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Byzantine Literature Comparison

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Constantine XI View Drop Down
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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Byzantine Literature Comparison
    Posted: 14-Sep-2005 at 00:41

Heraclius has informed me the medieval forum is quiet so  thought I would spice things up if possible. Two secondary sources evaluating the Fourth Crusade I found particularly interestign to read. These books were 1204: The Ungodly Crusade by Robert Bartlett (also author of a number of works focusing on the growth of Western Christendom during the medieval period, and the other being Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips.

Bartlett's work started off nicely enough. Gave a general background of Byzantine-Latin relations and then continued on with the story. However, as my reading progressed I noticed a slant beginning to form. Bartlett is a patron of Latin civilization and as such I began to see a partiality towards the Latins start to develop. For instance, look at the scope of his evaluation. He evaluates the Crusade right up until the death of Emperor Henry I at Constantinople. He basically includes the parts of the history which most glorify the Latins and give best account of their martial prowess before breaking off and only giving a few paragraphs to describe the Byzantine expansion and rather feeble Latin resistance. Never missing an opportunity to cite Byzantine mendacity or vice, his ending paragraph almost asks us to excuse the whole expedition with "no matter how sad it may seem, nothing lasts for ever". The whole way through he builds up to this dismissive attitude towards one of the most horrific rapes in history.

Phillips began his history hot on the heels of Bartlett. Indeed I am tempted to believe that Phillip's work, coming out little more than a year after Bartlett's, seeks to correct some of the slants and Latin-centric tendencies of Bartlett. I found Phillip's work to be much more balanced, informative, and inclusive of a wider range of primary sources. In far sharper detail he describes what happened and gives much more attention to theories of what caused the Crusade.

These two works are some of the best available on 1204, but I just noticed the slant in Bartlett's work and Phillip's work almost being a correction of that. Anyone else read either of these works? They make for an interesting comparison.

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Sep-2005 at 00:47

 Nice one Con

 Ive got Phillips' book, but ive never actually read it I got it in the same shopping spree when I bought other books that I have been busy going through so havent had time to really start it off, but after your review of Phillips work, I intend to begin it later today  

 I did once flick through it and read a very sorry page about the looting of Justinian the greats tomb  damn the latins to hell!

 

A tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not enough.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Sep-2005 at 21:33

Although I have heard of and seen these books before, I have not actually read through them.  I can't really comment on them as far as content goes.  Now that Constantine XI has given a favorable review of the Phillips book, I might give in and read it and maybe buy it if I like it.  I saw the Philips book on sale at a conference this past summer but decided not to buy it before reading reviews.

From a cursory examination of the Bartlett book, I would say that the history was probably a bit popularized.  Is he a specialist in the period?

I have read and reviewed The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, by Donald E. Queller and Thomas Madden.  Queller was the premier historian in the study of the Fourth Crusade; Madden was his student and has taken his place (Madden's specific interest is in Doge Enrico Dandolo).  It is an excellent book in which the authors do not side with the Franks or the Venetians.  They manage to write with sympathy about the destruction of Byzantium as well.  I highly recommend this book.

Have any of you read the following books?

Cyril Mango, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (1980)

A. P. Kazhdan and Giles Constable, People and Power in Byzantium: An Introduction to Modern Byzantine Studies (1982)

I to review these in a Byzantine historiography course I am taking. They were written by two of the most prominent Byzantinists that have ever been in the field.  Although they aren't narrowly focused monographs, they are still quite interesting and refreshing in their approach.  Instead of going straight through Byzantine history in a chronological survey of political events, the authors take a more topical approach.  The Kazhdan book is especially interesting; he creates a framework based on the homo byzantinus (the average Byzantine person) and looks at the development of Byzantine culture through the primary literature, especially hagiographical evidence.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Sep-2005 at 04:54
Bartlett's book did seem like a bit of a popularized work. Bartlett is a specialist in the field on Latin Christendom, enough for our university to recommend reading his book on conquest and colonization during the High Middle Ages. That particular book for very useful and gave an excellant understanding of the rise of the Latin west in medieval times, which is partly why I am disappointed that The Ungodly Crusade was so lacking. Byzantium isn't really his specialty though.

I haven't read Kazhdan, but I have used Mango's work for a few of my essays. Although I haven't read even a majority of Mango's work, I did find the bits that I used to have an excellant understanding of many fundamentals of the Byzantine state.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Sep-2005 at 21:50

If you are interested in the economy of Byzantium, there is a relatively new set of studies that you might check out if your university library has them (or use interlibrary loan).

Angeliki Laiou, ed. The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Publications, 2002. 3 volumes.

Some of the older economic histories of Byzantium are quite boring because they get bogged down in interminable discussions on the metal content of the coinage and supply/demand.  This set covers those things in a refreshing way, while covering other fascinating topics such as mining, agricultural tools, government control of trading, commerce law, and sea routes.  I highly recommend it!

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Sep-2005 at 01:50
Thanks again. I actually picked up Mango's book from the university library today and have polished off 60 or so pages. You have made a good recommendation, explains the various fascets of Byzantium while still remaining very readable. Even 1/5 of the way into it it is teaching me ALOT. Cheers.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Sep-2005 at 21:03

Originally posted by Constantine XI

Thanks again. I actually picked up Mango's book from the university library today and have polished off 60 or so pages. You have made a good recommendation, explains the various fascets of Byzantium while still remaining very readable. Even 1/5 of the way into it it is teaching me ALOT. Cheers.

Great!  I am glad to hear that you are enjoying the book.  Let me know what you think of it when you finish it.  We had a good discussion session in my graduate class comparing the Mango book with the Kazhdan.

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