BYZANTIUM: The Early Centuries by John Julius Norwich

BYZANTIUM: The Early Centuries

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The first of a projected three-volume popular history of the Byzantine Empire, this work from Norwich (A Taste For Travel: An Anthology, 1987, A History of Venice, 1982) is fact-filled and breezy, but without any real depth. Covering the years from Constantine the Great and his pivotal decisions to move to the East and embrace Christianity, through the elevation of Charlemagne to Emperor in the West, this is a curiously hollow piece of work. Norwich brings to it enthusiasm, pointed humor (On Leo IV: ". . .allowance, however, must be made for two cruel handicaps with which he had to contend throughout his short reign. One was the disease. . .which was to kill him. . .The other was his wife, Irene"), and all the available references. Thus we get a detailed chronicle of court intrigues, couplings, and conspiracies, of the ongoing religious conflicts and heresies--Pagan/Christian, Arian, monophysite, iconoclast/ iconodule--that ultimately brought about schism with the West; and of constant warfare with Persia, the nation of Islam, the hordes of Asia, and barbarians of the North who reduced the Western Empire to rubble. But Norwich gives us no sense of the texture of the times, no feel for the life and culture of these people. The basic economics of Empire are barely touched on, customs, and manners are overlooked, and those outside of court circles might not even have existed. Still, an amusing and erudite account--with enough broad appeal to forgive its lapses of rigorous reportage and analysis.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1989
ISBN: 394-53778-5
Publisher: Knopf
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