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The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire Hardcover – December 1, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0674035195 ISBN-10: 0674035194 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674035194
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674035195
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #806,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire is written with a profound knowledge of the field, a thorough mastery of the sources and secondary literature, and a lively and engaging style that both specialists and general readers will appreciate. (Peter B. Golden, Rutgers University)

Edward Luttwak makes a persuasive, well-documented argument that the Byzantines--given the continuity of their institutions, their sense of a historical mission, and their own manuals on statecraft and warfare--had a coherent strategy that enabled them to preserve an empire shielded by few geographical barriers and surrounded by a host of hostile neighbors. (Eric McGeer, author of Sowing the Dragon's Teeth: Byzantine Warfare in the Tenth Century)

One of America's leading strategic minds...The traditional stereotype of the Byzantine Empire, established by Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has undergone considerable revision of late, thanks to a renaissance of Byzantine studies, to which Edward Luttwak has now made an important contribution. Luttwak had long promised a sequel to Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire covering the Roman Empire in the East from the fourth through the fifteenth centuries, and finally it is here. (Stuart Koehl Weekly Standard 2009-10-28)

This book is good history as well as being an insightful commentary on strategy...American soldiers and diplomats who helped turn enemies into allies in creating the Sunni Awakening in Iraq will recognize and empathize with what the Eastern Romans did for centuries. This is a timely and relevant work...Luttwak does an excellent job of describing the intelligence system of the Eastern empire, from its tactical use of scouting and patrolling to its strategic use of spies and double agents in the courts of its enemies...Luttwak does a great service in giving us a readable account of how the Byzantines managed national-security strategy in a way that should be useful to contemporary soldiers and civilian policymakers. It is also a very good read. (Gary Anderson Washington Times 2009-10-28)

Luttwak tells his story well. He is especially good on fine detail. Whether describing the lethal "composite reflex bow" used by Hun archers or the complex but surprisingly efficient Byzantine tax system, he is both vivid and exact...Though no Hun bows survive, Luttwak's meticulous descriptions convey their deadly efficiency. It is through such details that a modern reader captures some sense of the sheer terror that those ancient raiders inspired. Even on obscure theological matters, such as the wrangles over "monotheletism"--the proposition that Christ had two natures, human and divine, united by a single will--he is refreshingly lucid...Notwithstanding its erudition, this is an impassioned book, and all the better for that...Historically remote as they are, the Byzantines may have something to teach Americans about long-term survival. (Eric Ormsby Wall Street Journal 2009-11-22)

If there's a single overriding lesson for Americans from Byzantium in Luttwak's fine and definitive work, it is that we ought to make use of Byzantine methods so that we may never be in Byzantine straits. (Joshua Trevino New Ledger 2009-12-20)

Nothing Luttwak writes is uninteresting...His ventures into the military history of antiquity and the Middle Ages are unlike the work of academic historians and equally unlike the superficial surveys produced by journalists for the general public. Thanks to his polyglot reading, his many scholarly contacts and his opinionated style, he succeeds wondrously in reaching both specialists and the public...If the practicality of what he suggests is less than obvious in any given contemporary crisis, the historical analysis which has brought him to his conclusions is exciting, challenging and erudite. It is rare and refreshing to find such deep research on a great empire of the past deployed so eloquently for the guidance of the beleaguered governments of the present. (Glen Bowersock London Review of Books 2010-02-11)

When students of grand strategy search the past for lessons, rarely do they look to the Byzantine Empire. Luttwak, who wrote a well-regarded history of the grand strategy of ancient Rome, thinks this is a mistake. In this exhaustive study, he shows how the rulers of the eastern half of the late Roman Empire were the true masters of the craft. Although the Byzantine Empire occupied a more vulnerable geographic position than its western counterpart, it lasted almost 1,000 years longer. Luttwak argues that the Byzantines survived by relying less on brute military power and more on allies, diplomacy, and the containment of their enemies. They were able, he claims, "to generate disproportionate power from whatever military strength could be mustered, by combining it with the art of persuasion, guided by superior information." The book makes this argument through fascinating chapters on religion and statecraft, envoys, dynastic marriages, and the Byzantine art of war, as well as through evocative details about weapons, military tactics, and taxes. Although the Byzantine Empire did not have a foreign minister, intelligence agencies, or theories of "smart power," it certainly acted as if it did. (G. John Ikenberry Foreign Affairs 2010-03-01)

The volume's grand sweep is appealing. It unpicks the hard-nosed considerations underpinning the Byzantine complexities of the strategies that permitted the eastern Empire to outlast its western counterpart by almost a millennium, introducing key diplomatic factors such as Christianity, prestige and marriage, surveying the tradition of Byzantine military analysis, and highlighting the issues at the heart of Byzantine survival. (Michael Whitby Times Literary Supplement 2010-03-12)

About the Author

Edward N. Luttwak is a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

More About the Author

Edward N. Luttwak is senior associate (non-resident) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has served as a consultant to numerous government offices including: the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. He is the author of numerous books and articles including Strategy and Politics, The Endangered American Dream, and Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy.

