History dragon soaring into eastern roman history.

Feb 2019
in the sky!
Greetings to one and all.
Always been interested in history. Happen to find these forums by chance one day. Seem like a interesting place.
Been reading a few good books about the sengoku period as of late and been interested in reading some history about the eastern roman empire or byzantine empire as some might call it. So any recommendations would be helpful and thanks in advance. More so about general daily life of the empire and battle tactics. Given that is part of what interests me, how did people live in the empire and what was their daily life like.
That and key about learning some of it's rulers. Learning about macedonian dynasty, Justinian or Constantine XI. That and if any good sources exist for the others. For i'm always eager for expanding on my current knowledge a bit.
Jan 2016
Victoria, Canada
Welcome to the forum!

"Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire" by Marcus Louis Rautman is a good place to start for, well, daily life in the Byzantine Empire, and the excellent Economic History of Byzantium (available for free online) also provides a lot of insight in that area. For military matters, I can't speak for the early period but for the middle "Sowing the Dragon's Teeth: Byzantine: Byzantine Warfare in the 10th Century" by Eric McGeer is good for what it says on the tin, including a translation of two military manuals of the period and an analysis of them in context, and "Age of the Dromon: the Byzantine Navy c 500-1204" by John Pryor and Elizabeth Jeffreys is a great overview of Byzantine naval affairs of the period. Outside of that, there are also a number of Byzantine military manuals available on their own in translation, the most interesting of which include Maurice's Strategikon, Leo VI's Taktika, and "Three Byzantine Military Treatises" translated by George Dennis, including "On Skirmishing" by the Emperor Nikephoros Phokas. byzantinemilitary.blogspot.com is also a good resource for specific campaigns and events.

On the political side of things, Byzantine history unfortunately suffers from a dearth of up-to-date historical narratives at the moment, but John Haldon's "The Empire That Would Not Die: The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640-740" is quite good, the recent "Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: the Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade" by Anthony Kaldellis is a great overview of the "Macedonian" apogee, and Michael Angold's "A Byzantine Government in Exile: Government and Society Under the Laskarids of Nicaea (1204-1261)" is good for that much understudied period of Roman history. Kaldellis's "The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome" is also a must-read for understanding the unique political dynamics of the Roman Empire in the east, and "Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition" by the same author is essential for understanding Roman cultural and national identity in the Byzantine period. Fordham university also has a variety of translated sources available for free on their website -- Michael Psellos in particular is highly recommended.

By the way, I would additionally recommend not reading the popular histories of Byzantium out there, particularly Norwich's work, as well as the more scholarly overviews of Ostrogorsky and Treadgold. All are well-written and were good at the time, but they're now thoroughly outdated in a number of fundamental ways not obvious to the casual reader. If you're new to Byzantine history reading them is likely to impart as much misconception as understanding; there aren't many better alternatives at the moment, unfortunately, but it's not really worth it. Also, try to stay clear of Wikipedia aside from basic events and fact-checking -- it's pretty much stuck in the 1980's as far as historiography goes.

It's going a bit beyond the scope of the question, but if you're interested in Byzantine art and architecture there are also a number of excellent online resources on the subject; these include The Byzantine Legacy, Byzantium 1200, Antoine Helbert's reconstructions of Constantinople, and this website on the Hagia Sophia without a clear name. Euratlas is also pretty good for maps, if far from perfect.

Hope that helps.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
This is a great collection of material from Jean, and I would second everything he says. I would add that Jonathan Harris' Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium is a decent introduction to medieval east Roman civilization in general, although it has been a while since I looked at it so I might have a different opinion today. Mark Whittow's The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025 is also a good introduction to the middle period, although readers should be aware that the scholarship on iconoclasm has advanced since its publication.

This thread has some links for decent places to acquire good material on east Rome online: Online resources for studying Byzantine history

Now I may be just a little biased, but I do think that Anna Komnene's Alexiad is way more fun than Psellos.
Feb 2019
in the sky!
Ah thank you very much for the useful recommends and helpful links. Just what i was looking for. Looks like i am going to be rather busy for awhile in a good way.