Sir James Cochran Stevenson Runciman (7 July 1903 - 1 November 2000) was a British historian known for his work on the Middle Ages. He was born in Northumberland. Both of his parents were Members of Parliament for the Liberal Party, and his paternal grandfather, Lord Runciman, was a shipping magnate. It is said that he was reading Latin and Greek by age five. In the course of his long life he would master an astonishing number of languages, so that, for example, when writing about the Middle East, he relied not only on accounts in Latin and Greek and the Western vernaculars, but consulted Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, Syriac, Armenian and Georgian sources as well. A King's Scholar at Eton College, he was an exact contemporary and close friend of George Orwell. In 1921 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge as a history scholar and studied under J.B. Bury, becoming, as Runciman later commented, "his first, and only, student." At first the reclusive Bury tried to brush him off; then, when Runciman mentioned that he could read Russian, Bury gave him a stack of Bulgarian articles to edit, and so their relationship began. His work on the Byzantine Empire earned him a fellowship at Trinity in 1927.
After receiving a large inheritance from his grandfather, Runciman resigned his fellowship in 1938 and began traveling widely. From 1942 to 1945 he was Professor of Byzantine Art and History at Istanbul University, in Turkey, where he began the research on the Crusades which would lead to his best known work, the History of the Crusades (whose three volumes appeared respectively in 1951, 1952, and 1954). Most of Runciman's historical works deal with Byzantium and her medieval neighbors between Sicily and Syria; one exception is The White Rajahs, published in 1960, which tells the story of Sarawak, an independent nation founded on the northern coast of Borneo in 1841 by the Englishman James Brooke, and ruled by the Brooke family for more than a century.
In his personal life, Runciman was an old-fashioned English eccentric, known, among other things, as an aesthete, raconteur, and enthusiast of the occult. He was also known for his remarkably sunny disposition and openness of spirit, and made friendships with people from all walks of life and all classes in many countries, from the most humble to aristocrats, including most of Europe's royalty, and political leaders. He died in Radway, Warwickshire.
Sir Steven Runciman: Bridge to the East. Produced and Directed by Lydia Carras. Amaranthos Films; Channel 4 TV (UK), 1987.
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