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5.0 out of 5 stars Still the reference and one of his best books, 28 May 2012
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JPS - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign: A Study of Tenth-Century Byzantium (Cambridge Paperback Library) (Paperback)
This book, first published in 1929 by Sir Steven Runciman, then aged 26, was his first. It was also one of his best. It is still published and it very much remains a a major reference for anyone wanting to study Byzantium's tenth century, or, more generally, anyone wanting to learn about Byzantium and the beginnings of what another author termed the "Byzantine Recovery".

The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus was a bit of an originality in the history of Byzantium. He was an usurper, which was hardly original, but he was also the only Admiral of the Fleet who was able to both seize power and remain on the throne for about a quarter of a century, and he was not part of the BYzantine aristocracy but had very humble origins. It was somewhat rare for someone of such a background to be able to go so high. Interestingly, he is one of the less well-known of all the emperors, despite the achievements that took place during his reign. This is largely why this book is so valuable, although there is more to it than that.

As Runciman, whose symphathy for his character tend to show, he came to power in troubled times, with the war agains the First Bulgarian Empire going badly and relations with the Patriarch being rather tense. He solved both problems by playing a waiting game, as Runciman describes so well. He applied Byzantine diplomacy against the Bulgars, paying for the Serbs to attack them while they fruitelessly exshausted themselves in trying to assault the fortifications of the great city, and then waited for the Bulgarian Symeon to die and the exhausted Bulgars to sue for peace. This put an end to a threat that had lasted more than a century and it allowed him to focus on the East at a time where the Abbasid caliphate was going into decline and fragmenting. As for the Church, he waited for the death of the forceful Patriarch and replaced him be candidates that he fully controlled, including one of his sons.

His main achievement is to have initiated, through his main general John Curcouas, the first steps of the "Byzantine Reconquista" of the East, which would continue after him with his successors, and particularly with the soldier Emperors Nicephore II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes and Basil II. It is during his reign that Melitene, one of the three border emirates that had been constantly raiding Byzantine territory, was reconquered (934). The two others would fall over the next 30 years or so. Regarding the rest of the Empire's territory, in Illyria and Italy, there were no great conquests but what the Empire had, it essentially still held when he was finally deposed.

As Runciman acknowledges, we know fairly little of the man and the picture that Runciman paints seems to be largely conjectural. He was certainly intelligent. He had a talent for selecting very competent aides, whether his chief general or his main diplomat. He was also very scrupulous in his treatment of Constantin VII, the rightful heir, whose rights were preserved, although he was kept away from power. Other than the fact that he came to power through betrayal and treason, and that he managed to outdo any attempt to outseat him for about 25 years, showing that he may not have been as "nice" as Runciman would want him to be and could probably be ruthless when necessary, we know little of him. He fell, was replaced by the legitimate heir, and he ended his days shortly afterwards as an old monk in a monastery.

A superb book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the finest book on a Byzantine court ever to be published, 28 Jan. 2015
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Paul Kemp (Southampton England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign: A Study of Tenth-Century Byzantium (Cambridge Paperback Library) (Paperback)
Probably the finest book on a Byzantine court ever to be published. First issued in the first quarter of the 20C, soon afer Runciman left Cambridge, it carries one along on a clear stream of elegant prose as it informs us on the incredible situation where the usurper of the Emperor's throne (Romanus) allows the legal claimant (Constantine "born in the purple") to live at court. Romanus was a good emperor and on death was replaced by Constantine who for so long had lived in his shadow. A startling story from Byzantine history; a good history and a good read by the greatest Byzantine historian.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent English 7 knowledge, 7 Jan. 2012
This review is from: The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign: A Study of Tenth-Century Byzantium (Cambridge Paperback Library) (Paperback)
A very interesting book about medvial eastern christiandom. Excellent English language. The author is one of the most reliable scholars of the Byzantine history
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