Customer Reviews: Byzantium: The Lost Empire
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on July 5, 2000
Byzantium, Volume 1, brings to life an empire that, while seemingly distant, is very closely linked to the evolution of Western Civilization. The first part of a two video set, containing two 50 minute segments first aired on The Learning Channel, Volume 1 traces the growth of the first Christian empire, one that lasted for over a thousand years. Volume 2 traces the maturity and decline of Byzantium through its conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. John Romer, the author and on-screen guide for the series, breathes life into the city and the powerful ideas that made the Byzantium a thriving cultural and commercial center while western Europe was slogging through the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages. At its height, Byzantium housed the most precious Christian relics, including a piece of Christ's cross. Located on the border of Europe and Asia, it ruled an empire that extended across Asia Minor and the Balkans. Then, after the rise of Islam, the empire shrank until little was left outside the city walls. Byzantium turned to Europe for help in fighting the infidels, only to have its own city sacked by the Crusaders whose help it sought. Venice, its erstwhile trading partner, carried off many of its artistic masterpieces. The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Christian church, became Istanbul's most famous mosque. And the scholars who had kept alive the study of Greek for more than a millennium fled to Europe where they helped lay the groundwork for the Renaissance. Byzantium, the video, takes us on a visually sumptuous journey to key locations throughout the empire, while putting a human face on the key actors in the history of this unique and vital empire. I never suspected I would find this story as compelling as it turned out to be.
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on May 17, 2002
Many Americans know little of any history, even their own. And what little they know of world history is mostly caricature. This series of four videos goes a long way toward helping to explain one of the least known of world histories, that of Byzantium. John Romer does a super job of putting the long history of Byzantium into some kind of context for us. The concept that the Roman Empire did not "fall" but survived in the East until the 15th century may be astonishing to most of us, but so it was. Romer also deals fairly with the sack of Byzantium by the Crusaders in 1204 (as opposed to the vitriolic treatment given it by Terry Jones in another recent video series). Particularly wonderful is the second episode of the series which deals with the role of icons in Byzantine culture and with the brutal history of Byzantine iconoclasm. The art and architecture of Byzantium forms a large part of the series and with great justice, as a reflection of the society that produced it.
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on October 19, 2007
Many years ago, I rented this series on VHS tapes and enjoyed the presentation tremendously - was waiting for a DVD production and will likely purchase the set - I had absolutely no problem w/ the host of this series and found him quite enthusiastic! With today's modern computer graphics & recreations, the series might certainly be improved, but believe me that this presentation will give you a realistic feeling for the great empire of Byzantium (regardless of how petty one might be in its pronunciation!) - at least rent & then decide!
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on June 1, 2010
Recent negative reviews of John Romer's 1997 documentary series reveal how much documentary film making has changed in the last decade. For those of us who are Romer fans, most of this change has been for the worse. A concentration on historical recreation, flashy CG effects and supplying 'facts', typical of much History Channel product of recent years (predicated as it is on the notion that most watchers suffer from a major attention deficit problem and lack a general historical knowledge, or any ability to use TV as a springboard to further reading), has dumbed down a lot of what is offered. Thus documentary making, with a few notable exceptions, has largely become a niche sub market of the 'Entertainment' industry.

John Romer never treated his audience as idiots or the television medium as necessarily simplistic and trivializing. His treatment of historical subjects is also strongly thematic, especially concerned with the history of ideas, and as such inevitably selective in nature.

So yes, this series could have dealt with Basil the Bulgar Slayer, or the consequences of the Battle of Manzikert, or how to make icons or what Byzantines wore or hundreds of other important or less unimportant events and developments, but its failure to do so is neither here nor there, and does not detract from the excellence of this series. It does not aim at completeness and its organization is on a higher and more ambitious level than providing a simple chronological narrative.

As to those reviewers who find Romer's presentation style annoying, well all I can say, like many others, is that, in my opinion, he is among the best and most natural presenters of this style of documentary, with a lot of humour and warmth, but combined with an uncanny ability to examine ancient artifacts with both an artist's and historian's eye simultaneously: never afraid to use the television camera to examine both form and content.

Hopefully, there will come a time when we will see a new wave of historical documentary makers who, like Romer, see television as something valuable in its own right as an educative tool rather than just more 'factual programming' fodder for cable programming.

For those who enjoy this style of documentary series may I also recommend two of Romer's finest series, recently released by Athena (Acorn) in North America: 'Ancient Lives (1984) and 'Testament' (1988).
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on April 4, 2008
First night I received the DVD set I stayed wathing this 208 min long
documentary till 2 AM in the morning.

Presenter, John Romer, is probably the best presenter of the documentaries I have ever seen on TV. His tells the stories of the greatest cultural and historical value in a lyrical, enaging personal style making you wanting to watch the whole documentary all in one viewing.

Being originally from this broader region, and having a foundation in the material itself I still found the tremendous value and the depth in this documentary. Learning was constant, but it never felt forced or dry.

Interestingly, there were no flashy maps, reenactments, big computer generated effects to "keep you interested". Contrary, at one point in the show John Romer pulls out the Rand McNally map of the Istambul, unfolds it and holding it on the ground, with a marker, draws the expected location of the once standing Imperial Palace.

