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The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium.

This is a major publication project organized by Dumbarton Oaks, with 127 contributors from 17 countries. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and several private foundations, the project was begun in 1983. It was planned as a "selective dictionary following the model of other Oxford dictionaries," eschewing any claim to comprehensiveness of information and bibliography. There are three volumes, approximately two million words, and five thousand entries. The editors claim completeness only in one category, Byzantine emperors, but suggest special depth in a number of areas, including titles and fiscal terms, urban life, and rural economy. The chronological scope is defined as the period from the fourth to the fifteenth century. The difficult problem of geographical limits was settled by the inclusion of all regions that were at any time within Byzantine control, as well as outside areas that had significant connections with Byzantium. In the latter case, entries concentrate on the relation with Byzantine culture. Particular emphasis has been placed on developing an interdisciplinary approach, with many entries written by a team of scholars from different disciplines. The editors indicate that they "have made a deliberate attempt to emphasize realia and the man in the street (homo byzantinus), with special focus on subjects such as the family, diet, emotions, and everyday life."

There is no question that the dictionary resulting from these editorial decisions is a generally useful reference tool. Selective review of various individual entries suggests that their length is reasonable. Inevitably, one could quibble about specific coverage; this reviewer found some entries in philosophy and theology to be too abbreviated to be very informative. This problem is compounded, since bibliographical listings are limited and therefore inadequate to the dictionary's primary task of directing the reader to the most accessible scholarship. Nonetheless, the dictionary should become a standard item in all university reference collections.


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Author:Kenney, J.P.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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