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Count Belisarius

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,612 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
The sixth century was not a peaceful time for the Roman empire. Invaders threatened on all fronties, but they grew to respect and fear the name of Belisarius, the Emperor Justinian's greatest general. With this book Robert Graves again demonstrates his command of a vast historical subject, creating a startling and vivid picture of a decadent era.
Paperback, 576 pages
Published October 1st 1982 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1938)
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Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20-ce, fiction, uk
Robert Graves's sources for Count Belisarius include some of the great historical works of classical antiquity: Livy, Thucydides, Herodotus, and certainly Xenophon in the Persian war sections. The novel is set in the sixth century of our era. Belisarius is perhaps the last loyal general the Roman Empire can still count on. He is deeply Christian (Orthodox) but with an admirable tolerance for divergent views (Arianism, Monophysitism, etc.). He is also a military leader of genius. The accounts of ...more
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
"For not by numbers of men, nor by measure of body, but by valor of soul is war to be decided."
-- Belisarius


I love the story of Belisarius. Did Robert Graves abuse history in writing this? I certainly hope so. By the end, however, I didn't really care if Belisarius was as good as Graves made him out to be, if the narrator, Eugenius, (Belisarius' wife Antonia's manservant ) is unreliable, or if Antonia slept with one man or many after marrying this 'Last Great Roman'. Graves bends this story into
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Belisarius was a tragic hero, deserving of the title "The Last Roman". An honest and principled man, who reconquered Rome and Carthage with a miniscule force, and died, according to legend, a blind beggar, fallen to the intrigues of the Byzantine court.

Graves, who is no slouch when it comes to historical fiction, does well here. He does his research on an all too obscure period of history, and writes a gripping novel. Detailed yet energetic.
Late Roman historical fiction with a solid base in fact. Belisarius was a roman general who served Justinian in the sixth century. Graves uses Procopius as a base for his account and has the story told by of of Antonina's (Belisarius's wife) eunuchs. Justinian is well drawn as the monster he was and there are entertaining accounts of early Christian heresies. It's been a while since I've read about Monophysites and Arians. Belisarius is portrayed as impossibly good and honourable and both of the ...more
Brad Lyerla
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read COUNT BELISARIUS now for two reasons. The first is that I loved Graves' Claudius novels and welcomed the opportunity to read another of his books. Second, seeing another review of this book on GoodReads some months ago caused me to realize that I know almost nothing about the Eastern Roman Empire, even though I have read quite a bit about the Roman Republic and the early decades of the Western Empire. Reading COUNT BELISARIUS seemed an easy way to begin to wade into an unfamiliar epoch in ...more
Matt Brady
I seem to be in the minority on this, but I found Count Belisarius to be a little disappointing. I’ve not read any Graves before, and I picked this particular novel over the more well known I, Claudius because I’ve always thought Belisarius’ life story was pretty cool and conveniently contained a bunch of dramatic elements that make it an accessible story – a military prodigy, honourable and loyal to an Emperor that often doubts and fears him, fighting to restore the Western Roman Empire and str ...more
Fact-based fiction from the Byzantine era. Lots of battles, but (surprisingly, given the author) unspooled in a monotone. Belisarius fights off the Persians; he captures Carthage; next Sicily; and soon all of Italy south of the Po. But all the while, undermined by the Eastern Emperor Justinian, jealous of his popularity.

Sounds like the makings of a plot. Yet, because there's so little dialogue, the book becomes a term paper--and a hagiography. Were Robert Graves alive today, a shorter version --
Irredeemable Corruption and Unwavering Loyalty: Justinian and Belisarius

I don't recall ever becoming more incensed reading a novel than I did with 'Count Belisarius'. The desire to see vengeance come to bloody fruition in 'Red Grass River' by James Carlos Blake was powerful; the sense of loss and sadness I felt when I finished reading 'Watership Down' was my earliest childhood inkling of the power that literature could exert. But the indignation roused by this portrait of irredeemably weak and c
Jul 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of the historical novel
Although not quite the masterpiece that both of the Claudius novels are, Count Belisarius is a great read, and brings the period, the 6th century C.E. to vibrant life. The titular Count Belisarius is a devout Orthodox Christian general of the Eastern Roman empire during the reign of Justinian. The book, supposedly written by his wife's eunuch Eugenius, follows his campaigns in Rome and Northern Africa, chronicling the court intrigues and jealousies that prevent him from winning the glories that ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Einar Graff Jr.
Shelves: literature
One evening, towards the beginning of secondary school, I was standing in front of the desk in an alcove off the living room above which were most of my father's displayed books on long shelves reaching from wall to wall. As he was nearby and I was looking for something interesting to read, I asked his recommendation.

