Dionisius A. Agius Prize

Bienially, the Society awards a book prize, named for the founder and first president of the Society, Prof. Dionisius A. Agius, for a distinguished first book in the field of Medieval Mediterranean Studies.

To be eligible for consideration for the prize, the book must:

  1. Be on a subject related to the history, society or culture of the Medieval Mediterranean, from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries CE;

  2. Be its author’s first solely written book;

  3. Be published in English;

  4. Have been printed in the two previous years.

Winners will receive a prize, together with publicity in both Al-Masāq: the Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean and on the Society’s website. The publisher or the author should present an entry form for each book submitted, together with one copy of the eligible book . Entries will not be returned. Should the book be short-listed, two further copies will be requested.

The prize winner will be announced at the SMM conference following the competition.

Reviewers' comments:

'This is a longue durée study of the shifting Mediterranean spatiality of Sicily between the sixth and twelfth centuries, tracing the patterns of travel, trade and communication between Latin, Greek, Muslim and Jewish communities.

Not only is Davis-Secord's monograph an intelligent, engaging and very well written study based on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, which she explicitly relates to contemporary issues of migration, but this also stands as a prime illustration of the heterogeneous, deeply interconnected, constantly shifting and multilayered Mediterranean space that our SMM takes at its heart to promote better and more nuanced understandings.

3 worlds.jpg

This is a compelling and engaging study which contributes to the widest scholarly discussion about the need to re-assess the categories of analysis through which we study the medieval Mediterranean. Even though one may not necessarily agree with all of the book's arguments, better and more critically informed understandings of the medieval Mediterranean in general, both as a historical and as a historiographical space, will definitely be the reward for anyone reading it.

We therefore think that this excellently-researched book deserves a prize and it should come highly recommended as a must-read for anyone interested in (not just medieval Sicily), but Mediterranean history.'


2019 finalists:

The other 2019 finalists were all excellent, innovative and thought-provoking studies which were a pleasure to read:

-       Eve Krakowski, Coming of Age in Medieval Egypt: Female Adolescence Jewish Law and Ordinary Culture [Princeton, 2017].

- Naama Cohen-Hanegbi, Caring for the Living Soul: Emotions, Medicine and Penance in the Late Medieval Mediterranean [Brill, 2017]

- Michael Fulton, Artillery in the Era of the Crusades: Siege Warcraft and the Development of Trebuchet Technology [Brill, 2018] 

Previous awardees:

2017 DionIsius A. Agius Prize:

Nükhet Varlık, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World. The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600, Cambridge University Press 2015

The judges’ citation reads as follows: This is a book that deserves praise on many counts. It has been many years in the making and that long, quiet maturing can be sensed on every page. It has an unmistakable gravitas. One marvels at the enormous range of its meticulously assembled data, drawn from medieval and early modern archival sources, travellers’ accounts, chronicles and modern scientific research. The author’s primary sources alone feature a daunting array of languages: Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Italian, French, Spanish and English; and the secondary sources listed in her bibliography are nothing short of monumental. This is a deeply learned book. But it is much more than that, for it is written with passion, whether it deals with fleas, lice and rats or with the gradual development of Islamic medical knowledge or with the workings of the Ottoman bureaucracy or how plague impacted on specific communities, such as the Christian and Jewish minorities. Along the way there are piercing insights into the Ottoman judicial system, funerary customs, public health, trade, travel and religious beliefs and practices. The book is carefully structured. The first part outlines the historical background and lays out the aims of the entire study; the second looks at the connection between Ottoman territorial expansion and outbreaks of the plague, revealing the role of Istanbul as a hub of the plague; and the third chronicles how plague affected Ottoman society. Each chapter ends with a brief summary of the discussion. Through the lens of plague epidemics, then, Ottoman society springs into vivid and arresting life. And the Mediterranean itself is revealed as a unified disease zone. Traditionally, despite the work of scholars like Dols and Conrad on the Islamic Near East, the history of plague epidemics has been dominated by European scholarship that has confined itself to the European experience. Now Varlık, with her sustained analysis of three great Ottoman pandemics and her steady focus on the great metropolis of Istanbul, has opened a window on a much wider world. What a bonus, too, that this pioneering book is written in clear, plain, expository English, with no frills and no ostentation. Technical terms are carefully defined and the reader never feels that the mass of data gets in the way of the narrative. And who could possibly miss the relevance of this wonderfully detailed study to our own day, when we consider the vulnerability of our societies to the increasing hazards of epidemics across the globe?

As a footnote, I should like to add that Professor Varlik’s book has achieved wider academic recognition, winning the Middle East Studies Association’s 2016 Albert Hourani Book Award, along with the 2016 Koprulu Book Prize, awarded by the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association. We send her our warmest congratulations on these well-deserved successes.

Simon Barton, Professor of History, University of Central Florida 

President of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean

2015 DionIsius A. Agius Prize:

Cecily J. Hilsdale, Byzantine Art and Diplomacy in an Age of Decline, Cambridge University Press (2014).

In this book, Cecily J. Hilsdale subjects a well-known phenomenon, the inexorable political and financial decline of the Byzantine “empire” after the Latins had left Constantinople, to a series of unexpected and exciting investigations. In particular, she shows how the Byzantines, lacking real wealth and military clout, chose diplomacy and gift-giving as their weapons of choice in dealing with other polities.  In particular, they exploited the unparalleled technical skill of Byzantine artists in the capital – and in the capital alone – in mastering recondite and exotic materials, and created political capital from those rare skills. In developing these two complementary themes, the author controls an astonishing variety of material – historical chronicles, Byzantine court ceremonial, epigraphy, numismatics, iconography, relics, textiles, mosaics, manuscripts and much more. The combination of close-focus textual work and art-historical analysis results in an absolute tour de force.