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Count Belisarius (1938)

by Robert Graves

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0301520,493 (3.72)71
The sixth century was not a peaceful time for the Roman empire. Invaders threatened on all fronties, but they grew to respect and fear the name of Belisarius, the Emperor Justinian's greatest general. With this book Robert Graves again demonstrates his command of a vast historical subject, creating a startling and vivid picture of a decadent era.… (more)
  1. 10
    Homer's Daughter by Robert Graves (longway)
  2. 10
    The Secret History by Procopius (Michael.Rimmer)
  3. 00
    Das griechische Feuer by Luigi Malerba (longway)
  4. 00
    Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (nessreader)
    nessreader: Literary historical fiction, about the later roman empire, the decline and fall. sumptuously written.
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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Pretty good historical novel of a general in Byzantium in the early Christian era. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
Having enjoyed Graves's Claudius novels, I decided to have a go at this book, set in the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Graves has distilled the official histories of the time, and more gossipy works like Procopius' Secret History, to create a moving story about the ingratitude of rulers. Large parts of the book are filled with descriptions of battles, but Graves writes very well and never allows them to become tedious. Besides, the Byzantine Empire certainly has a lot of colour to keep the interest up. The emperor Justinian came out of the whole thing extremely poorly. I don’t know how far Graves exaggerated his character, but I found him cowardly, ungrateful, blind, unstrategic, easily-misled, henpecked and generally flawed in every possible way; worst of all, he didn’t even have the sense to recognise that Belisarius was the one man in the Empire whom he could trust implicitly. It may be true, as some critics claim, that Belisarius is a little too good to be true; but nevertheless it's a convincing and powerful story of injustice, which is all the more moving because it is based on historical events. ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Dec 8, 2017 |
Cast in the form of a chronicle/memoir, written by Eugenius, the eunuch servant of Belisarius's wife, Antonina, this purports to tell the story of Count [Generalissimo] Belisarius, of the Eastern Roman army in the days of Justinian and Theodora, 6th century AD. It begins with the boy Belisarius and reveals his quick-thinking at so young an age. Becoming general, he cuts a wide swath through North Africa, Roman cities in Italy and Sicily. We see his tactical and strategic genius. He also deals with machinations at the court of Justinian and Theodora set against the broader history of that period.

The style was stilted, using pseudo-Victorian language. This put me off somewhat. The first few chapters introduced the characters and gave them personalities in broad strokes. The book was more interesting from Belisarius's quelling of the Nika [Victory] Riots, through his battles to regain the Western Roman Empire and final fate: 350+ pages or so. I could not get close to any of them; writing was mere reporting of facts as Eugenius remembered them. I believe much was taken from Procopius, historian who appears in the story. What he wrote we can't trust completely; the man had his own agenda.

Recommended, as a classic of the 6th century. ( )
  janerawoof | May 21, 2016 |
Robert Graves's models for Count Belisarius include some of the great historical works of classical antiquity: Livy, Thucydides, Herodotus, and certainly Xenophon in the Persian war sections. The novel is set in the sixth century of our era. Belisarius is perhaps the last loyal general the Roman Empire can still count on. He is deeply Christian (Orthodox) but with an admirable tolerance for divergent views (Arianism, Monophysitism, etc.). He is also a military leader of genius. The accounts of his successes in Persia, Carthage, and Italy, are depicted at length. The Seige of Rome against an Ostrogoth army ten times the size of Belisarius's own constitutes a set piece of extraordinary brilliance. If you like any of the classical histories mentioned, you'll like this book. Be advised, however, that it tends to be better written than its models--or, I should say, than the English translations of those models that I have read. I wanted to read it because I liked the lethal palace intrigue so abundant in I, Claudius. That's here alright but the ramp up is longish. The first bits of intrigue don't begin until p. 102 of this edition; the backstabbing politics in earnest not until p. 150. But then hold on to your hoody because the last 300 pages are wonderful.

The book is narrated by Eugenius, the eunuch slave of Antonina, the entertainer and prostitute whom we first meet at a soiree given by the fourteen year old Belisarius's tutor. The Empress herself, Theodora, also a former prostitute, is an old friend of Antonina. In their youth they clubbed together with other girls and opened a brothel in Adrianople. Emperor Justinian, who met his empress in that house of pain, Graves's depicts as not very smart and easily led by those motivated almost solely by self interest. They ruthlessly smear Belisarius's squeaky-clean reputation and eventually succeed in driving this brilliant man from Justinian's good graces. I can't begin to hint at the intrigue and casuistry on display here. The sheer cruelty and malice. The incompetence, usually driven by jealousy, of Belisarius's generals. You simply must read it for yourself. Suffice it to say that the last 300 pages are on a par with I, Claudius and somewhat better in my view than Claudius the God. I think Graves's may have wanted to provide a more in-depth opening since details of the late Roman Empire are less well known than those of the classical period. That's my guess, anyway. Exuberantly recommended despite the slow start, especially for lovers of the historical novel.

This beautiful edition was produced by The Folio Society (London). ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Count Belisarius was the last general of the Roman empire to be given a Triumph. His reconquests of North Africa, and Sicily in the 530's CE were the high mark of the reign of Justinian I. His wife was an intimate of the Empress Theodora, and he shows well in history, having also defended the empire from invasions by the Persians and the Huns.
Utilizing the fact that the historian Procopius was employed by Belisarius as a secretary, Robert Graves has written this fictionalized biography with skill. It's a little short on sex, but is in the format that the later novelist, Alfred Duggan would bring to perfection.
Read twice. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Dec 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Gravesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davis, LindseyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hughes, DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Norwich, John JuliusIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piggott, ReginaldIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When he was seven years old, Belisarius was told by his widowed mother that it was now time for him to leave her for a while, and her retainers of the household and estate at Thracian Tchermen, and go to school at Adrianople, a city some miles away, where he would be under the guardianship of her brother, the Distinguished Modestus.
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The sixth century was not a peaceful time for the Roman empire. Invaders threatened on all fronties, but they grew to respect and fear the name of Belisarius, the Emperor Justinian's greatest general. With this book Robert Graves again demonstrates his command of a vast historical subject, creating a startling and vivid picture of a decadent era.

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The sixth-century Roman empire is a dangerous place, threatened on all frontiers by invaders. But soon the attacking armies of Vandals, Goths and Persians grow to fear and respect the name of one man, Belisarius: horseman, archer, swordsman and military commander of genius. As Belisarius triumphs in battles from the East to North Africa, his success causes him to become regarded with increasing jealousy and suspicion. In his palace in Constantinople the Emperor Justinian, dominated by his wife Theodora, plots the great general's downfall. Written in the form of a biography by Belisarius' manservant, this epic historical novel portrays him as a lone man of honour in a corrupt world. (Penguin Modern Classics blurb)
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