School of History, Classics & Archaeology


€2 million grant for comparative Byzantine/Chinese studies project

The European Research Council has awarded Professors Niels Gaul (University of Edinburgh) and Curie Virág (Toronto/Budapest) €2 million to explore ‘Classicising learning in medieval imperial systems'. (Published 11 May 2017).

The School of History, Classics and Archaeology is pleased to announce that Professor Niels Gaul, A. G. Leventis Professor of Byzantine Studies, in conjunction with Professor Curie Virág has been awarded €2m (ca. £1.65m) from the European Research Council to explore ‘Classicising learning in medieval imperial systems: cross-cultural approaches to Byzantine paideia and Tang/Song xue’ (PAIXUE) over the coming five academic years (2017–2022).

‘We are both absolutely delighted with this award’, said Niels Gaul, ‘and keen to get started and see what looking at structural convergences as well as divergences in these two sedentary empires at the far ends of the Eurasian steppe belt is going to teach us. For the periods we look at, they have little to no direct connection – but thanks to their analogous geopolitical position, as it were, looking at each through the lens of the other raises exciting new questions.’

The project examines, from a cross-cultural vantage point, the conscious revivals and subsequent dialectics of classicising learning in middle and later Byzantium (c.800–1350) and Tang/Song China (618–1279). In the medieval Eurasian geopolitical space, these two centralised imperial orders stand out as drawing on seemingly unbroken, but in fact purposely constructed, traditions of classicising learning. Gaul and Virág will trace the evolution of classicising learning comparatively from two angles. The first strand analyses literati interaction with the imperial and aristocratic elites through the prism of ritualised communication and social performance of classicising learning, showing how the social ramifications of classical learning culminated in performative situations. The second places the individual man of letters centre-stage and looks at the role of learning and memorising classical texts in the ethical and emotional configuration of a learned subject, ultimately empowering literati to withdraw from the pressures of the imperial system.

Professor Virág will join the University of Edinburgh as a Senior Research Fellow and Co-Project Director later this summer, and from summer 2018 two post-doctoral research fellows – one Byzantinist and one Sinologist – and several pre-doctoral research assistants will join the team. The project will host three international conferences in the summers of 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Professor Niels Gaul’s staff profile