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Political Families in Byzantium: The Social and Cultural Significance of Genos as Kin Group, ca. 900–1150

Nathan Leidholm, University of Chicago, Junior Fellow 2013–2014

I spent my time at Dumbarton Oaks working toward the completion of my dissertation, which explores the role and function of the Byzantine aristocratic family group, or genos, as a distinct social entity as it appears in a range of sources over the period ca. 900–1150. Adopting a variety of approaches and incorporating methods from several fields of history and the social sciences, my research offers an analysis of a form of “the family” not typically considered on its own terms; it also acts as a counterbalance to the common tendency to treat the household as the sole meaningful form of kin group in the Byzantine Empire. At the same time, I use the insights gained through such a study to develop a clearer picture of both social and cultural change in Byzantium between the tenth and thirteenth century, especially among the elite.

During my fellowship, I was able to complete three chapters of my dissertation and to begin a fourth chapter. The unique combination of resources, personnel, and setting at Dumbarton Oaks allowed me to pursue subjects and materials that I had not previously thought relevant, including Byzantine law, philosophy, and medicine, and my research is much improved as a result. The thoughtful staff and administration, wonderful library resources, lively lunchtime conversations, and diverse subjects of inquiry covered by both the fellows and visiting scholars served to enrich both my experience as a junior fellow and my work more broadly.