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Donald Nicol

Donald MacGillivray Nicol
Born(1923-02-04)4 February 1923
Died23 September 2003(2003-09-23) (aged 80)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Academic background
EducationPembroke College, Cambridge
ThesisThe Despotate of Epirus, 1204–61[1] (1952)
Doctoral advisorSteven Runciman
Academic work
Doctoral studentsRuth Macrides, Paul Magdalino[2][3]
Main interestsByzantine and modern Greek language and literature
Notable worksThe Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261–1453

Donald MacGillivray Nicol, FBA, MRIA (4 February 1923 – 25 September 2003) was an English Byzantinist.


Nicol was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, to a Church of Scotland minister, and received a classical education at King Edward VII School in Sheffield and St Paul's School in London. Registering as a conscientious objector in 1941, he served in 1942–1946 in the Friends' Ambulance Unit, with which he first visited Greece in 1944–1945, visiting Ioannina and the Meteora monasteries.

After his wartime experiences, Nicol matriculated at Pembroke College, Cambridge to read classics, graduating in 1949.[4] He then returned to Greece in 1949–1950 as a member of the British School at Athens. During this time, he also visited Mount Athos, spending Easter 1949 at the Hilandar Monastery, and revisited Meteora. In 1950, Nicol married Joan Mary Campbell, with whom he had three sons. He completed his doctoral thesis at Cambridge in 1952. The thesis, on the medieval Despotate of Epirus, led to his first book, The Despotate of Epiros. His thesis supervisor was Steven Runciman, with whom Nicol formed a lifelong friendship, nurtured in the Athenaeum Club.

On completion of his doctorate, Nicol's first academic posting was as Lecturer in Classics at the University College Dublin from 1952 to 1964. He spent 1964–1966 as visiting fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, and was then Senior Lecturer and Reader in Byzantine History, University of Edinburgh (1966–1970). In 1970 he was named to the historic chair of Koraës Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature at the King's College London, a post he held until 1988. In 1977–1980 he was Assistant Principal of the King's College, and Vice-Principal in 1980–1981. He was the founding editor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies journal (1975),[5] whose publication he oversaw until 1983, and served as president of the Ecclesiastical History Society in 1975–1976. In 1989–1992, he was director of the Gennadius Library (Γεννάδειος Βιβλιοθήκη) in Athens.

Nicol became a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1960, President of the Ecclesiastical History Society (1975-76)[6] and a Fellow of the British Academy in 1981. For his contributions to the history of medieval Epirus, the city of Arta made him an honorary citizen in 1990, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Ioannina in 1997. He died in Cambridge in 2003.




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Donald Nicol
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