Dad told me that one of his favorite authors was Robert Graves whose novels had seen him through much of World War II on shipboard in both theatres. He pulled out a cheap paperback
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Graves, Robert. COUNT BELISARIUS. (1938). ****. I was an early Graves fan and read most of his novels when I was a teenager – many, many years ago. This was the novel I read after his Claudius books. Both “I, Claudius,” and “Claudius the God and his Wife Messilina,” were based on the information contained in Suetonius’ “Lives of the Twelve Caesars.” This novel was based on the Belisarius as described by Procopius in his “Histories.” Factual data are a little thinner here so that Graves has to fi ...more
Oct 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Cast in the form of a chronicle/memoir, written by Eugenius, the eunuch servant of Belisarius's wife, Antonina, this purports to tell the story of Count [Generalissimo] Belisarius, of the Eastern Roman army in the days of Justinian and Theodora, 6th century AD. It begins with the boy Belisarius and reveals his quick-thinking at so young an age. Becoming general, he cuts a wide swath through North Africa, Roman cities in Italy and Sicily. We see his tactical and strategic genius. He also deals wi ...more
Roger Kean
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this (at least twice) years ago and I'm currently reading it again, but in the luxurious Folio Society's just-released edition. If you truly love books, the binding, the generosity of the paper and margins, the typesetting and typography, the Folio Society (of Britain) is for you. But you need deep pockets, the production values mean they are rarely cheap.

Reviews for Robert Graves' Count Belisarius at the time were mixed; some felt it didn't live up to his two Claudius novels, and it is q
Paul Christensen
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
'Count Belisarius' is not written so much in the style of a modern novel, but more after the fashion of ancient historians like Herodotus, replete with seemingly meandering (yet necessary) digressions that will put inattentive readers off.

Can't vouch for the strict accuracy of the portrayal of Justinian as a monster, but an enjoyable read.

Greybeard by Paul Christensen
Sep 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found reading this 24-chapter historical novel experientially interesting, however, it may look a bit formidable unless its readers have read some of Robert Graves' works to acquire familiarity with his writing style, detailed description and profound knowledge of the sixth-century Roman Empire.
Jun 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
not quite I Claudius but then, it is hard to write a masterpiece like that; still very gopod and keeping me interested till the end
Patrick Hadley
Jul 23, 2013 rated it liked it
The story is fun and pulpy, reaching a climax of downright addictive during Belisarius' initial conquests in Italy. The exasperated digressions on debates in current Christian theology, as told from the perspective of a reluctant convert who serves a false convert to Christianity, are hilarious. Graves' eye for historical detail and encyclopedic knowledge of his source material make the fictional world truly engrossing, and kept me happily reading.

The characters, however, are so ridiculously fl
Mathijs Van Der Loo
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Niet het boek dat ik verwachtte, maar desalniettemin wel interessant. Het is geen roman zoals je die vaak leest. Je leest eigenlijk een aangedikt feitenrelaas van een slaaf over het leven van Belisarius en deze doet dat in al zijn volledigheid. Karakters zijn wat plat weergegeven, maar de Byzantijnse wereld van de zesde eeuw wordt met veel details weergegeven.
Jakub Wa
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible - especially for those who like Roman / Byzantine history. Worth reading also to get a good impression of "perfect man" of early Medieval period.
Richard Moss
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014, book-group
This had potential but unfortunately the choices made by Robert Graves make this a deeply unsatisfying read.

He chooses a narrator - eunuch servant Eugenius - on the fringe of the action, a man who can offer little insight. Instead of being inside the heads of Belisarius or Justinian or their wives, we can only observe them and get no sense of character development or motivation.

