“Byzantium: The Early Centuries”

John Julius Norwich

I’ve realized recently that there’s a whole lot of history that I know basically nothing about. Prior to reading this book, the extent of my knowledge of the Byzantine Empire was “I think it used to be the Roman Empire, and then when the Roman Empire collapsed, part of it stuck around for a while? And then in the last century they renamed Constantinople to Istanbul,” and then after that some confused muttering that reveals I wasn’t even clear on the distinction between the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.

Anyhow, someone mentioned that they were reading this series, and I thought I’d check it out. I’m certainly not a historian, but I can at least be a little better-informed than I’d been previously! Though, honestly, despite this being the first of the trilogy, I feel like I started much too late in the story. Turns out that the successor state to the Roman Empire requires a lot of context on how the Roman Empire works that I, unsurprisingly, also don’t have! So at some point I suppose I’ll go in search of a similar high-level overview of Roman history, backfill more of my knowledge.

Frankly, I don’t expect to retain much of the detail here. This is a few hundred pages covering hundreds of years of history; you can’t get a detailed overview at that density, and thanks to the inability of royalty to have unique names, it’s all a horrific muddle to try to keep track of regardless. I’m fairly certain there was an entire dynasty who never named a child anything that wasn’t a variation of “Justinian” or “Constantine,” and that just seems like a great way to give a kid a complex.

Still, I’ve got a bit more high-level overview, which is what I wanted going in. At some point, I’ll dive back in and pick up the second of the trilogy, but at least for the moment, I think I need to give my brain a break and go read something with a lot fewer facts… and a lot fewer horrific slaughters. I don’t recommend against this book, but… maybe see if your local library has a copy, rather than trying to buy it.

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