cover image Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Judith Herrin, . . Princeton Univ., $27.95 (391pp) ISBN 978-0-691-13151-1

Offering a brilliant study of the history of the Byzantine empire, Herrin—whose groundbreaking The Formation of Christendom challenged traditional views on the development of Christianity—draws a similarly original portrait of a tradition-based yet dynamic empire that protected Christianity by checking the westward expansion of Islam. Herrin progresses in lively fashion, chronicling the 1,000-year history of Byzantium from its rise in A.D. 306 to its demise at the hands of the Ottomans. Along the way, Herrin, a professor at King’s College, London, introduces an astonishing cast of characters, such as the empire’s first leader, Constantine I; religious leaders such as Patriarch Photios; and Anna Komnene, the great 12th-century historian whose Odyssey -like epic, the Alexiad , celebrated the 37-year reign of her father, Alexios I. Drawing on letters, journals and other primary documents from both political figures and ordinary citizens, Herrin splendidly recreates an empire whose religious art, educational curriculum, tax and legal systems, and coronation rituals preserved the best of the empire’s pre-Christian Greek past while at the same time passing along advances to the rest of the world. Herrin’s history is hands-down the finest introduction to Byzantium and its continuing significance for world history. 8 color illus.; 16 b&w illus.; maps. (Feb.)