09 April 2012

Byzantium History (2)

Having a few hours wired up while under observation in the cardiac unit gave me the opportunity to finish reading John Julius Norwich's Short History of Byzantium.
Lord Norwich displays a most impressive mastery of the details of this era.    The details of various battles and conflicts, the often-complex relationships between the numerous emperors, their families, their allies and their foes, the religious issues and much, much more, all seem to be described.

If there's an issue with his work it's that, if read from cover to cover,  the mass of detail might be thought to obscure some of the events that history would judge as having been really "big".  No doubt this is because things such as the adoption of the Greek as the official language instead of Latin (by Heraclius who ruled from 610 to 641), the Great Schism, the various Crusades and their fates, the taking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade (well, along with the Venetians and the Franks) and such can only be truly understood in the context of all the other circumstances that contributed to and led up to these particular events.

Lord Norwich does, understandably, devote reasonable space to the actual fall of Constantinople, although this, too, must be seen in context, as being the inevitable result of a long period of decline.    Geoff has suggested in a comment to a previous entry that I could read The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 by Steven Runciman, so perhaps I'll keep my eye open for that.   I might also come back to Lord Norwich's works (either the Short History or perhaps the individual books in his trilogy) and take them more slowly,  so as to more gradually absorb this lengthy era .


  1. Ok you've done the Byzantine empire, but you can't stop there. How about 'The Ottoman Centuries' by Lord Kinross? And for a nice little introduction to the post-Ottoman turkish world; 'Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922' by Giles Milton.

  2. There's certainly lots of material out there! However, the local library only has a limited selection. I've borrowed Niccolo Capponi's 'Victory of the West', concerning the defeat of the Ottomon fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. I admit that my choice was influenced by the fact that it involved a defeat for the Ottomons.