Securing our understanding of Greek culture

Ruins of Hadrians Temple, the Acropolis and the ParthenonRuins of Hadrians Temple, the Acropolis and the Parthenon: From A Journey Through Albania (1813).
Image courtesy of King’s College London, Foyles Collections Library

[This article is from the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of InTouch, your alumni magazine]

A major contribution to the world’s understanding of Greek history and culture has come from teaching and research at King’s. This year, we celebrate the centenary of the Koraes Chair, an academic post established and supported by philanthropy, around which expertise in the Hellenic world has grown and flourished.

For some of us, the study of Greek history and language could make us think of ancient Greece. This is a period often studied at schools in the UK. Indeed, classical subjects such as Ancient Greek have been taught at King’s since the College opened in 1831. For the last 100 years, research at King’s has increased the understanding of a later period of Greek history, from the medieval empire of Byzantium right up to contemporary times.

A century ago, when Greece and Great Britain came together as allies in World War I, a new academic post was created at King’s. It aimed to fill a gap by focusing studies on the essential but often overlooked period of post-classical Greece (from 300 AD to the present day). In 1918, the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature was established. It was named after Adamantios Koraes, the intellectual founding father of the modern Greek state.

Adamantios Koraes, also known as Adamance Coray (1747 Smyrna – 1833 Paris)

The Chair was generously supported by the then Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, parliament and the Greek business community mostly based in London. At the time, it was one of the few university positions in the world devoted to the study of this period. It has helped us in understanding the culture and history of the region ever since.

Today, the Chair is at the centre of a flourishing Classics department, leading world-class teaching and research and attracting record numbers of students. King’s is one of the few universities where this period is studied, together with the language, literature and culture of the time. Students have gone on to have distinguished careers in academia, business, public administration and the diplomatic services in the UK, Greece, Cyprus and beyond. Alumni include The Guardian’s Athens correspondent Helena Smith (Modern Greek Studies, 1987), and John Kittmer (MA Modern Greek Studies, 2007), HM Ambassador to Greece from 2013–16.

The future of the Koraes Chair has recently been secured thanks to the generosity of charitable and educational foundations and individuals in Greece, Cyprus and the UK. This support means that King’s can continue its work enriching the world’s understanding of Greek history and culture.

Our current Koraes professor, Roderick Beaton, will have held the Chair for exactly 30 years when he retires at the end of August 2018. We look forward to welcoming his successor, Professor Gonda Van Steen, who joins King’s from the University of Florida.

We would like to thank our generous supporters of the Koraes Chair, including The A.G. Leventis Foundation, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Hellenic College Trust, The Hellenic Foundation, the family of Tassos and Angele Nomikos, the George Vergottis Memorial Fund, Stiftung, the Bank of Greece, The Schilizzi Foundation, the late Nicholas Egon FKC and Mrs Matrona Egon, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, and the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus.