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Belisarius: The First Shall Be Last Paperback – December 15, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


Belisarius is a highly idealized hero in this fictionalized biography that covers his early years. He's a crack archer and well-educated strategist who knows his history and his Bible equally well. He is principled, pious, and constantly perky with good humor and a self-driven whistle-while-you-work attitude....

The book strikes one as a conservative rallying cry to the Christian West today....It presents and argues for, in an understated way, a Christian way of war, to be waged by manly men who value purity and patriotism for the sake of preserving Christian civilization. Nobiscum Deus, they cry in battle. So does the book.

Not that the book deliberately carries a political message. On its own terms, it is an ambitious tale, filled with action, spectacle, and intrigues of all kinds, both in the Byzantine courts and Persian palace. It is painstakingly authentic in its historical, military, and religious detail, assiduously researched and replete with facts. Sometimes it can't resist giving a lesson (though this is why some people read historical novels in the first place).

Belisarius piety is strictly orthodox that is, Catholic, yet this is never overdone in way that would alienate Protestant readers, given the subtle references to presbyters rather than priests, or the Theotokos rather than the Blessed Mother, for example. The book is, even if often gushing in its admiration for the bouncy Belisarius, an absorbing introduction to the turbulent Justinianic period. It is, to be sure, lad lit, given its hearty clap-on-the-back treatment of male camaraderie, especially in battle. The cover gives one the impression that the audience is YA (Young Adult), males especially, and it may well be. Not only is it driven by costumed action and Dune-like plots-within-plots, the novel exalts a youthful leader who is virtuous to a fault, is unfailingly loyal to God and country, who manages setbacks with aplomb, is handy with weapons and gets the pretty girl in the end. ----John J. Desjarlais,

A great new resource for those of you reading your way through history....What I really like about this telling of the story is that it is not a white-washed version of the times, or of Belisarius. His virtue is portrayed sensibly without making him appear overly perfect. He is an appealing character, one the reader sympathizes with and roots for. He is often put in situations that appear impossible; many obstacles from incompetent fellow commanders to conspiring politicians frustrate his purpose. But, while he is not always victorious, he acquits himself well and his honor increases. The author weaves in a great view of the historical time period in Byzantium: the state of the cities, the factions, the movement and assimilation of the barbarians, and the politics of the Empire. The descriptions of the battle scenes are not dry and incomprehensible, but very readable and interesting. The author also includes diagrams of several of the battle formations showing how each side was arrayed and ready to engage. This helped tremendously when trying to visualize the battles., Favorite Resources for Catholic Homeschoolers Blog

Belisarius and his late Roman world are brought to life through Belzoni's masterful blending of fact and fiction. Courageous and brilliant in battle, hardworking and devout in everyday life, young Belisarius comes across as a man whose virtues, inspired by a firm Christian faith, form the background of a novel that will keep the most reluctant of readers turning pages. Young men and those not so young will eagerly await Book II of this projected trilogy. ----John Moorehouse, editor, Catholic Men's Quarterly

About the Author

Paolo A. Belzoni is a writer residing in New Jersey. He has published several works of short fiction and his interests include Roman and Byzantine military history, art, architecture, and archaeology, as well as early Church history. Belisarius: The First Shall Be Last is his first novel.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Arx Pub; 1st edition (December 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1889758787
  • ISBN-13: 978-1889758787
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,480,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Irene Hahn on September 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
Belisarius: The First Shall Be Last by Paolo Belzoni is a first novel and Book I in a trilogy about the famed Byzantine general who briefly expanded the Roman Empire again. The eminent historian Procopius was attached to Belisarius as legal secretary when the latter got his first major command, and the author follows the "Histoy of the Wars" closely, and most likely also the highly libelous "Secret History".

The Persian wars take up much of the story, and military history buffs will enjoy the depictions of the various campaigns and the battle scenes.

Life in Constantinople, at the imperial court, and in the army, is imaginatively handled. Belisarius and most other major characters in the story are well-developed. On the down side, the prose is often awkward, and irksome modern colloquialisms creep in. The book cries out for a good, old-fashioned editor.

