The online database published here is the first major result of Prosopography of the Byzantine World (PBW), a project covering the period AD 1025-1180, and represents a continuation of prosopographical work originally inspired by A.H.M. Jones in 1950, and sponsored since then by the British Academy. Jones’s aim was to bring to fruition a plan made earlier by Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) within the Prussian Academy. With the help of files made available to Jones three volumes were published which between them covered the period AD 260-641: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (PLRE) I-III, Cambridge, 1971, 1980, 1992. The sole editor of vols. II and III was J.R. Martindale, who had also worked with Jones and John Morris on vol. I. The overall plan of work was directed by a British Academy committee under the chairmanship of a succession of different scholars.
It had already been decided by the British Academy in the 1980s to continue this work into the Byzantine period, under the chairmanship of Robert Browning, and in 1993 an agreement was made to collaborate with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy. Subsequently five volumes of the Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinische Zeit have appeared, with Prolegomena and end material, covering the period AD 641-867, under the leadership of F. Winkelmann and R.-J. Lilie (Berlin – New York, 1998-2002), while the first phase of PBW’s work was also published as a CD-Rom, as The Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire I (PBE I, Ashgate, 2001), also edited by J.R. Martindale (with D. Smythe) Unlike the procedure adopted in PLRE, which had left Christian material to be covered by others, PBE aimed to include all known Byzantine individuals, whether lay or ecclesiastical, and to do so in an easily accessible and searchable form. PBE however continued to be based on articles on individuals which aimed to set out the full primary evidence for their lives and activity with a minimum of editorial intervention. The CD-Rom was regarded as an interim publication, and it was always intended that the end product of the project would be a full relational database with wider chronological scope, to be published online. The technical development of this database has from the beginning relied on the expertise of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London, under the directorship of Harold Short. Since 1998 the work has been funded principally by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (now Council), but has also continued to receive support from the British Academy. J.R. Martindale was succeeded as research manager by Michael Jeffreys, and Dion Smythe by Tassos Papacostas; Mary Whitby was also a member of the editorial team.
With the decision to concentrate on the period starting from AD 1025, the project was renamed PBW, in recognition of the far more heterogeneous geographical area that would need to be covered for the eleventh and twelfth centuries.