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Byzantine Matters

Byzantine Matters

by Averil Cameron

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For many of us, Byzantium remains "byzantine"—obscure, marginal, difficult. Despite the efforts of some recent historians, prejudices still deform popular and scholarly understanding of the Byzantine civilization, often reducing it to a poor relation of Rome and the rest of the classical world. In this book, renowned historian Averil Cameron presents an


For many of us, Byzantium remains "byzantine"—obscure, marginal, difficult. Despite the efforts of some recent historians, prejudices still deform popular and scholarly understanding of the Byzantine civilization, often reducing it to a poor relation of Rome and the rest of the classical world. In this book, renowned historian Averil Cameron presents an original and personal view of the challenges and questions facing historians of Byzantium today.

The book explores five major themes, all subjects of controversy. "Absence" asks why Byzantium is routinely passed over, ignored, or relegated to a sphere of its own. "Empire" reinserts Byzantium into modern debates about empire, and discusses the nature of its system and its remarkable longevity. "Hellenism" confronts the question of the "Greekness" of Byzantium, and of the place of Byzantium in modern Greek consciousness. "The Realms of Gold" asks what lessons can be drawn from Byzantine visual art, and "The Very Model of Orthodoxy" challenges existing views of Byzantine Christianity.

Throughout, the book addresses misconceptions about Byzantium, suggests why it is so important to integrate the civilization into wider histories, and lays out why Byzantium should be central to ongoing debates about the relationships between West and East, Christianity and Islam, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and the ancient and medieval periods. The result is a forthright and compelling call to reconsider the place of Byzantium in Western history and imagination.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Rather than a history of Byzantium, this book is an examination of the current state of Byzantine Studies in the West, and a road map for their future. Part historiography and part manifesto, the text surveys recent trends in scholarship, both good and bad, highlights misconceptions that have hindered a clearer understanding of the Byzantine world, and points to avenues that call for further study. Cameron (professor emeritus, late antique and Byzantine history, Univ. of Oxford; The Later Roman Empire) examines five themes: Byzantium's absence within general history; the structure of its empire; the perception of its "Greek-ness"; its art; and its religion, and uses them to highlight some of the issues and problems that the author feels have limited our understanding of the ancient society. Three maps provide helpful reference, but a handful of images scattered throughout add little to this otherwise excellent book. VERDICT This is a must-read for anyone studying Byzantium. Cameron neatly summarizes major topics in the field and points out flaws or limitations in many canonical viewpoints. Those unfamiliar with Byzantine history will have a difficult time with this title, but it will be very useful to students and enthusiasts of the empire, as well as medievalists and late antiquarians.—Fred Poling, Long Beach City Coll. Lib., CA
Publishers Weekly
Cameron, an Oxford professor of Byzantine history and long an influential voice in her field, surveys the state of the discipline and its place in the modern university, addressing both the perceptions of those outside the field and the flashpoints and productive veins of research that predominate within. Marginalized in departments where modern European or, less frequently, classical Greek and Roman history hold sway, Byzantium is “relegated to the sphere of negativity,” a pale counterpart to its classical predecessors and lacking the exotic appeal of Arabia or points farther east. In five concise and penetrating essays, Cameron reflects on the approaches and pressing questions in areas ranging from religion to political science to art. She analyzes how closely associated Byzantium is with modern-day Greece and with Orthodox Christianity, seeing greater diversity than is often assumed. Of art, where the impact of Byzantium is perhaps most readily felt in the wider world, she sees a disconnect between how pieces were perceived by their original audiences and what stands out about them now: “ontemporaries often praised the realism of objects when it is their very unfamiliarity and apparent stylization that many modern viewers find attractive.” Cameron writes primarily for her colleagues, showing them how they can raise their profiles and thrive in what is necessarily a highly interdisciplinary space. (May)
From the Publisher
"Byzantine Matters is a fighting book. It may well be that the title was chosen to echo Cornel West's Race Matters. In a more restrained and academic vein than West—but with no less tenacity—Cameron points to an injustice: the absence of Byzantium from the historical consciousness of Western Europe. . . . Seen from the mean streets of university and state policies in the United Kingdom, Cameron's book makes depressing reading. But seen as a program for Byzantine studies in themselves, it is a crackling description of an intellectual trajectory."—Peter Brown, New York Review of Books

"No one has written about the history and culture of Byzantium with such luminous intelligence as Averil Cameron."—Peter Thornemann,Times Literary Supplement

"This is a robust, insider critique of the field by an important and highly influential scholar with a formidable international reputation. . . . Four elegant chapters, dealing in turn with empire, identity, visual culture and religion, demonstrate with clarity and economy the extent to which too much recent work on Byzantium continues to wall itself off from new lines of inquiry. . . . Cameron's feisty and provocative manifesto should immediately be placed under every Byzantinist's pillow."—Christopher Kelly,Times Literary Supplement

"This is a must-read for anyone studying Byzantium. . . . [I]t will be very useful to students and enthusiasts of the empire, as well as medievalists and late antiquarians."Library Journal

"Byzantine Matters is a deceptively small and slight volume in appearance, but it is a book on a mission. Taking five interlocking themes, it sets out to do nothing less than make its readers realise why Byzantium is not something long ago and far away but something that should matter to us all. . . . I, for one, as a feminist scholar working on Byzantine women, have gained and learnt a huge amount from her and her work."—Liz James, Anglo-Hellenic Review

"[A]ttractively produced. . . . [A] more distinctive book, accessible but also directed at the field itself."—Shaun Tougher, History Today

"Cameron makes her case, as one would expect, with eloquence, insight, erudition and power. There is a great deal in what she argues."—Peter N. Bell, Acta Classica

"I found the subject fascinating and Professor Cameron's arguments most persuasive. It has certainly inspired me to investigate the subject and to try to read some of the introductory texts recommended by her."—Rosemary Conely, Open History

"Not everyone will agree with the judgments in this brief but stimulating book, but it provides perfect reading for societies, programs, and departments seeking to join the conversation about Byzantine matters."—Derek Krueger, Project Muse

"It is a book about academics for academics, and valuable for the huge range of up-to-the minute secondary literature that the author takes on board."—Paul Magdalino, Speculum

"This little book provides much to reflect and ponder on. It is an impassioned manifesto aimed at the field (pointing to future research directions) but also beyond, a cry for Byzantium to be better understood and appreciated."—Shaun Tougher, Histos

"It is that rare gem, a profoundly learned book that may be read by the interested amateur in an evening."—Benjamin Garstad, Sixteenth Century Journal

"Cameron's book is a welcome contribution, offering a stimulus for further discussion on the future of Byzantine Studies."—Gerasimos Merianos, Al-Masaq

Product Details

Princeton University Press
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Barnes & Noble
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4 MB

Meet the Author

Averil Cameron is professor emeritus of late antique and Byzantine history at the University of Oxford and former warden of Keble College, Oxford. Her books include The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, The Byzantines, and The Later Roman Empire.

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