The intended readership is Adult/Young Adult.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on May 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
The once invincible Roman Empire has been collapsing from within as much as from the barbarians attacking at the edges. Most citizens regardless of locale feel strongly that the great state is going in the wrong direction with little hope for the future. That changes when war hero Justin is offered the throne and accepts after rejecting the emperor position in the past. His rise from common birth to soldier to leader to emperor brings new hope of a cleansing. His heir nephew Justinian rules the kingdom in Justin's name, but though all know this no one cares as a rebirthing of optimism is everywhere.

Justinian wants real leaders to take charge of the legions not noble connections. Soldiers like Belisarius in Thrace join with a chance to make their mark after learning to fight by defeating looters. He and his friends join Justin's military and quickly become part of the Imperial household guard. With trouble on the eastern flank from the Persians, the competent Belisarius is sent to Constantinople to battle the enemy where he meets his assertive future spouse Antonina. He moves up the ranks as the Persian Wars occupy the eastern legions.

BELISARIUS, Liber 1 of a biographical fiction saga, is a superb Ancient Rome tale that brings to life one of the last great generals of the empire focusing on the Persian Wars; thus the story line reads for the most part as a fictionalization of military history. Told almost exclusively from the Roman perspective especially that of the lead hero; his side in the conflict comes across as honorable while the enemy consists of murderous thugs; to the victors go the fictionalized history books. Although readers will have to overcome the tiny font size, teens and adults will appreciate this spotlight into sixth century Rome at a time when the empire and in some chronicles of the time the world was on the brink of collapse as cultures collide.

Harriet Klausner
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Maureen Wittmann on August 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
I truly enjoy discovering new authors and books. I just finished reading Belisarius: The First Shall Be Last by Paolo A. Belzoni (Kindle version).

In a nutshell, I loved it. This is a great one to read yourself, especially if you like historical fiction. You can also give it to just about any high school student. You could give it to a middle school student but know ahead of time that there are graphic war scenes and it does touch on the fact that some characters, well, lack character. That is to say some of the males are womanizers and some of the females have a past.

However, a book written with only perfect characters is worthless. How do we learn from their mistakes if they don't make them? How do we learn that we too can be heroes if the book's hero is far beyond our grasp?

I have to admit that Belisarius does possess great humility and piety with just a few stumbles. However, he is not without trials. He rises up from a simple farm boy to a great general in the Roman army. He meets failure on the battle field but perseveres and learns from his mistakes. He is met with temptations but stands strong. He is a model for us and for our children that with tenacity, hard work and dedication combined with strong principles you can achieve greatness.

In addition to being a good, uplifting story, Belisarius can be tied into your history studies. The book begins in 504 AD. Throughout the story, the Roman Empire is struggling with the Barbarians on one front and the Persians attacking on another. We follow Belisarius from childhood to manhood and we see how he changes history through his skill and dedication. He is considered by historians to be "The Last of the Romans".

In our homeschool, we'll be studying the Middle Ages in the upcoming school year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Theodore S. Damman on July 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
Belisarius Liber I is a decent read. the author manages to make dry history very entertaining. The author keeps an ugly world at a PG level and disallows boredom. Belzoni portrays even an empathy for the Persians and I like that. He is not a historian with xenophobic intent and that is what really brings my high rating along with the readability. I hope that this book interests young adults in Byzantine history and makes readers sorrowful of the iconoclasm.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alfonso Marin on January 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the 1st book of a trilogy being written by Paolo A.Belzoni. Do no let the cover fool you, it is not as childish as it misleads it to be. I must admit that I wasn't expecting it to be satisfying, but was I in for a surprise.

This is a tale of coming to manhood with ancient warfare, political intrigue at Byzantine court, and a tinge of a romance brewing in the background. I recommend it to all, old and young especially to military buffs.

The main character, Belisarius, is a devout Orthodox Christian, but the book would still appeal to people with other beliefs. Although the book is only 248 pages, the print is smaller than the norm and the pages are used to their fullest capacity.

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