Project History

The online database published here is the product of Prosopography of the Byzantine World (PBW), a project covering the period AD 1025-1180, and represents a continuation of prosopographical work originally inspired by A.H.M. Jones in 1950, and sponsored since then by the British Academy. Jones’s aim was to bring to fruition a plan made earlier by Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) within the Prussian Academy. With the help of files made available to Jones three volumes were published which between them covered the period AD 260-641: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (PLRE) I-III, Cambridge, 1971, 1980, 1992. The sole editor of vols. II and III was J.R. Martindale, who had also worked with Jones and John Morris on vol. I. The overall plan of work was directed by a British Academy committee under the chairmanship of a succession of different scholars.

It had already been decided by the British Academy in the 1980s to continue this work into the Byzantine period, under the chairmanship of Robert Browning. Unlike the procedure adopted in PLRE, which had left Christian material to be covered by others, PBE aimed to include all known Byzantine individuals, whether lay or ecclesiastical, and to do so in an easily accessible and searchable form, by using digital tools. The technical development of this database relied from the beginning on the expertise of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London, under the directorship of Harold Short, and with John Bradley as the principal architect.

In 1993 an agreement was made to collaborate with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy. Subsequently five volumes of the Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinische Zeit have appeared, with Prolegomena and end material, covering the period AD 641-867, under the leadership of F. Winkelmann and R.-J. Lilie (Berlin – New York, 1998-2002): see The first phase of the Byzantine Prosopography project was published on a CD-Rom, as The Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire I (PBE I, Ashgate, 2001), also edited by J.R. Martindale (with Dion Smythe);  now online, at continued to be based on articles on individuals which aimed to set out the full primary evidence for their lives and activity with a minimum of editorial intervention. Responsibility for the period 868-1024 was left to the Berlin team.

When the London team started work on the period starting from AD 1025, the project was renamed PBW, in recognition of problems arising from the geographical collapse of the empire in the later eleventh century. The Byzantine World was not defined by the empire’s shrinking borders, but by the boundaries left by Basil II in 1025. The sources were far more disparate, and distributed among many cultures and languages; it was no longer possible to aim at reliable completeness, when a new seal, or a reference in an Armenian source, might be discovered at any moment. It was also becoming clear that it would be possible to publish the database directly online, making it unnecessary to aim at unattainable completeness.  The intellectual structure developed by Mr John Bradley was to create a database of assertions ('factoids') made about individuals in the sources which were analysed by the team. The publication, therefore, is a prosopographical reading of sources for the period, limited to the sources which have been studied so far.

A beta version was published in 2006 (launched at the International Congress of Byzantione Studies); a fuller edition was published for the next Congress, in 2011.  The current edition was announced at the most recent Congress, in summer 2016. It is intended that this resource should continue to grow. One innovation in the 2011 edition was to add Unique Identifiers for people; these can be read by a computer, and are intended to contribute to the use of Linked Open Data in Byzantine Studies.

The British Academy has always been the principal sponsor of the project. From 1998 to 2006 the work was funded principally by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (now Council). Further work was undertaken with support from the Leventis Foundation; a sister project, with a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, began the inclusion of the extensive Arabic material from the period. But the support and patronage of the British Academy remain essential to its maintenance and further development.

J.R. Martindale was project manager from 1988 to 2000;  Michael Jeffreys, was project manager and editor from 2000 to 2016.