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Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus
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Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  241 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
This chronicle of the Byzantine Empire, beginning in 1025, shows a profound understanding of the power politics that characterized the empire and led to its decline.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 27th 1979 by Penguin Classics
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Lois Bujold
Jun 07, 2016 Lois Bujold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: persons interested in Byzantine history and memoir
Recommended to Lois by: random Amazon search party
A very readable translation of a memoir/history written roughly a thousand years ago, by a Byzantine scholar and government functionary who, through the vagaries of his near-century of life and service, witnessed, sometimes firsthand, the reigns and deaths of an ungodly number of succeeding Byzantine emperors. Emperor, relative of emperor, or high government official were all high-risk professions in that era, with penalties for failure besides death or exile including blinding, castration, or f ...more
Feb 02, 2014 sologdin rated it liked it
Shelves: history, medieval
Suetonian/procopian memoir, touching on the late Macedonian dynasty, the whole of the Doukai, and the beginning of the Komnenoi. General thesis is that the empire degenerated or decayed from the belle epoque of Basil II. Statement of Purpose buried deeply: “it was not my desire to write a history, nor to acquire a reputation for veracity in that sphere; what I wanted to do was compose a panegyric in honor of this ruler [Constantine IX]” (240).

Focuses on what we might regard as trifles of domesti
Sep 18, 2010 Nick rated it liked it
Psellus seems the most modern of Byzantine historians. The others had great passions: Procopius hated the Empress Theodora; Anna Comnena revered her royal family, especially her father; Nicetas Choniates was bitter about how far his great city had fallen. Although his book is not without its entertaining moments, Psellus' greatest passion seems to have been himself. Perhaps his book is the earliest of the memoir of power that seeks to revise history. Not that he knew all fourteen rulers he wrote ...more
Chris Fellows
Aug 29, 2013 Chris Fellows rated it it was amazing
A fantastic example of just why the adjective 'byzantine' has all the connotations it does in English. If you only read one book written in the 11th century this year, read this one.

Michael Psellus was the equivalent of one of those polymath technocrats who put the EU together - a man educated as far as possible as it was possible to be educated in his society, hovering at an exalted position in the corridors of power in administration after administration. It made me feel a little bit better ab
Simon Jones
Dec 04, 2012 Simon Jones rated it really liked it
Despite his frequent protestations that he does not wish to write an account of his own deeds but a true and proper history of his times, the monstrous ego of our narrator nevertheless compels him to do so at every opportunity. The advice of this best-loved councillor of emperors was therefore supposedly behind many a triumph whilst many a disaster could have been avoided had only his advice been heeded. Others, as the foot notes make clear, tell a different story. Having enjoyed Psellus' accoun ...more
Jul 17, 2016 Feliks rated it liked it
Shelves: classic-history
This is a fun read. Very simple prosaic delivery and unadorned presentation of various soap-operas and political intrigues from the 1000's and 1100's. The age of Byzantium!

The Byzantine Empire certainly is fascinating. A heady mixture of pagan impulses and Christian idolatry. Soothsayers, chiromancers, and astrologers-- combined with saints, priests, cathedrals, penitents, nunneries, and hermits.

This strange era yielded ferocious sea-battles, military campaigns, barbarians-at-the-gates, sieges,
Jul 13, 2009 Jason is currently reading it
Not a complete joy, but there are strains of joy running through the marble of this dusty old forgotten thingy. Psellus is more fun to read than, say, Anna Comnena, but not quite so fun to read as Procopius, whose secret history describes, among other things, Theodora's penchant for goosing geese. There's precious little bestiality in this history, but there is plenty of adulty, intrigue, and murder. Alas, this isn't really a credit to the potential good judgement and taste of Psellus, but merel ...more
Vitaly Repin
Jan 18, 2014 Vitaly Repin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book on the Byzantine Empire in XI century.

It my opinion it should be read by anybody who has interest in history of that time.

I have created a graphical representation of the "ruling tree" described in the book and published it in Wikimedia Commons.


Hope, it will help to follow the book and recall the relations between different rulers.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Dec 13, 2013 Charles Dee Mitchell rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Michael Psellus wrote this chronicle of 11th century Byzantium from an insider’s perspective. He was born during the reign of Basil I, the first emperor whose history he recounts, but he grew up in the royal court and held positions of distinction and authority for many of the rulers that followed. And they often followed one another in rather quick succession – fourteen emperors in just over 100 years. Although he strives for impartiality, his respect for the aristocracy knows few bounds. He ne ...more
Jul 28, 2009 Rick rated it it was amazing
In FOURTEEN BYZANTINE RULERS, Michael Psellus (1018-96) recounts the decline of the Byzantine Empire from Basil II (ruled 976-1025) to Michael VII (ruled 1071-78).

