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

4.30  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,030 Ratings  ·  62 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)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,555)
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Jan 08, 2011 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Chase Parsley
Jun 26, 2014 Chase Parsley rated it it was amazing
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
Mark Rossiter
Dec 13, 2012 Mark Rossiter rated it really liked it
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
Sep 17, 2014 Barry rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Pierre Verwey
Apr 28, 2014 Pierre Verwey rated it really liked it
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
Apr 15, 2010 Pbwritr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Silash Ruparell
Sep 06, 2013 Silash Ruparell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: silash-reviews
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
Nov 09, 2007 Christopher rated it liked it
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.

Nov 15, 2011 Filip rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Llewellyn
Jan 06, 2016 Michael Llewellyn rated it it was amazing
Proof that history books can stand the test of time, this 1988 publication is rich, evocative and a joy to read. The Novocaine for potentially ponderous subject matter is the author's engaging style. Where less skilled writers might have drowned in tiresome detail, Norwich occasionally conjures a breezy, even amusing touch to keep the story moving and the reader involved. He delineates but never wallows in the hideous brutality and endless internecine squabbling of the era, while breathing life ...more
Dec 24, 2015 Ad rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Norwich admits at the very beginning that this is not a particularly academic history book and he's quite right. Too often his history is prone to being a series of narrative biographies of the various Byzantine emperors, covering the various political intrigues and machinations of their reign as well as changes in their individual personalities over time. He does not ignore the religious disputes and administrative/military changes that occur but they're covered rather generally and lightly, us ...more
Dec 23, 2007 Justin rated it really liked it
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.
May 04, 2015 Josh rated it really liked it
Lord Norwich's Byzantium trilogy are enjoyable and highly readable popular histories of this fascinating Medieval empire. Lord Norwich spins a rip-roaring tale of intrigue, usurpation, dynastic turmoil, war and not a little imperial debauchery. The text is supplemented by excellent maps and a helpful appendix listing the eastern emperors chronologically. Beach reading for serious history fans.

As Lord Norwich makes abundantly clear in his introduction this is not intended to be a scholarly work,
Apr 03, 2014 Antigone rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Mar 17, 2009 Jby rated it liked it
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.
Robert Gertz
Feb 06, 2015 Robert Gertz rated it it was amazing
Very fine historical narrative, first of three of the history of the emperors of Eastern Rome from 300 to 1453, this covering the years 300-800. Triumph and tragedy, brilliant, heroic, shrewd, scheming, decent, sincere, cowardly, desperate,duplicitous, mad emperors and empresses and their courts and principal enemies, this puts Game of Thrones to shame. Norwich makes no claim to be an academic historian but his narrative is exciting and well documented and written...He holds up exceptionally wel ...more
John Robertson
May 07, 2013 John Robertson rated it really liked it
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!
Kenneth Sharp
Looking back through my Goodreads, it's taken me well over a year to finish this book. Considering this is one of my favourite periods in history, that's rather a shame.

Byzantium, The Early Centuries has problems, but I'm not certain these problems are the fault of Norwich. The shortest volume in the trilogy, it covers the greatest amount of time and throughout the book you can hear the author straining through long periods with few contemporary sources to their name. The book gallops through c
Nov 17, 2014 Rob rated it liked it
A grand-scale account of the first 500 years or so of the Byzantine Empire. There's certainly enough lurid drama, intrigue, and scandal for a half-dozen books here. I can see why Gibbons disapproved - these Byzantines really were a vicious lot. The number of body-parts cut off rivals the entire Saw movie series.

We have invasions, coups, assassinations, religious schisms, more invasions, more religious schisms, more coups, and on and on. Norwich has an eye for irony and the absurd, and a nice tu
Don't get the shortened version, it'll seem too rushed. Norwich is a master storyteller with an eye for details, and livens up the thousand plus year history of the Byzantine Empire as the entertaining soap opera that it really was. Also goes into the fall of the west in his first book with sufficient detail to be a solid book on the fall of the western Roman Empire as well.
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
RYU Cheol
Oct 04, 2014 RYU Cheol rated it it was amazing
Quite interesting, cause I was just back from a trip of Greece. I learned more about Christianity, especially the Son and the God. It was the center of iconoclasm dispute. After reading this volume, I found 2nd Viscount Norwich also intrigued me into his family which is connected to David Cameroon. Also his personal life is interesting as his book.
Özgür Göndiken
Feb 02, 2016 Özgür Göndiken rated it it was ok
It is not a bad starting book, however, I felt several lackes in terms of the structural features of the empire. It has a little bit complicated narrative language, but not a bad chronology. The references and the bibliography of the book might be considered as adequate for the beginning. Consequently, it did not satisfy me, but I will complete the trilogy.
Tony George
Dec 02, 2014 Tony George rated it it was amazing
The trilogy is the best history of the Eastern Roman Empire. (They did not know they were not Rome.)

I love Norwich's histories. This trilogy covers the founding, the rise and the long, slow fall.

I read all of Norwich's histories. This is almost his best.
Apr 20, 2014 Alana rated it really liked it
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
Hakan Kaysı
Apr 01, 2016 Hakan Kaysı rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kitabın dili çok akıcı, yazar bilimsellikten uzaklaşmadan olayları hikaye anlatır gibi bir üslupla anlatıyor. Bu topraklarda hüküm sürmüş koskoca bir imparatorluğun tarihini öğrenmek için çok güzel bir kaynak.
T. Robert
Feb 09, 2013 T. Robert rated it it was amazing
Recommended to T. 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
Jun 12, 2014 Chathamharrison rated it it was amazing
Magisterial but approachable. Some of the easiest-reading history I've ever encountered. Norwich's passion for the subject shines throughout.
Beth Francis
Mar 15, 2015 Beth Francis rated it liked it
This was well written, however Byzantium is not my favorite historical topic. I did learn a lot and that is always worth while.
Craig Anderson
Mar 13, 2016 Craig Anderson rated it it was amazing
Love the series even if I can't read the 2nd and 3rd volumes with swearing at people that are 800yrs or more dead.
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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 about John Julius Norwich...

Other Books in the Series

A History of Byzantium (4 books)
  • Byzantium: The Apogee
  • Byzantium: The Decline and Fall
  • Byzantium: The Early Centuries/The Apogee/The Decline And Fall (3 Volumes)

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