Extract

The Bard of Byzantium

The Fall of Constantinople 1453
by Steven Runciman
Cambridge University Press


Sir Steven Runciman was a supreme storyteller, whether at the dinner table or in the majestic sweep of his historical writing. Fellow-Byzantinist Anthony Bryer recalls an elegant figure for whom history was about the destinies of man

  • Runciman in the 1920s photographed by Cecil Beaton

Steven Runciman first saw the skyline of Istanbul, marching out of the mist from the gasworks at Yedikule to the minarets of Ayasofya, from the deck of his grandfather’s three-masted schooner, the Sunbeam (itself a historic yacht) in April 1924.

For a twenty-year-old Cambridge undergraduate, it was the only way to arrive. He never forgot the scene.

True, he missed meeting the last caliph (for they had inconsiderately deposed the sultan’s heir a few weeks before), but he complained rarely, and camels still swayed over the Galata Bridge, there were rather fashionable veils on the Grand’ Rue de Pera, and families such as the Whittalls flourished all over the place. Outside the then still unencumbered Theodosian Walls, a gypsy told him that he would have illnesses but would “survive to a ripe old age”.

The fortune-teller was right.

The Hon Sir Steven (James Cochran Stevenson) Runciman, born July 7, 1903, died November 1, 2000; Professor of Byzantine Art and History, Istanbul University, 1942–­45; President of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 1962–95; President of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, 1983–2000.

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Issue 22, 2000/2001 The Sultan’s Chalet
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Issue 22, 2000/2001 The Sultan’s Chalet
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