Now, to answer the question that comsumers as well as Amazon equally care about:

Why should one buy this DVD?

You should do so:

- if you are interested in establishing the cultural and civilizational link between the Ancient Greece, Roman Empire and the Western Societies
of the medieval ages.

- understanding the origins of many essential Christian beliefs, rituals, traditions and symbolisms.

- learn essential historical and archeological facts about the Byzantium

With all that in mind I give this documentary an uncontested, shining 5 stars. I am now up to finding more documentaries with John Romer who is my new favorite TV personality.
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on July 7, 2002
Mr. Romer is a wonderful historical guide and if he had been my history teacher in school I would have learned so much more than I did. He brilliantly illuminates the Byzantine empire and makes it come alive on your screen. The thing which I believe makes all of Mr. Romer's series so enjoyable and enlightening is his own sense of wonder and his ability to communicate that sense of wonder to his audience. That is what makes history (and most other subjects) so enthralling to some people while the majority find it boring and uninteresting. Please continue producing wonderful videos, Mr. Romer, and I will continue to share your sense of wonder with my family! Thanks.
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Koch Vision presents "BYZANTIUM: THE LOST EMPIRE" (1997) (208 mins/Color) (Dolby Digital) --- Centered around the ancient Greek port of Byzantium, then called Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire outlasted the fall of Rome by a thousand years --- A new culture rose to replace the old, sheltering the last vestiges of Western learning during the Dark Ages, thriving off the silk and spice trade from the East, and eventually succumbing to the ruthless advance of the Ottoman Turks --- If you want an excellent survey of Byzantine history done in colorful fashion, this is for you --- This documentary would also be excellent for educators, who are teaching about Roman, or medieval history --- divided into three portions, first dealing with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity and the beginning of the Byzantine Empire --- The second section deals with Byzantine diplomacy and the iconoclastic controversy --- the third and final part explains the decline and fall of Byzantium --- shot in several countries, and beautifully integrates Byzantine history into the realities of the modern world, showing the place of this civilization as part of human civilization in general --- Historian John Romer leads a fascinating journey back in time to discover the wondrous treasures of a fallen and forgotten realm --- John Romer is to be credited not only for his excellent production but also for his joyful enthusiasm for the subject which is most refreshing --- President Harry S Truman was quoted, "The only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know." --- how true, how very true!

Great job by Koch Vision --- looking forward to more high quality titles from the BBC Collection film market --- order your copy now from Amazon or Koch Vision where there are plenty of copies available on DVD, stay tuned once again for top notch releases --- where they are experts in releasing long forgotten films and treasures to the collector.

Total Time: 208 mins on DVD ~ Koch Vision KOCV6472 ~ (8/14/2007)
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on June 23, 2003
John Romer does an excellent job telling the history of Byzantines. His vast knowledge of Roman/Byzantine history was quite evident. His explanation of the Resurrection Icon was the best I have ever seen. I shown it to my students and months later they still remembered. His telling of the fall of the city and the Death of Constantine XI was beautiful, and yet sad. I just wish I could find the icons of Constantine XI dying that John Romer used in the film. All-in-All, a great guide to the Byzantine/Roman Empire
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on June 26, 2005
I've been looking for this documentary for some time. Amazon has it only in VHS. TheLearningChannel(the US cable channel that originally showcased this film) has it on its web site in DVD format as well.

In any format, this is a fascinating and very well developed documentary about the Byzantine Empire that ruled from Constantinople from 337 AD until the Turkish seizure on May 29, 1453. John Romer, the writer and presenter, goes into great detail of the major artisitic, architectual and religious influences, countless empowering and debilitating world events, and personalities that composed the 1,000 year history of the empire. His narration is simple and beautiful at the same time. It's obvious that he has great love and knowledge concerning the Byzantine civilization.

I love the approach of Romer's visiting and pointing out the modern locations while using his narrative abilities to "paint a picture" of how the Byzantines lived and ruled. We're shown the earliest Byzantine books and how they influenced the iconoclastic fervor in 8th century AD (Romer is in the Vatican library extensively), Syrian fortresses that fought the early Arab invasions, Justinian and his wife's mission to revive the ancient Roman ideals by conquest and blood, and how the peasants lived, including their diet, farming products, and manufacturing processes (Romer visits a Syrian ruin and details the process of creating wine in that era).

Too bad there isn't an accompanying web site for anyone interested in futher learning about this great civilization. (This film was released in 1997, and should have had one!) The actual video (both tapes) is close to 4 hours viewing time. This documentary is invaluable to anyone interested in Byzantine history. An absolute gem!
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on April 29, 2005
If one is seeking for an excellent overview of an overlooked part of European History, then you have lucked out. For some reason the West has decided to ignore the Bulwark of Constantinople that protected the West from the forces of the East for over a 1000 years. Maybe because they stabbed the Greeks in the back in 1204. Anyway, Mr. Romer as usual did a wonderful job setting out the history of a great people. I can safely say that its a great film to behold.
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