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Byzantium: The Early Centuries (1988)

by John Julius Norwich

Series: Byzantium (1)

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963921,960 (4.11)15
'This thrilling book is the first occasion on which early Byzantine history has been rendered both readable and credible' - Independent. 'He is brilliant . . . He writes like the most cultivated modern diplomat attached by a freak of time to the Byzantine court, with intimate knowledge, tactful judgement and a consciousness of the surviving monuments' - Independent. 'Lord Norwich's skill is to communicate . . . the humanity of his subject - the human faces of emperor and priest - and to transmit his own imaginative interest to ourselves . . . Lord Norwich has appeared as a silver-tongued Virgil to guide us through Tartarian regions with the amenity and amusement of a luxury tour' - Sunday Times. 'The reader is conveyed in comfort, as it were in a very superior hovercraft, which glides smoothly over all the unevenness of the ground, to the regular, melodious sound of the author's prose' - Sunday Telegraph.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This is great man (and great woman) history but very well written. The text flows easily and you feel you know the characters. There's not much social history - you don't get a feel for the lives of ordinary Byzantines but that would make it a bigger and/or different kind of book. Religion is an important part of the story but the author treats this as an outsider unlike, say, MacCulloch. I got the sense that he wasn't much interested in the theological intricacies. ( )
  Joe_Gargery | Oct 10, 2021 |
Readable, at times witty, account of the formative years of B. Mais quelle galore! The imperial team dedicate themselves generation upon generation to lechery, avarice, torture and murder spiced up with theological nit-picking. The prize must go to Irene, whom most people that mattered didn't even recognise as ruler, given her sex. But she didn't let that hold her back: she arranged for her own son to be blinded (in a lethal manner, so murdered really) since he held different views from her on whether Christ had one, two or a mix of several natures.Few of the emperors appear to have been even slightly competent. Justinian for example, one of the stronger contenders, was viciously jealous of his brilliant general Belisarius, such that he starved him of resources and thus undermined his successes. How does a regime like that last a thousand years?
It's a rollicking read, if hard to follow in detail, especially as the leading names are often the same or similar; "Theo- this and that", "Constan-give or take" recur over the centuries. Makes Hannibal Lektor or Scandi Noir seem pretty tame. ( )
1 vote vguy | Sep 21, 2013 |
JJ Norwich has a good basic book here with enough colour and usable blocks of solid narrative. From Constantine's re-foundation to Irene's precarious rule, it lays down good tracks to follow. If you are reading this at the same time as Judith Herrin's "the Formation of Christendom", I think you'll be doing good follow up to Gibbon's majestic account in the Decline and Fall. A good part of your library for quick reference and colourful turns of phrase. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 18, 2013 |
This book and the two subsequent volumes are among my favourite pieces of historical writing. Anyone who thinks history is boring should be directed toward's Norwich's books anf these three in particular. Norwich turns what otherwise might seem a long dreary list of emperors overs hundreds of years into a rollicking read, full of violence, romance, treachery, religious fanaticism and heartbreaking tragedy. I had hardly any knowledge of the Byzantine Empire before I read this, now I'm imbued with a great sense of loss as a magnificent culture of art, literature and architecture was lost to us in 1453 when Constantinople finally fell to the Turks. In a way its as great a loss for the world as the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, although at least some of its great monuments still survive, such as the Hagia Sophia. A terriffic read, I have read all 3 volumes a number of times and never tire of them. Highly recommended. ( )
  drmaf | Aug 8, 2013 |
John Julius Norwich provides in his trilogy an excellent overview of Byzantine civilization. For the general reader looking to get the whole picture, or for the scholar probing into a new field, this book is an excellent introduction. For someone already well acquainted with the Byzantines, this is a narrative history, useful for quick consultation but not as deep in any particular subject as you would probably require. ( )
  flmcgough | Mar 8, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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Of that Byzantine Empire the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed....

This somewhat startling diatribe is taken from W. E. H. Lecky's History of European Morals, published in 1869, and although to modern ears it is perhaps not quite so effective as the author meant it to be - his last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining - the fact remains that for the last 200 years and more, what used to be known as the Later Roman Empire has had an atrocious press.
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'This thrilling book is the first occasion on which early Byzantine history has been rendered both readable and credible' - Independent. 'He is brilliant . . . He writes like the most cultivated modern diplomat attached by a freak of time to the Byzantine court, with intimate knowledge, tactful judgement and a consciousness of the surviving monuments' - Independent. 'Lord Norwich's skill is to communicate . . . the humanity of his subject - the human faces of emperor and priest - and to transmit his own imaginative interest to ourselves . . . Lord Norwich has appeared as a silver-tongued Virgil to guide us through Tartarian regions with the amenity and amusement of a luxury tour' - Sunday Times. 'The reader is conveyed in comfort, as it were in a very superior hovercraft, which glides smoothly over all the unevenness of the ground, to the regular, melodious sound of the author's prose' - Sunday Telegraph.

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