Michael Llewellyn-Smith

Award-winning author and former diplomat Michael Llewellyn-Smith writes about modern Greek history and culture.

Buy 'venizelos'

About the author

Michael Llewellyn-Smith was born in 1939 and brought up in England, with two sisters and two brothers, at a school in Berkshire where his father was headmaster. He was educated at Wellington College at Crowthorne, Berkshire, a public school founded in memory of the Great Duke of Wellington, and at New College, Oxford University, where he studied classics, ancient history and philosophy. He went on to obtain a D Phil at St Antony's College Oxford, for his doctoral thesis on the Greek occupation of Smyrna (Izmir) and western Asia Minor in 1919-22.

He is the author of five books with themes in Greek history and culture. The Great Island is a book about the history, culture and folklore of the island of Crete, reflecting his travels and researches there in the early 1960s (travels with a donkey!). Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor 1919-1922 is the story of Greece's ill-fated venture into Asia Minor, ending with the destruction of Smyrna and the end of the ancient Greek communities of Asia Minor. Olympics in Athens 1896: the Invention of the Modern Olympic Games is the story of how the young Greek state and the city of Athens developed rapidly to a point at which they found it possible to host successfully the first modern Games. Athens: a Cultural and Literary History presents the life and culture of the city of Athens across the centuries, explaining how the modern city copes with its ancient heritage.

Michael Llewellyn-Smith has also written a short book about the history of the British Embassy at Athens, which was the house of the Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos before it became the British Embassy in 1936. He is currently researching the life of Venizelos. He has lectured extensively at Universities and for Swan Hellenic Discovery Cruising. He has written reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and the Anglo- Hellenic Review.

Michael Llewellyn-Smith joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1970 and served in it for thirty years, in Moscow, Paris, Warsaw and Athens as well as London. He was British Ambassador in Poland from 1991-96 and in Greece from 1996-99. As student, teacher, diplomat and traveller he has spent more than eleven years in Greece.

He is married, to Colette née Gaulier. They live in south Oxfordshire, and travel often to Greece and France. They have two children, Stefan and Sophie, and four grandchildren, David, Alexander, Nicolas and Alice.

Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith was knighted by HM the Queen in 1996, and awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Phoenix by the President of the Hellenic Republic in 2022. He is an Honorary Fellow of St Antony's College Oxford, a Vice President of the British School at Athens, Honorary Fellow of the E K Venizelos Research Foundation, Chania, Patron of the Friends of Mount Athos, and Visiting Professor at King's College London. For many years he was a non-executive Director of Coca-Cola Hellenic s.a.



Michael Llewellyn-Smith has lectured widely on Greece and Greek history. His lectures include:

  • Olympics in Athens 1896: the Invention of the Modern Olympic Games (keynote address at the Conference of the Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA), Toronto, October 2003
  • Varieties of Philhellenism (Runciman Lecture, Kings College London (KCL), February 2001)
  • Gladstone and Greece (Gennadius Library, Athens, February 2000, published, in English and Greek, in Ioannis Gennadios Annual Memorial Day: Four Lectures 1996-2000, The Friends of the Gennadius Library, Athens 2001)
  • Dimitrios Vikelas: Man of Many Talents (Onassis Foundation Lecture, Athens, May 2005)
  • Asia Minor Revisited: Eleftherios Venizelos, Aristeidis Stergiadis, and the Events of 1919-1922 (Vikelaia Library, Heraklion, Crete, lecture series "The Panorama of Ideas", April 2005)
  • The Politician and the Historian: Eleftherios Venizelos and Thucydides (Oxford, Triennial Meeting of the Greek and Roman Societies, 2008; Megaron Plus lecture series, Athens, 2008)
  • Lloyd George and Venizelos (First Sir John Gray memorial lecture, WEA Llanelli, 2008)

He also lectures at universities and Hellenic Associations and for Swan Hellenic Discovery Cruising on:

  • Greece and Turkey: old Enemies, new Partners?
  • Eleftherios Venizelos and Greece in Asia Minor
  • Athens and the Development of the Greek State
  • Penrose's Athens: the late 19th Century City
  • The British in the Ionian Islands
  • Crete: the British Connection
  • Thessaloniki: Portrait of a City
  • Byron and Greece
  • British Politicians and Greece


Michael Llewellyn Smith has contributed chapters and articles as follows:

  • 'Venizelos's Diplomacy, 1910-23: from Balkan alliance to Greek-Turkish settlement', in Paschalis M. Kitromilides, ed., Eleftherios Venizelos: the Trials of Statesmanship, Edinburgh University Press, 2006
  • 'The Exemplary Life of Dimitrios Vikelas (1835 - 1908)', in The Historical Review, vol 3 (2006), Institute for Neohellenic Research, Athens
  • 'John Campbell', in Mark Mazower, ed., Networks of Power in Modern Greece: essays in honour of John Campbell, Hurst & Co., London, 2008.

He has also contributed articles and obituaries to the Princeton Library Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, BBC History, the Daily Telegraph, and the Anglo-Hellenic Review.

