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summary The Lost World of Byzantium 108 ð For than a millennium the Byzantine Empire presided over the juncture between East and West as well as the transition from the classical to the modern world Jonathan Harris a leading scholar of Byzantium eschews the usual run through of emperors and battles and instead recounts the empire’s extraordinary hFor than a millennium the Byzantine Empire presided over the juncture between East and West as well as the transition from the classical to the modern world Jonathan Harris a leading scholar of Byzantium eschews the usual run through of emperors and battles and instead recounts the empire’s extraordinary history by focusing each chronological chapter on an archetypal figure family place. Byzantium is the name we give to the Eastern Roman Empire but they called themselves Romans They carried on the traditions of the Roman Empire until they were defeated after 1000 years the book spans from 330 to 1453 The Byzantine Empire was the Christian Roman Empire The author offers not a comprehensive history but a personal journey through the long history of ByzantiumHe tries to explain how it managed to last as long as it did during very tumultuous times and why it seemingly disappeared so completely The book reads like a one sided conversation with someone who loves the Byzantine era and know pretty much all there is to know about it The author presents some uestions and possible answers some personalities and some events that stand out To appreciate this book it is best to have a basic grounding in the Byzantine Empire's history Think of this book as a text to accompany an advanced seminar at university after you've taken all the introductory courses The writer adds greater detail to the framework of what you already know fleshing it out and sharing his enthusiasm for all things Byzantine History is storytelling and this book is full of stories and characters The starting date set for this Byzantium is the inauguration of Constantinople in the year 330 a city ordered constructed by the Roman Emperor Constantine so he could have a monumental base in the east of the empire to match Rome in the west The ending date used is the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 So why did the empire last so long The author offers lots of examples of how the Christian faith was a unifying and inspiring force in an empire made up of disparate people spread out over many lands The Emperor was the chief defender of the faith The Emperors also provided for smooth succession from one emperor to the next something Western Rome rarely managed Other things helped like having many talented leaders and soldiers the great wealth which helped when bribing bad guys to behave a magnificent and intimidating capital city that was amazingly defensible practical plans for organized integration and resettlement of the inevitable migrants to the safe and wealthy empire and skillful foreign relations which forged friendships and alliances Interestingly the author points out that the powerful church and the popular holy men and women played the role of a check balance institution on the Emperor's powerful military and civic administration The church leaders checked excesses provided social services and even took on various positions in the State when necessary during times of crisis The perceptive reader of history will always find in the past parallels to the present which is part of the fun of reading histories and this book is full of those parallels The author doesn't bang you over the head with them but the very fact that he includes certain stories in the book suggests that he understands the parallels very well The beautiful literate English style of writing makes the long book a reading pleasure but the sheer volume of stories and eras and events means it is best to take the book slowly Battles betrayals theological disputes invasions truces and treaties can become monotonous without a break now and then I found the middle section of the book less interesting just for that reason I should have taken a break from reading but I didn't A rough summary of the book's contents would be to say that it touches on the most active and known leaders Constantine Justinian Heraclius Leo III Constantine V And in the book you'll get good explanations of why the feudal system developed how the trading city states of the late middle ages and the early Renaissance shaped the Mediterranean how the texts saved over time by the Byzantines fueled the High Renaissance why the Catholic Church split between Orthodox and Church of Rome the continual threat from military leaders to secular leaders why there is always strain between the cities and the heartland and what the heck icons were really about One strong message in the book as in any book about the past is that we are all bastard peoples created from massive mixing of genes and cultures The era of the nation state has fueled the false nationalistic belief that we form uniue peoples and cultures This book show that to be utter nonsense Another message that comes across is that much of the present world still behaves and reasons as if the early middle ages never ended Western policy makers of today would benefit from reading this book so they could better understand the savage so called reasoning the crazies of today use to justify their massacres hatreds and utter barbarism The third message that is very timely is that the Byzantine Empire survived over 1000 years because they were able to integrate outsiders to reward them for their efforts and to harness their skills for the society's good That is a not so subtle message to rich countries today that resist migrants and marginalize them when they do let them enter the countriesPlease visit my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews I received a review copy of the book This is my honest reviewhttpitalophilebookreviewsblogspot

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Or event   Harris’s action packed introduction presents a civilization rich in contrasts combining orthodox Christianity with paganism and classical Greek learning with Roman power Freuently assailed by numerous armies including those of Islam Byzantium nonetheless survived and even flourished by dint of its somewhat unorthodox foreign policy and its sumptuous art and architecture which. A review of The Lost World of Byzantium by Jonathan Harris is near impossible to write The book incidentally is far from impossible to read despite its rather dry style The problem is the breadth and sheer extent of its subject an issue the author confronts with both enthusiasm and competence Often history presents the casual reader with a hard to negotiate problem being the straightjacket of preconception And it’s often a problem of which we are unaware precisely because we are rarely conscious of the assumptions we bring to any experience And this is precisely why we need books like this one by Jonathan Harris because