George of Pisidia’s Longing for a Perfect World 
Aleksandar Anđelović
(University of Vienna)
Riots, Earthquakes, Emperor, Savior, Ideal Order: Romanos the Melodist’s On Earthquakes and Fires
Leandro César Santana Neves
(Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)
In the Land of Incense and Thunder: Ecclesiology and Utopia in Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev’s Sermon on Law and Grace
Angus Docherty
(Pembroke College, Oxford)
On the Verses of Great Beauty: Paraenesis and Power in Thirteenth-Century Palaiologan Poetry
René de Nicolay
(University of Zürich)
Ideal or Empirical Political Theory? The Dialogue On Political Science Between Plato and Cicero