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Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  783 ratings  ·  105 reviews
A gripping intellectual adventure story, Sailing from Byzantium sweeps you from the deserts of Arabia to the dark forests of northern Russia, from the colorful towns of Renaissance Italy to the final moments of a millennial city under siege….

Byzantium: the successor of Greece and Rome, this magnificent empire bridged the ancient and modern worlds for more than a thousand y
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 31st 2007 by Delacorte Press (first published 2006)
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Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cool book, I realized how little I knew about the Byzantine Empire.

Scholarly yet approachable and at times entertaining, it can also be pedantic and thick. Segmented into Constantinople's influence on Western Europe, Islam and Russia.

A refreshingly erudite work that was also fun to read.

This book was fantastic!! The subtitle says it all. No, it's not a political history of the Byzantine Empire, but one narrowly focused on the valuable culture and Greek classical learning Byzantium has passed on to three major civilizations:

Western Europe, beginning with Italy and eventually spreading to the rest of Europe;
Arabs and their successor, the Ottoman Empire;
Slavic nations, from Bulgaria to Russia.

There are few of the "famous" people you would expect. For that you would need a more
Jun 13, 2013 rated it liked it
A great primer dealing with the role of the Eastern Roman Empire, otherwise known as Byzantium. This is one area and period of History that I knew so little about (never covered it at Uni, or at least only briefly touching the edges), basically just knowing about the schism between the East and Western Churches - the Orthodox and Catholic. However, the book is not really a history of Byzantium per se, but rather details the influence it held over the religious and educational development in Euro ...more
James Murphy
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I hadn't known Byzantium was so important. Wells's book relates how, in the centuries following the end of the Roman Empire, Byzantium, the surviving portion in the east, continued to influence the Mediterranean world and the Middle East, as well as Russia and the Balkans. By preserving Greek culture and transporting it to those areas, Byzantium made possible the philosophic, religious, and artistic movements behind the Renaissance, the era of Arabic science and learning, and the rise of Russian ...more
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting little book about the influence of the Byzantine empire on Western Europe, Islam, and the Slavs. Each is addressed chronologically in its own section. I found the sections of the book about Islam and the Slavs very compelling. Each section, however, suffers from an annoying characterstic: devolution into a flood of names of obscure historical personalities by its conclusion. But other than that, a great book.

(And on a personal note, this book did a great job of depicting the begin
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Byzantium's cultural legacy, as it affected societies arising in Western European, Islamic, and Slavic/Russian lands. The Byzantine Empire was not brief, and its decline was long and resisted to the end. Much in the way one may fashion a drinking cup from the skull of a favorite enemy, this empire did not simply vanish.

Part one shows how the intellectual capital of ancient Greece was preserved by the Byzantines. As their empire weakened they retreated into a mysticism at odds with Greek rational
David Berry
I enjoyed this book but would have liked it much more if it did not claim to do something it doesn't.

It was fascinating to learn how Plato's dialogues wound their way to Florence through immigrant and exiled Byzantine scholars. And it was equally fascinating to learn how the Umayyad scholars preserved Greek philosophy even after the Byzantines banned or suppressed it. This is a tale of scholars, and a good one, but it is not really a chronicle of the Byzantine Empire's historical influence. It
Glyn Longden
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 6/10. The author's intended purpose was to write a book which was accessible to the general reader. The problem is that the history of the Byzantine Empire is full of obscure religious and philosophical issues which, did, in fact, have an important role to play in its history. You wonder how an Empire, which seemed so incapable if defending itself and constantly refused to make important security decisions actually lasted for a thousand years. The three main issues in the book are Byzant ...more
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At one point I wanted to give this book three stars, but the last part, about the Slavic Christianity, redeemed it partially for me. As an eastern orthodox I confess I cannot comprehend the author's deep bias toward orthodoxy in general and hesychasm in particular and the constant politicization of a spiritual current (hesychasm) that was as separated from politics as a spiritual movement can possibly be. It is obvious that the author has some understanding of what the hesychasm actually is, but ...more
May 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: maybe
Recommended to smboro by: my own find on the topic
I think it’s an interesting book that should have been titled “Sailing from Byzantium, How a Lost Empire Shaped the 19th and 20th centuries Briths fancy for Greece.” This book is a difficult read and the fact that (for some unknown the reader reason) the historical timeline is scrambled (if not confused) makes it even more difficult.
Birgitta Hoffmann
Three linked essays about the links between Byzantine culture and the influence on its neighbours: Renaissance Europe, Umayyad and Abbasid Kalifate and the Bulgarian, Serb and Russian Orthodox churches.
Well written and accessible, but laden with information and names, great way into the topic.
Evan Hays
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history
This book brought many different pieces that have been bouncing around in my head for the last decade or two into the same historical narrative, and it is a book I will return to again in the future I am sure. Sure, it covers a vast swath of history, and therefore could be probably fairly criticized for generalizing too often, but I would say in return that it should rather be praised for being so bold as to weave the different strains of time and place together the way that it did.

The book is b
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A short book summarizing Byzantium’s influence on Western Europe, Islam, and Slavic countries. Fairly easy to read, it works reasonably as a summary and reference book.
Isaac Asimov referred to Byzantium as a forgotten empire, lost and dismissed to the western mind as a decayed remnant of a once-great power. But Byzantium had a greatness of its own that inspired civilizations around it, even its enemies. Sailing from Byzantium examines the literary, political, scientific, and other influences the Eastern empire had on the western Renaissance, Eastern Europe, and even the nascent Islamic civilization. Though somewhat impaired by being name-dense and not giving ...more
Robert Bruening
I've temporarily book this book on hold in favor of better reading and may never pick it up again. The general historical outline it has laid out so far is interesting, but the author relies too much on bad historical stereotypes in his narrative. Example: The Crusaders are out to steal whatever they can. The Venetians will sell anyone down the river for a buck.

