Byzantinology in Australia* AABS celebrates twenty-one years (1999-2000)

by Ann Moffatt

Frivolity seemed an appropriate reaction. Twenty-one years, someone said, since the first Australian Byzantine Studies conference and the formation of the Australian Association in 1978. Here we were at our 11th conference and with a monograph series having reached eleven volumes, with more in the pipeline, and now 39 issues of a Newsletter. All of this has kept Australian Byzantinists in touch with each other and colleagues around the world. Now the Newsletter is published electronically, information about AABS is on our website, and conferences have taken on a genuinely international character.

The first conference was held in 1978 as part of the ‘Medieval Year’ programme of the then fledgling Humanities Research Centre (HRC) at the Australian National University. Professors Ihor Sevcenko and Herbert Hallam were the éminences grises in the front row, encouraging the speakers and stimulating the discussion. Ihor had come as a Visiting Fellow at the HRC and it was he who suggested the papers merited publication and convinced the HRC to publish them as Byzantina Australiensia vol. 1. He also supported our nomination to become a member of the International Association of Byzantine Studies. For this the AABS committee doubles as the National Committee.

How did it all start? In the early 1960’s Dick Johnson (in Classics at Melbourne and then ANU) suggested to Roger Scott and Ann Moffatt that they might be interested in research in the field of Byzantine Studies. In 1976 Roger, Ann and Margaret Riddle (Melbourne) all attended the International Congress in Athens, and Michael and Elizabeth Jeffreys arrived in Sydney from England. Given this strength in numbers the five then contacted some twenty or more other Byzantine sympathisers in Australia, both within the universities and beyond, to plan a newsletter, the conference, and the formation of the association.

An early concern was to build up the library holdings. In 1969 the National Library had acquired Speros Vryonis’ initial library of over 2,000 titles and published an author/title listing of it in 1978. Most of this material has since been fully integrated into the main National Library collection. It included the Bonn corpus and early runs of a number of serials, many of them published in Greece. The Library maintained the subscriptions to some of these for several years. Meanwhile the university libraries developed their particular strengths over the thousand-year span of Byzantium. Bob Barnes in Classics at ANU was among those who helped coordinate acquisitions.

Byzantine studies are now actively pursued, moving around the nation in anti-clockwise fashion, in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Armidale and Brisbane. AABS Committee members over the years have been: Pauline Allen, Margaret Carroll, Brian Croke, Lynda Garland, Sasha Grishin, Herbert Hallam, Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys, Wendy Mayer, John Melville-Jones, Ann Moffatt, John Moorhead, Alanna Nobbs, Margaret Riddle, Roger Scott, and Ahmad Shboul.

We regret, however, the deaths in this time of a number of members: Nicholas Draffin, Herbert Hallam, Bill Jobling, Helen Lindsay, Tony McNicoll, Cynthia Stallman-Pacitti, and Ted Stormon OJ. In 1997 Robert Browning of the University of London died, who had taught and encouraged so many of the Australian Byzantinists, witness the volume of Byzantina Australiensia offered to him as “Maistor” for his 70th birthday in 1984.

By 1981 the Malalas co-operative project to produce a translation of the chronicle, and later a volume of studies, was underway, led by Elizabeth Jeffreys and Roger Scott and with funding from the Australian Research Council. This brought a team of fanatics together in the Jeffreys’ house for weekends of hard slog and keen discussion over several years. The Jeffreys’ household has for even longer been the distribution and accounts centre for Byzantina Australiensia. Elizabeth’s key role in this was acknowledged as we noted with pleasure her move from here to the Bywater and Sotheby chair at Oxford. The celebration of the 21st was a splendid opportunity to thank the Jeffreys who provided the critical mass and determination necessary to set Byzantine Studies in Australia on the map and following a course which has proven to be sound.

(AABS Newsletter 39, Nov. 1999)


* Golden Horn follows developments in the area of Byzantine Studies in various countries. In the first volume we concentrated on the Netherlands, in this issue the focus is on Australia.

Published in print in Golden Horn Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)