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John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057: Translation and Notes Paperback – 16 Feb 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 526 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (16 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107404746
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107404748
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 615,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'As John Wortley indicates, this translation took many years to come to fruition. But it now has the potential to contribute very substantially to those reassessments of the political and cultural history of Byzantium in the tenth and eleventh centuries which are currently underway in a variety of scholarly contexts across Europe and North America.' Catherine Holmes, Early Medieval Europe

Book Description

This 2010 book was the first complete English translation of John Skylitzes' extraordinary Middle Byzantine chronicle, covering two centuries of Byzantine history, from the death of Nicephorus I in 811 to the deposition of Michael VI in 1057. This edition features introductions by Jean-Claude Cheynet and Bernard Flusin, along with extensive notes.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kertimmas on 31 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book! The basic narrative of Skylitzes is followed by detailed notes made by Cheynet. In this way the book is a combination of a narrative of the "classical" middle period of Byzantium and a detailed encyclopedia of byzantine stydies. Cheynet's notes correct Skylitzes when he's wrong, complete him when he's superficial and provide a detailed prosopographical information about the historical persons mentioned by Skilitzes (origins, career, other known relatives etc).

The narrative begins with the defeat of emperor Nikephoros I in Bulgaria and ends with Isaac Komnenos' revolt and his rise to the imperial throne. The byzantine "Golden Age" of the three soldier-emperors (Nikephoros Phokas, John Tzimiskes and Basil II) are roughly in the middle of the narrative. This gives the narrative a first phase of ascendancy (811-1025) followed by a second phase of slowly increasing decadence that was the result of Basil's "poisonous legacy": a very large empire difficult to handle, with substantial numbers of traditionally non Byzantine populations who along with the more traditionally Byzantine ones resented the tax reforms imposed on them by Constantinople.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Good translation, flaws in the original. 3 April 2012
By The Universal Geek - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
John Skylitzes' Synopsis of Byzantine History is one of the chief sources for the history of the middle Byzantine Empire. Written in the late eleventh century by a court official, it draws together and summarizes information from some sources we still have (like the books of Michael Psellus and Leo the Deacon) and some we don't (including a few whose authorship is unknown). It contains little original material - as the title says, it's a synopsis - but the information is nevertheless valuable.

This translation is the first English rendering of Skylitzes' book, and it's clearly written for a semi-academic audience - footnotes abound, references to the works of modern medieval historians/Byzantinists are legion, official terms like "protovestiarios" and "synkellos" are handled like words of one syllable. Happily, there's a glossary in the back for mere mortals like yours truly. The translator misses the occasional hyphen and his transliterations differ from the standard ("Porphyrogennetos" for "Porphyrogenitus", "kataphractoi" for "cataphracts", etc.). Other than those minor quibbles, the translation seems good. I don't read Greek, so I can't vouch for its fidelity to the original.

Most of the rest of the irregularities are original to Skylitzes, and chief among them is unevenness of style and material. His synopses were frequently cut-and-paste, verbatim quotations from sources, and as a result the style of the book changes dramatically depending on whose original source was being used. For the same reason, some emperors' reigns are almost entirely a catalogue of their military accomplishments, like the chapter on Basil II "Bulgaroctonus" (The Bulgar-Killer); others are mostly about religious disputes; still others are so laudatory and inaccurate it's sickening. Basil I "The Macedonian" was really not that nice a guy, and despite Skylitzes' attempts to dignify his early years, he was a stablehand who murdered and seduced his way to the throne. However, as that last sentence implies, Skylitzes' tale can get quite interesting. Perhaps the best example is the story of George Maniakis (Maniaces), whose last few years of life bear a strong resemblance to the plot of "Gladiator": the most successful general of the mid-eleventh century, he ran afoul of the emperor's favorite Romanus Sclerus, who had him falsely accused of treason, deprived of his command, and arrested. While Maniakis was in prison, Sclerus stole some of his estates, plundered the rest, and slept with his wife. On hearing about this, Maniakis broke jail, returned to his army, and led it to Constantinople in revolt. The emperor and Sclerus fled, and the token force they left behind was easily routed by Maniakis' soldiers - but in during the process he received a javelin wound, and bled to death on the battlefield as his victorious troops were hailing him emperor. Stories like that one are what make Skylitzes worth reading, even if they're only the exceptions to what is sometimes a rather dull narrative.

