In AD 476 the Roman Empire fell–or rather, its western half did. Its eastern half, which would come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, would endure and often flourish for another eleven centuries. Though its capital would move to Constantinople, its citizens referred to themselves as Roman for the entire duration of the empire’s existence. Indeed, so did its neighbors, allies, and enemies: When the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, he took the title Caesar of Rome, placing himself in a direct line that led back to Augustus.
For far too many otherwise historically savvy people today, the story of the Byzantine civilization is something of a void. Yet for more than a millennium, Byzantium reigned as the glittering seat of Christian civilization. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages, Byzantium held fast against Muslim expansion, keeping Christianity alive. When literacy all but vanished in the West, Byzantium made primary education available to both sexes. Students debated the merits of Plato and Aristotle and commonly committed the entirety of Homer’s Iliad to memory. Streams of wealth flowed into Constantinople, making possible unprecedented wonders of art and architecture, from fabulous jeweled mosaics and other iconography to the great church known as the Hagia Sophia that was a vision of heaven on earth. The dome of the Great Palace stood nearly two hundred feet high and stretched over four acres, and the city’s population was more than twenty times that of London’s.
From Constantine, who founded his eponymous city in the year 330, to Constantine XI, who valiantly fought the empire’s final battle more than a thousand years later, the emperors who ruled Byzantium enacted a saga of political intrigue and conquest as astonishing as anything in recorded history. Lost to the West is replete with stories of assassination, mass mutilation and execution, sexual scheming, ruthless grasping for power, and clashing armies that soaked battlefields with the blood of slain warriors numbering in the tens of thousands.
Still, it was Byzantium that preserved for us today the great gifts of the classical world. Of the 55,000 ancient Greek texts in existence today, some 40,000 were transmitted to us by Byzantine scribes. And it was the Byzantine Empire that shielded Western Europe from invasion until it was ready to take its own place at the center of the world stage. Filled with unforgettable stories of emperors, generals, and religious patriarchs, as well as fascinating glimpses into the life of the ordinary citizen, Lost to the West reveals how much we owe to this empire that was the equal of any in its achievements, appetites, and enduring legacy.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Lost to the West|
|Release Date: 09-15-2009|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Crown Publishing Group|
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Lost to the West
The long-suffering people of the third-century Roman Empire had the distinct misfortune to live in interesting times. For three centuries before Constantine's birth, Roman architects, engineers, and soldiers had crisscrossed the known world, bringing order and stability to the barbaric, diverse lands beyond the frontiers of Italy. In the wake of the mighty Pax Romana came more than fifty-thousand miles of arrow-straight, graded roads and towering aqueducts, impervious alike to the mountains and valleys that they spanned. These highways were the great secret of empire, providing access to markets, ease of travel, and an imperial mail system that could cover more than five hundred miles in a single day. Graceful cities sprang up along the major routes, complete with amphitheaters, public baths, and even indoor plumbing--a visible testament to the triumph of civilization. But by the third century, time had ravaged the empire's glory, and revolts had stained its streets with blood. Those impressive Roman roads that had so effectively exported the empire now became its greatest weakness as rebel armies and barbarian hordes came rushing in. No one--not even the ephemeral emperors--was safe in those uncertain times. In the first eight decades of the century, twenty-nine men sat on the imperial throne, but only one escaped murder or capture to die a natural death.
Apathy and enervation seemed to be everywhere, sapping the strength of once solid Roman foundations. The military, too busy playing kingmaker to maintain itself, fell victim like everything else to the sickness of the age. In 259, the proud Emperor Valerian led his soldiers against the Persians, and suffered one of the greatest hum...