Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: A History of the Byzantine State and Society
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on May 23, 2003
This book is only for those who really like Byzantine history and it's best for those who like old-fashioned, narrative, history. That may be a small target audience, but if you fit, you'll probably love the book like I did. Treadgold's strength is the lives of the most important people in the empire, especially the emperors. Although there are separate chapters on economic and social trends, often important religious and social developments are woven into chronologies based on the emperors' lives. Treadgold also emphasizes the significance of events within the empire over external ones. For instance, in discussing the decline of the empire in the latter half of the eleventh century, he details at (very interesting) length the personal weaknesses of the emperors, but hardly mentions the strengths of the Turks. That's not necessarily a criticism; he may simply think that other historians over-emphasize the importance of external factors on the history of the empire. But he doesn't always alert you when he's propounding unconventional views. He sees the battle of Manzikert as being much less significant than do many other Byzantine and military historians. I have no idea who is right, but Treadgold doesn't mention the conventional understanding of the battle at all; he simply asserts that most of the Byzantine army survived and goes on.
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on January 12, 2001
I have read most recent books on Byzantium, and believe this one to be the best. Unlike most recent books -- even including the very well-written 3 volume Norwich history -- this one delves into very interesting details of the state budget. While details of how the Byzantine Empire budget evolved over the centuries may not fascinate most people, I thought it showed the relative size and prosperity of the state. Also interesting (to me at least) are the ethnographical maps and military analyzes. Moreover, the book flows very nicely and keeps the reader's interest until the very end.
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on January 7, 2000
Why should anyone who is not Greek care about Byzantium, Professor Treadgold asks in his introduction to this magnificent book. Because, he answers, Byzantium fashioned and passed on Christian theology, Roman law and classical literature to the modern world. Byzantine culture underpins the Christian Orthodox culture of Serbia, Russia, Bulgaria and Greece, and is also worth studying as a civilization because it is so very different from our own. Warren Treadgold, author of two excellent books on the Byzantine army and on Byzantium's revival in the late eighth-early ninth centuries has now written the definitive one-volume history from the "refoundation of the [Roman] empire" by Diocletian in 284 (an interesting and novel starting-point) to the fall of the City of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Treadgold has with this book completely surpassed the older one-volume histories of Vasiliev and Ostrogorsky. This book is also far superior to Norwich's three-volume history which tries far too hard to make Byzantine history entertaining - it is absorbing and fascinating enough as it is. Treadgold writes unpretentiously and clearly and as well as presenting an excellent synthesis has some novel ideas of his own, such as his analysis of the origins of the theme system, which he convincingly attributes to the emperor Constans II. Treadgold brings out above all the amazing resilience of the Byzantine state, which almost fell apart after the reign of Heraclius but which then recovered strongly to become the dominant Christian state by the start of the eleventh century. The book is also superbly produced by Stanford University Press and comes with an excellent bibliographical survey. A real bargain - everyone even remotely interested in the Byzantines should read it.
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on June 30, 2000
Professor Treadgold writes a clear, precise and forceful account of a dozen centuries of eastern Mediterranean history. This is the best introduction to Byzantium of this generation, perhaps ever.
The newcomer to the field (along with many others) will find that rulers, battles, even entire nations, enter and exit these pages with confusing rapidity. To assist the reader, Professor Treadgold provides a generous collection of photos of art, architecture and coins, detailed maps, lists of rulers, explanatory notes, genealogy charts and a user friendly index.
Professor Treadgold's method is to determine the best answer to a confusing historical question and present it without hesitation or qualification. Occasionally a footnote explains why the second-best hypothesis is absurd. Inevitably, those familiar with the field will find themselves disagreeing on some points, but this approach constitutes the strength of the book. The field is beset by quarrels of little significance (what difference does it make who fathered Leo the Wise?). Professor Treadgold brushes these aside to allow the narrative to flow freely and the patterns and connections to emerge.
Byzantium had its own historians, who do not please the modern taste. We would like to know, but are not told, how Byzantines educated their children or chose their mates. Foreign cultures, archaeology, science, even the system for administering justice tend to be passed over as unworthy of attention. The criticisms of this book stem from Professor Treadgold's decision to rely principally on the written records produced by the Byzantines. Doubtless there are fascinating books to be written on this time and place using other materials, but they will not be Byzantine history.
