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So far on the podcast I’ve recommended:
The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan
The peerless Mike Duncan takes you through the civil conflicts of the Gracchi, Sulla and Marius. The storm before, you know, the Julius Caesar storm. It’s like having new episodes of ‘The History of Rome’ podcast.
Queens of Jerusalem by Katherine Pangonis
Check out episode 238 for my interview with Katherine Pangonis. In her book she explores the lives of women in power during the era of the Crusader States. This includes the rulers of Jerusalem and Antioch as well as the wives of the Muslim Emirs they fought with. Amongst this fascinating cast of characters are several Byzantine princesses who were dispatched to the Holy Land by Manuel Komnenos.
The First Crusade – The Call from the East by Peter Frankopan
Check out episode 208 for my interview with Professor Frankopan. This excellent account of the First Crusade puts the Byzantines firmly at the centre of the story.
In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland
This is an exploration of the origins of Islam through the Christian, Zoroastrian and Jewish worlds it was born amongst. The stories of Justinian, Heraclius, Khosrau and others lead into the story of Mohammed and what we do and don’t know. Written with immersive language that assumes you have a grounding in the ancient world, it’s addictive but you may need to listen more than once.
Rubicon by Tom Holland
Julius Caesar and the fall of the Roman Republic. You know the story. Told in typically creative Holland style.
Ten Caesars by Barry Strauss
An account of the ten most important Emperors from Augustus to Constantine. Check out for my interview with Barry Strauss to find out more (just before episode 190).
In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire by Robert Hoyland
If you think the swirling mysteries of Tom Holland aren’t for you then this might be. Understanding the source problems Hoyland puts together an entertaining and clear narrative of the Arab conquests from the beginning up 750.
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
This is one of my favourite history books. It explains so much about how civilisations developed from simple things like latitude, urbanisation and untamable zebras.
Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove
A Byzantine secret agent is sent to various trouble spots across the Empire (in a universe where Muhammad converted to Christianity). A collection of short stories fused into one narrative. This has the best observed details of the Byzantine world in any of the works of fiction I’ve read.
Strategos by Gordon Doherty
A young man with a dark secret holds the key to the coming battle between Byzantium and the Seljuks. An engaging fantasy-style adventure story set in the 11th century borderlands. Click on the image to see on Amazon.
Count Belisarius by Robert Graves
From the author of “I, Claudius” comes the story of Justinian’s go-to General. Graves’ fictional account is based as much as possible on what we know did happen.
The Empress by Meg Clothier
Recommended by a listener this is looser fiction set in 12th century Constantinople.
Books I haven’t read yet by authors I trust
The Last Great War of Antiquity by James Howard-Johnston (Heraclius’ war with the Persians)
The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather
Sicily by John Julius Norwich and The Popes by John Julius Norwich
Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD by Peter Brown
There is a shortage of good books about Byzantium on Audible at the moment. But the earlier Romans are very well represented.