“Byzantium: The Apogee”

John Julius Norwich

Continuing my reading of history, we’ve got Byzantium Part II. (Although, really, Byzantium is Rome 2.) I found this more readable than the previous book, which I suspect has a great deal to do with the fact that this one is covering less ground. One emperor per chapter, roughly, worked well as a way to split things up, though it did occasionally make for strange ends and beginnings of chapters when there was a great deal of action taking place in the changeover. Someone dies and their son assumes the throne with no arguments, perfectly fine; someone is assassinated by their wife and her lover who wants the throne, but wait, maybe there’s someone else who’s going to take the throne, and oh wait the Church has arrived to add some drama… less of a coherent chapter split.

I did at some point realize that I need a bit more visual of this and went to find some maps of the Byzantine Empire at various points in time, which helped; probably should’ve done that before, oh, the second-to-last chapter or so. Hard to visualize the changing borders when I’m not great at geography to start with, and all the names are different because it’s 1,000 years in the past.

Reviewing the empire itself, rather than the book, there’s still a feeling of “1,000 years, three continents, and somehow there’s only 4 first names to go around?” to it. I would not have survived as a history major, I simply cannot deal with the repetition. I’ve also got a great deal of frustration for some of the wondrous things that were built and utterly lost to history; there’s a description in the book of a throne room full of mechanical animals that I would love to see, but alas, we have yet to invent a time machine that would allow that. Science should really get on that.

Overall, this was a much nicer read than the first book, and I may actually jump right into the third as a result; I didn’t end the book feeling like I’m still interest yet need a break. So hey, this time, I’ll go ahead and recommend that you check it out.1

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.

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