A concise political, social and religious history of the Byzantine empire.
Michael Angold's book is a clear, concise and authoritative history of the successor state to the Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire. It was named after Byzantium, which Emperor Constantine I rebuilt in 330 AD as Constantinople and made the capital of the entire Roman Empire.
Angold begins in the heart of Byzantium, the city of Constantinople from which a new Empire emerged. He shows how the foundation and growth of the city altered the balance of the Roman empire, shifting the centre of gravity east. He describes the emergence of political factions and their impact on political life and traces the rise of Islam. Angold concludes his book by stressing the continuing attraction and influence of imperial Byzantium, best seen in Norman Sicily.
This richly layered narrative brings to life the many faceted culture of Byzantium, crown jewel of the East from the fourth century to the Middle Ages. Angold, a historian at the University of Edinburgh, begins with Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and moved his capital to Constantinople (Byzantium), which competed with Rome as the center of politics and religion. The ancient city became even further spiritualized when Justinian I built the Church of St. Sophia, turning the city into a kind of New Jerusalem whose inhabitants believed themselves protected by the "Mother of God." During Justinian's reign, Byzantine Christians' use of icons to represent spiritual reality became their culture's defining mark. However, Angold contends, iconology provoked iconoclasm between the sixth and the ninth centuries, when Western Christians such as John of Damascus challenged the veneration of icons. But disagreements within the Christian community were not the only assault on Byzantine unity. Beginning in the seventh century, Islam challenged the political and religious unity of the city and the empire, first through military incursions and later through religious controversy, namely their rejection of the veneration of icons. Even so, mosque and church architectures were mutually influential, though perhaps mosques, with their emphasis on large spaces for prayer, affected Byzantine Christian design more significantly. By the Middle Ages, Angold argues, the art and religion of Byzantium, once rejected by the West, had become firmly entrenched. Icons, especially, were accepted as religious art, even though East and West disagreed over their precise uses. Angold's fascinating book reveals a magnificent holy city both divided and unified. Three maps and 24 pages of b&w photos.