"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The End of Byzantium

Last week, May 29th, marked the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, thereby bringing to an end the East-Roman or Byzantine Empire that had ruled from that magnificent city for more than a thousand years. Of course, by the fifteenth century it was little more than a city-state, its once mighty and vast territory having been gobbled up by Islamic and other powers. A number of well-known books have told the sad tale of the imperial collapse, but a new one, by Jonathan Harris, author of previous books in the area, has recently been published: Id., The End of Byzantium (Yale University Press, 2011), 336pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
By 1400, the once-mighty Byzantine Empire stood on the verge of destruction. Most of its territories had been lost to the Ottoman Turks, and Constantinople was under close blockade. Against all odds, Byzantium lingered on for another fifty years until 1453, when the Ottomans dramatically toppled the capital's walls. During this bleak and uncertain time, ordinary Byzantines faced difficult decisions to protect their livelihoods and families against the death throes of their homeland. In this evocative and moving book, Jonathan Harris explores individual stories of diplomatic manoeuvres, covert defiance, and sheer luck against a backdrop of major historical currents, and he traces Byzantium's legacy through those emigrants and refugees who reached and influenced Italy, Russia, and beyond. Weaving together letters, chronicles, travellers' accounts, and other little-known archival documents, Harris dispels the myth of constant warfare between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages and offers a new perspective on the real reasons behind the fall of this extraordinarily fascinating empire.

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