Basil II, an outstanding warrior and leader, expanded and consolidated the empire, while building up the state coffers. Many of his successors, however, were more interested in their own pleasures than in the health of the empire, and they expended vast sums of money on themselves, their consorts and countless friends. Psellus knew pe
Jul 21, 2014 Zachary rated it really liked it
A very interesting glimpse of the Byzantine empire's leaders during the stage between its resurgent height under Basil II and the beginning of its long, slow decline following its disastrous defeat at Manzikert. The story is made all the more interesting, if obviously terribly self-serving, by its author being one of the most odious court officials whose machinations was responsible in some ways for the disaster.
Dec 29, 2015 Ubiquitousbastard rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfic, europe
I thought when I read the title, that this book was going to be a comprehensive history of Byzantium. Little did I know that Byzantine emperors seem to rule for an average of five years. This actually only covers a short period toward the end of the empire's supremacy. Psellus himself was personally acquainted with several of the emperors and many of the individuals involved in his narrative. For this reason, it's kind of difficult to pull out what's the truth and what is Psellus representing pe ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Sep 11, 2014 Tony Gualtieri rated it it was amazing
An imperfect history of his era by an intelligent and well-informed philosopher and courtier. While it ends in hagiography, the first three-quarters of the book are insightful and illuminating. Psellus is a strong narrator and while his focus is primarily on court life and descriptions of the various emperors, there's enough here to get a lively picture of the time.
Arthur Kyriazis
May 30, 2016 Arthur Kyriazis rated it it was amazing
an essential original source of eastern roman empire research.
byzantium, byz-la-ema-owned
Bridget Cameron
Mar 08, 2013 Bridget Cameron rated it really liked it
Michael Psellus 1018-96, was a Byzantine historian, philosopher and court courtier, had intimate contact with 14 Byzantine Emperors during his life time ( Constantine V111, Romanus 1V etc).
This book shows the rapid decline of the great Byzantine Empire, during only a couple of generations of rule by Byzantine Emperors who squandered their riches on the purposeless war machine and their own tyranny. Micheal Psellus gives an emotional and intellectual account of these Emporers ver his lifetime.
Psellus' involvement in government work makes what he doesn't say as irritating as what he does say interesting.

The series of brief lives of brief reigns begins with Basil the Bulgar-Killer and runs up into the 1070s.

In contrast to the later Alexiad of Anna Comnena, there is less of a sense of crisis and struggle to maintain Imperial authority.
Douglas Berry
Jun 27, 2016 Douglas Berry rated it really liked it
Another great first person account of history, this time written by a man who spent much of the turbulent 11th century inside the Great Palace of Constantinople. Not a history of events, but rather a series of biographies of the rulers he saw come and go, along with diversions into his own life. Highly recommended for any student of Byzantine history.
May 31, 2013 Kristina rated it really liked it
At first I started reading this because I was randomly interested in the homosexual incest going on in one of those families, but then I was like, really? A Roman named Michael? Those Byzantine folks were big old hos.

ETA: rereading whilst in the midst of my history of Rome kick, and yeah. Increasing number of stars.
Nov 22, 2009 Adam added it
This was neat to learn about the decline of an empire due to some shitty ruling that was pretty easy to empathise with. The author is kind of symptomatic as well - JUST BECAUSE A RULER IS NICE TO YOU DOESN'T MEAN HE IS ANY GOOD

Noise record based on this forthcoming
Mar 26, 2014 Amy rated it liked it
i liked this a lot at first but trusted psellus less and less as it went on. by the end, he was mostly trying to prove what a gifted scholar and historian he was and how much the emperors depended on him.
Apr 30, 2008 Keith rated it really liked it
More first hand accounts of life in Byzantium. Makes one wonder how the empire lasted for 1100 years with all the civil wars and intrigue.
Bryn Hammond
Jan 06, 2015 Bryn Hammond rated it liked it
Shelves: medieval-other
Maybe too homely after Anna Comnena? I was more fascinated by Byzantium's enemies, than internal affairs.
Jul 15, 2011 David rated it liked it
Not everyone's cup of tea but some very curious and interesting folks who ran the Byzantine empire.
Jul 14, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing
If I ever write a dissertation I'm blaming it on this.
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Michael Psellos or Psellus (Greek: Μιχαήλ Ψελλός, Mikhaēl Psellos) was an eleventh century Byzantine monk, writer, philosopher, politician and historian.
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