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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is it right to speak of a 'Grand Strategy'?
'Byzantine' has become a byword for the complex politics of playing off one enemy against another. This is a well known practice of the Byzantine Empire, but is it right to speak of a 'Grand Strategy'?

The first part of Luttwak's book analyses the Eastern Empire's policy regarding the Huns in the middle of the fifth century, and sees here the beginning of a...
Published on 30 Nov 2009 by E. L. Wisty

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, poor and incomplete...
I published this review about a year ago on Amazon.com. I have read the book again since and I am afraid that I stand by my previous review. While "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire" had flaws and was controversial, it also had qualities. I cannot say the same for this one on the Byzantine Empire.

This book was a complete disappointment. I had expected...
Published on 9 Nov 2011 by JPS


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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is it right to speak of a 'Grand Strategy'?, 30 Nov 2009
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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'Byzantine' has become a byword for the complex politics of playing off one enemy against another. This is a well known practice of the Byzantine Empire, but is it right to speak of a 'Grand Strategy'?

The first part of Luttwak's book analyses the Eastern Empire's policy regarding the Huns in the middle of the fifth century, and sees here the beginning of a fundamental change in the approach to foreign powers as the Huns were deflected to focus their attentions on the Western Empire.

The second part, on Byzantine diplomacy, considers the use of envoys to foreign powers, the roles of religion, imperial prestige and dynastic marriages, and geopolitics. It then describes relations with two particular foreign powers: the Bulgars and Bulgaria, and Muslim Arabs and Turks (thankfully this section avoids the political correctness which has adversely affected many studies of this latter relationship).

The third part considers Byzantine warfare, mainly by analysis of various military manuals, concluding with a short chapter on the bold counterstrike of Heraclius deep into Persia even as the Persian army with its Avar allies laid siege to Constantinople.

Luttwak is clearly a very erudite man and makes every effort to show us that he is. He is not however beyond unacceptably indolent research. In some cases these may be just incorrect dates (reckoning that Justinian died in 567 or that Nikephoros II reigned 969-976) or names (spelling 'greaves' as 'grieves'), but see the complete howler where he remarks that Harald Hardrada was killed at Stamford Bridge "which is now in Greater London". Picture Luttwak at his laptop, typing into Google and getting Chelsea FC's stadium as the top result.

This example also demonstrates another of Luttwak's weaknesses, namely repetition. He twice gives us the same information about Hardrada, although the first time he says (incorrectly) that Hardrada means 'hard ruler', the second time (correctly) that it means 'hard counsel'. Repetition goes to such extremes as mentioning twice, in successive sentences, that the battle of Manzikert took place on Friday August 26th 1071.

Back to the original question: Is it right to speak of a 'Grand Strategy'? Luttwak really only comes to address this point in the final, short, concluding chapter. He condenses his analysis of the previous 400-odd pages into eight bullet points which he describes as the Byzantine 'Operational Code'. This may not have been a conscious mode of operation as such, but sums up the general practice. Luttwak ultimately offers no new earth-shattering analysis, but this will be a work of value to anyone interested in history, especially military history.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, poor and incomplete..., 9 Nov 2011
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
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I published this review about a year ago on Amazon.com. I have read the book again since and I am afraid that I stand by my previous review. While "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire" had flaws and was controversial, it also had qualities. I cannot say the same for this one on the Byzantine Empire.

This book was a complete disappointment. I had expected much better and much more from the author of "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire." In fact, some of the flaws contained in this previous book are just amplified in this one.

Both books' title are misleading, because they only cover part of the relevant Empire's history, but this is especially the case of the one on the Byzantine Empire:
- it essentially has very little to say about the Byzantine Empire after the mid-11th century and even less for the period after 1204
- as a matter of fact, most of the book is centered on the first 250 to 300 years of the Empire (roughly from 330 to 630, or, as another commentator put it more accuratly,
from the Huns to the victory over and the end of the Persian/Sassanide Empire), what modern scholars now tend to call Late Antiquity and over the 10th Century
- there is no discussion of the theme system and the reasons for it and not half of what would have been needed about the struggle against the Arab Caliphates (632 to around 900), probably because these may not fit well with the author's preconceptions
- there is a lot of paraphrase about the Byzantine military treaties (some of which are missing) and the reluctance in using force but no strategic analysis of the Empire's constraints in terms of geography, transport and communications and resources
- the book is rather a compilation of existing scholarship, and not a very good one either (there are numerous mistakes anhd approximations, starting with the maps).
- More than anything else, it is a political essay - or even a pamphlet - that attempts to draw lessons for the US from bit and pieces of a simplified and stylized history of an Empire that survived its Roman Western half but faded away during a protracted period of decline (the last 3 to 4 centuries of the Empire) which is not even described. In other words, this is NOT a history book.

If you really want to read something about Byzantium, its military and its transformation from the East Roman Empire, then read Haldon's "Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World (565-1204)" or Whittow's "The Making of Byzantium 600-1025". Note that neither covers the whole of what is conventionally presented as Byzantium's history, but at least it is explicit. They also do a far better job of presenting the Empire's real "strategy" and how it adapted (and therefore survived) for so long to waves of onslaughts without being pretentious and pedantic...

If you are looking for a single book with the whole history of the Empire - from Constantine right down to 1453 - then Warren Treadgold's "A History of the Byzantine State and Society" is the most complete, recent and up to date "summary" of the history of the Empire. Bee aware, however, that it is over 850 pages long (and more than a thousand with all the references)...
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4.0 out of 5 stars However it jumps around a lot and i would suggest a sound chronological understanding of the period is needed to enjoy this book, 18 Sep 2014
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Very informative and thoughrough. However it jumps around a lot and i would suggest a sound chronological understanding of the period is needed to enjoy this book properly. Tom Holland's In the shadow of the sword gives good basic understanding of this period and if followed by Grand strategy would give a thorough understanding of the era and empire. The explanation of the ethno genisis of the different groups which attacked Constantinople over the years was brilliant and the explanation of Byzantine adoption of the mounted archers with compond bows as one of it's key survival strategies is compelling. A good book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two books trapped under one title, 30 Dec 2011
By 
JAW "JAW" (Surrey, England.) - See all my reviews
This should have been two separate books: one (by far the larger) volume for specialist readers such as wargamers and Byzantine military history specialists; and one slim volume distilling the meaning of all the events recounted, delivered in Mr Luttwak's usual mordant style. Whereas this book is an unhappy marriage of both. It is way too unwieldy and detailed for students of strategy and seekers after worldly wisdom, but too discursive for those searching for (military history) facts.
Also, in the very few areas where I came to the subject with a little prior knowledge, I found errors of fact, which was disappointing from someone of Luttwak's stature, and undermined confidence in the whole. Specifically, and contrary to a map therein, the Balearic island of Menorca was re-incorporated in the Empire (albeit briefly); and the site of the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 is not in Greater London. There are two Stamford Bridges in England, including the 'correct' one in the far north. All of which is to risk being called pedantic I realise, but I did wonder what other errors were present that I lacked the wisdom to spot. A good sub-editor could and should have intervened here.

Taken as a whole I was disappointed by this book - and I speak as an admirer of Mr Luttwak's writing since his Coup D'etat (1968). However, I will still buy his next book - and I'd also welcome that above-mentioned putative `slim volume' of Byzantine-prose about Byzantine behaviour...
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, 16 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Paperback)
A very important book for the history of the Eastern Roman Empire and the achievements of the Greeks of not so long ago
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Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire
Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward N. Luttwak (Paperback - 1 Nov 2011)
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