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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb work of scholarship.
Either in its original German or in this English translation by Joan Hussey, "History of the Byzantine State" is a standard reference used in other modern historical books on Byzantium; at least two authors I have read openly praise the book in their own bibliographies as the best work on Byzantine history. It is hard to disagree with this assessment,...
Published on September 3, 1998

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where are all the maps?
This book is a well presented overview of the political history of the Byzantine Empire. Therefore, it suffers from the same problems as most other political history books, it fails to take into account important non-political developments. For instance, the Plague of Justinian is not mentioned. One would thing that a sixty percent mortality rate in Constantinople...
Published on June 7, 2007 by Suzanne Murphy


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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb work of scholarship., September 3, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
Either in its original German or in this English translation by Joan Hussey, "History of the Byzantine State" is a standard reference used in other modern historical books on Byzantium; at least two authors I have read openly praise the book in their own bibliographies as the best work on Byzantine history. It is hard to disagree with this assessment, since this tome is really that good and the research which went into it is nothing short of painstaking. George Ostrogorsky introduces his narrative with a thorough overview of the development of Byzantine studies from the sixteenth century onwards, followed by the history of the Empire proper by sections, each of which covers a specific historical period. In addition, each section is prefaced by an excellent bibliographical narrative of Byzantine sources which cover the period in question; these narratives put together provide the reader with a very instructive literary history of Byzantium. Ostrogorsky has a penchant for detail in both the text and the extensive footnotes accompanying it. But let the reader beware: this book is essentially a dry political and military history with some legal, theological, and economic history thrown in for good measure; even the literary history mentioned above limits itself to documents of historiographical value. The author did compensate for the lack of written coverage of the arts and architecture by including nice illustrations of Byzantine structures and artwork. Even as this revised edition was published almost 30 years ago, "History of the Byzantine State" remains a much-revered classic among Byzantinists.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, October 15, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
George Ostrogorsky's book covers all Byzantine history from Diocletian and Constantine to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It is, moreover, intelligible and useful to the nonspecialist with only a broad historical background. Its particular value is that it imparts an understanding of the *process* of Byzantine history, especially in three key periods. First, the transformation of the decrepit East Roman Empire to a viable state able to withstand great adversities and heavy defeats. Second, the reinvigoration of that state after the iconoclast crisis and its rise to great power. Finally, the unintentionally suicidal policies adopted after the death of Basil II, which led to the breaking of Byzantium's back only fifty years later. Ostrogorsky's copious footnotes - happily, not endnotes - are especially useful because they cite many arguments and authors with which Ostrogorsky himself disagrees. Thus he provides easy access to views other than his own. There are a few minor irritants in the softcover edition, the absence of most of Ostrogorsky's excellent maps being the main one. There is also some little use of untranslated and untransliterated Greek. But neither deficiency adversely affects the book's overall value.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thousand Years of History in one concise book, September 5, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
Ostrogorsky's History of the Byzantine State is an excellent book for the scholar, as well as the interested reader to use for any understanding of the history of the Byzantine Empire. Well written, concise, and thoroughly interesting, Ostrogorsky depicts the transition of a multi-cultural Late Roman Empire, to a smaller but more centralized and powerful Byzantine State, that became the cultural Renaissance for Eastern Europe and the Near East. Anyone wishing to expand his/her knowledge on this important time in history will not be disappointed to read this work
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good survey, October 28, 2002
This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
Ostrogorsky has put together a good single-volume survey of the thousand years of Byzantium. The tale begins, standardly, with Diocletian and Constantine, and ends with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. He takes an omniscient view of Byzantium, focusing neither on the lives and deeds of the Emperors nor the cultural and religious developments, but telling a well-balanced narrative. In that it serves as a useful introduction. However, Ostrogorsky writes without any passion, and fails to humanize the major figures. There are, though, several excellent maps that put others to shame. In all, the book is worth owning for the factual narrative and great maps. If you are looking for an impassioned and entertaining story you should pick up John Julius Norwich instead.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic. Still the Gold Standard for Byzantine History., June 3, 2010
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This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
"Roman political concepts, Greek culture, and the Christian faith were the main elements which determined Byzantine development. Without all three the Byzantine way of life would have been inconceivable. It was the integration of Hellenistic culture and the Christian religion within the Roman imperial framework that gave rise to that historical phenomenon which we know as the Byzantine Empire." Thus begins the first paragraph of George Ostrogorsky's masterful narrative of Byzantine history. As this quotation demonstrates, Ostrogorsky's writing is a model of erudition, clarity, and efficiency. It would be hard to improve the quality of his prose, and he maintains this level of scholarship throughout the 500+ pages of main text. But the writing has a natural fluidity which carries the reader along rather effortlessly throughout the full span of East Roman/Byzantine history, from 284 A.D. (rise of Emperor Diocletian) to 1453 A.D. (fall of Constantinople to the Turks). Ostrogorsky gives this inherently rich and fascinating material the virtuoso treatment it deserves, and the reader is rewarded on every page by Ostrogorsky's efforts.
Of course, readers of this English translation from the original German of the 3rd edition (1963) of Ostrogorsky's "History of the Byzantine State" owe an immense debt to Professor Joan M. Hussey, whose rendering of the German into English is a masterpiece in its own right. Moreover, through the collaboration of Professors Ostrogorsky and Hussey, the truly extensive references and footnotes have been brought up to date from the 1940 German 1st ed. to the 1967 time-frame of Hussey's 2nd English edition presented here. Of course, in the intervening 40+ years a veritable explosion in the fields of Late Antique and Byzantine studies has taken place, but Ostrogorky's mastery of the original sources, and the German, French, Italian, English, and Slavic secondary literature will not soon be replicated.
"History of the Byzantine State" is a delight to read, and is divided into 8 main chapters. These chapters are respectively subdivided into numbered sections, and both chapters and sections are clearly titled, so that the breadth of Byzantine History is clear through a glance at the Table of Contents.
Other reviewers have complained that Ostrogorsky's writing is dry and lacks a "human touch." I found the opposite to be the case: "History of the Byzantine State" has a cogency and beauty of style, and is a model of articulate scholarship. And with such rich material as the myriad colorful historical human figures and locales which populate Byzantine history, it would be difficult to render this history in a boring fashion. Ostrogorsky's emphasis is the political narrative, but he does not ignore social and cultural aspects of Byzantium, and upon finishing his book the reader has a sense of a complete picture of Byzantine history and civilization. In the paperback version now standard the maps are incomplete, but this is easily remedied by consulting an historical atlas or the Internet.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Study of Byanantine Political Economy, March 27, 2007
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A reader (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
Ostrogorski's History of the Byzantine State does a great job describing the relationship between the state, the civil and military aristoracy and small holders.

