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A Short History of Byzanz

2003-06-29 2 min read Books marco

Midway through the abbreviated version of the history of Byzanz. The author started out with a three volume history that he had to abridge for the general public – and since I am general public, that’s what I chose to read.
First things first: the history of Byzanz itself is immensely fascinating. We are talking about an empire that understands itself as the SOLE successor of Rome (with a certain appropriateness), but is actually not a real power player. Instead of expanding and conquering, this empire never reached the size and power of its predecessor. Instead, it started shrinking early on, besieged as it was by enemies on all frontiers. Still it managed to thrive and survive for over thousand years, almost beating its forebear.
This said, the book is clearly an abridged version of a much more thorough oeuvre. The casual museum stroll that is so typical of history books feels like on fast-forward, and what would otherwise be an endless recount of things and events, with footnotes sprinkled left and right to make the reader feel appropriately bored, turns into a fast-paced, exhilarating experience.
Style: maybe it’s the morbid nature of (at least this) man, but the hints to the disgusting tortures, unspeakable depravities and incredible religious finickiness in the face of overpowering forces are amazing. I am sure if there were a mini-series on the Eastern Empire, not one episode would be boring.
It stands to be asked what part of this amazement is an accomplishment of the author. Regardless, he is able to bring a dead world alive, and to make it feel real. An incredible achievement, considering how little we care any more about Byzanz, Constantinople and all that happened there until it became Istanbul.
Must read for anyone that thinks history needs to be boring.