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Name: Lauren Wainwright

PhD: Byzantine Studies

Thesis Title: Portraits of Power: Female Imperial Imagery in the Byzantine Empire


Thesis Description:

My research evaluates the messages that visual and written representations of imperial Byzantine women conveyed, and how those messages changed across time. Empresses are the only group of Byzantine women about whom we have much information, and certainly the only women who regularly had access to social and cultural power. Because I am interested in public perception of women, I balance the textual sources with imagery, as texts had a restricted - and largely urban male - audience while imagery was a primary form of communication in a largely illiterate society. To track change across time, I present case studies of empresses, one from each century of the Byzantine Empire, starting with Helena, the mother of Constantine I (4th century), whose virtues and portrayals were emulated for centuries, to Helen Dragaš, the last empress of the Byzantine Empire whose image was made public (15th century). My thesis analyses why some characteristics of the empress (e.g. family connections) remained crucial to show across the entire Byzantine period, while others (e.g. dynastic legitimisation) fluctuated in importance. One key feature that has already become clear is that images of empresses always have a religious dimension of some sort, though how this is expressed changes over time, and in this they are quite distinct from images of the emperor. This plays very clearly into Byzantine gender conventions, and this aspect of imperial portraiture has never before been considered. 


Supervisors and Institution(s):

Professor Leslie Brubaker, University of Birmingham

Dr Elizabeth L'Estrange, University of Birmingham


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Paper - CBOMGS Colloquium, UoB 2014: 'The Language of Female Patronage in the Late Byzantine Period'.


  • Co-Organised and led sessions for the 'History for Your Future' Outreach programme, arranged with Sandwell Council. May 2015, November 2015, January and May 2016.
  • Co-Organised the 16th Annual CBOMGS Colloquium, UoB - 'Fragmentation: The Eastern Mediterranean in Conflict and Cohesion'. May 2015.
  • Co-Organiser of ‘Post-PhD Progress’. Workshops on advancing in your chosen profession (academic/non-academic) held in June 2015 and December 2015. Funded by College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham.


  • Paper - Oxford University Byzantine Society’s International Graduate Conference, University of Oxford. ‘A Cut above the Rest: Turning-Points in Imperial Imagery in Late Antiquity.’ February 2016.

  • I am also the representative for Birmingham for the British Byzantinist Postgraduate Network and the organiser of the Network event: ‘The Byzantinist: Jack of all Trades, Master of None? Interdisciplinary and Cooperative Methodologies for Byzantinists’. 5th May 2016.
  • PaperLeeds International Medieval Conference (IMC), University of Leeds. ‘The Byzantine Princess and an Ottonian Emperor: Theophano and Otto revisited.’ July 2016.
  • Co-Organised four panels at Leeds IMC - 'Global Byzantium; transnational relations 500-1453’, 5th July 2016.
  • Paper - 23rd International Congress of Byzantine Studies, Belgrade: 'Portraits and Processions: Images of Helena in the Streets of Constantinople'. August 2016.


Taught seminars at the University of Birmingham.

  • ‘Byzantium and the Transformation of the Roman World’ – Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology.
  • ‘Discovering the Middle Ages’ – School of History and Cultures.
  • 'Living in the Middle Ages' – School of History and Cultures.


  • Vice President of the Gateway to the Eastern Mediterranean (GEM), Postgraduate Society 2014-2016.
  • Member of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies.
  • Subject Editor for Diogenes, 2016.

Social Media Presence:


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