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A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius…

A Short History of Byzantium (original 1997; edition 1998)

by John Julius Norwich

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Title:A Short History of Byzantium
Authors:John Julius Norwich
Info:Vintage (1998), Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Your library

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A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich (1997)



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This is an absolutely marvellous work of narrative history, which I was inspired to read after watching the first episode of Simon Sebag Montefiore's recent TV documentary on the history of the three cities of Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul. The book is an abridged version of the author's own three volume history of the 1,123 years and 18 days that the Byzantine Empire lasted, from its consecration by Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to adopt Christianity, to the final collapse of the moribund empire, reduced to the size of the city of Constantinople itself, at the hands of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in the early hours of Tuesday 29 May 1453, the last Emperor Constantine XI Paleologus being presumed killed in the melee of the final defence. The story covers a rich galaxy of colourful, fascinating, heroic, horrifying and tragic Emperors, Empresses, princes, Patriarchs, generals and others. The Empire was the guardian of the gems of Latin and Greek civilisation during the time of the so called Dark Ages in Western Europe, after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and the creator of fabulous art and architecture, much of which was destroyed not only by foreign conquerors, but also by the Byzantines themselves during the period when the iconoclasts held sway. Byzantium was often ruled by people whose actions can seem shockingly cruel to us now (the same goes for any other past civilisation, of course), while at the same time, many of those rulers were great scholars and lovers of philosophy and culture, and generally tolerant of other races. These features combine to shed a fascinating and absorbing light on an Empire which is relatively little known to most readers in Western Europe today, obscured by the preeminence of the western Roman cultural heritage. Finally, the book comes replete with many maps, genealogical tables and lists of Emperors, Popes, Sultans and Despots. A great read, and I am tempted to seek out the full three volume version. ( )
1 vote john257hopper | Dec 27, 2013 |
This one was a bit of a slog. Don't get me wrong, Norwich's writing style is very light and not remotely academic, but there's a sameness to both subject and treatment that lulls one into an occasional sense of confusion. The real trouble is that there's little emphasis on which events or people may be more relevant than others. Norwich skips from one battle or imperial intrigue to the next without ever drawing a breath. Further, there's the lack of much context about other contemporary empires. The Arabs rise up, threaten Byzantium, are beaten back and then seem to disappear. Where's any further information about the rise of the Baghdad Caliphate and its connection to the Turks? OK, the length of the narrative doesn't leave much room for detail and Norwich warns us in the introduction that it'll be a fast ride. Norwich is a fantastic storyteller and any book with the sentence "There was the usual frenzy of murder and pillage" can't be all bad.
  BrianFannin | May 31, 2013 |
All-encompassing history of an all too obscure subject. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
This book is shortened from Norwich's three-volume history. Though I majored in history in college, most of my classes, if they mentioned Byzantium at all, just barely touched on the empire. As an Orthodox Christian, I had a further interest and thought it good to delve into this book.

Norwich's writing style is easy to read. Writers of history can have a tendency to be a bit dry, even when describing something exciting. Norwich keeps the writing fresh although he's covering a time-span of well over a millennium in a single volume. He does this without turning it into a mere list of Emperors and Patriarchs. He throws in side stories and a bit of humor here and there. These tempt me into wanting to read the full three-volume set (until I look around my place at boxes full of unread books and reconsider that temptation, that is). I really enjoyed learning more about the personas and events throughout the very colorful history of Byzantium. ( )
  Jessiqa | Dec 25, 2012 |
Excellent introduction to the history Byzantium. This is the first truly fair and balanced (and quite detailed) account of the Byzantine Empire that I've yet come across. ( )
  davidpwithun | Sep 16, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679772693, Paperback)

The Byzantine Empire, one of its most eminent students reminds us, lasted "for a total of 1,123 years and 18 days," which is an astonishing duration matched by only a few others. Condensing Norwich's three-volume history, this overview captures the splendor and strangeness of Byzantine rule, marked by family intrigues, constant warfare, political and religious strife, and personal ambition--a "somewhat lurid background," as Norwich modestly declares in passing. Norwich is a master of the telling vignette. In one, he writes of imperial guards made up of "Anglo-Saxons who had left their country in disgust after Hastings and had taken service with Byzantium." Facing a Norman enemy in southern Italy, these Anglo-Saxons exacted terrible vengeance until the Normans rallied under the leadership of a fearless woman, one Sichelgaita, and massacred their enemy. Norwich's book abounds in similarly surprising and absorbing episodes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:37 -0400)

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"At a moment when the splendors of Byzantine art are being rediscovered and celebrated in America, John Julius Norwich has brought together in this remarkable edition the most important and fascinating events of his dazzling trilogy of the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire." "With wit, intelligence and an unerring eye for riveting detail, Lord Norwich tells the dramatic history of Byzantium from its beginnings in AD 330 when Constantine the Great moved the imperial capital from Rome to the site of an old Greek port in Asia Minor called Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople, to its rise as the first and most long-lasting Christian empire, to its final heroic days and eventual defeat by the Turks in 1453." "It was a history marked by tremendous change and drama: the adoption of Christianity by the Greco-Roman world; the fall of Rome and its empire; the defeat by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in 1071; the reigns of Constantine, Theodosius the Great, Justinian and Basil II. There were centuries of bloodshed in which the empire struggled for its life; centuries of controversy in which men argued about the nature of Christ and the Church; centuries of scholarship in which ancient culture was kept alive and preserved by scribes; and, most of all, centuries of creativity in which the Byzantine genius brought forth art and architecture inspired by a depth of spirituality unparalleled in any other age. After more than fourteen centuries, the ever-dazzling brilliance of the mosaics of Ravenna and the ethereal splendor of the great church of St. Sophia in Istanbul still have the power to take one's breath away."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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