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A Short History of Byzantium Paperback – December 29, 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679772693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772699
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Byzantine Empire, one of its most eminent students reminds us, lasted "for a total of 1,123 years and 18 days," which is an astonishing duration matched by only a few others. Condensing Norwich's three-volume history, this overview captures the splendor and strangeness of Byzantine rule, marked by family intrigues, constant warfare, political and religious strife, and personal ambition--a "somewhat lurid background," as Norwich modestly declares in passing. Norwich is a master of the telling vignette. In one, he writes of imperial guards made up of "Anglo-Saxons who had left their country in disgust after Hastings and had taken service with Byzantium." Facing a Norman enemy in southern Italy, these Anglo-Saxons exacted terrible vengeance until the Normans rallied under the leadership of a fearless woman, one Sichelgaita, and massacred their enemy. Norwich's book abounds in similarly surprising and absorbing episodes. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA?A condensation of Norwich's three-volume study of the Byzantine Empire. It is the story of a civilization that flourished economically, militarily, and, most importantly, as a center for culture and the arts while the rest of Europe struggled through the Dark and Middle Ages. Despite the empire being the most powerful nation in Europe for over 1000 years, its history reads like a soap opera?with grand intrigue, despotic rulers, madmen, conquests, betrayals, religious schism, crusades, and eventual decline. The book is massive in scope and although every other ruler seems to be named either Constantine, Constantius, or Constans, the book is surprisingly easy to read. Detailed maps; charts showing the lineage of the major personalities; and lists of emperors, sultans, and popes help readers keep track of who was who and where the major events took place. An extensive index makes this book useful as a reference tool.?Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Although this was a great book, I have to get the three volume set now.
Not only has Norwich ventured into the unknown mystique that is Byzantium but does a great job writing a historical narrative at the same time.
R. Ritterman
All in all, this is one of the best history books I've ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in the subject.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 83 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on June 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
An excellent introduction to the Byzantium Empire. Unlike most works written by British historians, this is very readable and not stuffy. Although this book races across 1,000 years of history in about 400 pages, it does an excellent job of synopsis. The record is full of succession struggles, with the losers usually castrated or beheaded. It is amazing how much energy the Byzantines wasted on theological disputes that continually undermined the morale of the empire. Norwich clearly explains these important but complicated theological issues which ultimately shaped Byzantium's destiny. On the military side, Norwich minimizes the impact of the defeat at Manzikert in 1071 and instead stresses that the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders, the depredations of the Catalonian mercenaries and the plague all did more real harm. Norwich could have had more detail on the Byzantine military and finances, both of which were crucial to the rise and decline of this great empire. The political drama of the continuous succession struggles is extremely well-told. Once readers complete this excellent introduction, they will be eager to read the original full-length three volume set.
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Alice Johnson on August 13, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I began reading the Short History of Byzantium but soon became both frustrated and tantalized by the skipping-along-in-history that was necessary in order to condense a three-voume work into one. I have just purchased Volume I and am really enjoying it. I compared some passages between the two versions and found that, as I suspected, a lot of the material that made this history interesting and coherent had been left out in the condensation. It shouldn't take too much longer to read the whole thing, and you'll understand and remember a lot more.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By krebsman VINE VOICE on August 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
A Short History of Byzantium is John Julius Norwich's abridgement of his 3 volume work. He begins his book with an apology for skimming so quickly over the surface and vows that he has left out nothing important (adding that if you want more detail, the three-volume version awaits you). I knew virtually nothing about this fascinating period of history. I found the book extremely informative, as well as quite lively and entertaining, with a fabulous cast of characters. My favorite was the wily Theodora, who rises from sex show performer to Empress of Byzantium. (I also liked it when characters I knew from other contexts made an appearance, such as Charlemagne and Eleanor of Aquitaine.) This book also gave me a much better understanding of such things as the crusades, the complex relationship between the Catholic Church, the Byzantine Church and the Byzantine state; and the rivalry between Venice and Genoa. Just as importantly the book has also made me curious about some other things. I'd really like to know more about the Ottoman Empire after reading A Short History of Byzantium.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By K. Loh on July 22, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If the textbooks used in our school were written in the way A Short History of Byzantium was, history classes would have been more fun for each and everyone of us. Of course, this book is not without its flaws. The fast-paced narration would probably lose your attention for a second or two, but, when you think about the fact that it was a condensed version of a originally large three-volume work, you still have to give credits to the author for his successful attempts in keeping the essence of the whole subject. This book would have no problem serving as a good reference for history classes dealing with western civilization and alike. It also gives a pretty good insight into the theological conflicts during the time of late Roman empire and throughout the Byzantine era. The violent scenes of the early warfare were also well described.
It is not a large book and it does not provide every details you want to know about Byzantium. However, after reading the very last page, you can be sure that you will know a lot more about this christendom, unless you already are a specialist in the study of Byzantine.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Aili on February 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
I've noticed a number of reviewers complaining that this book, A Short History of Byzantium, contains absolutely no analysis. They seem surprised at what the book is: a brief summary of Byzantium. It doesn't claim to be anything else. In the introduction, John Julius Norwich clearly states that it is not an academic work for the purpose of historical analysis. It is a summary of a relatively unknown and overlooked empire in history, written for the purpose of spurring interest in the Byzantine world.

Having defended the purpose of Norwich's work, I still can't give it an wonderful review because of some pronounced internal problems. Such a short summary of over 1100 years naturally feels like the reader is racing through events, and soon the names and controversies blur into one another. For this reason the reader can expect to have an unusually low rate of retention for the information presented in the book. On a better note, the maps and family trees in the front of the book are helpful to keep things straight.

Norwich likes to put in exact dates of events, but often leaves out the year so that you have to stop and do simple math for context. For instance, here is an excerpt of page 134:

"They had captured Alexandria in 818; seven years later, forcibly expelled by the Caliph Mamun, they headed for Crete...Within only two years of the capture of Crete another company of Arabs invaded Sicily..." Of course the math is easy, but it interrupts the reader's flow of thoughts on the content itself.

Furthermore, because Norwich has created a non-academic work, some of his choices for the flow of the story are controversial. The reader must therefore approach the events cautiously.
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