What readers are saying about

Venizelos: The Making of a Greek Statesman 1864-1914

'A great addition to modern Greek history, 'Venizelos' tackles broad questions of political leadership and nationalism. It fills a major gap and will strongly attract a cadre of international readers. Highly readable, enjoyable and instructive--it s hard to ask for more.'

Stathis Kalyvas, Gladstone Professor of Government, University of Oxford

'Superbly researched from a wealth of sources, it is an impressive account of the political and personal development of the man and an essential read if you want to understand modern Greece.'

'bibliophile' on amazon

'A masterful analysis'


'An impressive work of scholarship, rendering outstanding services to the political history of Modern Greece and the art of political biography. Llewellyn-Smith deserves the gratitude of all those trying to promote knowledge and understanding in these fields of research.'

Paschalis Kitromilides, Academy of Athens

Buy the book

Get your copy today!

Buy the book

Eleftherios Venizelos (1864–1936) was the outstanding Greek statesman of the first half of the twentieth century. Michael Llewellyn-Smith traces his early years, political apprenticeship in Crete, and energetic role in that island's emancipation from both Ottoman rule and the arbitrary rule of Prince George of Greece. This book illuminates Venizelos' political mastery, liberalism and nationalism, and traces his fateful friendship with David Lloyd George.


Profile Books, London, 2004: ISBN 1-86197-342 X

On 5 April 1896 James Connolly of the Suffolk Athletic Club, Boston, Massachusetts, projected himself 13 metres and 71 cm through the Attic air in the newly restored Panathenaic Stadim of Athens, in the hop, step and jump, and became the first Olympic victor for more than 1500 years.'

This fascinating book weaves together three strands in the revival of the Olympic Games: the nineteenth century explosion of sport in Britain and the US, France, Germany and other European countries, which created the conditions for international competition; the social and economic progress of the young Greek state which made Athens a plausible candidate as host of the Games; and the genius of the idealist Baron Pierre de Coubertin in yoking together amateur sport and internationalism in a new institution with rich symbolic power.

The story moves from Athens to the Rugby School of Dr Arnold and Tom Brown; Much Wenlock in Shropshire, home of an Olympic experiment which inspired Coubertin; Paris of the Second Empire; Princeton University in the United States; Olympia in the Peloponnese where extensive German excavations revealed the site of the ancient Olympics; and back to Athens for the climax of the Games. Besides Coubertin, the cast of characters includes the great German classicist Ernst Curtius who revealed Olympia to the world, the best-selling Greek novelist Dimitrios Vikelas who became the first President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC); Crown Prince Constantine who made the Games happen and whose career ended in tragedy; and the young farmer Spyros Louis who won the newly invented Marathon race.

The athletes themselves were heroic amateurs from a departed age of innocence, where an American could enter the discus event on the spur of the moment and win the medal. Yet they laid the foundations of a unique sporting institution.

This book is the rich and entertaining story of one of the most potent symbols of modern times.

"The best account of the invention of the Marathon is given in Michael Llewellyn Smith's sharp and elegant history of the first international modern Olympics...He captures brilliantly the atmosphere of Athens in the late nineteenth century." (Mary Beard, TLS)

"This excellent book" (Sir Roger Bannister, Mail on Sunday)

"Clear, scholarly and readable" (The Economist)

Olympics in Athens 1896 is also published by Hestia, Athens, 2004, in Greek translation by Margarita Zachariadou: ISBN 960-05-1148-9

Buy the book

Buy the book


Foreword by Roderick Beaton Signal Books, Oxford, 2004: ISBN 1-902669-81-9

Modern Athens is a bustling, overgrown city, continually coming to terms with its illustrious past. Dominated by the Parthenon, the world-famous symbol of classical antiquity, it has been touched by every aspect of Greece's turbulent history, suffering invasions and occupations, sieges, division and dictatorship, and has grown dramatically into a metropolis of four million people. Mixing old and new, the Greek capital is a treasure house of eastern Orthodox and western culture, rich in the visual arts, architecture and poetry.

Michael Llewellyn-Smith describes the history and culture of Athens, site of the 2004 Olympic Games and city of monuments enduring, purged and restored. Exploring its streets and squares, he reveals layers of Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history, elegant Bavarian neoclassical buildings, and a modern city of concrete and glass, traffic and pollution.

"Popular history at its best, absorbing, witty and challenging...a warm fondness for Athens, in all its complexity, suffuses every page." (Michael Squire, TLS)

"A winning blend of insider's nous, elegant prose and easy eruditioin" (The Independent)

Athens: a Cultural and Literary History is also published in Greek by Hestia, Athens.


Hurst & Co, London, 1998: ISBN 1-85065-368-2

In January 1915, soon after the start of the First World War, Britain offered Greece 'important territorial compensation' in Asia Minor if she would join the war on the side of the Entente. This proposal set in motion a train of events which ended tragically in 1922 with the destruction of Smyrna (Izmir) and the uprooting of Hellenism in Asia Minor.