The reader who wonders how the keepers of western civilization saw themselves or seeks the historical foundation of contemporary eastern European and Middle Eastern controversies, will find this work of the highest value.
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on May 8, 1998
Treadgold's survey bridges a gap between the enjoyable yet sometimes sloppy work by Norwich and the considerably drier history of Ostrogorsky. He avoids Norwich's foible of sensationalizing Byzantine history, yet manages to tell an intriguing story nonetheless. Highly recommended.
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on January 19, 2005
And, that limit is the eight hundred plus pages of this book. Eight hundred odd pages to cover a thousand plus years of history is a major undertaking. The author weaves a remarkably interesting and almost always coherent narrative moving along at a generally brisk pace. Treadgold does an exceptional job of laying out the history of this vast, varied, and long lived empire. The military, political, and theological matters of importance which are the prime moving forces in the history of Byzantium are well explicated. Economic history, demographics, and epidemiology all make interrelated appearances to the extent that the underlying sources provide information and space permits. And, as space permits is the problem here. Treadgold promises a history of both the Byzantine state and society.

As has been noted here by other reviewers, it is the history of Byzantine society that draws the short stick. Another thousand or so pages and Treadgold might have been able to deliver the all inclusive history that his title promised. The sources are certainly available to render the complex social and intellectual history of Byzantium vividly for broad sections of the Empire's existence. And, there is the art and architecture of Byzantium which represent towering achievements at various junctures in history but which are cursorily covered here at best. Ultimately, it would appear to this reviewer that the author has his priorities in order. He never wastes space, and the pages of this book are dense with facts and insightful interpretation. There is no filler here.

Therefore, it is possible for this reader to excuse the author's failure to fully deliver on his stated goals. This book is an excellent introduction to the history of the Byzantine Empire for one who is reasonably well read in the general history of the periods covered. Are other interpretations of equal validity available in specific instances regarding Byzantine history? Yes, they are. But that is to quibble over the details. You might wish to consult the works of John Haldon for some alternative points of view. Ultimately, this is the definitive one volume work on Byzantium for the moment and the foreseeable future. We should enjoy it for what it is, and we owe the author a debt of gratitude for a lot of hard work well done. Besides, it will give the interested reader good reason to read another dozen or so books on this remarkable and long lived empire.
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on October 18, 2000
This is a very good text to use, especially for anyone with very little background in the Byzantine empire. However, be warned, the author is a specialist in the Byzantine military, so he does go on in painstaking detail about the military, and not enough about the social and intellectual development of Constantinople. But as I have said, it is well-written and very informative.
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on August 3, 2000
I found the book really thorough, accurate, complete. It's very well written and easily readable. The author succeeds in explaining how the empire survived so long, how its power, its society and its culture depended on economical and demographical factors on which rested the might of the army. Very interesting is the constant attention paid to the army, a chief factor in byzantine history. But the book is not only about economics, demography or the army, it also recognizes the importance of the political and military leaders, their aims, their abilities and their character. The chapters on the development of society are a very usefull tool for understanding byzantine history as a whole. Definitely a good book, comparable to Ostrogorski's work in its ability to recreate an entire world so different from ours. If I may make a suggestion, the author should give more often its opinion, be more direct and, why not, sometimes a little bit more 'passionate'.
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on April 27, 2000
I am a history buff of 30 year's standing, not a professional historian, and narrative history focusing on military and political events, as this book does, is my favorite kind. I felt the book did include a fair amount on social, particularly religous, topics, but wove them into the narrative instead of having separate sections that did not include any narrative at all. The book is written in a matter-of-fact but lively and direct style. It also includes many maps, all well done and useful. In fact, I like this book so much, that I have replaced my original softback copy with a hardback copy. If I want to read about some period in Byzantine history, Treadgold is the book I go to first.
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on May 20, 2005
Treadgold's survey bridges a gap between the enjoyable yet sometimes sloppy work by Norwich and the considerably drier history of Ostrogorsky. He avoids Norwich's foible of sensationalizing Byzantine history, yet manages to tell an intriguing story nonetheless. Highly recommended.
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