A Short History of Byzantium
John Julius Norwich
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"Norwich is always on the lookout for the small but revealing details. . . . All of this he recounts in a style that consistently entertains."
--The New York Times Book Review
In this magisterial adaptation of his epic three-volume history of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich chronicles the world's longest-lived Christian empire. Beginning with Constantine the Great, who in a.d. 330 made Christianity the religion of his realm and then transferred its capital to the city that would bear his name, Norwich follows the course of eleven centuries of Byzantine statecraft and warfare, politics and theology, manners and art.
In the pages of A Short History of Byzantium we encounter mystics and philosophers, eunuchs and barbarians, and rulers of fantastic erudition, piety, and degeneracy. We enter the life of an empire that could create some of the world's most transcendent religious art and then destroy it in the convulsions of fanaticism. Stylishly written and overflowing with drama, pathos, and wit, here is a matchless account of a lost civilization and its magnificent cultural legacy.
"Strange and fascinating . . . filled with drollery and horror."
conquests, and before long it had shrunk to the immediate surroundings of the ruined and ravaged city. The only wonder is that it lasted as long as it did. Of its seven rulers, not one made the slightest attempt to understand his Greek subjects, let alone to learn their language. Meanwhile its knights trickled back to the West, its allies turned away, its treasury lay empty. And its fall was, if anything, even more ignominious than its beginning – overpowered by a handful of soldiers in a single
more serious still: a census of all able-bodied men in the city, including monks and clerics, capable of manning the walls, amounted to just 4,983 Greeks and rather less than two thousand foreigners. To defend fourteen miles of wall against Mehmet's army of a hundred thousand, Constantine could muster less than seven thousand men. By the morning of 6 April most of the defenders were in their places, the Emperor and Giustiniani in command of the most vulnerable section, crossing the valley of the
Regents; and when Justin died in 578 Tiberius was his uncontested successor. He had not had an easy Regency. The Turks – now making their first appearance in Western history had seized a Byzantine stronghold in the Crimea; and in 577 a vast horde of Slavs – perhaps a hundred thousand – had poured into Thrace and Illyricum. A still more immediate problem was that of Sophia herself. Increasingly reluctant to share her authority with Tiberius, she insisted on personally holding the keys of the
was next thrown into a prison where he was beaten and two of his teeth were knocked out. He was then transferred to Lesbos, whence six months later he was allowed to return to his monastery. Now it was the turn of the Russians. Those who had continued into the Marmara fell on Terebinthos, plundering the monastic buildings and killing no fewer than twenty-two monks. Ignatius himself barely escaped with his life. This last catastrophe was widely interpreted as a further sign of divine displeasure;
once again, subjected to further repeated beatings, starved for a fortnight and incarcerated in the Church of the Holy Apostles, where he had been stretched across the desecrated sarcophagus of the arch-iconoclast Constantine V, with heavy stones tied to his ankles. Finally, when he was barely conscious, a pen had been thrust into his hand and guided to form a signature, above which Photius had himself written an act of abdication. Despite the obvious wild exaggerations, the Pope hesitated no