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A wide ranging overview,
This review is from: The Byzantine Art of War (Hardcover)
The scope of Professor Michael Decker's book on the Byzantine Art of War is daunting and it is to his credit that it remains readable even while he spans the centuries over the course of just a few pages. I approached the book with only a cursory knowledge of the Byzantine period, but left it with a new found fascination and sense of awe - not least at the sheer longevity of the empire.
The book itself is incredibly well researched, drawing from original and contemporary material to provide an overview not just of the military strategies and the art of war, but also of the mechanics of the empire - such as the sophisticated postal system; as well as the equipment involved with, and the logistics of supplying, the changing Byzantine military.
Similarly, Professor Decker touches on the ways in which the political and geographical landscape changed over the many years of the empire and how those changes impacted and were reflected in the military strategies adopted; while also exploring the role the empire's many enemies played in shaping the development of the Byzantine art of war.
Professor Decker provides a discussion of the various viewpoints on much of what he covers, making it clear where there are disagreements in the literature while always stating his own interpretation clearly. As such, his book serves as an excellent starting point for further investigation of the literature.
Some of the most enjoyable parts of the book are where Professor Decker focusses on some of the significant individuals from the Byzantine period, such as Belisarios, in the section on leadership; and I'd be very happy to see some of these mini biographies extended into longer pieces elsewhere.
In his final chapter, Professor Decker looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Byzantine art of war and the influence of the empire, during and beyond its long existence, as well as the reasons for its eventual demise. He also introduces some fascinating information about the sophistication of the weaponry available by the end of the empire, including flame throwers and grenades!
He concludes that the military legacy of the empire is hard to trace, but I for one was fascinated by the different influences he discusses around the events in Britain in 1066, from Harald Hardrada's past in the Varangian Guard to the tactics employed by William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings.