11 April, 2008


Byzantium; the Early Centuries
by John Julius Norwich

Well, i certainly don’t feel competent to pronounce on this book, written as it is by perhaps the leading historian of Byzantium, and as well known as it is. But it is not may way to simply roll over and play dead when it comes to these reviews, so i shall give my opinion, though remaining well aware that it may not have a lot of value, in the scheme of things. Having said this, actually i have very little to say against this book. Only the one thing, actually: I could have wished that in the text there were more specific dates to hang some of the events and emperors on, or at least to peg them near. The text flows so beautifully that perhaps no one wanted to interrupt it with anything so prosaic as dates, but i certainly find history easier to pull into a big picture if i have a bit of the context to fix it in, and i’m sure i’m not alone in that. It would have been enough to put a date in the margin every page or two or in a running header, just something to look at. Certainly, there is a dated list of emperors at the end of the book, linking both Eastern and Western Empires; but then the genealogical tables (utterly vital in this book) are at the opposite end of the book, and there are no dates with the emperors in them. Altogether, the dating issue was a bit frustrating to me. Other than that, however, can i say enough about this book and the ease with which it teaches about the lesser known Roman Empire? Probably not. Let this suffice: We went to Hay-on-Wye, where i bought Byzantium, on the first of April; i finished reading it on the ninth, and that’s with still reading the other two or three books i’m involved in at the moment. I really enjoyed this, though not the eye-poking and nose-slitting per se, all the way through; i learned, as i knew i would, a lot of detail about the East; and i truly look forward to the time when i can find, buy, and read the second and third books. Roll on the next trip to Hay!

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