For more than a millennium, the Byzantine Empire presided over the juncture between East and West, as well as the transition from the classical to the modern world. Jonathan Harris, a leading scholar of Byzantium, eschews the usual run-through of emperors and battles and instead recounts the empire’s extraordinary history by focusing each chronological chapter on an archetypal figure, family, place, or event.
Harris’s action-packed introduction presents a civilization rich in contrasts, combining orthodox Christianity with paganism, and classical Greek learning with Roman power. Frequently assailed by numerous armies—including those of Islam—Byzantium nonetheless survived and even flourished by dint of its somewhat unorthodox foreign policy and its sumptuous art and architecture, which helped to embed a deep sense of Byzantine identity in its people.
Enormously engaging and utilizing a wealth of sources to cover all major aspects of the empire’s social, political, military, religious, cultural, and artistic history, Harris’s study illuminates the very heart of Byzantine civilization and explores its remarkable and lasting influence on its neighbors and on the modern world.Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm respectively.
'Chapter 1: Twilight of the Gods
"I have described the triumphs of barbarism and religion."Edward Gibbon, 1776
The crumbling monuments of Constantinople were not the only traces that remained in the 1540s, a century after the downfall of Byzantium. Throughout western Europe, the libraries of kings, dukes and cardinals were filled with manuscripts of religious and classical texts in Greek that had once been carefully copied by Byzantine scribes. With the empire gone, the Turks had little use for its surviving book and happily sold them to envoys like Pierre Gilles who carried them back to their homelands. Others were brought out by refugees. These codices contained everything from the Gospels and the Psalms to the precious writing of the ancient Greek philosophers which for centuries had been unavailable in the west.' p.1I like that the book starts with the end of the Byzantium empire. Books is how stories survive and I like how Harris picked up on that part of how history lives. I also like the fact that there's a quote at the beginning of each chapter!
'Since the emperor was so frequently away from the court and preoccupied with his own amusement, it was left to others to run the empire. To start with it was his mother, Theodora, who had been regent on his behalf since 842, assisted by Theoktistos, one of the palace eunuchs.' p.130Ah yes, mother regents ruling, that sounds like my kind of history! I do wonder who the absent emperor is, but I've decided not to Google it so this book can teach me.
What do you know about Byzantium? And are historical books your type of thing?