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Byzantine Matters Hardcover – 6 Apr 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (6 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691157634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691157634
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 18.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 331,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Averil Cameron taught at King's College London before she returned to Oxford in 1994 as Warden of Keble College. She retired as Warden in 2010 and is enjoying having more time to write and go to the lectures and seminars she often missed before. Her book The Byzantines, 2006, won the Criticos Prize and she spoke at the Oxford and Hay literary festivals on her new book, Byzantine Matters, in 2014. She is currently exploring the subject of Socratic dialogues written by Christian authors from the early Christian period until the end of Byzantium, on which see her Dialoguing in Late Antiquity, 2014.

Product Description


"Byzantine Matters is a fighting book. It may well be that the title was chosen to echo Cornel West's Race Matters. In a more restrained and academic vein than West--but with no less tenacity--Cameron points to an injustice: the absence of Byzantium from the historical consciousness of Western Europe. . . . Seen from the mean streets of university and state policies in the United Kingdom, Cameron's book makes depressing reading. But seen as a program for Byzantine studies in themselves, it is a crackling description of an intellectual trajectory."--Peter Brown, New York Review of Books

"No one has written about the history and culture of Byzantium with such luminous intelligence as Averil Cameron."--Peter Thornemann, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a robust, insider critique of the field by an important and highly influential scholar with a formidable international reputation. . . . Four elegant chapters, dealing in turn with empire, identity, visual culture and religion, demonstrate with clarity and economy the extent to which too much recent work on Byzantium continues to wall itself off from new lines of inquiry. . . . Cameron's feisty and provocative manifesto should immediately be placed under every Byzantinist's pillow."--Christopher Kelly, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a must-read for anyone studying Byzantium. . . . [I]t will be very useful to students and enthusiasts of the empire, as well as medievalists and late antiquarians."--Library Journal

"Byzantine Matters is a deceptively small and slight volume in appearance, but it is a book on a mission. Taking five interlocking themes, it sets out to do nothing less than make its readers realise why Byzantium is not something long ago and far away but something that should matter to us all. . . . I, for one, as a feminist scholar working on Byzantine women, have gained and learnt a huge amount from her and her work."--Liz James, Anglo-Hellenic Review

"[A]ttractively produced. . . . [A] more distinctive book, accessible but also directed at the field itself."--Shaun Tougher, History Today

"Cameron makes her case, as one would expect, with eloquence, insight, erudition and power. There is a great deal in what she argues."--Peter N. Bell, Acta Classica

"I found the subject fascinating and Professor Cameron's arguments most persuasive. It has certainly inspired me to investigate the subject and to try to read some of the introductory texts recommended by her."--Rosemary Conely, Open History

"Not everyone will agree with the judgments in this brief but stimulating book, but it provides perfect reading for societies, programs, and departments seeking to join the conversation about Byzantine matters."--Derek Krueger, Project Muse

"It is a book about academics for academics, and valuable for the huge range of up-to-the minute secondary literature that the author takes on board."--Paul Magdalino, Speculum

From the Back Cover

"Tackling some of the most controversial issues posed by the millennial history of Byzantium, Averil Cameron boldly confronts questions of identity, ethnicity, and continuity of language and religious practice, as well as notoriously difficult topics such as Hellenism and Orthodoxy. Through a comparative analysis of interpretations and cultural attitudes, she demonstrates both the indisputable significance of Byzantium in the medieval world and its continuing importance today."--Judith Herrin, author of Margins and Metropolis and Unrivalled Influence

"In this brilliant and remarkably refreshing book, one of the most distinguished living Byzantinists describes what has changed and what still needs to change in our approach to Byzantium. Personal, direct, and written with extraordinary acuity, Byzantine Matters will be essential reading for all those interested in the future of classical, medieval, and Byzantine studies."--Peter Sarris, author of Empires of Faith: The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam, 500-700