Graves also attempts to write in the style of a contemporary Roman text. A clever party trick perhaps, but one that see
Nov 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
There are few things I love more than my books. Paradoxically, there are few things that I hate more than moving them. In my most recent move (I accept my inner gypsy), I faced the daunting task of transporting hundreds of books from my old house, to my new place and also a storage facility. I generally keep my favorite books on bookshelf display. But then there are those that must be kept in boxes and stored away - due to lack of bookshelves. The slow painful process of hauling heavy cardboard ...more
A. J. McMahon
Nov 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Graves was one of the best historical novelists who ever lived, and this book is one of the many showcases of his talent. It tells the story of Belisarius, Rome's best general in the later days of the Roman Empire. There are amazing portraits of the real-life historical characters of the day, and I have no idea how true to life Graves was being, although he does seem to have thoroughly researched everything. If you can imagine Darth Vader as a good guy, you will have some sort of idea of ...more
Feb 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A factual account of the lead general under Justinian, 500 Ad - 565 AD. It is a military account of Belisarius successfully conquering Persian, Carthaginians and Goths in Rome. The book is full of military manoeuvres and how to win at ancient warfare. It explained how a fortified city could with stand the attack of an armed army. Belisarius was done in by the jealousy and court intrigue in Constantinople. It reads as a companion piece the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. III. An excell ...more
Hamilton Wende
May 30, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a well-researched, even fantastically researched book about the late Roman/Byzantine empire. I found it a little difficult to follow the story at times, but Robert Graves seems to remain true to his ancient sources which is one of the best things about the book.
Jun 25, 2010 rated it it was ok

graves decided to tell the story in the voice of belisarius' mincing eunuch slave. imagine having perez hilton reading the script to road warrior and you'll have some understanding of why this book has been forgotten.
Sep 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Re-reading this amazing fictionalized account of one of my favorite periods of history. Graves' narrative is amazingly compelling and fluid. Everyone should read this book!
Mark Newton
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Outstanding novel by Graves - marred perhaps by the depth to which he explained military proceedings, structures and so on. I want to believe in this fabulous portrait of Belisarius.
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written by Robert Graves and published in 1938, one of my father's favorite books, and nothing could be better that. Graves is an exceptional scholar, historian, and poet, with an intellect that is curious, searching, and very exacting. This book is everything that pleases me because it gives me information that is pertinent to today.

Count Belisarius lived during the reign of Justinian and Theodora, Emperor and Empress of the Roman East in Constantinople. The period is early and mid-6th century.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Ci sono voluti quasi due mesi per portare a termine questo libro che, in più di un'occasione, ho temuto di dover abbandonare. Il che sarebbe stato un vero peccato, visto che le vicende raccontate sono molto interessanti, il vero problema sta nello stile di scrittura e nel ritmo della narrazione. A differenza di “I, Claudius” – dove, dopo un inizio un po' stentato, il racconto di Claudio riesce a coinvolgere pienamente –, qui le cose sono andate in un modo diverso: a tratti, la narrazione di E
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient, fiction, lit-fic, rome
' "Quocunque jeceris, stabit.' - 'Wheresoever you cast it, it will find its feet.' "

A beautifully written tale of duty, honor, and loyalty in the face of disappointment, resentment, betrayal, and rejection -- with a love story and some adventure thrown in. Told from the point of a eunuch slave who served Belisarius's wife, the book reads like an ancient historical account. As per usual with Graves, his familiarity with and use of historical source material is evident throughout.

If you haven't re
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Robert Ranke Graves, born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King's College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon & Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford. While at Charterhouse in 1912, he fell in love with G. H. Johnstone, a boy of fourteen ("Dick" in Goodbye to All That) When challenged by the headmaster he defended himself by citing Plato, G ...more
“Malthus's school was in the centre of the town of Adrianople, and was not one of those monkish schools where education is miserably limited to the bread and water of the Holy Scriptures. Bread is good and water is good, but the bodily malnutrition that may be observed in prisoners or poor peasants who are reduced to this diet has its counterpart in the spiritual malnutrition of certain clerics. These can recite the genealogy of King David of the Jews as far back as Deucalion's Flood, and behind the Flood to Adam, without a mistake, or can repeat whole chapters of the Epistles of Saint Paul as fluently as if they were poems written in metre; but in all other respects are as ignorant as fish or birds.” 4 likes
“Once two clever Athenian policemen were pursuing a Theban thief towards the city boundaries when they came upon a sign: ‘The Sign of the Grape. Thebans made welcome.’ One said: ‘He will have taken refuge here.’ ‘No,’ cried the other, ‘this is just the place where he will expect us to look for him.’ ‘Exactly,’ rejoined the first, ‘so he will have decided to outwit us by entering.’ They therefore searched the place thoroughly. Meanwhile the Theban thief, who could not read, had run on to safety across the boundary.” 1 likes
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