A good example is his discussion of the First Crusade. He notes that the Crusaders betrayed their agreements to the Byzantine Emperor
Jacob Aitken
This was an attempt to shed light on a forgotten aspect of history. Most westerners, when they think of Rome, think of the Western empire. In terms of religion, the debate is between Protestants and catholics. Wells (and others) open a new page of history for us.

Wells divides his work into three sections. He shows how Byzantium influenced and was influenced by the Romans, The Muslims, and the Slavs. And at the end of each epoch of Byzantine history, Wells shows how causes that led to Byzantium's
Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a fascinating, but at times difficult (or downright boring) book. While it does a great work presenting the influence and its routes from Byzantium to its neighbors, there are several parts where the book is just names after names, travels after travels where I found my mind wondering off.

Still, a unique subject and a unique book.
David Myers
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"Sailing for Byzantium" is an explicit account of the history of the eastern Roman empire as well as its leaders and the culture that developed there. A very dense book with some tough sledding in parts, yet I highlighted more lines within it's pages than I have in a long time. I will use this book for future reference. ...more
Sep 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Simply written, not too complex, excellent history for the person who has no previous knowledge of the subject.
Karen E Carter
Disappointing. Will I ever find a book about the Byzantine Empire that is readable, scholarly, and thesis driven? This certainly isn't it. ...more
Nathan Albright
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: challenge-2019
I don't know where I became someone who reads a lot of books on Byzantium, but there are a lot of books on that medieval society [1], and I somehow find myself reading a few of them also.  In general, these books seek to demonstrate the importance of the Byzantine Empire to the contemporary Western world in one way or another, and this book certainly fits within that trend.  After all, why would one read about an empire that ended lamentably and definitively in 1453, decades before Columbus sail ...more
Bob Newman
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, greece
The gifts of Greeks

Byzantium disappeared from the maps in 1453 when it was conquered by the Turks. It had been on the skids for some time previously. Constantinople became Istanbul and though all us kids studied Rome in detail, our teachers tended to skip over Byzantium in a few sentences, if they mentioned it at all. But for many centuries the second Rome, the Rome of the East, shone brightly as a beacon of civilization as Europe went through the Dark Ages. As a great civilization of its time,
Karl Arney
I learned a fair deal from this and found cerain parts, especially in the first two parts, to be fairly interesting. I read enough before starting to not expect a conventional history of Byzantium, so the focus was no issue.

With that said, the endless torrent of names Wells throws at you through much of the book can be a bit overwhelming, far too numerous for readers to be expected to remember all but the most interesting/important of them. The latter parts of Part III, on Byzantium's influence
Mar 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dan by: George Dobbs
This book traces the export of Byzantine culture–both humanist and religious–in three directions: to the West, initially via Italy, to the Muslim cultures in the near east, and to the Slavic lands, primarily Bulgaria and Russia, but others as well. These exports are presented as a kind of life after death for the Byzantine Empire, which terminated politically and geographically when the Turks took Constantinople in 1453 and turned it into beautiful Istanbul, graced now with elegant minarets as w ...more
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It is hard to rate a book like this- i guess it depends on what information you want to learn. "Sailing from Byzantium" is a short brief look at how ERE influenced the West, the Islamic World, and the Slavic world.

As a starting point/introduction to ERE the book is decent. It quickly lays out the important conquests and events from 500-1400 while paying extra attention to the study and spread of philosophy (Plato/Aristotle) and religion. In these aspects the book is good and gives a number of st
John Strange
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is not a book about the history of the Byzantine empire or the city of Constantinople. It is a book focused on the effect of the Byzantine culture on its neighbors both before and after the fall of the city.

Although detailed, Sailing from Byzantium is clearly meant for the enthusiastic reader with some exposure to Byzantine history. The scholar or very casual reader might not be as satisfied; the author does not go into great depth on specific cultural and religious aspects nor does he chr
Terry Simmons-albertson
This is a great book for lovers of history. The capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was located in what is now Istambul, Turkey. Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the brief Crusader state known as Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). The Byzantine Empire was the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church, (and later the foundation upon which the Russian Orthodox Church was founded), and ...more
Nov 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I think the overall topic is interesting (and one that I knew little about) and this book takes a different perspective on the typical history of Constantinople. However, as usual for these history books, it was far too detailed for my level of interest, and I found it quite boring at times.

A caveat to my review is that I used the audiobook to put me to sleep and probably missed up to half of it as a result, meaning it was overall a more disjointed experience. However, at times it was so boring
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sailing from Byzantium is a history of scholarship from the ancient to modern worlds. When I discovered this book, I was so excited to jump in after reading the publicist / Goodreads description. I have to admit I was a little disappointed, put off by the first 50 or so pages. This is not the Geo-political / Military history I was expecting. But the more I read, the more engrossed and invested in the scholarly / philosophical history I became. I find the history of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byza ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Much of the strength of this book is that there are so few accessible books on the Byzantine Empire and its sequelae, and this one is at least attempts to impose some order on the subject. I did learn several interesting facts, but a string of facts does not a history make. The chronology is hopelessly confusing, and there does not seem to be any guiding principal for determining which incidents receive mere mentions and which receive several pages.
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