Well, might as well be upfront about it – I didn’t finish this book. i got about half way through.

It is actually a single volume, condensed version of the author’s 3 volumes of the history of Byzantium and I think I would have preferred that. The reason is that the condensing renders the history into a rather repetitive series of political and religious ebbs and flows that become, well, a bit boring.

The writing style is superb, however. But here is a randomly selected paragraph:

“Now at last Theodore could forge his new state, never for a moment doubting that his subjects would be back, sooner or later, in their rightful capital. He followed the old Byzantine pattern in every detail; thus, after his coronation in 1208, there were two Eastern European Emperors and two Patriarchs, the Latin in Constantinople and the Greek in Nicaea, each initially determined to destroy the other. In the following year, Baldwin’s brother and successor Henry of Hainault, swallowing his crusader scruples, concluded a military alliance with the Seljuks, who also saw…….etc etc”.

As you can see, lots of tribal and geographic names – hard to keep track, I am afraid. But some fascinating basic facts emerged even from my feeble reading efforts: without the Byzantine Empire, Europe would probably never have become Christian; hundreds of thousands of people died in battles over theological questions like whether Jesus Christ was all man, all god, or a mix of the two.  As the author notes, these are unanswerable questions. But at the time, they seemed more important than any others.

So, I am glad I had a go at it, but if I really wanted to read the real deal, I would go for the 3 volumes and spend a month at it.

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