Byzantium: The Early Centuries
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Byzantium: The Early Centuries (A History of Byzantium #1)

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  745 ratings  ·  42 reviews
"This book tells the story of the Byzantine Empire from its beginnings to the emergence of its only European rival, the Holy Roman Empire, with the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day AD 800.
Hardcover, American, 408 pages
Published March 18th 1989 by Knopf (first published 1988)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Byzantium, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Byzantium

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,679)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
I love the way Norwich delves into the labyrinthine politics of the time. I haven't read the other two books in the series, but some day I will, perhaps when I'm old and grey and good for nothing else. So that hopefully will be a while yet. Norwich writes wittily and knowledgeably as one of the leading experts. I think I have a problem with time and change. I watched a BBC documentary series about Turkey in 1971 called The Gates of Asia. I remembered him having a healthy virility about him, sunb...more
This is a finely told history of the early part of the Byzantine Empire. With colorful stories, in depth research, and a seeming fairness, Mr. Norwich has done justice to the history of Byzantium. Though the history is convoluted and filled with scores of names and important details, there is an order here that makes the story easy enough to follow. Along the journey fascinating anecdotes and personalities emerge, along with occasional analysis which seems even-handed and balanced in an effort t...more
Chase Parsley
THIS IS HISTORY AT ITS FINEST. Infinity plus one out of infinity stars...Norwich triumphs! The Byzantines brim with Roman pride, brainwashed Christianity, brutal violence, and a near constant struggle for power. Norwich breathes life into the "Dark Ages" like never before. This first of three books covers the late 200s to the early 800s, and I was shocked at the fantastic stories and vital historical connections made throughout. Any professional or amateur historian ought to read this; I know I...more
This book starts out in the early 200s of the Roman Empire, with Emperor Diocletian deciding to share his power with a co-emperor, and each of them then divides their responsibility for their respective regions with a Caesar who is supposed to succeed them. Four men with lusts for power. Doesn't turn out so amicably. Byzantium becomes the power center of the eastern part of the Empire, and Rome's luster is fading. Constantine the Great isn't just baptized into Christianity, he is a fundamental f...more
Mark Rossiter
John Julius Norwich, author of this history of the Eastern Roman Empire from the founding of Constantinople in 330 until the coronation in 800 in Rome by the Pope of Charlemagne as rival Emperor of the West, is a jolly entertaining English upper class sort of storyteller. He has all the credentials: son of Duff and Diana Cooper, he went to Eton, then joined the diplomatic corps before retiring at 35 to write history books; he is the father of Artemis Cooper, herself married to the historian Anth...more
Silash Ruparell
This review also appears on my blog

My one liner: Fratricide, Patricide, Matricide, Infanticide, Blood, Guts, Gore, Pillage, Murder, Incest, Intrigue, Betrayal, Incompetence, Brilliance, Genius, Aggression, Passion, Fervour, Docility, Stupidity, Hubris. In other words the first five hundred years of the Byzantine Empire as described by John Julius Norwich in this classic account.

“After over half a century of contact with the Romans, his people had become perhaps one degree...more
The English history and travel writer John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich has long had a thing for the East. With Reresby Sitwell he wrote an introduction to the world of Mount Athos and subsequently, over three large volumes, produced a large history of Byzantium for popular audiences. BYZANTIUM: The Early Centuries is the first volume, going from the rise of St Constantine the Great in the early fourth century to the end of the Empress Irene's era in 802. I had mixed reactions to it.

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 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 ju...more
Colin Bisasky
May 15, 2014 Colin Bisasky rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everybody!
This is the first volume of three volumes (I. The Early Centuries; II. The Apogee; III. The Decline and Fall) of Lord Norwich's epic but not-overly-scholarly work on the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern, or Later Roman, Empire it is sometimes called). I read the "condensed" work, "A Short History of Byzantium", which crams the whole trilogy into one paperback. It was great but nothing compared to the original work. It begins with Diocletian's division of the empire, the birth of Constantine, his tr...more
Pierre Verwey
The history of the [Byzantine] Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.

So opens John Norwich’s meticulously detailed account of the first 500 years of Byzantine history, when he quotes Lecky’s History of European Morals, published in 1869.

