Political spin and the co-option of culture for political gain are not modern phenomena, but have their origins in empires of the past, according to a UNSW researcher.

A study of the Byzantine Empire (4th-15th centuries) shows rulers used political spin in 'press releases' and edicts, and manipulated the arts and culture for their own ends, ancient history lecturer Dr Geoffrey Nathan says.

The Australian Association for Byzantine Studies (AABS) is holding its XVth Biennial Conference at UNSW this week, and the event promises to be much more than just an analysis of medieval history.

"The Byzantine Empire is an important period from a historical perspective, but there's also a valuable moral lesson to be drawn from this era," Dr Nathan says.

"One of the things that will emerge from the conference is how culture is used as a means of imperial propaganda. There are myriad ways in which culture can be manipulated by political forces to achieve self-serving ends and that is as relevant today as it was in the Middle Ages."

World-renowned Byzantine expert Michael Jeffreys from Oxford University, will present a paper identifying one emperor's use of press releases in verse form as some of the first examples of 'spin'.

Dr Nathan says interest in the Greek-speaking Byzantines is on the increase in Australia as Greek immigrants reconnect with their heritage. The study of ancient history is also on the rise, with the subject ranking 7th in the list of most popular HSC subjects last year.

Among the 80 conference participants will be 32 international experts in Byzantine studies, including two of the field's pre-eminent scholars, Elizabeth and Michael Jeffreys.

Presentations include:

What: The Australian Association for Byzantine Studies XVth Biennial ConferenceWhere: New College, UNSWWhen: 8-10 February, 2008

The conference is open to the public and concession entries are available. For the full conference program, go to website

Media Contact: Dr Geoffrey Nathan, 9385 8014; Steve Offner, UNSW Media 9385 1583, 0424 580 208.