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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
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.
Three köftes still stand out in my memory. Just thinking of them makes my taste buds ache. The first was in my early childhood: freshly grilled cizbiz kofte, a round patty the size of a flattened walnut, so named because it makes a delicious ‘jiz-biz’ sizzling sound as it cooks…
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