Professor Peter Sarris

Professor of Late Antique, Medieval and Byzantine Studies
Fellow of Trinity College
Prof Sarris

Peter Sarris read Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford (1990-93), after which he was elected to a Prize Fellowship (by examination) at All Souls College, Oxford (where he was a Fellow from 1993 to 2006). He came to Cambridge as a University Lecturer and Fellow of Trinity College in 2000, and has held Visiting Fellowships at Rice University, Texas, and the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, Washington D.C. (Harvard University). He has published extensively on the history of the Early Middle Ages both East and West, and is a leading authority on the 'Plague of Justinian' and the 'Age of Justinian' more generally. His latest book JUSTINIAN: EMPEROR, SOLDIER, SAINT (Basic Book, 2023) is a Sunday Times, London Evening Standard, and BBC History Magazine 'Book of the Year'.

Peter Sarris has published extensively on the social, economic and legal history of Late Antiquity, the Early Middle Ages and Byzantium, with a particular focus on the political economy of the East Roman Empire from the fourth to sixth centuries, the transmission of Roman economic and legal culture, and the background to the rise of Islam. His current research focuses on the development of Eurasian trading networks between Constantinople, Persia, Central Asia and China, and also on the emergent contours of the 'confessional state' in the age of Justinian. He also has a long-standing interest in the the so-called 'Plague of Justinian' - the wave of bubonic plague that swept much of Eurasia in the sixth century.

Peter Sarris has supervised a number of students for various M.Phil. courses and has supervised doctoral students on topics ranging from early Byzantine monastic literature, scepticism towards the cult of the saints in early Byzantine Constantinople and Rome, Byzantine merchants, imperial ideology in the Iconoclast era, the Byzantine presence in early medieval Spain, and Byzantine law, to Justinianic Political Thought and the Byzantine-Arab frontier. He is especially keen to work with students interested in breaking down the lines of intellectual demarcation between Byzantine studies and ancient and medieval history, and between the history of pre-modern Western Eurasia and World history.

Lectures and supervisions on late antiquity and Byzantium, including the history of Sasanian Persia and the early Islamic world, in Part I of the Historical Tripos (Papers 13 and 14); lectures and supervisions on 'The Transformation of the Roman World' and 'The Near East in the Age of Justinian and Muhammad' for Part II of the Historical Tripos.

Peter Sarris is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and a member of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies. In 2019 he was 'Symposiarch' for the Spring Symposium of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies on 'Blood in Byzantium'.


Tags & Themes


Peter Sarris is available for consultancy.

Trinity College
Cambridge CB2 1TQ

Office Phone: 01223 3 39927


Key Publications

Books and Edited Volumes

  • Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian (Cambridge, 2006; paperback 2009)
  • Procopius – The Secret History – Translated by G.A. Williamson and Peter Sarris with Introduction and Notes by Peter Sarris (Penguin Classics, 2007)
  • Aristocrats, Peasants and the Transformation of Rural Society, c.400-800 – Journal of Agrarian Change 9.1 (2009) (special issue) Edited by Peter Sarris and Jairus Banaji
  • Empires of Faith - The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam, c.500-700 (Oxford, 2011; paperback 2013) (= volume one of the Oxford History of Medieval Europe)
  • An Age of Saints? Power, Conflict and Dissent in Early Medieval Christianity Edited by Peter Sarris, Matthew Dal Santo and Phil Booth (Leiden, 2011)
  • Byzantium - A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2015) (translated into Greek, Polish, and Chinese)
  • The Novels of Justinian - A Complete Annotated English Translation. 2 vols.  (Cambridge, 2018) (co-authored with David Miller)
  • Justinian: Emperor, Soldier, Saint  (Basic Books, 150,000 words, September 2023)
  • Beyond the Jade Gate: Sedentary and Nomadic Empires in Western Eurasia From Attila to Columbus (Princeton University Press, in progress, 400,000 words)
  • Blood in Byzantium Edited by Peter Sarris (in progress)

