PERSONAL: Male. Education: Oxford University, B.A., D. Phil.
CAREER: University of Edinburgh, professor of Byzantine history, 1970—.
A Byzantine Government in Exile: Government and Society under the Laskarids of Nicaea, 1204-1261, Oxford University Press (London, England), 1975.
The Byzantine Empire 1025-1204: A Political History, Longman (London, England), 1984.
(Editor) The Byzantine Aristocracy, IX to XIII Centuries, B.A.R. (Oxford, England), 1984.
Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1995.
SIDELIGHTS: Michael Angold is a professor of history and an accomplished scholar who focuses his studies on the Byzantine Empire. From his first book to his most recent, critics and colleagues have praised his scholarship and extensive research. For instance, History Today's Alan Haymes wrote in his review of Angold's first book, A Byzantine Government in Exile: Government and Society under the Lascarids of Nicaea1204-1261, "On the evidence of this book Michael Angold can be admitted to the select ranks of first-rate Byzantinists writing in English."
More than twenty years later, in a review of Angold's Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni 1081-1261 for the Journal of Theological Studies, Andrew Louth wrote: "Angold's book is a major achievement; it draws together a mass of scholarship and has an even-handedness that is based on a sure knowledge of the sources."
In his A Byzantine Government in Exile, Angold explores the fall and attempted resurrection of Constantinople, at one time the capital of the Byzantine government. He focuses on the fifty-seven-year span when Theodore Lascaris retreated to Nicaea after the crusaders toppled his power base in Constantinople. It was during this time that Lascaris created a very tight and less-complex form of rule than the previous government in Constantinople. The new Nicaean government fought its enemies successfully and gained considerable wealth and stability. With this kind of success, as John L. Teall put it in American Historical Review, "Was not the reconquest [of Constantinople] . . . a mistake rather than an achievement?" Teall went on to suggest that this question is "implicitly posed in Michael Angold's substantial survey of the institutions of the empire of Nicaea."
Anthony Bryer, writing for the Times Literary Supplement, came away from reading A Byzantine Government in Exile with another suggestion as to Angold's underlying theme. Bryer concluded that Angold's thesis is "how the Nicaean aristocracy definitively concluded . . . a process in Byzantine government which had begun a century before: a shift from the old Byzantine Whitehall departments to a 'household' government, and the confirmation that kinship, rather than office, now led to power."
Despite the difference of opinions, most reviewers praised Angold's first book, which was a revision of his doctoral dissertation. As Robert Browning stated in the English Historical Review, "Angold's book will take its place . . . among the most authoritative and valuable studies of the strange Babylonian exile of the East Roman Empire, when so many of the features which determined its subsequent development first emerged."
For his second book, Angold dropped back a couple of centuries in order to cover, as J. D. Howard-Johnston noted in the Times Literary Supplement, the "high drama" of the history of Byzantium. Angold's The Byzantine Empire 1025-1204: A Political History relates the events that took place during a period of initial peace. The Empire, which stretched out over a wide section of the Near East and the Balkans, was shortly afterward shattered by an invasion of Turks and then one by the Normans, with the final blow arriving in the form of Western crusaders who took control of Constantinople in 1204.
"Michael Angold," Howard-Johnston explained in his review, "places these political events, which form the main subject of his book, in their cultural, economic and social context." Two of the most notable characteristics of this economic and social context were the development and revival of town life, which Angold believes, as stated by Howard-Johnston, were "the motors of economic growth and social differentiation." Another important factor was the development of elite clans, "which could rival the official imperial authority itself," wrote Howard-Johnston.
Angold's writing style invites non-scholars into his work. As Patrick Leigh Fermor of the Spectator wrote, "The story will fascinate not only historians but all those interested in politics. Let them draw parallels between then and now as they please. The book is well-written."
