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Byzantium & Early Islamic Conquests Paperback – 21 Aug 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (21 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521484553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521484558
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 451,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

'An important contribution to the debate on the Arab Islamic conquests of the eastern Roman provinces in the seventh century.' John Haldon, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

Book Description

In describing life and conditions in the seventh-century Byzantine east, Professor Kaegi examines how the empire came to lose so much of its territory to Islamic conquerors. He also seeks to explain how the Byzantine government reacted to this loss.

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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent, well-researched book describing and analyzing the early islamic conquests and the reasons why the Eastern Roman Empire failed to prevent them. This book has many qualities.

First, it makes extensive use of Armenian and other eastern christian sources to explain the failure of the Byzantine Empire in resisting the Arab Conquests, in addition to Muslim and Byzantine sources. This allows the author to focus his analysis and uncover the material reasons for the Empire's defeats, as opposed to the religious ex post explanations that are all to frequent in Byzantine or Muslim accounts. It also has the added advantages of showing that the Conquests were not inevitable and that the Empire did notsuddenly collapse. Rather, the ageing and ailing Emperor Heraclius, followed by his successors, tried multiple strategies, punctuated by truces, to stem the Arab onslaught. The last of these, which involved retreating behind the Taurus, creating a no-man's land on either side of a defensible frontier and reorganizing the provinces by putting them under military control and on a military footing, evolved into the themes. It allowed the Empire to survive the at least yearly raids that were a characteristic of the second half of the 7th century.

Second, a major contribution of this book is to review and analyze the state of the Empire (and of its emperor) and the Empire's strategic thinking in 630 (to the extent that it had one, as Kaegi seems to believe), just before the Arab attacks begun. The description of the Empire's weaknesses, in particular in military and financial terms, and as it emerged "victorious" of the long war against the Sassanids are particularly interesting. Just as interesting is the analysis of the timing of the Arab assaults.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x93d56b5c) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92854e40) out of 5 stars Balanced on historical accounts, attractive, appealing 27 Mar. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Kaegi broke the habitual insights into the early breakdown of the Byzantine Empire that usually "blame" external factors such as Armenian disertion, Christian Arabs flight from the battlefield, or even natural catastrophy. The book points out that the Muslims have done everything to secure victory, they even played down the political traps neatly set by the Greeks. Also, the Byzantines' weaknesses and strategic flaws were thoroughly explained without the usual "blame-it-on-someone/something" basis.
A much clearer picture of what went on in the frontline (or rather front cities) and temporary Byzantine's headquarter at Antioch was presented excellently. Along with what the Muslims' Generals carefully thought about their disintegrating, once formidable, foe. A must for anyone interested on the field, a necessity for any researcher looking for a fresh approach on the subject
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x928a06f0) out of 5 stars Should have been 5 stars 10 July 2008
By R. C. Schmults - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I actually really enjoyed this book. It did a great job shedding light on why Byzantium caved so quickly to the initial Islamic conquest in the 7th century. It also did a nice job dispelling some of the more commonly cited (but insufficiently supported) explainations -- especially in regards to the religious differences between the Church Hiearchy and the population of Syria and the surrounding areas which therefore explained why the Muslim Arabs seems to be able to take over so easily. Kaegi instead gives a well reasoned and researched description of the exhausted state of the area after the delibatiting Persian war and the lack of manpower available to Heraclius as a result of years of plague and war. All that said, this book is one of the more poorly edited books I have read in a while (e.g., multiple cases of sloppy repetition). It actually causes a distraction in reading the book. Bear that in mind if you want to read this. While less specifically addressing the conquests, if you want a higher level and more readiable book, get "Justinian's Flea" instead.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92a83bc0) out of 5 stars How the East was lost to the Arabs... 12 Mar. 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First posted on Amazon.co.uk on 19 February 2012

This is an excellent, well-researched book describing and analyzing the early islamic conquests and the reasons why the Eastern Roman Empire failed to prevent them. This book has many qualities.

First, it makes extensive use of Armenian and other eastern christian sources to explain the failure of the Byzantine Empire in resisting the Arab Conquests, in addition to Muslim and Byzantine sources. This allows the author to focus his analysis and uncover the material reasons for the Empire's defeats, as opposed to the religious ex post explanations that are all to frequent in Byzantine or Muslim accounts. It also has the added advantages of showing that the Conquests were not inevitable and that the Empire did notsuddenly collapse. Rather, the ageing and ailing Emperor Heraclius, followed by his successors, tried multiple strategies, punctuated by truces, to stem the Arab onslaught. The last of these, which involved retreating behind the Taurus, creating a no-man's land on either side of a defensible frontier and reorganizing the provinces by putting them under military control and on a military footing, evolved into the themes. It allowed the Empire to survive the at least yearly raids that were a characteristic of the second half of the 7th century.

Second, a major contribution of this book is to review and analyze the state of the Empire (and of its emperor) and the Empire's strategic thinking in 630 (to the extent that it had one, as Kaegi seems to believe), just before the Arab attacks begun. The description of the Empire's weaknesses, in particular in military and financial terms, and as it emerged "victorious" of the long war against the Sassanids are particularly interesting. Just as interesting is the analysis of the timing of the Arab assaults. Byzantine forces were caught just as they were re-deploying and re-occupying territories which they had lost to the Sassanids some 15 years before.

