A history lecturer illuminates the fractious, little-studied period between the fall of the Roman Empire in the West and rise of the Ottomans in the 15th century.
With the breakup of the Roman Empire by Diocletian in the third-century CE into West and East, largely along linguistic lines, two distinct identities were forged over the succeeding centuries and grew increasingly estranged from and antagonistic to each other: Latin vs. Greek and Catholic vs. Orthodox. Brownworth examines the long-maligned Eastern half of the Empire, which saw its capital of Nova Roma chosen by Constantine the Great in 328 CE become the glorious, inimitable city of Constantinople. The author reminds us that the denizens of the East always referred to themselves as Roman, and the term Byzantium was later applied by Enlightenment scholars. Brownworth traces the highlights over the next 1,000 years of violent upheaval and murderous dynastic succession: e.g., early doomed attempts by Julian to repaganize the empire; fighting back the assaults by the barbarians and the sacking of Rome; the golden age under Justinian, who established Roman Law and reconquered numerous lost lands; and meeting the Islamic challenge from the seventh-century onward with holy wars and crusades until the ultimate devastation of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. While the East held many of the ancient secular texts safe from the so-called Dark Ages that stymied the West, the author concentrates mostly on military, rather than cultural, events. Brownworth delivers just enough of the big picture for interested readers to pursue specific events in greater detail.
An energetic look at a still-misunderstood period in late antiquity.