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Muslim Expansion and Byzantine Collapse in North Africa Hardcover – 4 Nov 2010


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (4 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521196779
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521196772
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,439,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'… Kaegi has produced an interesting and learned book. He clearly knows the range of surviving literary, numismatic, epigraphic and archeological sources extremely well …' Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Book Description

Who 'lost' Christian North Africa? Who won and how? Walter Kaegi examines these perennial questions, with maps and on-site observations, in this exciting book. An impartial comparative framework helps to sort through identity politics, 'Orientalism' charges and counter-charges, and institutional controversies.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This recently published book by Walter Kaegi attempts to piece together and explian the main events of the little known fall of Byzantine Africa to the Muslims. By and large, it is satisfactory, interesting and, at times, fascinating. Unlike the eastern provinces of the Empire, the conquest of Byzantine Africa took place over a period of more than 50 years. Understanding who lost North Africa and how was it lost is the purpose fo the book.

For both the Byzantines and the Arab Caliphs, North Africa was a secondary front. It clearly did not have the same priority as Asia Minor, Armenia or even Italy for the Empire and probably received reinforcements and financial resources only when these could be spared from the other fronts. It is even likely that both soldiers and taxes may have been drawn from the Exarchate to support these fronts, so that both the local population and the landowners developed a distrust for Constantinople that brook out into a major rebellion headed by their exarch Gregorios. It is this exarch with his troops, those of the major landowners and "Numidian" and "Moorish" horsemen who were severely defeated in 647 by one the first Arab attacks, with the rebellious Exarch being killed in battle. After that, coordinated and centralized defense seems to have broken down according to Kaegi, although local defense inflicted major setbacks on Muslim invaders on at least two occasions, including the episode of the semi-legendary Kahina. Little by little, the Muslims, who were intially relatively few in numbers and cocentrated on raids, overran the country. Carthage fell in 695 (and then again, and finally, in 697 after a failed Byzantine attempt to recover the city).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Little Known Muslim Conquest of Byzantine Africa 12 Mar 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
First posted on Amazon.co.uk on 10 February 2012

This recently published book by Walter Kaegi attempts to piece together and explain the main events of the little known fall of Byzantine Africa to the Muslims. By and large, it is satisfactory, interesting and, at times, fascinating. Unlike the eastern provinces of the Empire, the conquest of Byzantine Africa took place over a period of more than 50 years. Understanding who lost North Africa and how was it lost is the purpose fo the book.

For both the Byzantines and the Arab Caliphs, North Africa was a secondary front. It clearly did not have the same priority as Asia Minor, Armenia or even Italy for the Empire and probably received reinforcements and financial resources only when these could be spared from the other fronts. It is even likely that both soldiers and taxes may have been drawn from the Exarchate to support these fronts, so that both the local population and the landowners developed a distrust for Constantinople that brook out into a major rebellion headed by their exarch Gregorios. It is this exarch with his troops, those of the major landowners and "Numidian" and "Moorish" horsemen who were severely defeated in 647 by one the first Arab attacks, with the rebellious Exarch being killed in battle. After that, coordinated and centralized defense seems to have broken down according to Kaegi, although local defense inflicted major setbacks on Muslim invaders on at least two occasions, including the episode of the semi-legendary Kahina. Little by little, the Muslims, who were intially relatively few in numbers and cocentrated on raids, overran the country. Carthage fell in 695 (and then again, and finally, in 697 after a failed Byzantine attempt to recover the city). However, local resistance continued with the Kahina until 698 or 703 (when she was killed) and may have continued sporadically after for another few years.

Kaegi does a great job in telling the story of the Byzantine demise in North Africa. One of his main qualities is to place it in the broader context of the struggle between the Byzantine Empire and the Caliphs, with remissions in the attacks on Africa corresponding, for instance, to the periods of civil war within the Caliphate rather than being attributable to any Byzantine success in North Africa.

There are however a few problems with this book. One is that, despite Kaegi's efforts, the sources are limited. At times, we have very little or no information. This is the case for the period between 647 (the death in battle of the Exarch Gregorios) and 669 (the assassination of the Emperor Constant II). To address this, the book explains the historical context at length, with a full chapter on Constant's reign and all of its historiographical issues. You almost get the impression that author is "padding" because of the paucity of the sources.

Another issue is the author's tendancy to repeat himself, a tendancy that goes well beyond simply summarizing whatever point he has made. So the same story gets sometimes told in different chapters and in a (sometimes only slightly) different context. At times, this can be a bit annoying and it certainly damages the flow of the story.

All in all, and despite it being very interesting, in particular when Kaegi compares and contrasts the fall of Africa with the resilience in Asia Minor, I was a bit disappointed by the book. To a large extent, this is because there is not very much to tell to begin with because the sources are sparse.
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