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Chronicles of Byzantium?

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Gordopolis
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Chronicles of Byzantium?

Post by Gordopolis » Sun May 8th, 2011, 10:42 am

I'm a big fan of Byzantium from the dusk and collapse of the Roman Empire through to the demise in 1453, and I just wanted to see who else out there has read good works on this period?

I've read this trio of John Julius Norwich's books:

Byzantium: the early centuries
Byzantium: the apogee
Byzantium: Decline and fall

...if you're looking for an end to end picture of Byzantium, from the late Eastern Roman Empire through to the fall of the capital in 1453, this trilogy is immense, packed with facts but written with a colourful narrative at times. Certainly, the description of one emperor's demise (eyes gouged out with a spoon) has stuck with me for the four or so years since I read it!

Another gem is:
Constantinople: the last great seige, 1453, by Roger Crowley

...it paints the picture of desperation that was Constantinople as it clung onto the lost glory of the past despite the empire being reduced to the decaying hulk of the capital itself. The description of Emperor Palaeologus fighting alongside the peasants on the city walls is as evocative an image as I can remember.


So, has anyone else read these or have recommendations for other works on this subject?

Cheers :)
Gordopolis
Last edited by Gordopolis on Wed May 11th, 2011, 2:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun May 8th, 2011, 1:32 pm

Haven'te read those, but then Byzantium isn't one of my specialty areas. I did read Lawhead's fiction titled Byzantium and enjoyed it very much -- he spins a busy yarn.

And I chewed through Gibbon's pompous work years ago. Whatever I got from it merged with general knowledge, and the only specific thing I remember is that I disliked the author thoroughly before the end.

The teaching company has a lecture series on Byzantium I have recently listened to. I passed it on to my daughter, who will be going to Istanbul this August.

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Post by Ash » Sun May 8th, 2011, 1:55 pm

I absolutely love this time period, but haven't found all that much HF to read about it. Jill Paton Walsh has a YA book called the Emperor's Winding Sheet, about the siege of Constantinople which is quite good. I just finished Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, which is a different world based on Byzantium under Justinian and Theodora. I've looked at the Norwich books before but they seem daunting for some reason. Should try again I think.
Last edited by Ash on Sun May 8th, 2011, 1:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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parthianbow
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Post by parthianbow » Sun May 8th, 2011, 2:21 pm

I too love this period, although I haven't read any of the books you mention, Gordopolis. More to buy. Sigh!

Siege by Jack Hight (2010) is about the siege of Constantinople, and seems to have pretty good reviews on Amazon. It's another book I want to read...
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Post by fljustice » Sun May 8th, 2011, 3:51 pm

I've spent a lot of time in Late Antiquity/Early Byzantium (metaphorically) because that time of change and flux fascinates me and the 5C is the setting of all my novels (so far.) I have read Norwich's Byzantium: The Early Years but not the later ones. Here's a collection of NF from my personal research library:

The Byzantine Empire by Robert Browning
A History of the Byzantine State and Society by Warren Treadgold
Everyday Life by Byzantium by Tamara Talbot Rice
What Life was Like Amid Splendor and Intrigue: Byzantine Empire AD 330-1453 from Time Life Books
Byzantine Magic edited by Henry Maguire

Of course I have a lots of other books on Late Antiquity with overlap the time periods, plus dozens on the barbarian invasions and kingdoms that set up in the West while the East evolved into Byzantium.

Haven't read much fiction set in this era: Byzantium that MLE mentioned, a book long ago about Justinian and Belisarius. Most are set later than my books.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
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Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun May 8th, 2011, 6:22 pm

As long as we are on the topic, I read a book in my teens about the fall of Byzantium and I can remember much of it, but not the title or the author. There was a play about 'boots of purple' (meaning being born into royalty) and at the end, the protagonist's feet were covered with his own blood, and that was mockingly referred to as 'purple boots' by the conqueror.

Anybody know the title?

