World-Renowned Byzantine Historian Angeliki Laiou Passes Away

Angeliki E. Laiou, History Professor at Harvard University, died of cancer on Thursday, December 11, in Boston.

Laiou, one of the world's leading historians of Byzantine civilization, was born in Athens in 1941. In 1981 she joined Harvard University as Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine History and in 1985 she became the first woman to serve as chairman of a Department there. At Harvard she taught Byzantine civilization, the Crusades, and Balkan history. According to an eloquent obituary published by Harvard University, her "commanding presence, penetrating mind and ferocious dedication to her teaching and her students made this Core Curriculum Course ever popular among undergraduates."

Her authorship includes fourteen monographs and edited books and countless articles on diverse aspects of Byzantine history - diplomatic and political history, economic history, family and the position of women in Byzantine society. Among her stellar works is the massive three volume Economic History of Byzantium (2002; revised Greek edition, 2007), which she edited and to which she contributed eight chapters. Colleagues describe this magnum opus as a "benchmark for all future research by its design and contents." It is freely available online at Among her other seminal works is a study of the complicated foreign policy of the Byzantine Empire, a later work on trade and the Mediterranean economy. She also produced highly innovative works: a demographic study of peasant society in the late empire; also studies on sex, marriage, and the status of women in Byzantine society. Her scholarship has been characterized by fellow scholars as having "exemplary methodological rigor, sovereign command of the medieval languages, and an unfailingly analytical eye allied with a hard-nosed approach to the evidence and the sometimes unfashionable realities it implies." These studies produced three books, including a prize-winning volume based on her lectures delivered in flawless French delivered at the College de France.

Ms. Laiou was born in Athens, Greece, on April 6, 1941. She was educated at the University of Athens, Brandeis University and received her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1966. She served as an Instructor and Assistant Professor at Harvard before moving to Brandeis where she became Distinguished Professor. She returned to Harvard as Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine History in 1981. She was a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member of the Academy of Athens, the Academia Europaea, a Corresponding Member of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (Paris), of the Austrian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her activities promoting Byzantine Studies in the People’s Republic of China led to her being named an honorary professor at Nankai University. A faithful affiliate of Lowell House at Harvard, she held two Guggenheim fellowships.

Angeliki Laiou returned to Greece to become a Member of Parliament of the Hellenic Republic in 2000. She was named Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic in the government of then-Prime Minister Constantine Simitis. Most of her diplomatic activity, according to Harvard sources, "focused on cultural affairs" and brought her to many places worldwide, including Asia Minor, Europe, Russia, and the Far East. Laiou was decorated as a Commander of the Order of Honor of the Hellenic Republic. In 1998, she was elected a permanent member of the Academy of Athens, the highest honor and achievement for academics of Greek nationality. At the time, she was only the second woman to be bestowed this honor since the Academy's founding in 1926.

(Posting date 17 December 2008)

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