To Edward Gibbon, Byzantine history represented ‘a tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery’. ‘On the throne, in the camp, in the schools,’ he opined, ‘we search, perhaps with fruitless diligence, the names and characters that may deserve to be rescued from oblivion.’ Hegel was no less critical, declaring of the empire that ‘its general aspect presents a disgusting picture of imbecility: wretched, even insane passions stifle the growth of all that is noble in thoughts, deeds and persons.’ At the root of such hostility lay antipathy towards Byzantium’s apparent elevation of autocracy to the level of a political ideal and the profound and often mystical Christian faith that the organs of the Byzantine state espoused.
Of course, such anti-Byzantine rhetoric displayed a certain lack of self-awareness on the part of supposedly enlightened philosophes, whose own intellectual formation in the classics owed much to the efforts of Byzantine humanists and scribes and their preservation and transmission of classical Greek texts. The Greek canon was, to a great extent, a Byzantine creation. The Lost World of Byzantium is the latest in a series of books