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Customer Review

on 16 November 2009
Lars Brownworth knows Constantine was hailed as emperor in 306. He mentions this fact on page 12. He knows Constantine defeated one of his rivals (Maxentius) in 312. He mentions this fact on pages 13-14. He knows Constantine defeated his last rival (Licinius) in 324. He mentions this fact on page 16. He knows Constantine moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium in 330. He mentions this fact on page 22. He knows Constantine died in 337. He mentions this fact on page 25.

But the chronology of Byzantine emperors, which begins on page 309, does not agree. The first two entries read like this:

* Constantine the Great ... 324-353.

* Constantius (son of Constantine the Great) ... 353-361.

Both dates for Constantine are wrong. He was emperor from 306 (not 324) and died in 337 (not 353). He was the first Byzantine emperor from 330 (not 324).

His son, usually known as Constantius II, ruled from 337 (not from 353). He died in 361, so the last date is correct.

This is not good. In fact, it is rather bad. How can an author - how can a publisher - expect us to take them seriously, when they do something like this? I think it is very disturbing to see the chronology contradicting the main text.

Sometimes the text is not quite accurate:

(1) Chapter 8 is about the Nika revolt of 532 during the reign of Justinian the Great (527-565). Brownworth claims it was suppressed by a large number of soldiers, including a large group of "Scandinavian mercenaries" who had recently arrived (page 80). Vikings from Sweden travelled south and east along the rivers of Russia. Eventually they arrived in Constantinople, where some of them were hired as bodyguards for the Byzantine emperor. This happened in 988. In other words, Brownworth places the Scandinavian Vikings in Constantinople almost 500 years before they actually arrived there.

(2) On page 90 Brownworth mentions "the silver menorah that Titus had seized in Jerusalem in AD 71." Titus celebrated his triumph in Rome in 71. The conquest of Jerusalem took in the year before, 70. According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the menorah was made of gold. , book VII, chapter 148-149]

(3) Chapter 22 is about the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Brownworth explains that the Venetians not only destroyed but also collected some treasures. A footnote on page 258 gives this example: "One Venetian in particular climbed on the carceres - the monumental gate to the hippodrome - and removed four life-size bronze horses." The horses are made of copper (not bronze), and they are slightly larger than life-size. The were (probably) placed on top of the monumental arch (Porta Pompae) which was flanked by the starting boxes (Carceres), six on either side. Brownworth seems to confuse the arch with the boxes. To lower the horses from the arch must have been a difficult and delicate task demanding several persons and some technical equipment. They were not removed by "one Venetian."

What about illustrations? There are not many in this book. There is a map of Constantinople (today Istanbul). This map is printed two times: inside the front cover and inside the back cover (endpapers). Why do they print it two times? Do they think we will accidentally lose one of them? In addition, there are six more maps in the book. This is fine. I do not want to complain about the maps. But there are no pictures. Not a single picture to illustrate the long and interesting history of the Byzantine Empire. Why not?

The only picture they give us is a picture of the author; it is on the jacket of the book. The brief biography tells us that Brownworth is a former teacher of history. As a former teacher of history he should know the value of illustrations in a book, but it seems he never learned this lesson

There could (and should) be many pictures in a book like this. Let me give you a few examples:

* On page 13 he mentions the basilica that was built by Maxentius in the Forum Romanum (306-312). A footnote gives us this information: "It is still there, although today it is known as Constantine's Basilica..." Some people call it Constantine's Basilica, but many people call it Maxentius' Basilica. It is still there, but there is no picture in the book.

* On pages 13-14 he mentions the Milvian Bridge across the river Tiber in the northern part of Rome where Maxentius was defeated in 312. The bridge is still there, but there is no picture in the book.

* On page 22-23 he mentions the hippodrome in Constantinople where the Nika revolt of 532 began. If you visit Istanbul, you can still see the remains of the hippodrome, but there is no picture in the book.

* On page 287 he mentions the Greek village of Mistra, not far from the famous town of Sparta. A footnote gives us this information: "Today a double eagle carved into the floor of the cathedral of Agios Dimitrios in Mistra marks the place where the last Byzantine emperor was officially confirmed." There is a modern carving with a double eagle in the floor of the church, but there is no picture in the book.

If you go to the index and look for some of these places, you will find that Mistra and Sparta are not listed here, although they both appear in the text. So, on top of everything else, the index is incomplete.

One final point: what about the title and subtitle of the book? The subtitle claims the Byzantine Empire is "forgotten." Is it true? If you search "Amazon Books" for books about this empire, you will get 2,434 results. The subtitle is misleading.

I feel sorry for Lars Brownworth. Clearly, he put a lot of effort into this book. Unfortunately, he did not succeed very well.
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