Book Review: A Short History of the Byzantine Empire: Revised Edition


by Dionysios Stathakopoulos

London / New York: Bloomsbury, 2023. Pp. xxii, 230. Illus., maps, appends, further reading, index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 1350233412

A Concise Look at Byzantine History – Mike Markowitz

During the past century, the tiny, inbred academic field of Byzantine Studies was dominated by professors of British, French, or Slavic heritage. More recently, a generation of young scholars with Greek roots have become prominent in the field. Dionysos Stathakopoulos, currently at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia, stands out among these.

He writes:

"My aim was to produce a clear account of the long history of the Byzantine Empire based on the latest research in all major European languages. I also wanted to highlight and explain ongoing debates in the field instead of providing a smoothed narrative. Furthermore, contrary to many comparable short histories of the Empire, I gave special emphasis to the economic, social, and cultural changes within Byzantium."… (p. xiii),

Intended mainly as a textbook for a survey course on Byzantine history, this compact and inexpensive volume, newly revised to reflect current scholarship, serves its purpose admirably. The book is organized chronologically, but it is much more than a dry recounting of emperors, palace intrigues, and long-forgotten battles.

A listing of the chapter titles shows the comprehensive scope of this book:

Introduction: What is Byzantium?

1. Becoming the Eastern Roman Empire, 330–491

2. Masters of the Mediterranean, 491–602

3. Negotiating Retraction, 602–717

4. From Survival to Revival, 717–867

5. Expansion and Radiance, 867–1056

6. The Appearance of Strength 1056–1204

7. The Legacy of Fragmentation, 1204–1341

8. Heading for the Fall, 1341–1453

9. Aftermath and Afterlife

The text is enhanced by five clearly drawn maps and 30 well-chosen monochrome photographs. Appendices include a detailed timeline, a short essay on “Peoples Around Byzantium,” and “Further Reading,” a very up to date annotated bibliography.

The fascinating last chapter recounts the fate of Constantinople and its people under Ottoman rule and the stories of some of the Byzantine refugees who fled to the West. It reviews the emergence of Byzantine studies in early modern Europe and concludes with this thoughtful judgment:

Like its walls that had been impregnable until the advent of cannons, the slow-changing pace of this state that always had a foot in an ancient world that had long vanished could not keep up with the pace of its shifting environment.” (p. 186),

If I were teaching an undergraduate survey course on Byzantium, I would choose this book as the text, despite my fondness for A Short History of Byzantium (1997) by John Julius Norwich, which may be more entertaining storytelling, but is now somewhat outdated, and at 430 pages, quite a lot more reading.


Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWeek.Com and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors). His previous reviews include, 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), Constantine XI Dragaš Palaeologus, Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, The Emperor in the Byzantine World, The Politics of Roman Memory: From the Fall of the Western Empire to the Age of Justinian, Theodosius and the Limits of Empire, Byzantium Triumphant: The Military History of the Byzantines, 959–1025, Rome Resurgent: War and Empire in the Age of Justinian, Bohemond of Taranto, The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada, Ancient Rome: Infographics, and Byzantium and the Crusades.



Note: A Short History of the Byzantine Empire is also available in hard cover & e-editions.


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

Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   

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