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Byzantine Matters Hardcover – April 6, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Byzantine Matters is a fighting book. It may well be that the title was chosen to echo Cornel West's Race Matters. In a more restrained and academic vein than West--but with no less tenacity--Cameron points to an injustice: the absence of Byzantium from the historical consciousness of Western Europe. . . . Seen from the mean streets of university and state policies in the United Kingdom, Cameron's book makes depressing reading. But seen as a program for Byzantine studies in themselves, it is a crackling description of an intellectual trajectory."--Peter Brown, New York Review of Books

"No one has written about the history and culture of Byzantium with such luminous intelligence as Averil Cameron."--Peter Thornemann, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a robust, insider critique of the field by an important and highly influential scholar with a formidable international reputation. . . . Four elegant chapters, dealing in turn with empire, identity, visual culture and religion, demonstrate with clarity and economy the extent to which too much recent work on Byzantium continues to wall itself off from new lines of inquiry. . . . Cameron's feisty and provocative manifesto should immediately be placed under every Byzantinist's pillow."--Christopher Kelly, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a must-read for anyone studying Byzantium. . . . [I]t will be very useful to students and enthusiasts of the empire, as well as medievalists and late antiquarians."--Library Journal

"Byzantine Matters is a deceptively small and slight volume in appearance, but it is a book on a mission. Taking five interlocking themes, it sets out to do nothing less than make its readers realise why Byzantium is not something long ago and far away but something that should matter to us all. . . . I, for one, as a feminist scholar working on Byzantine women, have gained and learnt a huge amount from her and her work."--Liz James, Anglo-Hellenic Review

"[A]ttractively produced. . . . [A] more distinctive book, accessible but also directed at the field itself."--Shaun Tougher, History Today

"Cameron makes her case, as one would expect, with eloquence, insight, erudition and power. There is a great deal in what she argues."--Peter N. Bell, Acta Classica

"I found the subject fascinating and Professor Cameron's arguments most persuasive. It has certainly inspired me to investigate the subject and to try to read some of the introductory texts recommended by her."--Rosemary Conely, Open History

"Not everyone will agree with the judgments in this brief but stimulating book, but it provides perfect reading for societies, programs, and departments seeking to join the conversation about Byzantine matters."--Derek Krueger, Project Muse

"It is a book about academics for academics, and valuable for the huge range of up-to-the minute secondary literature that the author takes on board."--Paul Magdalino, Speculum

"This little book provides much to reflect and ponder on. It is an impassioned manifesto aimed at the field (pointing to future research directions) but also beyond, a cry for Byzantium to be better understood and appreciated."--Shaun Tougher, Histos

"It is that rare gem, a profoundly learned book that may be read by the interested amateur in an evening."--Benjamin Garstad, Sixteenth Century Journal

From the Back Cover

"Tackling some of the most controversial issues posed by the millennial history of Byzantium, Averil Cameron boldly confronts questions of identity, ethnicity, and continuity of language and religious practice, as well as notoriously difficult topics such as Hellenism and Orthodoxy. Through a comparative analysis of interpretations and cultural attitudes, she demonstrates both the indisputable significance of Byzantium in the medieval world and its continuing importance today."--Judith Herrin, author of Margins and Metropolis and Unrivalled Influence

"In this brilliant and remarkably refreshing book, one of the most distinguished living Byzantinists describes what has changed and what still needs to change in our approach to Byzantium. Personal, direct, and written with extraordinary acuity, Byzantine Matters will be essential reading for all those interested in the future of classical, medieval, and Byzantine studies."--Peter Sarris, author of Empires of Faith: The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam, 500-700

"This is a wonderful sequence of reflections from a sophisticated scholar."--Paul Stephenson, author of Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (April 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691157634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691157634
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Even before opening it, this book is a delight. Just as with icons, the aesthetics of the object signifies the pleasure of the intellectual journey ahead. The unusual format is attractive, the cover image intriguing, and the paper weight pleasing under the fingers. A special thanks to the publisher.

