Accounts of European History end with the sack of Rome in 410, then have a black hole called the Dark Ages, and then pick up the story with Charlemagne. This account of history is very incomplete and inaccurate.
While Western Europe was in decline, the Byzantine Empire was in existence from the year 330 to 1453 during which time it was the wellspring of science, art, literature, and history. This Empire was in existence longer that Britain’s government, if one dates it from the Battle of Hastings in the 1066. The works of the ancient Greeks and Romans were preserved, copied and transmitted. Byzantium and its enemies referred to it as the uninterrupted Roman Empire until its fall.
The author shows that three empires in turn benefitted from Byzantium’s contributions: Western Europe; the Slavic Countries most notably Russia (the self styled “Third Rome”); and Moslems. Significantly, Byzantine monks invented the Cyrillic alphabet for use by the Slavs and translated the bible into a vernacular in the 9th century. The British did not have a vernacular bible till the 17 century.
The term “Byzantine” has acquired the pejorative meaning similar to the term "Kafkaesque" because of complication in messy dynastic changes, the similarity of names of offspring, and theological disputes in which the Orthodox beliefs of the Byzantines were more in keeping with the Christian canon than Rome’s view on the same topics.
Edward Gibbon, a skeptic, weighed in with his acidic and exaggerated descriptions of the worst that Byzantium had to offer. This is hardly a reason to dismiss the innumerable positive achievements of Byzantium and its effect in enlightening Europe and making the Renaissance possible.
See also Justinian’s Flea and the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, both available on Audible.
Harold Lamb has made a cottage industry of writing about great generals, some others of which are available on Audible.com.
Although Hannibal saw defeat in battle, he destroyed army after army sent against him by Rome. These armies were formidable, well drilled, and arguably the best fighters of the era. Hannibal by contrast cobbled together armies consisting of undersupplied Carthaginians, mercenaries, and fickle locals. Through the use of artifice, cunning, and superior tactics, Hannibal won every battle fought in what is now Italy.
Picture this. In the 6th century AD, the Emperor Justinian decides to re-conquer what had been the fullest extent of the Roman Empire from his base in Constantinople. He sends an underequipped general, Belisarius, on this mission.
Through guile and tactical genius, Belisarius regains the Roman Empire beating every enemy he faces: Vandals, Goths, and Gauls. North Africa, Italy, the Levant, and parts or modern day Europe are re-conquered. This accomplished, the newly conquered empire could have been the modern colossus governed under a newly codified set of laws sponsored by Justinian.
Unfortunately, Constantinople and the rest of the empire suffer from a plague that kills 25,000.000 people (a very large percentage of the world’s population at the time) and continues to kill in subsequent years.
Immune from the plague are the isolated tribes of Arabs who come under the sway of a merchant, Mohamed, who preaches a new religion that features jihad. The newly conquered territories cannot be held by Byzantium and the effects of the plague have effectively shaped the modern world.
The book is complex and the narrator does the best he can but the story can be followed.
Prof. Fagan was able to rekindle my love of ancient history. Having been out of undergrad for many years now, I had forgotten how much fun "otium cum dignitate" can be. We all find ourselves drawn into our respective specialities (for me, medicine), only reading those books or papers directly relevant to our jobs. We forget what it is like to learn for the sake of learning.
This course took me back to the Western Civ, Latin and Philosophy courses in my undergrad years, which were wonderful for their own sakes. Not because I _need_ to know this stuff, but because I _want_ to.
The courses are laid out very well with a clear outline, concise topics and a logical progression. Each lecture can stand on its own, yet it builds on those before it. The storytelling employed is exemplary and draws you in. It made my daily commute much more productive and entertaining. The hour per day I sit in my car becomes my "otium cum dignitate" again.
Next step: relearn Latin!
I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in renewing their own curiosity. It you have a trip to Rome planned, it certainly can have practical uses as well.