Conference explores gender and class in Byzantine society

Published 13 May 2010

byzantiumA symposium on ‘Gender and Class in Byzantine Society’ was held at the University of New England in honour of Prof John Melville Jones, one of Australasia’s most renowned Byzantinists and former president of the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies (AABS).

Aside from hosting biennial conferences since its inception in 1977, the AABS has published 16 volumes as Byzantina Australiensia, a series primarily dedicated to making important Byzantine sources available in English translation for the first time.

The association’s 16th biennial conference, the symposium attracted papers from 17 national and international speakers, with the plenary session on ‘The View from the Empire’s North-west frontier: Gender and Society in Byzantine Italy from Justinian to Robert Guiscard’ being presented by T.S. Brown, reader, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Paul Brown, lecturer in ancient history at UNE, said the symposium explored the ways in which gender and class were key social indicators in Byzantine society, as in many others, with masculine and feminine roles not always being clearly defined.

“Eunuchs in fact constituted a ‘third gender’ and had a session devoted to their role in society and at court,” Dr Brown said.

“Social status in Byzantium was also in a state of flux, as much linked to patronage networks as to wealth, as the empire came under a series of external and internal pressures, and this fluidity applied in ecclesiastical as much as in secular spheres.”

Besides Dr Brown, academics from UNE’s School of Humanities who made significant contributions to the conference included head of school Lynda Garland, Matthew Dillon and Anna Silvas.