Articles and Chapters

  • ‘The Justinianic Plague: Origins and Effects’, Continuity and Change 17.2 (2002) pp.169-82
  • ‘The Eastern Roman Empire from Constantine to Heraclius’, in The Oxford History of Byzantium, ed. C. Mango (Oxford, 2002) pp.19-59
  • 'The Arab Conquests’, ‘Byzantium 700-1000’, and ‘Byzantine Culture’, in R.D. McKitterick (ed.) The Times Medieval World Atlas (2003) pp.28-31, 72-73, and 74-77 (reprinted by O.U.P. in 2004 as Atlas of the Medieval World)
  • ‘The Origins of the Manorial Economy: New Insights From Late Antiquity’, English Historical Review 119 (2004) pp.279-311
  • ‘Rehabilitating the Great Estate: Aristocratic Property and Economic Growth in the Late Antique East’, in Late Antique Archaeology 2: Recent Research On the Late Antique Countryside, eds. W. Bowden, L. Lavan and C. Machado (Leiden, 2004) pp.55-71
  • ‘Is This the Face of Britain’s Forgotten Emperor?’, The Times, February 25 2004, p.1 and p.4
  • ‘On Jairus Banaji’s Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity’, Historical Materialism 13.1 (2005) pp.207-19
  • ‘Continuity and Discontinuity in the Post-Roman Economy’, Journal of Agrarian Change 6.3 (2006) pp.400-413
  • ‘Aristocrats and Aliens in Early Byzantine Constantinople’ in E. Jeffreys (ed.) Byzantine Style, Religion And Civilization – In Honour of Sir Steven Runciman (Cambridge, 2006) pp. 413-27
  • ‘I anatoliki Romaiki aftokratoria apo Konstantino eos ton Irakleio ‘ in C. Mango (ed.) Istoria tou Vizantiou (Athens, 2006) pp.43-102
  • ‘Bubonic Plague in Byzantium: The Evidence of Non-Literary Sources’, in L.K. Little ed. Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750 (Cambridge, 2007) pp. 119-32 (revised version of ‘The Justinianic Plague’ – see above)
  • ‘Social Relations and the Land – The Early Period’, in J. Haldon (ed.) A Social History of Byzantium (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) pp. 92-111
  • ‘Introduction: Aristocrats, Peasants, and the Transformation of Rural Society, c. 400-800’, Journal of Agrarian Change 9.1 (2009) pp. 3-22
  • ‘Culture aristocratique et croissance économique  dans l’empire protobyzantin’, in F. Bougard, R. Le Jan, and R. Mc Kitterick (ed.) La Culture du Haut Moyen Âge – Une Question Des Élites? (Brepols, 2009) pp.127-138
  • ‘Economics, Trade, and “Feudalism”’, in L. James (ed.) A Companion to Byzantium (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) pp. 25-42
  • ‘Landwirtschaft: Spätantike’ in H.Heinen (ed.) Handwörterbuch der Antiken Sklaverei (CD ROM, Lieferung I-III, Stuttgart, 2010)
  • ‘Aristocrats, Peasants, and the State in the Later Roman Empire’ in P. Eich, S. Schmidt Hofner and C. Wieland (ed.) Die wiederkehrende Leviathan: Staatlichkeit und Staatswerdung in Spätantike und Früher Neuzeit (Heidelberg, 2011) pp.377-94
  • ‘The Early Byzantine Economy in Context: Aristocratic Property and Economic Growth Reconsidered’ in  Early Medieval Europe 19.3 (2011), pp. 255-84
  • ‘Lay Archives in the Late Antique and Byzantine East: the Implications of the Documentary Papyri’, in W. Brown, M. Costambeys, M. Innes and A. Kosto (eds.) et al. Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2012)
  • ‘Restless Peasants and Scornful Lords: Lay Hostility to Holy Men and the Church in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages’, in Sarris, Dal Santo and Booth An Age of Saints? (see above), pp. 1-10
  • 'Large Estates and the Peasantry in Byzantium, c. 600-1100' in  Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 90 (2012) pp. 29-50.
  • 'Law and Custom in the Byzantine Countryside from Justinian I to Basil II (c.500-1000)' in  A. Rio (ed.) Law, Custom, and Justice in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (CHS, 2011) pp.49-62