Third, the analysis of the various engagements, and of the catastrophic Byzantine defeat of Yarmouk in 636 in particular, is also excellent. It shows that, despite superiority in numbers, the Byzantine forces' were heteregenous and their morale was low. They were facing more mobile ennemies and operating in provinces that were largely foreign to them (which the exception, of course, of the Christian or pro-byzantine Arab troops). The local populations therefore had little reason to trust, and sometimes even to welcome, at least some of the Byzantine troops with their heavy-handed behaviors and the imperial tax machine that came with it.

Fourth, this book describes and explains in detail the various campaigns and strategies that developed on both sides. While doing this, it clearly shows how the Emperor underestimated the ennemy, and then miscalculated, leading to the disaster of Yarmouk. It also shows that the Empire, even after the defeat, was far from done, with the Emperor learning the lessons and devising new strategies to hold on to northern Syria and Mesopotamia, which also failed. His successors would be 5a bit) more successful in defending Armenia.

It has, however, at least three setbacks to it, and this is why I rate it four stars, rather than five. One is form. Walter Kaegi's writting skills are unfortunatly not as good as his scholarship, with the text containing numerous summaries and repetitions that can be tiresome, do not add anything and can even distract the reader from time to time from what is a fascinating story.

My second issue is a consequence of form. The author, in addition to repetitions, sometimes makes statements without explaining in detail the elements that underpin them. Nore that this does not mean that the statements are unjustified. They are mostly well grounded and shrewd. However, the grounding is not presented in detail, a bit as if the author was addressing this book to his students whom he would already expect to have a significant amont of knowledge on Byzantium in the 7th century. This, of course, makes the book that much harder to read (although not impossible) for a general reader with little background on the period. At times, I even felt that the author was more interested in presenting his conclusions, their main ramifications and how he got to them.

My third issue is that this book concentrates on the loss of Palestine, Phenicia, Syria and Mesopotamia. It also mentions the subsequent loss, after Heraclius' death, of most of Armenia, but this time only after bitter struggles, but it has virtually NOTHING to say about the loss of Egypt. Since this was the richest of all of the Empire's provinces, this is most surprising.

All in all, a great read for all those interested in the period and in Byzantium, but it is preferable to already have a good understanding of the historical background before "diving" into this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92ff8d08) out of 5 stars Great scholarship, mediocre composition 19 July 2011
By Kirialax - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Walter Kaegi's 'Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests' is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the details behind the rapid Byzantine collapse in Syria and Mesopotamia. However, those who want a more general and broader historical survey of the period in general should look elsewhere, as this book's focus is narrow and its audience primarily scholarly. For example, the Muslim conquest of Egypt is only ever mentioned in passing: the book's focus is purely that of Syria, Armenia, and Mesopotamia. Kaegi wisely takes a more military approach to the problem than traditional scholarship has applied, and he manages to argue quite convincingly that the religious dissent between Nestorian and Monophysite churches in the east and Constantinople, the theory that is still lazily applied, played virtually no role in the Muslim success. Instead, he cites the strategic difficulty in defending Syria, the surprise and shock of the Byzantines that led to a defeatist attitude, the lack of weapons amongst the Roman population in Syria, and the complicated politics of the last Romano-Persian war. This book focuses on a chronologically tiny amount of time by the standards of ancient and medieval history. As only a few years are discussed, Kaegi is able to go into great detail and thus is able to argue his thesis convincingly for all of the geographic regions he surveys. Kaegi also needs to be commended for his use of Armenian and Arabic source material. He begins the book by noting the limitation of the Greek and Latin sources (although he does not ignore the difficulties in using Arabic, Syriac, and Armenian material and some of the requisite historiographical problems) and he wisely does not assume that the Byzantine sources are in anyway better than the others. Theophanes is accorded the rather low place he deserves. The Battle of Yarmouk also receives a lengthy and solid treatment, far better than David Nicolle's Osprey book, although the description in Haldon's The Byzantine Wars is still probably the best narrative of the battle.

As other reviewers have noted, Kaegi's writing is frequently broken into small blocks of abrupt and awkward sentences. He repeats himself often, and sometimes arguments that are semi-relevant remain in the text when they would better belong in the footnotes. However, the writing style is still significantly better than his Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium (an essential companion to this volume) so I'm not going to be too hard on him for that. This book is too important for the study of the early Muslim clashes with Byzantium to be exceptionally harsh based on Kaegi's writing style. This is not a general history of the period, but rather a detailed study of the immediate causes of Byzantine collapse in Syria and Mesopotamia, and one that will remain invaluable for a long time.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92a82534) out of 5 stars Excellent scholarship, poor writing 1 July 2007
By Felix Sonderkammer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Kaegi's book is a landmark study of one of the most important events in the history of the Byzantine Empire. His use of both Arab and Byzantine sources and his insistence on military factors are crucial for treating this subject properly.

However, this book is almost unreadable. In several instances Kaegi repeats himself within a chapter, covering the same subject that he has already discussed as if one were reading a draft in progress. He also uses many infelicitious if not nonsensical phrases such as "victorious defeat" (p. 259). His brief, choppy sentences are frequently banal.
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