The center was founded in November 2004, as Center for Hellenic Traditions (CHT), upon the initiative of CEU faculty members who are teaching and researching subjects relevant to the field, and decided to unite their efforts towards creating an interdepartmental research cluster. The center started its work aided by generous donations from Dr Rafael Chodos, Claremont, CA, and CEU’s then Rector and President, Prof. Yehuda Elkana (Rector’s Special Fund). The center was also supported, from its very inception, by public and private institutions. The center’s first, founding, director was István Bodnár. He was joined in 2005/6 by Gábor Betegh as co-director. In 2007/8, Niels Gaul was appointed; joined in 2010/11 by Volker Menze as co-director. From 2011/12 util 2016/17 Volker Menze served as sole director. From 2017/18 Tolga Esmer serves as new director. Reflecting the recent growth of CEU faculty in the fields of Syriac, Islamic and Ottoman studies, the center re-named itself the Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies (CEMS) with the beginning of academic year 2010/11.
During its seven-year history, the center organized a distinguished series of symposia, workshops, and summer schools: Late Antique Alexandria (2004/5, Geréby, Perczel). — Aristotle’s Physics II 4–6, organized jointly with the South-East European Association for Ancient Philosophy–SEAAP (2006/7, Betegh, Bodnár). — Hellenism: alien or germane wisdom? ESF exploratory workshop with support from CEU Special and Extension Programs (2007/8, Bodnár, Perczel). — Charismatic Authority, Spiritual Friendship: comparative approaches to networks of learning, Byzantine east and Latin west, c.1000–c.1200, organized with support from the Excellence Cluster ‘Religion and Politics’, University of Münster, and the British Academy ‘Medieval Friendships Network’ project (2007/8, Gaul). — Theophrastus’ Metaphysics, organized jointly with SEAAP (2007/8). — Aristotle’s De motu (2009/10, Bodnár). — Philosophy and Religion in the Presocratic Age (2009/10, Betegh). — Centre and Periphery in the Age of Constantine VII Porphrogennetos, organized in cooperation with the Archaeological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Excellence Cluster ‘Religion and Politics’, University of Münster (2009/10, Gaul, Menze). — 12th Symposium Hellenisticum: Cicero’s De ﬁnibus (2009/10, Betegh). — The Caucasus and Byzantium from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages: exploratory workshop (2010/11, Perczel, Gaul). — Eighteenth-century Ottoman Crossroads (2010/11, Esmer), organized with support from Bilgi University İstanbul and the University of Chicago.
Summer schools: Philosophy and Science in the Greco-Roman World, I–III (2003, 2004, 2006, Betegh, Bodnár, Bárány [ELTE]); Changing Intellectual Landscapes in Late Antiquity (2004, Geréby, Perczel, Brown [Princeton]).