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 2017 or 2018.

Winners will receive a prize of £700, together with publicity in both Al-Masāq: the Journalof 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 by 31st January 2019. Entries will not be returned. Should the book be short-listed, two further copies will be requested.

Entries should be sent to Dr Christopher Heath at the following address: 18 Broom Avenue, Levenshulme, Manchester, M19 2UD, [UK].

The prize winner will be announced at the SMM conference to be held at the Institute of Catalan Studies of Barcelona, organised in collaboration with the Institut Milái Fontanals/CSIC, 8-11 July 2019.

Application form

Previous awardees

2017 Dionysius 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 Dionysius 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.