If somehow you are on this page and don’t know what The History of Rome podcast is then go check it out immediately. It was the inspiration for this podcast and for much of my renewed fascination with the Ancient world. It is a brilliant audio journey that I continue to cherish.
For someone who hasn’t listened to the History of Byzantium podcast
The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History by Colin McEvedy
This is the lightest of books put together like a small booklet. However it’s one of my favourite history books and taught me the outline of European history. Its brilliant maps show you the major political developments with a pithy, entertaining narrative alongside them. There are also versions which cover Europe in the Ancient, Modern and early-Modern periods. There is one on Africa and America and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Byzantium: The Early Centuries (286-802)
Byzantium: The Apogee (803-1080)
Byzantium: The Decline and Fall (1081-1453) by John Julius Norwich
If you know nothing about Byzantium and want to hear the story then this is where you should begin. Norwich has that old fashioned mastery of writing where he can turn a phrase beautifully and make the tale funny and engaging. It is not up to date with modern scholarship though.
A History of Byzantium by Timothy E Gregory – closest thing to a high school textbook that I’ve found
Rulers of the Byzantine Empire from Kibea – modern illustrations of the Emperors
Curious for more details
You’ve heard the podcast but would like to read it for yourself
You will find some primary sources online here
The World of Late Antiquity by Peter Brown
A sweeping history of the Roman world from the Antonines to the coming of Islam. The most beautifully written book on this page. Good resources section at the end to direct students.
A History of the Byzantine State and Society by Warren Treadgold
A thousand page book that will give you a detailed narrative and end of each era analysis. The closest thing to the podcast in book form. A little out of date at this point but only a little.
The Making of Orthodox Byzantium: 600-1025 by Mark Whittow
If you don’t want to wade through every decade with Warren Treadgold but want to cover all the important issues to do with Byzantium then this is the best book I’ve found. Whittow is easy to read and gets to the point quickly. He really cuts through the fripperies to the core of why things happened the way they did. Excellent on the Empire’s neighbours.
The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 by Chris Wickham
An excellent modern book covering developments across Europe from the fall of Rome to the end of the Millennium.
Byzantium: The Empire of the New Rome by Cyril Mango – similar to Whittow, older, different angles
The Roman Empire Divided: 400-700 by John Moorhead – textbook style, good on this period
Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman
The Early / Middle / Late Byzantine Historians by Warren Treadgold
A Social History of Byzantium by John Haldon
Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe by William Rosen – this is where all the plague details came from
The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power by J.A.S. Evans – poorly written but very thorough
Justinian II of Byzantium by Constance Head
Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium AD 527-1204 by Linda Garland
Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium by Judith Herrin
In God’s Path by Robert Hoyland – easy to read account of the rise of the Caliphate
The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates by Hugh Kennedy – Islamic political developments from 6th to the 11th c in only 400 pages
Empires and Barbarians by Peter Heather – final German and original Slavic movements
Byzantium and Bulgaria 775-831 by Panos Sophoulis
The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century by John Fine
Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250 by Florin Curta
The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500-1453 by Dimitri Obolensky
A History of the First Bulgarian Empire by Steven Runciman
The First Crusade: The Call from the East by Peter Frankopan – Byzantine perspective
The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge – Crusader perspective, enjoyable narrative account
Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World 565-1204 by John Haldon – the most complete survey of military matters
The Byzantine Wars by John Haldon – analysis of various famous battles and the changing tactics of the army
The Fortifications and Defense of Constantinople by Byron Tsangadas
Byzantine Military Unrest, 471-843: An Interpretation by Walter Kaegi
The Age of the DROMON: The Byzantine Navy ca 500-1204
Byzantium and Its Army 284-1081 by Warren Treadgold – don’t believe every number
The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward N. Luttwak – fascinating but wonky
The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans, 1081-1108 by Georgios Theotokis
You will need to know plenty to fully enjoy these
The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire
A collection of articles on every era and neighbour across the Empire’s history. An essential resource for students.
