Byzantium: The Early Centuries: The Early Centuries Vol 1

by John Julius Norwich

Paperback, 1990



Call number




Penguin Books Ltd (1990), Paperback


'This thrilling book is the first occasion on which early Byzantine history has been rendered both readable and credible' - Independent. 'He is brilliant . . . He writes like the most cultivated modern diplomat attached by a freak of time to the Byzantine court, with intimate knowledge, tactful judgement and a consciousness of the surviving monuments' - Independent. 'Lord Norwich's skill is to communicate . . . the humanity of his subject - the human faces of emperor and priest - and to transmit his own imaginative interest to ourselves . . . Lord Norwich has appeared as a silver-tongued Virgil to guide us through Tartarian regions with the amenity and amusement of a luxury tour' - Sunday Times. 'The reader is conveyed in comfort, as it were in a very superior hovercraft, which glides smoothly over all the unevenness of the ground, to the regular, melodious sound of the author's prose' - Sunday Telegraph.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member vguy
Readable, at times witty, account of the formative years of B. Mais quelle galore! The imperial team dedicate themselves generation upon generation to lechery, avarice, torture and murder spiced up with theological nit-picking. The prize must go to Irene, whom most people that mattered didn't even
Show More
recognise as ruler, given her sex. But she didn't let that hold her back: she arranged for her own son to be blinded (in a lethal manner, so murdered really) since he held different views from her on whether Christ had one, two or a mix of several natures.Few of the emperors appear to have been even slightly competent. Justinian for example, one of the stronger contenders, was viciously jealous of his brilliant general Belisarius, such that he starved him of resources and thus undermined his successes. How does a regime like that last a thousand years?
It's a rollicking read, if hard to follow in detail, especially as the leading names are often the same or similar; "Theo- this and that", "Constan-give or take" recur over the centuries. Makes Hannibal Lektor or Scandi Noir seem pretty tame.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
An utterly fascinating and absorbing book. Norwich writes with a beautiful clarity and conveys his great enthusiasm for his subject with every word.
This history of Constantinople grips the reader from the start, and Norwich guides him through the labyrinthine complex of similar names with
Show More
There are some sumptuous euphemisms [Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine I was "a humble innkeeper's daughter from Bithynia. Some historians have alleged that as a girl she had been one of the supplementary amenities of her father's establishment, regularly available to his clients..."] and pen portraits [Attila the Hun is described as "typical of his race: short, swarthy and snub-nosed, , with tiny beady eyes set in a head too big for his body, and a thin straggling beard"].
It is a sad tale - the inexorable decline from greatness, through decadence, to ignominy is as compelling as it is heartbreaking.
This book is an overwhelming success: while perfectly accessible to a simple country boy such as myself, Norwich never leaves on in doubt about the depth of his scholarliness, nor the extent of his research.
I am very eager to move on to Volume 2!
Show Less
LibraryThing member ElTomaso
Fans of Byzantium will find this an interesting history of the first centuries.
LibraryThing member flmcgough
John Julius Norwich provides in his trilogy an excellent overview of Byzantine civilization. For the general reader looking to get the whole picture, or for the scholar probing into a new field, this book is an excellent introduction. For someone already well acquainted with the Byzantines, this is
Show More
a narrative history, useful for quick consultation but not as deep in any particular subject as you would probably require.
Show Less
LibraryThing member fist
This is a great overview of the first centuries of the Byzantine empire. The writing is clear (unlike other history books, this one never had me mixing up emperors), smooth and insightful. Having always been exposed to the Western-centric view of the alleged end of the Roman empire, I found this
Show More
view from Constantinople very refreshing; I now think it's the only view that truly sheds a light on the barbarian-vs-empire dynamics of these centuries.
The author doesn't shy away from passing moral judgment on the various protagonists. He does it so well that this doesn't disturb at all; in fact I found myself agreeing with him.
I can't wait to read the other volumes of his history of Byzantium.
Show Less
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
JJ Norwich has a good basic book here with enough colour and usable blocks of solid narrative. From Constantine's re-foundation to Irene's precarious rule, it lays down good tracks to follow. If you are reading this at the same time as Judith Herrin's "the Formation of Christendom", I think you'll
Show More
be doing good follow up to Gibbon's majestic account in the Decline and Fall. A good part of your library for quick reference and colourful turns of phrase.
Show Less
LibraryThing member drmaf
This book and the two subsequent volumes are among my favourite pieces of historical writing. Anyone who thinks history is boring should be directed toward's Norwich's books anf these three in particular. Norwich turns what otherwise might seem a long dreary list of emperors overs hundreds of years
Show More
into a rollicking read, full of violence, romance, treachery, religious fanaticism and heartbreaking tragedy. I had hardly any knowledge of the Byzantine Empire before I read this, now I'm imbued with a great sense of loss as a magnificent culture of art, literature and architecture was lost to us in 1453 when Constantinople finally fell to the Turks. In a way its as great a loss for the world as the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, although at least some of its great monuments still survive, such as the Hagia Sophia. A terriffic read, I have read all 3 volumes a number of times and never tire of them. Highly recommended.
Show Less


Original publication date


Physical description

408 p.; 7.7 inches


0140114475 / 9780140114478
Page: 0.1447 seconds