"This is a wonderful sequence of reflections from a sophisticated scholar."--Paul Stephenson, author of Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Anon on 8 Jun. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Averil Cameron presents a series of short, eloquent, and combative methodological reflections on current issues in Byzantine Studies. If you are interested in Byzantium, you should read this. If you don't know anything about Byzantine Studies, but want to know what the big questions are, this is the perfect place to start. An instant classic, beautifully presented at a bargain price.
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By Mr B. on 21 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent, clear, balanced exposition of the essential questions in Byzantine studies. Very readable and essential reading for anone interested at any level in Byzantine history and culture.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Apocolocyntosis on 19 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover
Contrary to the opinion of the first reviewer, this is not a book to begin reading about Byzantium. That is done by reading Whittow's "Making of (Orthodox) Byzantium 600-1025". Rather this is a place to end up in, for what Cameron does in her 5 essays here is organise the chief matters of Byzantine studies. Her book has the curious effect of taking a girl's long fly-away hair and binding it into a number of orderly plaits. There is an undoubted 'tristesse', perceptible almost as if in Braille, of a woman at the end of her academic career who cannot quite understand why all other Classicists didn't naturally follow on from Antiquity into Byzantium. As she did. And I did. The book is sprinkled with kind hints of whom we ought to read again or next, and some sharp slaps for people - usually nameless, unless deserving of a very red bottom: Ostrogorsky, for instance - who have derailed the discipline. The bibliography and the notes are excellent.
The small size of the volume, and its brevity, suggests a sort of literary Will.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An excellent book, BUT.....not for the General Reader 8 Jan. 2015
By 'German Boy' - Published on
Format: Hardcover

Stimulated by an enthusiastic review of this book in the New York Review of Books of 18 December 2014 and the high standing of its author in the academic AND publishing world, I decided to borrow it through my local library. I am glad I read it.

Growing up in the Eastern Mediterranean, I have more than a passing acquaintance with the Byzantines. I have admired their art - have visited the Hagia Sophia [disfigured as it is by the four medallions, naming Muslim venerables, applied to the main columns] - have admired their impressive, indeed unforgettable, mosaics in Ravenna - and much more!

Their tenacious survival--longer than the Western Romans by 200-300 years--against tremendous odds is inspiring; suggesting continuing intellectual and cultural vigor. Ethnically they are hard to define and I believe that they struggled with their identity. They spoke Greek, but --- they were not really `Greek.'

Professor Averil Cameron has written what amounts to an impassioned plea to `pull the Byzantines into the mainstream' [my formulation] of Western historiography. The loving care with which she wrote this book, along with her immense--and exhaustively documented--erudition reflects her academic achievements: Professor Emeritus of Late Antique and Byzantine History at the University of Oxford. She practically created--certainly revived--that period, otherwise ignored, of Western history.

So ----why only 4 stars? I used the word `exhaustive[ly]' above advisedly. It makes for exhausting reading because of its plethora of facts and citations. For one deeply versed in late antiquity and particularly in `Byzantine Matters' [the latter word has a double meaning] it is a rewarding read. is not for the General Reader desiring acquaintance with a fascinating time and its many cultures.

For the general reader, I might recommend a book by Averil Cameron that I have not read, `The Byzantines,' a slender 296-page volume, perhaps better suited to getting the reader into an exploratory mood.

I will now bring some of the venerable professor's own words:

In Chapter 5, pp. 95-96, the author posits:

"[....] If Byzantine high-level culture as a whole was "logocentric," this was certainly true of its conception of Orthodoxy. Such an emphasis, combined with the perceived need to cite and interpret patristic authorities for every doctrinal statement, might seem to lead to inescapable deadlock, had it not been for the convenient Byzantine principle of "economy" or flexibility, which could be invoked to resolve an otherwise insoluble situation.

The decentralization of religious authority in Byzantium was a distinct disadvantage when it came to debates with the Latins. Another disadvantage in the discussions was the fact that there was no equivalent to the new scholastic training that developed in the west. Indeed, in Byzantine higher education (a conglomerate of teachers, posts, and private "schools") the dividing line between philosophy and rhetoric was blurred, like that between theology and philosophy, and theological teaching as such was not included. Especially in later Byzantium, numerous individuals moved without undue difficulty between "chairs," court posts, and ecclesiastical appointments, and it was not uncommon for the holders of teaching posts to leave and enter monastic orders."