it can cut through what we clearly do not understand We need to confront preconceptions because the process is always enlightening But the process is often challenging as well Rest assured however because this challenge is rewarding throughoutThe challenge in the Lost World of Byzantium is met head on and early on We talk a lot of Rome and much less of Byzantium We hail the achievements of the former and generally list the shortcomings of the latter We see Rome as somehow noble correct and classical whereas Byzantium is often corrupt degenerate knavish and unsuccessful And as Jonathan Harris points out we are constantly explaining why the Byzantine Empire eventually failed What we rarely acknowledge is that at its height it was a extensive empire than Rome’s and importantly it actually lasted longer than its precursor And it was Christian from the startIt is this perception of Byzantium as eventual failure that Jonathan Harris dispels at the start It is also essential that he does this since then we can appreciate the detail of the empire’s history in its own context rather than in another imposed by our own preconceptions about a future it never saw In many ways the history of the Byzantine Empire was the history of Europe from the fourth to the fifteenth century The Ottoman expansion westwards and its eventual conuest of the empire served to provide a wake up call for concerted action to defend Christianity At least one previous attempt had dissolved into anarchy as the Crusaders sacked the very place they had set out to defend The fall of Byzantium however rendered any future sectional gain irrelevant for if the edifice fell there would be nothing for anyone And thus the continent changed a little after LepantoAny reader of such a long and complex history as that of the Byzantine Empire however must bear in mind the size and scope of the author’s task The Lost World of Byzantium may comprise about 150000 words but it is trying to cover than a millennium of European history not to mention swathes and eras of Middle Eastern Central Asian and North African history as well We soon learn not to regard the Byzantine Empire as a purely or even primarily European phenomenon as regular conflicts are fought to the south and east as well as to the north and west What becomes clearer however is that an empire may wage war at its periphery and that war may result in expansion or contraction of its territory But if the empire wages war against itself at the centre then the threat to its security is existential Jonathan Harris’s book relates several occasions when Byzantium survived such complete and wounding internecine transformationsAn enduring insight from The Lost World of Byzantium relates to the general role of religion in these transfers of power and in particular the ability of theology to create empires rulers dynasties and perhaps states Byzantium was founded on Constantine’s embracing of Christianity But this was only the beginning of the story as we perceive it The early church was riven by schisms and heresies notably the Arian interpretation of the nature of Christ From the perspective of our own age these theological differences might appear to have the significance of disagreements on the exact count of angels on a pinhead But at the time theological disagreements could lead to persecution exile and war A long time after the early church had solved some of its self generated conundrums new theological differences emerged with similar conseuences It is a great achievement of Harris’s book that it manages to raise what we now might regard as arcane to the status of living political debate If economic advantage granted by the achievement and tenure of power as ever remained the goal the political and ideological battleground where that status was secured was often theological and only when we appreciate that role do we understand the history of this empire and perhaps also the history of the first and much of the second millennium of the Christian eraIf there is a criticism of this monumental work it is that the necessity of chronicling the incumbents of the throne sometimes make the history a mere list of tenants a procession of kings who merely seem to come and go The Johns the Michaels and the Constantines keep coming forever counting and it seems sometimes that only the numbers change as each incumbent suffers his own conspiratorial fate often remarkably similar to that of his predecessor There are numerous child emperors all with their own nakedly ambitious protectors And also history seems to reproduce itself as yet another incumbent marries to secure peace and alliance or pursues yet another catalogued military campaign against north south east or west as ever only partially successful The muddle it seems tends to continueOverall the book deserves some criticism for not including enough description of the social and economic conditions within the empire Such diversity both ethnic and religious needs detail to provide a picture of its complexity There is little that conveys any feeling of what it was to live even in Constantinople itself let alone the Byzantine Empire as a whole But then with a task of this size any author needs to be selective Jonathan Harris simply could not have included material of this type without doubling the size of an already massive book And given the author’s commitment and dedication to his subject this absence ought to provoke most readers to explore of his output This aspect surely has also been covered elsewhereWhat is included are descriptions of greens and blues Pechenegs Basils various Phokases and numerous Theodoras alongside Abbasids Seljuks Fatimids and hordes of Constantines If even one of these hits a blind spot then Jonathan Harris’s book will help provide the missing understanding If anything it is surely comprehensive History is always about much than our preconceptions and all good writing on the subject should remind us of this fact The Lost World of Byzantium provides a superb opportunity to learn much about this neglected but crucial era of history

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The Lost World of ByzantiumHelped to embed a deep sense of Byzantine identity in its people   Enormously engaging and utilizing a wealth of sources to cover all major aspects of the empire’s social political military religious cultural and artistic history Harris’s study illuminates the very heart of Byzantine civilization and explores its remarkable and lasting influence on its neighbors and on the modern worl. this covers the same ground as jj norwich's work but frankly if you're looking for an introduction to byzantine history i would rate this over a short history of byzantium—it has the same pitfalls being mostly focused on military history and palace intrigue but has a engaging writing style a memorable treatment of non military foreign policy and leans a little less heavily on individual emperors not for people who are looking to specialize but in its own right it's a great time