Norwich wastes little time to rescue this unflattering summary of Byzantine history, when he says that this sounds not so much monotonous a s...more
Starts with the division of the Empire in the 300's and goes from there. Along with The Apogee and The Decline and Fall, makes a great continuation of the history of the Roman Empire given in schools. Without a very good understanding of the 'Byzantine' (actually Roman) Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, and Elizabethan England one does not understand Europe's rise to power.
Mar 17, 2009 Jby rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
JJ Norwich has probably forgotten more about Byzantium than half the world knows. Very intersting, but a bit tedious. This history is very (too?) centered on the byzantine emperors,their court and their actions. IMO the wider context is missing too often.
John Robertson
Superb account but a long read, I found myself having to go back over previous chapters as I had forgotten certain details, certainly for the Byzantiphiles :) Got the other two volumes on my shelf- not sure when I'll tackle them!
The first part of John Julius Norwich's Byzantium trilogy is an epic look at a once great civilization that is often little studied in modern times. This is the account of what happened after the Roman Empire "fell," and how it struggled on for hundreds more years. The Early Centuries covers Constantine the Great to the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire in the West, and chronicles the growth of one of the worlds greatest cities, Constantinople, as well as the ever shifting borders of the slowl...more
The first of a three volume set on the Byzantine Empire is for history nerds, for sure, but it has such great elements of drama, intrigue, and humor, it's like an historical soap opera. The empire rises from the crumbling power base of Rome when the first Constantine establishes Constantinople as the new empire's capital. Volume one takes us through the tumultuous first 500 years of the Empire ending with the cliffhanger of Charlemagne appearance as the head of the new rival, The Holy Roman Empi...more
A pleasant, if exhaustive, introduction to the history of this critical civilization. The book is rich in detail and atmosphere, its author keeping as true as possible to a straight course through the founding emperors, their politics, their wars. Eminently accessible; it reads like a fable.
a gripping, balanced, and fascinating account of the early days of the byzantine empire, packed with emperors, deceptions, thwarted ambitions, religious strife (and more rhinokopias than you can count). the author has such an eye for a good story that this book often reads like the most captivating of high-fantasy (a certain popular series in particular). stunning
Bob Fowler
Feb 09, 2013 Bob Fowler rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Bob by: Aussie Rick
At last. The mysterious history of the early Byzantine Empire revealed to me! For some time, I have wanted to read a good history of this Empire that would give me a sufficient understanding of its evolution, and this author has done it for me. He has spent enough time on the more importent emperors, like Justinian and Belisarius, whose lives would be worthy of a TV miniseries, they seemed so dramatic to me. Belisarius in particular impressed me, fighting campaigns from Armenia to Carthage and t...more
Magisterial but approachable. Some of the easiest-reading history I've ever encountered. Norwich's passion for the subject shines throughout.
For someone like me, previously barely informed on the subject matter, this book is great for what it is - an accessible and introductory account of (mostly political and military) history of Byzantium. Overall, I found it very absorbing and it gave me the urge to delve deeper into the fascinating history of the Byzantine Empire.
Duncan Cameron
Criticisms first, I found it slightly old fashioned and could have
benefitted from a few maps etc.
Ignoring these minor faults I have to say this was a truly entertaining version of events.
How funny can a history of Early Byzantium be?
Believe it or not the answer is very, when written by Mr Norwich.
Highly recommended.
Not just funny but highly informative.
Can't wait to read parts II & III.

An excellent insight into the rise of Byzantium from Constantine the Great to the fall of the Empress Irene. Norwich charts the major religious movements and disputes, as well as the political, military, and social strife and conquests of the time. An excellent book which is very easy to read and follow, thanks to Norwich's excellent style, which reads as fluently as any novel.
Marilynn Larew
The first of three vols. A traditional narrative history of an intriguing and violent culture. Writes like an Angle, possibly because he is one. Those looking for more analysis should see Cyril Mango's works. I'm taking leave to get over the blood letting, but will ask Santa for vol. 2 this year.
Great first part of a three part history of the Byzantine Empire. The author isn't a professional historian as such, but I'm not reading it in a "the past has lessons for the future" frame of mind, more in a "what a trashy, tabloid, fascinating soap opera" frame of mind. Fantastic.

DF553 .N67 1989
Three volumes history of the rise and fall of Byzantium and Norwich is brilliant. It's full of memorable characters, evil deeds and suspense and it's supremely erudite while being not just readable but fun to read. Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall' has a worthy sequel in this.
Curt Hopkins Hopkins
Good narrative introduction to the scope of Byzantine history. Could use a bit more on how people lived on the ground, but good nevertheless; enough so that I've grabbed the second of three volumes.
Nick Wallace
This series is the greatest introductions to the Byzantine Empire you can find. The Constantinian period is well represented, as well as the Justinian reconquests (rather, those of Belisarius).
Historical writing at its best. This book reads better than anything Tolkien or Guy Gavriel Kay could have ever dreamed up. Excellent.
Cheryl Grossman
Excellent book. I'd forgotten what SOBs the Roman Emperors (and not a few Popes)were. Author roots for Christianity a bit much.
Rafa Sánchez
The shocking history of the true christian empire, source of all ancient culture that we know now as Old Western Civilization.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 55 56 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Canto)
  • History of the Byzantine State
  • The Alexiad of Anna Comnena
  • Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World
  • Byzantium: The Surprising Life Of A Medieval Empire
  • 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West
  • The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople
  • The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire
  • The World of Late Antiquity 150-750 (Library of World Civilization)
  • Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus
  • The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000
  • The Punic Wars
  • Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World
  • The Northern Crusades
  • The Ottoman Centuries
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
  • The First Crusade - A New History: The Roots of Conflict Between Christianity and Islam
  • The Secret History

Norwich is the only child of the Conservative politician and diplomat Duff Cooper and of Lady Diana Cooper, a celebrated beauty and society figure. Through his father, he is descended from King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan.

He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, Canada (as a wartime evacuee), at Eton College, and at the University of Strasbourg. He served in the Royal Navy...more
More about John Julius Norwich...
A Short History of Byzantium Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy A History of Venice Byzantium: The Apogee Byzantium: The Decline and Fall

Share This Book