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Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium

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In the early Middle Ages, the greatest city in Europe was not Paris, London or Berlin but Constantinople, capital of Byzantium. It was an article of faith that a saintly emperor, divinely appointed, had founded Constantinople and that the city was as holy as Rome or Jerusalem. The Byzantine emperors assiduously promoted the notion of a spiritual aura around the city. Thus, in 917, the emperor's regent wrote to the khan of the Bulgars warning him not to attack Constantinople. He did not threaten the khan with military force, but with the Virgin Mary who, as 'commander in chief of the city', would not take kindly to any assault. It was with legends and beliefs like this that the emperors bolstered their power and wealth, and the myth was central to the success of Constantinople and its empire for over a thousand years.

Although this is hardly the first history of Byzantium to be published, Jonathan Harris differentiates himself by offering keen insight into the spiritual and mythic dimensions of Constantinople, key elements of the city's history that have neglected until now. Constantinople: Capital of Byzantine is the first history of this great empire to properly examine the intriguing interaction between the spiritual and the political, the mythical and the actual. The result is an accessible and engaging account of a colorful and vital time in human history, and a long overdue look at an awe-inspiring city in its heyday.

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About the Author:

Jonathan Harris taught English in Turkey before completing his doctorate in Byzantine History in 1993. He is currently Reader in Byzantine History at Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. He is the author of Byzantium and the Crusades (Continuum).

Review:

Article by author - mentions book.History Today, May 2007

"It is a tribute to Harris's skill as a writer that his book produces in the reader a sense of loss. Wisely, Harris does not attempt to give us an exhaustive history of Constantinople; instead he concentrates on the city as it was in 1200 C.E. The year is not a random choice. In 1204, a Crusader army sacked the city, triggering its descent into depopulation and ruin. But the city that the Crusaders despoiled was unsurpassed in its splendor. For centuries, Roman emperors and courtiers underwrote grand projects, constructing magnificently adorned buildings. Harris describes the physical highlights of the city, and from there launches brief expositions into politics, religion, and trade. The layout and decor of the Byzantine imperial palace, for example, leads to an exploration of dynastic politics; an examination of religious beliefs follows a description of the city's churches. Harris concludes with a brief overview of Constantinople's last years as the Byzantine capital up to its fall to an Ottoman Turkish army in 1453. A readable, informative, and vivid book, offering an evocative picture of the city in the context of the culture that produced it. Highly recommended." —Library Journal

(Richard Fraser, Coll. of Physicians of Philadelphia)

"Harris (Royal Holloway, Univ. of London) modestly claims that his book is neither a survey of the surviving buildings of the city nor a chronological survey of Byzantine history; it is "a book about power and those who wielded it" beneath "a veil of grandeur and myth." The author ably succeeds in revealing the potent mystique of ceremony, wealth, and legend that enveloped the ruling class and the role of the diverse classes who supported it. But, despite his disclaimer, he deftly portrays key moments of Byzantine history and the physical space of the capital in a beautifully written study that is accessible yet rich in substance and source analysis...An excellent, pithy introduction to Byzantine history and culture, and a convincing analysis of the role of myth and pageantry in Byzantine ruling power. Summing up: Highly recommended." —N. Bisaha, CHOICE, December 2008

Choice Outstanding Academic Titles, 2008 - January 2009.

Title mentioned in The Historian, October 2009

”It is a tribute to Harris's skill as a writer that his book produces in the reader a sense of loss. Wisely, Harris does not attempt to give us an exhaustive history of Constantinople; instead he concentrates on the city as it was in 1200 C.E. The year is not a random choice. In 1204, a Crusader army sacked the city, triggering its descent into depopulation and ruin. But the city that the Crusaders despoiled was unsurpassed in its splendor. For centuries, Roman emperors and courtiers underwrote grand projects, constructing magnificently adorned buildings. Harris describes the physical highlights of the city, and from there launches brief expositions into politics, religion, and trade. The layout and decor of the Byzantine imperial palace, for example, leads to an exploration of dynastic politics; an examination of religious beliefs follows a description of the city's churches. Harris concludes with a brief overview of Constantinople's last years as the Byzantine capital up to its fall to an Ottoman Turkish army in 1453. A readable, informative, and vivid book, offering an evocative picture of the city in the context of the culture that produced it. Highly recommended.” –Library Journal

(Sanford Lakoff)

“Harris (Royal Holloway, Univ. of London) modestly claims that his book is neither a survey of the surviving buildings of the city nor a chronological survey of Byzantine history; it is “a book about power and those who wielded it” beneath “a veil of grandeur and myth.” The author ably succeeds in revealing the potent mystique of ceremony, wealth, and legend that enveloped the ruling class and the role of the diverse classes who supported it. But, despite his disclaimer, he deftly portrays key moments of Byzantine history and the physical space of the capital in a beautifully written study that is accessible yet rich in substance and source analysis...An excellent, pithy introduction to Byzantine history and culture, and a convincing analysis of the role of myth and pageantry in Byzantine ruling power. Summing up: Highly recommended.” –N. Bisaha, CHOICE, December 2008

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9780826430861: Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium

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ISBN 10: 0826430864 ISBN 13: 9780826430861
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic, 2009
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