Once upon a time, I was a history major and I think I stay pretty current, historically speaking. One day, not too long ago, I realized that I had basically missed an entire era and civilization. Byzantium – hummm, wasn’t that some sort of precursor to the Ottoman Empire. Decadent and short lived right? Wrong.
In late 2009, I stumbled across Lars Brownworths’ podcast series – 12 Byzantine Rulers: the history of the Byzantine Empire and I was stunned. And then I was hooked. The Roman Empire didn’t fall in A.D. 476 but survived for another thousand years in glorious splendor (and yes, decadence) with its magnificent new capital at Byzantium. The podcast series is delightful and Brownsworth deserves all the praise heaped upon him.
But once you listen to the podcasts be sure to read Brownworth’s book. Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization reads like a combination historical-political thriller and religious romance. The emperors and their empresses, generals and soldiers, bishops and hermits who crowd these pages are fascinating. And even though we know that the Empire is doomed we still root for those trying desperately to forestall that fate.
So, am I the only history major in the world to have gotten the Byzantine Empire totally wrong?