In 1995 Angold focused his writing on the relationship between the Byzantine church and its society. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261 roughly covers the same period as his first and second books combined, but in this third book Angold takes a different angle. "Most books on Byzantium tend to discuss its history in terms of state and church to the neglect of 'society,'" wrote Choice critic F. Ahmad. However, Angold "rectifies this major shortcoming" with his "thorough analysis" of the period contained in this book.
The relationship between church and state in the Byzantine Empire was tightly knit and, for many historians, difficult to decipher. The patriarchs of the church wielded power unlike any other church elites, including even the Roman church. Angold, fortunately for the modern reader, had access to newly discovered texts, which provided him with a clearer understanding of the complexities and conflicts of power between those two powers that eventually led to the fall of the ancient empire. Louth, in his review for the Journal of Theological Studies, wrote that because of this new research, Angold is able to scrutinize "the genuine complicities that characterized Byzantine society," which allow him to argue "that they produced a society in which power and leadership failed to mesh, thus making the fall of Constantinople perhaps more inevitable than it has sometimes been regarded."
Angold's Church and Society, like his previous books, received much critical praise. Rosemary Morris, writing for the English Historical Review, stated, "It is a mark of the achievement of Michael Angold's monumental new study that the two fundamental questions that underlie it: 'What was the Byzantine Church?' and 'What was Byzantine Society?' are so forcibly confronted. The exemplary clarity of the writing and the logical structure of the work make it always possible to see the wood for the trees." Finding Angold's work comprehensive, although a bit complex, Dion C. Smythe, of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, concluded: "The book is not an easy introduction, but for anyone wishing a serious treatment of this complex yet engrossing subject, a reading of this work . . . will prove most edifying."
In his most recent book, Byzantium: The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Angold relates the transition of the Mediterranean world from the vastly powerful Roman Empire to the birth of the Catholic, Byzantine, and Islamic civilizations. "Of these," wrote critic Robert J. Andrews for the Library Journal, "Angold believes that Byzantium played a pivotal role by being the entity by and against which the emerging civilizations of the Catholic West and Islam defined themselves."
Angold begins Byzantium in this book with Constantine, who was responsible for decreeing that Christianity would be the official religion of the Roman Empire. He then moved to Constantinople, which competed with Rome as the center of power for the Roman Empire. Christianity in Rome differed in practice from that in Constantinople, thus increasing tensions already existing between the two large centers. When Islamic forces invaded Constantinople in the seventh century, the unity of the city began to crumble. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly referred to Angold's book as a "richly layered narrative" that "brings to life the many faceted cultures of Byzantium, crown jewel of the East from the fourth century to the Middle Ages."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American History Review, April, 1978, John L. Teall, review of A Byzantine Government in Exile: Government and Society under the Laskarids of Nicaea, 1204-1261, p. 413.
Choice, March, 1996, F. Ahmad, review of Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261, p. 1192.
English Historical Review, April, 1976, Robert Browning, review of A Byzantine Government in Exile, pp. 356-358; January, 1988, Simon Franklin, review of The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204: A Political History, pp. 173-134; June 1997, Rosemary Morris, review of Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261, pp. 679-681.
History Today, September, 1975, review of A Byzantine Government in Exile, pp. 652-653; December, 2001, Paul Stephenson, review of Byzantium: The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, p. 60.
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July, 1997, Dion C. Smythe, review of Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261, pp. 544-545.
Journal of Theological Studies, October, 1996, Andrew Louth, review of Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261, pp. 737-739.
Library Journal, February 15, 2002, Robert J. Andrews, review of Byzantium, pp. 156-157.
Publishers Weekly, October 29, 2001, review of Byzantium, p. 47.
Spectator, August 17, 1985, Eric Christiansen, "Were the Logothetes in Control?" pp. 21, 24.
Times Educational Supplement, January 3, 1986, review of The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204, p. 16.
Times Literary Supplement, September 5, 1975, Anthony Bryer, "Doing without Constantinople," p. 1005; May 31, 1985, J. D. Howard-Johnston, "The Gathering Clans," p. 616; November 23, 2001, Averil Cameron, "A Mobile Empire," p. 21.*