It's a dense book, and if you're looking for a more accessible introduction to mid-Byzantine history, I'd say stick to Psellus. But if you're feeling adventurous, Skylitzes is still worth some time, and the translator deserves thanks for making his work available to the Anglophones among us.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Good translation; flaws in the original. 3 April 2012
By The Universal Geek - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
John Skylitzes' Synopsis of Byzantine History is one of the chief sources for the history of the middle Byzantine Empire. Written in the late eleventh century by a court official, it draws together and summarizes information from some sources we still have (like the books of Michael Psellus and Leo the Deacon) and some we don't (including a few whose authorship is unknown). It contains little original material - as the title says, it's a synopsis - but the information is nevertheless valuable.

This translation is the first English rendering of Skylitzes' book, and it's clearly written for a semi-academic audience - footnotes abound, references to the works of modern medieval historians/Byzantinists are legion, official terms like "protovestiarios" and "synkellos" are handled like words of one syllable. Happily, there's a glossary in the back for mere mortals like yours truly. The translator misses the occasional hyphen and his transliterations differ from the standard ("Porphyrogennetos" for "Porphyrogenitus", "kataphractoi" for "cataphracts", etc.). Other than those minor quibbles, the translation seems good. I don't read Greek, so I can't vouch for its fidelity to the original.

Most of the rest of the irregularities are original to Skylitzes, and chief among them is unevenness of style and material. His synopses were frequently cut-and-paste, verbatim quotations from sources, and as a result the style of the book changes dramatically depending on whose original source was being used. For the same reason, some emperors' reigns are almost entirely a catalogue of their military accomplishments, like the chapter on Basil II "Bulgaroctonus" (The Bulgar-Killer); others are mostly about religious disputes; still others are so laudatory and inaccurate it's sickening. Basil I "The Macedonian" was really not that nice a guy, and despite Skylitzes' attempts to dignify his early years, he was a stablehand who murdered and seduced his way to the throne. However, as that last sentence implies, Skylitzes' tale can get quite interesting. Perhaps the best example is the story of George Maniakis (Maniaces), whose last few years of life bear a strong resemblance to the plot of "Gladiator": the most successful general of the mid-eleventh century, he ran afoul of the emperor's favorite Romanus Sclerus, who had him falsely accused of treason, deprived of his command, and arrested. While Maniakis was in prison, Sclerus stole some of his estates, plundered the rest, and slept with his wife. On hearing about this, Maniakis broke jail, returned to his army, and led it to Constantinople in revolt. The emperor and Sclerus fled, and the token force they left behind was easily routed by Maniakis' soldiers - but in during the process he received a javelin wound, and bled to death on the battlefield as his victorious troops were hailing him emperor. Stories like that one are what make Skylitzes worth reading, even if they're only the exceptions to what is sometimes a rather dull narrative.

It's a dense book, and if you're looking for a more accessible introduction to mid-Byzantine history, I'd say stick to Psellus. But if you're feeling adventurous, Skylitzes is still worth some time, and the translator deserves thanks for making his work available to the Anglophones among us.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great historical book 8 Dec. 2012
By CONSTANCE A. MASTORAS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are interested in byzantine/medieval history then this is the book for you. Well written/translated and concise. Great addition to your personal library.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Excellent translation with solid footnotes and references 3 May 2014
By Robert Grove - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A solid scholarly translation of a major Byzantine chronicle. The translation is quite readable and well supported by notes and references.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History 24 Jan. 2013
By Evgeny Skurat - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I expected to find a full text with all the miniatures, which are presented on the book's cover. The description of the product was not very clear.
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