  • 'Integration and Disintegration in the Late Roman Economy: The Role of Markets, Emperors and Aristocrats', in L. Lavan (ed.) Late Antique Archaeology Volume 10: Local Economies? Production and Exchange of Inland Regions in Late Antiquity (Leiden, 2014) pp. 153-74
  • 'Urban and Rural Economies in the Age of Attila' in M. Maas (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila (Cambridge, 2014) pp.44-60
  • 'The Formation of the Post-Roman Economy and the Cultural Legacy of Rome' in D. Boschung and C. Radtki (eds.) Politische Fragmentierung und Kulurelle Kohärenz in der Spätantike (Paderborn, 2015), pp. 123-36
  • 'Beyond the Great Plains and the Barren Hills: Rural Landscapes and Social Structures in Eleventh-Century Byzantium', in M. Lauxtermann and M. Whittow (eds.) Being In Between: Byzantium in the Eleventh Century (London, 2017) pp. 77-87.
  • 'Merchants, Trade, and Commerce in Byzantine Law From Justinian I to Basil II', in P. Magdalino and N. Necipoglu (eds.) Trade in Byzantium: Papers From the Third International Sevgi Günül Byzantine Studies Symposium (Istanbul, 2016) pp. 11-24.
  • 'Landownership and Rural Society in the Writings of Procopius' in C. Lillington-Martin and E. Turquois Procopius of Caesarea: Literary and Historical Interpretations (London, 2017)), pp.238-50.
  • 'Emperor Justinian', in J.Witte Jr. and G.S. Hauk Christianity and Family Law - An Introduction (Cambridge, 2017), pp.100-116.
  • 'Economy and Society in the Age of the Sons of Constantine', in S. Tougher and N. Baker-Brian (eds.) Sons of Constantine (Palgrave, 2020) pp.329-44
  • 'Climate and Disease' in E. Hermans (ed.) Companion to the Global Early Middle Ages (ARC, 2020), pp.511-38
  • 'Egypt in the Age of Justinian: Connector or Disconnector?' in P. Sijpesteijn, J. Brunning,  S. Denoix and J. de Jong Incorporating Egypt: From Constantinople to Baghdad, 500-1000 CE (Cambridge, 2022), pp. 19-45.
  • 'Constantinople and the Eurasian Trading System at the End of Antiquity' in L. Brubaker et al, (eds.) Global Byzantium (Routledge, 2022), pp. 316-31.
  • ‘New Approaches to the Plague of Justinian', Past & Present  254 (2022), pp. 315-46
  • ‘At the Origins of the “Persecuting Society”? Defining the “Orthodox Republic” in the Age of Justinian’ in Travaux et Mémoires 26 (2022), pp. 407-22.
  • Banking, Credit and Loans in the Novels of the Emperor Justinian, in Law and economic performance in the Roman empire, ed. P. Erdkamp and K. Verboven (Leiden, 2022), pp.253-47.
  • ‘The Dissemination and Appropriation of Legal Knowledge in the Age of Justinian’ (8,000 words) in L. Ayres, M. Champion and M. Crawford (eds.) The Intellectual World of Christian Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2023), pp. 608-25.
  • 'The Late Antique and Byzantine Context to Early Islamic Mercantile Activity' in F. Bassard and H. Kennedy Merchants and Trading Communities in Early Islam, 800-1000 (Oxford, in press) (9,500 words)
  • 'Byzantium's Empires of Gold', in J. Shepard, A. Cameron and P. Frankopan (eds.) Byzantine Spheres (Oxford, forthcoming) (6,000 words)
  • Antioch and the Political Economy of Empire in the Age of Justinian’, in A. De Giorgi (ed.) Ancient Antioch  (Cambridge) (8,000 words)
  • ‘The Novels of Justinian’, in D. Penna and E. Pappagianni (eds) The Brill Companion to Byzantine Law (Leiden) (6,000 words)
  • 'Trade and Commerce in Byzantine Constantinople', in K. Fleet (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Byzantine and Ottoman Constantinople (forthcoming) (7,500 words)