He starts this theme during the early tenth century and carries it forward to the end of the book. It is a story of how the state becomes less and less able to defend itself against the aristocracy.

While other writers speak of Ostrogorski's lack of passion about Byzantium's last centuries, this is also an advantage because it allows him to focus on political and military causes of the Empire's decline after 1025.

A few years ago I read Vassliev's two volume book on Byzantium and enjoyed it very much. In particular, those looking for a lengthy discussions of culture would do better with Vassilev.

But it was only after reading Ostrogoski that I got a clear understanding of the political change after the death of Basil II (and the role of Psellus in them), the wars against Michael VIII after the recapture of Constantinople in 1261 and fourteenth century civil wars.

In addition, this is a very well written book. In particular, Ostrogoski does a great job of starting his paragraphs with short, pithy topic sentences. He is also very good at drawing broad comparisons across Byzantine history (Vassilev, by contrast, tends to get caught up in details).

In sum, while I am glad I read Vassilev first, Ostrogoski's book has given me a much stronger sense of the outlines of Byznatine history.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where are all the maps?, June 7, 2007
This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
This book is a well presented overview of the political history of the Byzantine Empire. Therefore, it suffers from the same problems as most other political history books, it fails to take into account important non-political developments. For instance, the Plague of Justinian is not mentioned. One would thing that a sixty percent mortality rate in Constantinople would earn at least a passing glance. However, the author/publishers are not responsible for the woeful inadquecies of political history. The problem with the book lies in the bizarre lack of maps. (I have the Rutgers University Press, Fourth Paperback Printing, 1995.) There are only two maps (p. 289 and 521). They are both of the Balkans. There is not a single map of Anatolia in the entire book. Why would anyone publish a book in English for a western audience on the Byzantine Empire and not include a single map of Anatolia?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting, August 19, 2013
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This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
I leaned a lot about where the Russians got their orthodox religion, and also how the Eastern Roman state was using different tactics to survive for more than 1000 years. It is really amazing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic work, December 19, 2012
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This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
Recommended for anyone serious about understanding the Byzantine Empire in depth. A richly detailed examination of of both the topic and its historiography.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Detailed, but, April 22, 2013
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This review is from: History of the Byzantine State (Paperback)
Very detailed from before to the fall of the Empire to the Ottomans. Very helpful, but lacking a great deal that period specific or person specific books will cover. Not the fault of the writer as he accomplished what he set out to do-a very good history of the entire period of the Byzantine Empire. This he did with emphasis on the Emperors and the Patriarchs. While I gained a great deal, I know that I will have to read specific books about specific periods to gain more knowledge.
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History of the Byzantine State
History of the Byzantine State by Georgije Ostrogorski (Paperback - October 1, 1986)
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