A Short History of Byzantium

A Short History of Byzantium

4.4 9
by John Julius Norwich

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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…  See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1995, the third and concluding volume of Lord Norwich's magnificent chronicle of Byzantium was published to wide acclaim; now the author has condensed his sprawling narrative into a single volume of locomotive power and magisterial concision. Norwich presents deft and wide-ranging scholarship (backed by a lengthy bibliography but no footnotes) through dry but invigorating prose as he guides the reader at breakneck speed through Byzantium's defining moments, from its foundation in A.D. 330 by Constantine the Great through the agonies of its final conquest in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. The result is a dizzying litany of plots and intrigues, palace revolutions, theological controversies and encounters with myriad hostile neighbors over the course of 11 centuries. Norwich buoys his colorful narrative with trenchant assessments of individual potentates, linking the character of each to the destiny of the empire as a whole. A rich-and ultimately poignant-epic of Christendom's great empire in the East, this history brims with humanity, historical understanding and unrelenting drama.
Library Journal
Seeking to reach a broader audience, Norwich has abridged his acclaimed three-volume history, Byzantium (LJ 3/1/89 and LJ 1/92), into one volume that has been published to coincide with a major exhibition on Byzantine art and culture at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. Byzantium was disparaged if not ignored by English-speaking historians until Robert Byron's influential The Byzantine Achievement (1929), which did much to rehabilitate its reputation. For over 1000 years, Byzantium shielded a developing European culture from invasions from the east. The Byzantines not only helped to preserve and disseminate the heritage of Greece and Rome to a Europe seeking its classical roots but also developed a sublime artistic tradition that flourishes to this day. This work provides a marvelous introduction for students and the general reader. Libraries that have not acquired the three-volume work should consider adding this one. Highly recommended.Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., Minn.
School Library Journal
YAA condensation of Norwich's three-volume study of the Byzantine Empire. It is the story of a civilization that flourished economically, militarily, and, most importantly, as a center for culture and the arts while the rest of Europe struggled through the Dark and Middle Ages. Despite the empire being the most powerful nation in Europe for over 1000 years, its history reads like a soap operawith grand intrigue, despotic rulers, madmen, conquests, betrayals, religious schism, crusades, and eventual decline. The book is massive in scope and although every other ruler seems to be named either Constantine, Constantius, or Constans, the book is surprisingly easy to read. Detailed maps; charts showing the lineage of the major personalities; and lists of emperors, sultans, and popes help readers keep track of who was who and where the major events took place. An extensive index makes this book useful as a reference tool.
— Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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6.49(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.49(d)

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A Short History of Byzantium 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many history books specially about the early and late roman empire. Most of them have been written by well known scholars but i have learned a writer is born not made. This man is a natural writer i just CANT stop reading the book but at the same time the faster i go the sooner I will consume its wonderfully written pages...what a shame..it should have more pages.... this book is worth every penny and more...is like watching a movie but better...
GeoffSmock More than 1 year ago
The deep and comprehensive knowledge Norwich has of Byzantium -- borne out in the three volume history he has written on the topic -- is only confirmed with this abridgement. If one is looking for a comprehensive yet brief history of the world's longest standing Christian empire this book is ideal. With that said, I experienced a considerable level of frustration while reading this. In order to condense three volumes into one Norwich had to sacrifice much of his own personal analysis of the history being covered for the history itself. The upshot is an often dry and unyielding catalogue of names, dates and geographic locations buttressed by a sentence or -- at most -- a paragraph of Norwich's provocative commentary. For this reason I can hardly wait to delve into the complete three volume version. Norwich's deep understanding of Byzantium adds a considerable level of gravity to his opinions and to his ultimate assessment of the Byzantines.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had not read anything on this subject and kind of backed my way into it after reading the Fourth Crusade and Rubicon, finally deciding that I needed some background in the Byzantine Empire. Norwich's abridgement of his full works is sufficiently entertaining that I feel motivated to read all three volumes of the original. The personalities of the era appear in full color and the process through each chapter is rapid. The charts on dynastic relationships and the maps are also very helpful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the more interesting history books I have read. It was entertaining and informative. Though on the down side it was a bit drawn-out, I don't think Lord Norwich had to go through quite every single emperor to tell the story of Byzantium. But it was nonetheless fascinating. I now am familiar with a civilization of which I knew little or nothing before picking up this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From sexual intrigues, conspiracies to murder, and the constant tensions between the roles of the emperor and the patriarchs, this book, based upon Norwiches three volume work, is a must have for anyone interested in the medieval world. Rome didn't decline, it simply relocated, and till 1453, it walked a dichotomous line between decadence and spirituality. Norwich sums it all up, giving plenty of juicy details of a sordid yet entertaining nature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book¿having read it twice. The plots, intrigues, murders, battles and ultimately conquest are fascinating. It is so amazing that the machinations of emperors, kings, popes and patriarchs took place across the continent of Europe and Asia Minor. However, one does not come away with much understanding as to the legacy of this empire and the reasons, or at least theories, as to it rise and fall. The explanation for events in given only by the character and decisions of the emperors and their advisors in the fields of war and diplomacy. There is little description or examination of the governance in terms of political and economic structure. The book does explain, or at least trace, how various people ended up where they did. But it doesn't describe in what ways the empire left a legacy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read on the Byzantium Empire. Concise and easy to read.