Peter Sarris

Beware of Latins Chasing Debts

The Lost World of Byzantium

By Jonathan Harris

Yale University Press 264pp £25) order from our bookshop

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,

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