- Paperback: 96 pages
- Publisher: Osprey Publishing (18 Sept. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1841763608
- ISBN-13: 978-1841763606
- Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 38.7 x 0.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 803,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Byzantium at War: AD 600-1453 (Essential Histories) Paperback – 18 Sep 2002
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"I am most favorably impressed by the Essential Histories series on the American Civil War. Written by four of the best historians of the military course of the war, these volumes provide a lucid and concise narrative of the campaigns in both the Eastern and Western theaters as well as penetrating analyses of strategies and leadership. Ideal for classroom use or fireside reading."
About the Author
John Haldon is Professor of Byzantine History at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the history of the early and middle Byzantine period, and on medieval state structures across the European and Islamic worlds. He has published many books and articles, including 'Byzantium in the Seventh Century' (Cambridge, 1997), 'Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World' (London, 1999) and 'Byzantium: A History' (Stroud, 2000).
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Top Customer Reviews
John Haldon is Professor of Byzantine History at Princeton so his subject knowledge is second to none. Unfortunately he is unable to break out of the academic writing style, so we get e.g. "The effects of warfare and fighting on individuals and on local communities at different times and the evidence for the non-military perception and perspective on war have already been alluded to in earlier chapters." (p80, first sentence of a new chapter.)
Also many of the photographs are from the author's collection and sod-all to do with the business in hand. So on p78 we get "Abandoned terrraced vineyards on the Aegean island of Limnos (dry grass, stones and bushes) partnered with "Traditional ox-cart in eastern Asia Minor on p79 (er, an ox-cart (no ox) with another one plus some stray dogs in the background.). I know this is an Essential History, not a standard Osprey book, but surely just one or two modern illustrations of Byzantine soldiers would have helped the reader along the way? Not one, just a few manuscript illustrations.
As a general introduction to the Byzantine system of war-making this book is OK. Sadly the dry academic writing style, unconnected illustrations and lack of any proper coverage of what Byzantine soldiers looked like let down what ought to be a fascinating subject.
It's a fasciniating read, but I would put it down as being for those with a military interest, and not for someone looking for a general read on Byzantine history, for those interested in the military a good starting point is Ian Heaths Armies and Enemies series.
For thoses looking for more in-depth byzantine military works try maurice's stratigkon.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
One major theme gf the book is that often the word "byzantine" is used as an adjective meaning something that is complex and convoluted in the extreme. The bureaucracy, treaties and especially negotiations of the government have been described as being uniquely "byzantine." As a result of being extremely convoluted, treaties and the negotiations on those treaties have been regarded as being "tricky" or out-rightly deceptive. This book points to certain reasons why deviousness seemed to be a characteristic of the foreign policy of the Empire.
First was the geographical position of Byzantium which seemed to condemn the Empire to a constant state of warfare, throughout its existence. War or the fear of war was always on the minds of the body politic and government of the Empire--and a two front war against multiple enemies at that. The Empire felt its existence to be constantly endangered by enemies on all sides. Thus, their foreign policy was always aimed at trying to breakup alliances of its enemies or to keep potential enemies separated from each other. This called for complex negotiations.
John Hadane also explains in this book that the Eastern Orthodox religion condemned war and the Byzantine Empire was very strongly an Orthodox State. This set up a conflict within the culture of the Empire which required a condemnation of war and yet a recognition of the fact that warfare was a necessity. As a way out of this conflict the Empire sought to negotiate all foreign disputes and, thus, avoid war. The negotiations often needed to be complex (to the point of deviousness) in order avoid warfare.
Byzantium at War 600-1453 begins with a rather lengthy 11-page introduction (12% of the volume) and a chronology. In the next sections, the author addresses the political world of Byzantium, its neighbors and enemies, and how Byzantium fought its wars. These sections are overly generalized to a fault. The section entitled "the fighting" - which is usually the main narrative in these volumes - is only 13 pages long and covers topics like tactical administration, strategy and logistics. The section "portrait of a soldier" covers recruitment, discipline and the life on campaign of a typical soldier (note, there are no first person accounts or sources used). Final sections include war and peace in the empire, portrait of a farmer, death of the empire and conclusions. The bibliography is extremely thin given the large amount of material available on this subject, and the author provides only 14 references (including 4 by himself). An appendix lists all Byzantine rulers. The maps are a great disappointment and the eight provided merely depict the empire's boundaries between the 6th and 15th Centuries. There are no maps of Turkish or Islamic expansion, no battle maps and only three maps even depict key cities (forget about finding Yarmuk or Manzikert on these maps). Nor are the photographs in this volume much better, since the author apparently felt that wandering around modern-day Turkey and taking pictures of children playing in a street or oxen plowing a field would help the reader to understand Byzantine warfare. Amazingly, there is not one photo of any weaponry, armor or other military artifacts. Obviously, the Osprey series editor failed to ensure that this volume adhered to the series standard and the result is virtually a bric-a-brac approach to the subject.
Professor Haldon's main points are that: (1) Byzantium was constantly at war because it was surrounded by enemies, (2) the empire's strategy was mainly defensive due to limited resources and (3) Byzantium successfully held off its enemies for eight centuries because of its superior logistical and financial base. Haldon suggests that the Byzantines suffered occasional tactical defeats due to incompetent leadership but that their long-term decline was due to a steady erosion of the resource base. Given that the author never discusses any battles or campaigns, it is hard to see how any of these conclusions are supported. There is no doubt that the author has some valuable things to say about Byzantine warfare, but his presentation is neither comprehensive nor even coherent. Important issues like naval transport and naval warfare ("Greek fire" saved the empire more than once) are never mentioned. If logistic and fiscal superiority were the Byzantine "center of gravity," why are no facts (or even estimates) about Byzantine military expenses provided? Instead, the author provides only a few lame and generalized examples of how various provinces were assigned to produce materials for the army, like arrows or pack animals. Surely the Islamic, Turkish and Bulgar armies could also draw on their various provinces for arrows and mules, so it is hard to see Byzantium's unique advantage in this context. The author never even bothers to mention how many troops Byzantium maintained in various periods, the approximate revenue of the empire or population. Since no such data is presented for either Byzantium or its enemies, how does Haldon know that the empire's resources were superior?
Furthermore, the logistic/financial superiority argument is a weak one at best. If superior resources were Byzantium's key to survival, why did the West Roman Empire - which had even greater resources - fail to survive longer? Certainly the Islamic forces overrunning most of the Mideast in the 7th Century had resources equal to or greater than a Byzantine Empire that was losing province after province. Indeed, the author employs double-talk in stating that constrained resources forced a defensive strategy on the empire, but these resources were greater than the combined total of enemies attacking on two or even three fronts. The facts indicate that the Byzantine Empire never had a significant advantage in population or land area over its principal enemies, which means that the amount of troops, tax money, food and military supplies could not have been superior (indeed, if Byzantine had enjoyed a superiority it would have adopted a more offensive strategy). Byzantium always existed under threat of extinction and the real answer to its longevity lies in the superior melding of diplomatic, informational (the Byzantines were masters in propaganda, espionage and deceit), military and economic (particularly bribes) tools. Most of Byzantium's neighbors relied primarily on military muscle and in this narrow venue, they could often best the smaller Byzantine armies. However, the Byzantines were experts at deflecting and confounding aggressors with non-military means, and it is this cunning ability to exploit all means available that explains the incredible longevity of the Byzantine empire.