Customer Reviews

Very recommended if you have any interest in the subject.
M. Barry
The book is very good as it not only outlines the military history of the Byzantine Empire it also collapses the reasons for its eventual defeat.
Tom Munro
One does not need constantly to clutter the text with alternative names or spellings--that is what footnotes are for.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Adam Golba on December 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have previously reviewed Mr. Luttwak's "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire" (which I gave 5 stars) and I can say with all veracity that Mr. Luttwak has truly surpassed his previous book. "The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire" is truly a wonderful book. I personally found chapters eight (Bulghars and Bulgarians, 26 pages) and nine (The Muslim Arabs and Turks, 38 pages) to be especially fascinating. In short, both chapters cover the major events of the players involved. While I realize that one could write entire novels about the interactions of the three states, Mr. Luttwak gives the reader a very good overview of the major events in a modicum amount of pages. For example, in chapter 8, Mr. Luttwak starts with why a Bulgarian state was so dangerous to the Empire, then moves on to the first interactions between the two, and then moves on to the war of 811 (the Empire's failed attempt to extirpate Bulgaria). Finally, it concludes with Emperor Basil's II successful war that destroyed Bulgaria and ensured that "...Byzantine rule was restored from the Adriatic Sea to the Danube for the first time in three centuries" pg 195.

Another point that I believe is interesting is Mr. Luttwak's re-examination of Emperor Justinian I. In spite of all the Justinian bashing that is commonplace in this era; Mr. Luttwak puts forth good arguments that Justinian's ambitions were not acts of megalomania, but rather reasonable goals. Mr. Luttwak believes that it was the unforeseen "Plague of Justinian (also known as the plague of 541-542)" that wrecked Justinian's plans. Indeed, Mr. Luttwak states "...the new biological evidence...compel a reassessment of Justinian and his policies.
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74 of 79 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What can America learn about strategy from a vanished empire whose very name means "devious?" Almost everything, according to "The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire," by Edward Luttwak. A leading strategic theorist and intellectual provocateur, Luttwak's previous writings include the much praised "Strategy: the Logic of War and Peace" and "Coup d'état: A Practical Handbook." Here he brings his keen research and analytical skills to explaining how Byzantium, surrounded by hostile powers that possessed superior natural resources, managed to not only survive but flourish, outlasting the Western Roman Empire by almost 1,000 years.

Yet this work is not an academic exercise - throughout Luttwak offers an implicit roadmap for US decision makers, a plea that they shed their narrow dogmatisms with its search for "the end of history," and replace it with Byzantium's subtle practicality. "The Byzantines knew better. They knew that peace was a temporary interruption of war, that as soon as one enemy was defeated, another would take its place...Even the destruction of the enemy was not a definitive gain, because in the unending war, yesterday's enemy could become the best ally." And as everywhere, their success abroad rested on sound finances at home, Byzantium's advanced tax collecting methods, unmatched at the time, providing the Empire a deep purse.

Practical rules abound. Avoid war at all costs (since war is expensive and even victory's results are unpredictable). Maintain a military as if war could come at any time (which is the most efficient deterrence). Use force prudently. If enemy strategies or techniques prove superior, adopt them, without hesitation. Invest in gathering intelligence. Embrace diplomacy.
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68 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Kirialax on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book has many problems. I'll start with where many books on Byzantium begin: the preface. A large number of books on Byzantium have a preface that describes the transliteration style that the author has chosen. This book does not have that, and that is not a problem, but what is a problem is Luttwak's completely inconsistant methods of transliteration. Terms transliterated in different ways show up on opposite pages, for example. Sometimes multiple transliterations are given when a name or term is first introduced, but that is not a hard and fast rule and it changes at random throughout the book. It also has numerous grammatical errors - mostly missing words and whatnot, but a thorough edit could easily have taken care of this issue. He also uses a lot of modern military vocabulary, which goes somewhat beyond the Byzantine context and simply serves to make the book seem stilted at times.

As for the content, Luttwak is mostly well-read and well-informed and is up to-date with modern Byzantine scholarship, and as such, I expected a lot more from his work. There are a couple of minor details, such as the fall of Syria to the Arabs and the dating of the sea walls of Constantinople where he has simply been forced to go along with one scholar over another, as no consensus exists. My main problem is with his historical method and organization. For a book on grand strategy, I would have hoped that he would have come up with one for the organization of his book, but Luttwak does not. It starts with the Huns and ends with Herakleios in Persia, and is organized more as a series of minor, poorly-directed essays combined into a book. The issue here is that Luttwak does not provide any sort of analysis to his work.
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