The Byzantine World War – Nick Holmes

Summary:

An interesting and thought-provoking overview of that most enigmatic of empires, Byzantium. It deals specifically with the hundred years or so before and including the First Crusade, and makes a compelling argument to treat the desperate defence of Byzantium, and the prosecution of the Crusade as the real first world war.

Main Characters:

Romanus Diogenes: 1068-71: A warrior Emperor, who fought the battle of Manzikert, but was betrayed.

Michael Doukas: Emperor who followed Diogenes. The most apt comparison would be chalk & cheese.

Alp Arslan: Seljuk Sultan who opposed Diogenes at Manzikert.

Basil II: 976-1025: Emperor before Diogenes.

Minor Characters:

Pope Urban II: He called for the First Crusade, 1095.

Tughril: Great Sultan, 1038-1063.

Plot:

Byzantium, with its capital Constantinople, has always fascinated me. It has an intensely complex history, and some of the greatest characters to have lived.

In this novel, the author tells of the events leading up to the First Crusade, in the eleventh century. He breaks the book into two sections, the first dealing with the decline of the Empire in the hundred years or so from Basil II, then to the role that Byzantium played in the build-up to the First Crusade.

The book is concise, and gives a clear timeline, with enough information on the characters and events as they play out to make the events come alive. The author did not set out to compile a comprehensive study, but rather to give a well-founded guide to the era.

The author takes a contrarian view of the emperor Diogenes, depicting him in the absolute opposite terms to how he has been described throughout history. The author blames this misrepresentation on the Doukai, the family that replaced Diogenes as emperor, and sullied his name. The author writes of a seasoned army general, who came to power and began to re-organise and re-vamp the Roman Army (we call them Byzantines – they called themselves Romans), which due to internal conflict amongst the aristocracy, had become a pale shadow of its former self.

Through the author’s eyes, we see how close Diogenes came to writing a new history of Anatolia, and potentially of the West. We also see the reasons behind his downfall.

The author also deals with the various waves of nomads and mercenaries that swept through this troubled area, and the powerful personalities that drove the Crusaders to the gates of Jerusalem. Again, he succinctly gives an overview of the political currents and pressures, and the short-sightedness of supposed leaders.

What I Liked:

  • The author being unequivocal in his defence of the maligned Diogenes.
  • The engaging writing style
  • The coherence the author brought to the timeline, while making t an engaging read.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Nothing – I really enjoyed it.

Overall:

A very good read, and an excellent primer for those who want to delve further into this time. It will entertain and inform, with some great insights into human behaviour. Absolutely recommended.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Matador, Troubador Publishing and NetGalley, who gave me a free copy of the book in return for an honest and objective review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s