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Dr Michael Humphreys

Subject: History

Specialism: Late antiquity and early medieval history.

Dr Michael Humphreys works on late antiquity and the early medieval period, with a particular interest in the Byzantine Empire during the period 600-900. His most recent research has focused on the law of this era, and its implications for deepening our understanding of politics, power relations, and society at the time.

The seventh to ninth centuries in Byzantium include the so-called “iconoclast” period, when the use and creation of religious images was contested both by the Church and the imperial authorities for decades at a time. This was a formative period in the Empire’s history, but its nature and implications are the subject of considerable dispute.

Dr Humphrey’s research has examined the legal sources for the period, which in many cases have been overlooked or studied in a piecemeal fashion. These are complex, and often undated documents, but his analysis suggests that in many cases they point to a coherent programme of legal reform, particularly under the Isaurian dynasty, which ruled from 717-797. Based on a central work called the Ecloga, their legislation sought to reimagine Roman Law as a continuation of Biblical law codes, and was intended as a conscious counterbalance to the rise of Islam. It also provided the basis for numerous law codes in the centuries that followed.

Given the disputed nature of the history of the period, studying the iconoclast era through the prism of the legislative system has the potential to influence our understanding of political, social and cultural continuity and change. Capitalising on this foundational work, Dr Humphreys’ current research examines the making, enforcement and impact of the law in Byzantium during this time.


Law, Power and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era (Oxford University Press, due December 2014).

The Laws of the Iconoclast Era: The Ecloga and its Appendices (Translated Texts for Byzantinists Series, Liverpool University Press, forthcoming)

‘The ‘War of Images’ Revisited. Justinian’s Coinage Reform and the Caliphate’, The Numismatic Chronicle 173 (2013) 229–44.

‘Images of Authority? Imperial Patronage of Icons from Justinian II to Leo III’, in P. Sarris, M. Dal Santo and P. Booth (eds.), An Age of Saints? Power, Conflict and Dissent in Early Medieval Christianity (Leiden, 2011) 150–68.