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Post by annis » Sun May 8th, 2011, 7:15 pm

It wasn't Mika Waltari's Dark Angel, was it? It's so long since I read it that I can't remember if it had the bloodstained feet in it, unfortunately.

Darn, I'm sure I've got a copy of Dark Angel somewhere in this house, but do you think I can find it! Waltari was inspired to write his novel in diary form by the diary of Niccolo Barbaro, a Venetian surgeon whose eyewitness account of the Fall of Constantinople is the best we have.

There's a old Time review of DA here, which might bring it to mind if it was the book you're thinking of.
Last edited by annis on Sun May 8th, 2011, 7:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun May 8th, 2011, 9:45 pm

Yes, that is it, thanks Annis! I might go for a re-read, it was quite gripping. Waltari rarely disappointed me when I was young -- haven't re-read one of his for forty years, I wonder how he would hold up now?

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Post by annis » Mon May 9th, 2011, 8:43 am

It would be interesting to re-read Dark Angel (assuming I ever find the copy lurking somewhere on my bookshelves :) ). It might be a bit old-fashioned in style now. What I do recall of it is plenty of drama and atmosphere, with striking, almost cinematic detail. It's funny what fragments stay in your memory from a novel. I have a clear picture of a scene where dignitaries of the Eastern Church are frothing at the mouth over the Emperor's attempts at conciliation with the Western Church in hopes of saving the city, furiously hissing "Better the Muslim's turban than the Pontiff's tiara,", or something along those lines. It absolutely captured the sort of blind bigotry that would rather see its own destruction than accept any reasonable compromise.

Waltari wrote a prequel called Nuori Johannes (Young John), but unfortunately it was never published in English. It covers the main character's life leading up to his decision to return to Constantinople even in the knowledge that it is doomed.

Updated to say that I did track down my copy of Dark Angel, and was impressed by how well it stood up after all this time. I posted a review here:
http://www.historicalfictiononline.com/ ... php?t=4757
Last edited by annis on Wed August 3rd, 2011, 3:14 am, edited 3 times in total.

Greg
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The Glory that was Byzantium

Post by Greg » Mon May 9th, 2011, 11:04 am

To Gordopolis
I am also a long time devotee to the glories of the Byzantines, in fact my first novel was going to be set around the 5th century and the perils facing the successor empire. However life intruded on grand plans. Instead here I am in the age of the Tudors. Oh well…
I do however have a few suggestions for both source books and references
Ostrogorsky- History of the Byzantine StateDiehl Byzantium- Greatness and Decline
Hetherington -Byzantine and Medieval Greece
Treadgold is extremely comprehensive
While for military information Hadden is usually good but a little poor on practicality
David Nicolle is mostly sound with only a few errors in his military equipmwnt and organisation.
Luttwak’s The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire while considered by some a classic I found incorrect on a number of basic fundamentals of Roman organisation and strategy. Those errors I feel made his study a lot less comprehensive than he claimed.
I suspect his latest work on Byzantine strategy has similar serious flaws.
Arthur Ferrill in The Fall of the Roman Empire I thought made a very credible argument for a different approach to the problems and responses to both internal and external threats.
On later Byzantium; Phillips, Harris and Madden all claim to be the contemporary field leaders, however overall I found their research and conclusions overall not very impressive. In the case of each they tended to base the theme of their current works on the shaky foundations of assertion and the statements of dare I say it medieval Papal propaganda quoted as fact.
Anyway I’ll stop there, before I become overwrought. For novels Turtledove uses byzantine themes in most of his fantasy work, the Videssos cycle in particular and as Turtletaub he written a book on Justinian. Robert Graves also wrote on Belisarius while I remember coming across a novel some OMG thirty five years ago about the first Comnena Emperor Alexius. If no one has mentioned it yet Procopius is an excellent source as is Anna Comnena The Alexiad.
I like the start of you book Legionary and really do wish you the best of luck with it.
Regards Greg

The Liberties of London A Red Ned Tudor Mystery now available from Amazon Kindle
http://www.amazon.com/Liberties-London- ... 689&sr=1-1

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