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Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium Paperback – 21 Jun 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (21 Jun. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521036984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521036986
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 919,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'Kaegi offers a comprehensive and lucid analysis of Roman and Persian relationships in the early seventh century … Kaegi's study usefully fills out an all too common gap in modern perceptions of early medieval history.' The Times Literary Supplement

'Kaegi is a master of his sources and this biography will provide the starting point for future serious study of the emperor.' History Today

'Kaegi brings his broad knowledge of Eastern sources to this biography, the first in English.' Judith Herrin, BBC History

'… a compelling assessment of an extraordinary reign.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Book Description

This book evaluates the life and empire of the pivotal yet controversial and poorly understood Byzantine emperor Heraclius (AD 610–641), a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad. His stormy reign is critical for understanding the background to fundamental changes in the Middle East and Balkans, including the emergence of Islam.

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The seventh century did not begin auspiciously. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Duducu on 22 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an academic title so the emphasis is on the facts rather than a rivetting narrative. With that said, the story is still well written and accessible to all. Kaegi avoids the pitfalls of presumption or overly flowery language.

Heraclius is more important to the modern world than you may first realise he was born into a world that Julius Caesar would have recognised, the Classical Roman way of life still existed (although Christianised). Indeed the biggest threat at the start of his reign was the Persians an Empire that had been a threat to the West for a thousand years. However by the end of his life his lands were under threat from this new group called "Muslims". A group that was to over take the Persians as the main concern in the West for the next thousand years. So in many ways Heraclius is a link between the classical world and the medieval period.

Because of this it's a shame more isn't written on him however with this book you have an excellent biography of an interesting man at a fascinating moment of history.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Arch Stanton TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover
First off this is the best book out there on Heraclius. Second, that's a very sad thing. I don't know what's wrong with Walter Kaegi because he's a brilliant historian but he cannot write for squat. This book is probably the most disorganized and disjointed book I've ever read. That bits of brilliance still peek through is a testament to the depths of his scholarship but would a little editing really have hurt? It's over 300 pages long so it's not like it was done so quickly it didn't have time to be reviewed before publication. The number of times that this book repeats itself is horrifying. Not just a summary either, Kaegi actually includes the same material multiple times throughout the book. Between the repeats the text is dense and confusingly worded with sentences that need to be translated. I have to wonder, is English this man's native language? Why didn't he have a proofreader go over it before he published it. A little bit of editing could have made this book a masterpiece.

Good news though: once you get past the difficult wording and the repeated information the information is quite solid and insightful. Of particular interest is the discussion of the importance of intelligence in Byzantine warfare and the strength of North Africa during the 7th Century. This is good information and displays a solid analysis of the facts. So there are some real gems here that make it worth picking your way through the entirely unnecessarily complicated text. Also of interest are the slim facts presented dealing with Heraclius' personality. The man doesn't seem to have been a particularly nice man which wouldn't be a surprise except for the way he's been romanticized over the years. The account is not lacking in sympathy however.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 18 April 2012
Format: Paperback
First, let's get the record straight. Another reviewer on Amazon-co-uk, who also happens to be a novellist that has written a number of books on the period, has claimed that this book is "the first biography in over a century, and the first ever in English. I am sorry to say that neither statement is perfectly accurate. In French, there is l'Empereur Heraclius et l'Expansion Arabe, from N. Stratos (1980). In English, we have "First Crusader: Byzantium's Holy Wars" from G. Regan (2003) and the Reign of Heraclius (610-641): Crisis and Confrontation (a collection of 13 scholarly studies presented during a workshop on Heraclius).

Granted, none of these is a "biography" in the strict sense of the term, but then I don't know if even Walter Kaegi's book would qualify as a biography, since we know little about Heraclius before 610 when he becomes emperor at about 35 years old. For instance, we do not know anything about his education as a child or a teen-ager and we don't even know whether he spent his childhood in Armenia or in Constantinople. It is is generally assumed that his father was Arminian (or of Armenian descent, as many byzantine soldiers at the time). A general of Emperor Maurikios between 585 and about 600, and who show active serve and won a couple of victories against the Persians, Heraclius the Elder was appointed Exarch of Africa sometime around 600 or 602 (anyway, before the fall of Emepror Maurikios).

Second, this is an excellent - although not perfect (the regious controversies of the reign could have done with a bit more explaining, perhaps) - book on substance but it is marred by form. To get the form issues out of the way, these seem to be a combination of relatively poor editing and - perhaps mostly - the author's manierism.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Paul Kemp on 26 Jun. 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Emperor Heraclius was the emperor who lost most of the Middle East to the armies of the Prophet Mohamed. Why he lost will always be a point of debate around such facts such as the state of the empire after the Persian wars, & the effects of the endlass Byzantine Christological conflicts on the will to fight. Mr Kaegi's book is a closely detailed examination of Heraclius's life based solely on primary or near primary sources. It is an academically inclined work & is particularly good at revealing the atmosphere within the empire in the short time between its triumph over the Persians & it's partial defeat by Islamic forces. Surely it greatest victory & it worst defeat before the crusaders sacked Constantinople.
For a general reader with a great passion for the Byzantine Empire It was enlightening to read an history on a Byzantine theme by an academic historian, as opposed to the sort of history on this subject by authors who are not historians but who aim to make a good story using well known sources. As a consequence it took more energy to read but was also more rewarding than a general history.
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