Michael Llewellyn-Smith sets the Greek occupation of Smyrna and the war in Anatolia against the background of Greece's 'Great Idea' - the incorporation of the unredeemed Greeks around the Aegean basin within the bounds of the Greek Kingdom - and of Great Power rivalries in the Near East. He traces the origins of the Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos's 'Ionian Vision' to his joint conception with David Lloyd George of an Anglo-Greek entente in the Eastern Mediterranean. This absorbing narrative is the classic account of the disaster which has shaped the politics and society of Greece.

"A theme worthy of Thucydides...a fine, temperate and engrossing study" (International Affairs)

"Indispensable reading for anyone who would seek to understand the convoluted politics of Greece in the 20th century" (Richard Clogg, New Society)

"It is good to welcome the reprint of this classic study of the events which led up to what the Greeks still call simply 'the Catastrophe'...thoughtful judgments and colourful descriptions...sensitive understanding of how high politics is really conducted..." (Mark Mazower, TLS)

"In this absorbing, dramatic and melancholy saga of war and diplomacy, Mr Llewellyn-Smith gives us a historical work of great fascination and substance" (Lord Kinross, Books and Bookmen)

Buy the book


The Great Island is a personal view of the island of Crete, its culture and its place in history. For the Greeks Crete embodies not only the astonishing Minoan civilization but the heroic spirit of independence which supported the Cretans through seven centuries of Venetian and Turkish domination and which finally won them their freedom. The author elaborates his themes through his own first-hand impressions of landscape and people, through Cretan history, folklore and literature, and through the icons and frescoes of the island which was the birthplace of El Greco. The picture which emerges is of a heroic, humane, strongly traditional attitude to life.

"Llewellyn-Smith has the key. His unobtrusive travels and researches into song and poetry are done to explain others, not himself...an excellent book" (David Pryce-Jones, The Times)

"I rarely read such an honest study of my country" (Pandelis Prevelakis)

THE GREAT ISLAND is now available as a free download here(1.8Mb)


published by The British Embassy, Athens, 1998

This short book, published in parallel text in English and Greek, tells the story of the fine house on Loukianou Street, Athens, which is now the British Ambassador's Residence. The handsome neo-classical house was commissioned by Helena Schilizzi, the wife of the Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, in the 1930s. It was designed by the architect Anastasios Metaxas, who also designed the restored Panathenaic Stadium where the 1896 Olympic Games were held.

After Venizelos died in 1936, his widow Helena sold the house to the British Government. It has served since then as the British Embassy. The house, which contains the famous portrait of Byron in Albanian costume by Thomas Phillips, was the scene of dramatic events in December 1944, when Winston Churchill visited Athens at the time of the uprising of the communist army ELAS against the Greek Government and allied forces.


edited by Michael Llewellyn Smith, Paschalis M Kitromilides and Eleni Calligas: British School at Athens Studies 17, 2009

The British School at Athens is renowned for its discoveries in Bronze Age and Classical archaeology. This book reveals for the first time that in parallel with this story of archaeology and the classics, another theme runs persistently through the history of the School from its foundation in 1886. This is the contribution of British scholars to the study of Byzantine and modern Greek culture, art and architecture, anthropology, geography, folklore, history and language. Richly illustrated with material from the School's photographic archive, the book sets out the achievements of scholars such as R M Dawkins, F W Hasluck and A J B Wace. Others whose achievements are assessed include the great Scottish historian George Finlay and the topographer Colonel Leake. The book explores also the rich holdings in Byzantine church art held in the School's Byzantine Research Fund Archive. Contributors include the late Metropolitan Kallistos (on Mount Athos) and scholars from British universities and the National Hellenic Research Foundation.

The School's mission was and is to further the study of Greece in all its aspects. This book shows how scholars took advantage of this flexibility. Contributors explore the connections between the School's different disciplines, in particular between archaeology and anthropology. The nature of the School community itself is examined, as is the School's involvement in the First World War. A pervasive theme is the impact on scholars raised in the classical tradition of Greece's landscape and living culture.

THE MACEDONIAN FRONT, 1915-1918: POLITICS, CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN TIME OF WAR. Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) 2022

Basil C. Gounaris, Michael Llewellyn-Smith, Ioannis D. Stefanidis, eds.

The ‘Macedonian Question’ has been much studied in recent years as has the political history of the period from the Balkan Wars in 1912-13 to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. But for a variety of reasons, connected with the political division of Greece and the involvement of outside powers, the events at and behind the Macedonian front have been sidelined. Indeed many people are unaware that for three years Macedonia was a field of warfare involving Britain, France, Italy and Russia as well as Germany and Bulgaria. The commemorations of the centenary of the end of World War I in the UK showed how, compared with the large and moving emphasis on the western front, Macedonia has been largely ignored. The book illuminates this comparatively neglected period of Greek history. It examines the strategic and military aspects of the war in Macedonia and the political, social, economic and cultural context of the war, which after a sluggish beginning contributed to the victory of the Entente allies.