Dr Maroula Perisanidi

Dr Maroula Perisanidi


I finished my PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2015. Since then I've held a Teaching Fellowship at the University of Birmingham, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship and another Teaching Fellowship at the University of Leeds. I am currently a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow (2022-2025) on the project “A Cultural History of Disability in Byzantium”. 

Research interests

Clerical Continence in Twelfth-Century England and Byzantium

My first monograph, published by Routledge (2019), offers a comparative study of twelfth-century England and Byzantium on the topic of clerical abstinence from sexual intercourse, with a particular focus on canon law. My recent and current work focuses primarily on gender and sexuality, taking as a starting point the better-studied situation in the West and considering whether similar methodologies can be applied in a Byzantine context.

Masculinity in Byzantium, c. 1000-1200: Scholars, Clerics, and Violence

The first part of this book explores the writings of Michael Psellos, Ioannes Tzetzes, and Gregorios Antiochos, three Byzantine learned men who openly rejected violence and its associated manly connotations, asserting instead the superiority of erudition. In doing so, they challenged the ideal of martial prowess, and pushed the boundaries of intelligible masculinity. Their rejections could take various forms – from showing little interest in hunting and fighting to refusing to eat animal meat or ostentatiously reading a book while riding – and they were often accompanied by exhibitions of classical learning. This was not accidental. It was the masculinising power of education that allowed them to challenge traditional masculine ideals by embracing certain more ‘feminine’ behaviours and characteristics without compromising their manliness. Nor was this type of behaviour limited to these three individuals. Rather, I posit the existence of a collective scholarly gendered identity which provided a notable alternative to military masculinity.

In the second part of the book, I turn towards clerics to establish how different they were from laymen when it came to physical ways of expressing their manhood. I focus on hunting and fighting, two associated activities that allowed for the display of manly bodily strength. With hunting, the differences between religious and lay were less clear-cut. It was not prohibited by canon law, and both laymen and clerics could be faulted for overindulgence; only monks came in for harsher criticism. By contrast, a much firmer line was drawn around all religious men when it came to violence against other humans. Evidence suggests that clerics who transgressed the canons against killing were deposed. Many also seem to have abandoned religious life before they pursued violent activities. Those who remained clerics were strongly encouraged to fight spiritual battles. Yet military metaphors were used to describe their spiritual work, suggesting a wide popularity of the ideal of martial prowess, even among men who were strictly forbidden from fighting.

A Cultural History of Disability in Byzantium (2022–2025)

Impairments were commonplace in the Byzantine world. Emperor Constantine IX used litters and horses as mobility aids to move around the palace and participate in imperial processions. Nikephoros Diogenes, a blinded general, spent his time listening to the writings of ancient authors and studying geometry. In this project, I will use a variety of sources from c.1000–1200 to reveal neglected stories of bodily difference and interrogate what the Byzantine material can tell us about the desirability of disability, the impact of religion and the imperial court on disabled lives, and the importance of animals in expanding the concept of human autonomy. I will examine how portrayals of impairments changed depending on the intersections of disability with one’s gender, ethnicity/race, age, social and religious status. I will also compare these findings to medieval and Classical material to challenge existing ableist historiographical assumptions and deepen our understanding of pre-modern disability.

Past research projects

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Professional memberships

  • Executive Committee for the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies
  • Member of the the Gender & History Editorial Collective

Student education

I have run modules on Late Antique and Byzantine history, as well as on Western medieval history. These have included both Christian and Jewish religious communities in the central and later Middle Ages, as well as Latin and Paleography classes. 

Research groups and institutes

  • Health Histories
  • Women, Gender, and Sexuality