Book Review: The Emperor in the Byzantine World: Papers of the Forty-Seventh Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies


by Shaun Tougher, editor

New York: Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies / Routledge, 2019. Pp. xxiv, 380. Illus., maps, plans, tables, notes, biblio., index. $140.00. ISBN: 1138218685

Ruling the Byzantine State

For reviewers, books generated by academic conferences present a challenge. Typically each scholar invited to submit a paper beats the drum of his or her own micro-specialty, paying minimal lip service to the announced theme of the event.

In Byzantine studies, a particularly obscure and exclusive little academic enclave, the hapless “general reader” is often adrift in a sea of medieval Greek block quotes, and inaccessible references in a slew of modern languages.

Dr. Shaun Tougher, Reader in Ancient History at Cardiff University, in Wales, should be congratulated for editing a volume that avoids these pitfalls. The Emperor in the Byzantine World is coherent and mostly quite readable, while still complying with the elaborate, meticulous, and sometime arcane requirements of academic publication.

There were approximately 73 emperors and five ruling empresses of the Eastern Roman empire, which we call “Byzantine” (the count varies in different sources, depending on the inclusion of some short-lived usurpers). In recent years there have been a number of excellent studies of the Byzantine empresses – elite women who managed to hold and exercise political power in a fiercely patriarchal society. But there is still no single volume in English that can stand alongside Fergus Millar’s masterful 656-page work, The Emperor in the Roman World (Bristol, 1992).

The seventeen individual papers in the book are organized into four thematic sections:

· Dynasty: Imperial Families

· The Emperor’s Men: Court and Empire

· The Emperor as Ruler: Duties and Ideals

· The Material Emperor: Image Space and Empire

Papers of particular interest include Mark Masterson’s “Revisiting the Bachelorhood of Basil II,” which cautiously suggests that this ferocious military emperor (ruled 976-1025) never married because he was homosexual, and Lynn Jones’s “Taking it on the Road: The Palace on the Move,” which examines how the massive imperial court went on campaign. The final, extensively illustrated chapter, “Unveiling Byzantium in Wales” by Mark Redknap, reviews some of the archaeological evidence for trade and cultural connections between the Eastern empire and the British isles.

With a list price of $140, a book like this will only find a place on the shelves of reviewers, academic specialists and the most generously funded university libraries, but for that small community, it is a most welcome contribution.


Note: The Emperor in the Byzantine World is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Our Reviewer:   Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWorld and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors.) He has previously reviewed To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War, Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler's "Final Solution" Undermined the German War Effort, Governments-in-Exile and the Jews During the Second World War, Constantine XI Dragaš Palaeologus, and Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium..
Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   

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