The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian edit by Michael Maas – 500 pages of in depth analysis
Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era 680-850 by Leslie Brubaker and John Haldon – comprehensive, massive
Byzantium in the Seventh Century by John Haldon – important but a bit dry
The Empire That Would Not Die 640-740 by John Haldon – good modern update
Witnesses to a World Crisis: Historians and Histories of the Middle East in the Seventh Century by James Howard-Johnston
Byzantium in the Year 1000 edited by Paul Magdalino
Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis – 955-1st Crusade, excellent
The Byzantine Empire,1025-1204, A political history by Michael Angold
Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium by Walter E. Kaegi – very dry and detailed
Basil I, Founder of the Macedonian Dynasty: A Study of the Political and Military History of the Byzantine Empire in the Ninth Century by Norman Tobias
The Reign of Leo VI (886-912): Politics and People by Shaun Tougher
The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign by Steven Runciman – out of date
Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World by Arnold Toynbee – out of date
Basil II and the Governance of Empire (976-1025) by Catherine Holmes – focus on Skylitzes
The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer by Paul Stephenson – focus on Bulgarian war
Arab-Byzantine relations in early Islamic times edited by Michael Bonner – vital collection of articles
Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs by Nadia Maria El Cheikh – collection of accounts of Byzantium by Arab historians and writers.
Byzantium’s Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204 by Paul Stephenson
Victory in the East by John France – Military history of the First Crusade
Identity and political culture
Hellenism in Byzantium by Anthony Kaldellis – who were the Byzantines?
The Byzantine Republic by Anthony Kaldellis
Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy c300-1450 by Michael Hendy
The Byzantine Economy by Angeliki Laiou and Cécile Morrison
The Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce AD 300-900 by Michael McCormick
A fascinating book. Unusual studies of reliquaries, pilgrims and coins point to the recovery of European trade after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Origins of Islam
The Early Islamic Conquests by Fred McGraw Donner – largely Muslim sources
Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests by Walter E. Kaegi – largely non-Muslim sources
Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins by Robert Spencer – he is controversial but an invaluable resource
In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland
Holland writes beautifully but he doesn’t hold your hand. Unless you already know a lot of the detail this may be difficult to get through. However it’s worth the effort as it draws together the mysteries surrounding the origins of Islam.
Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook
Patricia Crone is one of the most fascinating historians I’ve ever read. Here she and Michael Cook make incredibly sweeping (in both a positive and negative way) statements about Roman identity and how exactly Syria and Egypt both succumbed to and briefly resisted the advent of Islam. As well as presenting a compelling theory on the development of Islamic theology.
Slaves on Horses by Patricia Crone
See above for more on Patricia Crone. Here she effortlessly rolls through a century of Islamic history to explain how the Arab state was held together and why it ultimately moved from Damascus to Baghdad and from local recruits to foreign slaves.
May I recommend writing of Jonathan Harris: “Constantinople – Capital of Byzantium” is a fabulous book, beautifully written and deeply insightful; his latest is “The End of Byzantium” telling the tale of the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, I’ve only recently bought it, and will report back about it.
I have to start with thanking your for undertaking the “forgotten” history of the Romans; Than kyou for producing this podcast.
Have you bought all these books?
I thoroughly enjoyed Threadgold and Norwich. I’ve also acquired the Osprey publishings on the Byzantines and Late Romans, but I’ve found them lacking in detail, although the illustrations are fantastic.
What are your thoughts on Ostrogorsky and Haldon?
Thanks again for your determination in not letting the Roman empire end with the fall in the West.
Tribonian – thank you for the recommendation. Your namesake will be appearing in a couple of episodes time.
Dryzen – Some I bought, some I got from the library. I have both Ostrogosky and Haldon sitting on my shelf but haven’t read either yet. Haldon’s one is dated after Justinian’s reign but I will have to begin Ostrogosky soon. Have you read both and would you recommend?
Thanks for the quick reply.