Professor Cameron also repeatedly points out that Byzantine culture was more socially flexible [see above--principle of "economy" or flexibility] than the Western Roman--because of its intense intellectual preoccupations and cogitations, involving Christian religion and the `Greek Fathers' [Plato and Aristotle].

In her Epilogue [p. 113], the author puts it this way:

"[....] Yet it remains true that at its higher levels Byzantium was a learned culture, the nature of which is still not fully understood or appreciated. It was also a highly competitive, and in premodern terms open, society, in which in most periods learning and especially rhetorical skill provided a pathway to advancement."

The last two paragraphs [p. 115] sum up her arguments in this passionate manner:

"Byzantium belongs to all of us, and it belongs to mainstream history.

This is why the field of Byzantine studies must be rescued from its continuing association with the competing claims of negativity and exoticism. Byzantine exceptionalism is an idea that holds us back. It is intimately connected with the idea of Byzantium as victim or subaltern. Recent publications have set an encouraging pattern. But now the subject needs to be opened up further, and Byzantium seen against more 'normal' and wider perspectives."
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Byzantium’s epiphany 9 Aug. 2014
By Sceptique500 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Even before opening it, this book is a delight. Just as with icons, the aesthetics of the object signifies the pleasure of the intellectual journey ahead. The unusual format is attractive, the cover image intriguing, and the paper weight pleasing under the fingers. A special thanks to the publisher.

Byzantium matters: in this short (and not always easily decrypted) text, the civilization that was Byzantium comes to life in all its complexity. To me, a neophyte, this has been a journey of discovery, and of shedding prejudices, of reminding oneself of how much history has to offer, if we shed our prejudices, and study it with both a heart and a uncluttered mind.

This book is not a history of Byzantium (though the bibliography reveals many worthwhile works). It raises matters connected with historiography of the empire: why has it been “absent” from mainstream history? Was it an “empire”? What was its connection to Hellenism? How should we approach icons and Byzantine art? Finally: was there a “orthodoxy? To all these questions the author suggests startling points of view for further research. Nothing is wrong, though not everything is easy, for the author speaks often to the initiates, though kindly taking the time to explain certain controversies to outsiders.

It may be prejudice, but I have gleaned from the bibliographgy that there is a strong presence of women historians in the field of Byzantine studies. This reminds me of an area of biological research, which had been “outsourced” to a woman, because the bacterium was not considered glamorous. She stuck with it and in so doing revolutionized the field, to the dismay of her patronizing male colleagues.
Many of the historical questions that are fashionable today, I suspect, have been treated in Byzantine studies early, and in depth. This book is worthwhile detour, from which better to understand the discipline as well as the subject area.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great Rhetoric, Thin on Content 28 Jan. 2015
By Fred W. Hallberg - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book mainly attacked other historians for their neglect of Byzantium. I accept that talking point, but I was hoping for more specific material about Byzantium's influence and achievements.
Misunderstanding of the importance, some would say of the ... 31 Mar. 2015
By Antonios Vitalis - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Misunderstanding of the importance, some would say of the ignorance, of Byzantium in the West and of the significance of the eastern part of the Roman Empire is well argued in this book. The style is clear and the content well referenced. Importantly the book clearly shows the cultural and historical importance of Byzantium to European civilization. While the rest of Europe experienced the 'dark ages' Byzantium flourished.
One might have expected a more detailed discussion of the development of Christian thought in the two parts of the Roman empire, the West being influenced by Roman Law and the East by Greek philosophy. But the book’s intent, achieved remarkably well, is to provide a short overview of an empire that lasted for over a thousand years. I congratulate Averil Cameron and hope this is a forerunner to more books in English exploring Byzantine matters.
8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
a thoughtful reflection on Byzantine historiography today 19 April 2014
By Kostas - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A. Cameron uses her usual thoughtful and directed style to reflect and eventually conclude "Byzantium belongs to all of us, and it belongs to mainstream history." Five interesting talks on different aspects of how the study of Byzantium is evolving. This will be of great interest to any study of Byzantium, the veteran and the newcomer!
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