Book Review: The New Roman Empire: A History of Byzantium


by Anthony Kaldellis

Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2023. Pp. viii, 1152. Illus., maps, appends, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 0197549322

The Empire that Survived

“Of the Byzantine Empire the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed . . . . Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.”

This often-cited quotation from W.E.H. Lecky’s History of European Morals (1869) is typical of the low regard that centuries of Western scholarship has held toward the Eastern Roman Empire. The term “Byzantine” was coined by 17th century historians to describe the state that ruled much of the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkans for over a thousand years, from its capital at Constantinople (today Istanbul). People who lived in that Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian empire called themselves Romaioi (“Romans”) and their ruler was the Basileus Romaion (“Emperor of the Romans”) although contemptuous Westerners called him the “King of the Greeks.”

In recent years, a new generation of academics, many of Greek heritage, have struggled to rescue Byzantine history from the neglect and obscurity that has long surrounded it. This monumental new book, weighing in at well over a thousand pages, will stand as a landmark in that effort. This is the first attempt to produce a complete scholarly history of the Empire in a single-volume since Warren Treadgold’s History of the Byzantine State and Society (Stanford, 1997).

Thirty seven chapters are divided into ten logically organized sections:

Part One: A New Empire

Part Two: Dynastic Insecurities and Religious Passions

Part Three: The Return of Civilian Government

Part Four: The Strain of Grand Ambitions

Part Five: To the Brink of Despair

Part Six: Resilience and Recovery

Part Seven: The Path Toward Empire

Part Eight: A New Paradigm

Part Nine: Exile and Return

Part Ten: Dignity in Defeat

The book includes fifteen well-executed and detailed maps, and numerous monochrome photographs, including coins, manuscript illustrations, works of art, and surviving buildings from the Empire’s long history.

No one would describe this massive work as light reading, but I was struck by how almost every page offered a new insight or a fascinating fact. Any reader with an abiding interest in the subject will find this book to be a worthwhile investment.

Kaldellis writes,

The history of the New Roman Empire is one of the most fascinating tales in human history. It is at times Biblical, taking its cue from scriptural archetypes, and at times heroic, drawing on Homer and the classics. It is replete with saints and sinners. But behind the more colorful figures, there labored a host of bureaucrats, lawyers, military engineers, land surveyors, and tax collectors that kept the whole thing together. This is a story of a single society held together by a strong sense of its values and its identity, and by robust institutions that enabled it to survive the most dangerous millennium of human history.” (p. 7)

The author, Anthony Kaldellis, is Professor of History at the University of Chicago. His previous books include Streams of Blood, Rivers of Gold (Oxford, 2017) and Romanland (Harvard, 2019).


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, Byzantium and the Crusades, A Short History of the Byzantine Empire, and Theoderic the Great.



Note: The New Roman Empire is also available in e-editions.


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

Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   

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