Byzantium matters: in this short (and not always easily decrypted) text, the civilization that was Byzantium comes to life in all its complexity. To me, a neophyte, this has been a journey of discovery, and of shedding prejudices, of reminding oneself of how much history has to offer, if we shed our prejudices, and study it with both a heart and a uncluttered mind.

This book is not a history of Byzantium (though the bibliography reveals many worthwhile works). It raises matters connected with historiography of the empire: why has it been “absent” from mainstream history? Was it an “empire”? What was its connection to Hellenism? How should we approach icons and Byzantine art? Finally: was there a “orthodoxy? To all these questions the author suggests startling points of view for further research. Nothing is wrong, though not everything is easy, for the author speaks often to the initiates, though kindly taking the time to explain certain controversies to outsiders.

It may be prejudice, but I have gleaned from the bibliographgy that there is a strong presence of women historians in the field of Byzantine studies. This reminds me of an area of biological research, which had been “outsourced” to a woman, because the bacterium was not considered glamorous. She stuck with it and in so doing revolutionized the field, to the dismay of her patronizing male colleagues.
Many of the historical questions that are fashionable today, I suspect, have been treated in Byzantine studies early, and in depth. This book is worthwhile detour, from which better to understand the discipline as well as the subject area.
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Anglo Saxon tourists move East – Avril Cameron on Byzantium

The Byzantine Empire (325-1453 by traditional dating) presents the Western European historian with a series of anomalies that both confuse and intrigue. That the Byzantium somehow continued the Classical Western heritage through its preservation of what is known as “Classical Greek Literature and Philosophy” and (originally Latin)” Roman law” assures one that it is a vital part of “Western” history. Unfortunately Byzantium also dissuades the observer from a narrow view of the “West” as Western Europe by its religious, artistic and political development. The safe familiarity of a Latin and Latinized Germanic world disappear both in Byzantine History and the scholarship devoted to its study.

Avril Cameron presents a fascinating series of essays on Byzantium from the standpoint of modern British Byzantine Scholarship. Her contributions to the field are detailed and well researched from a Western European perspective. What is missing is any feeling of closeness to the monumental output of Byzantine Studies originating in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Caucasus. It is like exploring inorganic chemistry without reference to quantum physics. It is not possible to study Byzantium without gaining some familiarity with the Slavic, Semitic, Caucasian, Iranian and Altaic worlds.

Byzantium gains its importance from this broad interconnection with numerous cultures, most of which are not Western European. While Byzantium played a role in Western European history, it was a diminished one. Byzantine matters because of its pivotal historic interactions with Slavic, Semitic, Altaic, Iranian and Caucasian cultures.
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If you are looking for a history of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, this little book (a little over 100 pages of actual text) is not it. Rather it is about historiographic questions concerning the interpretation of the Byzantine Empire. The author is clearly an expert in her field, having taught and is now retired from the subject at universities in England. I am now reading her subsequent book, The Byzantines (in which she addresses some of the questions raised in Byzantine Matters) and find it more directed toward the grand sweep of Byzantine history. Had I known better the content of "Byzantine Matters", I would not have bought the book. However it prepared me better for reading her subsequent book, "The Byzantines", which I am thoroughly enjoying.
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Misunderstanding of the importance, some would say of the ignorance, of Byzantium in the West and of the significance of the eastern part of the Roman Empire is well argued in this book. The style is clear and the content well referenced. Importantly the book clearly shows the cultural and historical importance of Byzantium to European civilization. While the rest of Europe experienced the 'dark ages' Byzantium flourished.
One might have expected a more detailed discussion of the development of Christian thought in the two parts of the Roman empire, the West being influenced by Roman Law and the East by Greek philosophy. But the book’s intent, achieved remarkably well, is to provide a short overview of an empire that lasted for over a thousand years. I congratulate Averil Cameron and hope this is a forerunner to more books in English exploring Byzantine matters.
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