I’ve not yet read Ostrogosky but it is on my shelf.
As for Haldon he’s a great source of information when describing the Constantinopolitan society and the empire’s social elite. His Byzantium: A History starts off with the usual lineage of events then delves into the far less frequent view of the Byzantine social administration. For as much as I liked the new information, there is something about the delivery that just didn’t appeal to me.
One book I could recommend if as you reach the centuries of warfare with the Muslims is Nadia Maria El Cheikh’s Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs. The book offers an interesting glimpse at how the Empire and its capitol became the stuff of legend. It has very little set information about the conflicts the cultures endured, yet I found the content refreshing.
I look forward to hear more of your podcast.
Thanks so much for the recommendations, I will definitely look out for that one.
I humbly suggest “Sailing from Byzantium” by Colin Wells as a worthy addition to the list. It focuses on culture, literature, and religion rather than intrigue and bloodshed.
It’s sitting on my shelf waiting to be read some day 🙂
How about a warning regarding Norwich? Sure, it’s well written but he seemingly ignores any and all scholarship on Byzantium and just weaves his narrative as he sees fit. Scholars have taken kindly to it.
I’m working my way very slowly through Byzantine history so I will certainly update my opinion of the books as I go. However I wouldn’t warn anyone looking for a “Beginners” book on Byzantium about that. I think it can be very hard to get into a subject if you don’t read it as an engaging story first. I see you are studying the subject so naturally you wouldn’t have that problem 🙂
I also recommend this for advanced readers.
Master Builders of Byzantium by Robert Ousterhout
It is a book about how the Byzantines went about building. It covers mostly architectural issues but also how they organized and paid for construction.
Very interesting recommendation, thanks 🙂
For anyone interested in the military of the E.R.E, check out “Byzantium and its Army” by Warren Treadgold. If you’re after a really in-depth look at the military of the worlds longest lasting empire, check out “Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth” by Eric McGeer. It’s university level stuff, but if you’re up for it, it deeply explores the armies of such great Byzantine emperors such as Nikephoros II (The Pale Death of the Saracens), John I and Bulgar-Slayer himself- Basil II. Lots of information on the Byzantine-Arab wars during the Byzantine Resurgence.
If you like food, check out “Flavours of Byzantium” by Andrew Dalby. It’s all about food and food preparation in the empire as well as the great food markets of Constantinople. There are even recipes of Byzantine dishes in there.
Thanks so much for the recommendations 🙂
Thanks for this bibliography Robin. Some random comments:
– I have the abridged version of Norwich, and it feels abridged. It left me wanting more as I was reading it, so potential buyers should keep that in mind.
– I think Herren’s approach is an interesting alternative to the Norwich one, and you might come around on it in the end. You get an overview of all the important issues without being inundated by names, dates and wars on every page. I think this style might actually be more suited to beginners, e.g. I can tell that my wife would prefer Herren to Norwich.
– Peter Heather’s book on the fall of the west is fantastic. I loved it.
– I found The Inheritance of Rome, while brilliant, to be a bit of a slog, and I wouldn’t put it in the beginner section. On the other hand, In the Shadow of the Sword was, for me, a much easier read, and a fascinating one too. I had been wondering if you were using it as you introduced the Lakhmids and the Gassanids, described the Jewish king of the Yemen etc.
Great comments Nick. I haven’t read all of Herren but I appreciate that different people will like different styles. Without a narrative approach I struggle to understand any historical period so I assumed someone who didn’t know the story would find it tough. It’s good to have a different view for people to hear.
You’re right that TIOR is text-book like but again I went on the basis that it divides the period up well. “In The Shadow” is a tough one to judge. Holland includes so many fun anecdotes that a reader might find it more engaging than a dry factual tome. But Holland loves his winding language so much that if I had read it before knowing the story I think I would have gotten completely lost 🙂
Just out of curiosity, have you read “Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium” by Judith Herrin? It overviews Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora from 780 to 856 and talks especially about their roles during both the Iconoclasm periods.