With incisive commentary, Professor Madden leads a discussion covering Justinian's re-conquest of the West, the great city of Constantinople, and the aftermath and influence of this extraordinary empire. The term "Byzantine" was invented by modern historians to identify the final millennium of the Roman Empire. By the third century and into the fourth century, there were changes in the Roman Empire so profound that historians during the Enlightenment began to call the period Byzantine rather than Roman. Most historians would place the beginnings of the Byzantine Empire roughly around the reign of the emperor Diocletian, who instituted widespread reforms to halt civil wars and economic decline.
One of the primary characteristics of the Byzantine Empire was the relegation of Rome to a place of honor only. Rome was not the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The capital, instead, was Constantinople. Therefore, power was based in the eastern Mediterranean. Next was the dominance of Greek culture and eastern perspectives, and a final characteristic was the integration of Christianity into the social and political fabric of the empire. Constantinople was the beating heart of the Byzantine Empire and the greatest city in the Western world at this time. Constantinople sat at the crossroads of the world and controlled east-west land traffic. Eventually, the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks reverberated across the Christian world. Europeans now saw a world in which nothing stood between them as the last remnant of free Christendom and the ever-growing powers of Islam.
©2006 Thomas F. Madden; (P)2006 Recorded Books, LLC
As a history student, I always felt that the Byzantine Empire played a critical role in the development of Western civilization, yet it had always been shrouded in a cloud of mystery. This audio book blows that cloud away, allowing the listener to see the historical events that shaped European development as it emerged from a backwater collection of barbaric forces and into a viable player on the world scene.
Professor Madden is a competent lecturer; both thorough regarding pertinent facts as well as cyclical; meaning that he brings the listener back to points he had made earlier, effectively tying together sequences of events and how they interrelate.
After reading a review by another reviewer regarding the heavy "Christian bias" in this work, I feel that he must not be referring to this book at all, but another, for I found zero bias regarding any particular viewpoint. Christianity is certainly emphasized, as it must be with regard to the history of Byzantium (or of the West in general), for it played an enormous role in the shaping of policy, diplomacy and gave cause for empire-shaking wars and conquests.
Constantinople was filled with churches, monasteries, icons and the like. It was an extraordinarily religious city. It's relationship with Rome was hampered by differences in religious doctrine - minor points by atheists' standards or the generally non-religious, but the people of that time period were anything but that. Therefore, various doctrinal points regarding their eternal fates would certainly play a major role in all the aspects of their lives. Dr. Madden simply presents the facts. There is no bias.
Admittedly, I enjoy lectures. This cannot be said of all people. I enjoy a dry presentation as well as a sparkling one; provided the facts are straight. This is grade A material, sure to be enjoyed by any budding historical scholar.
I have downloaded just about all of Prof Madden's downloaded stuff and it is all excellent, amusing, clear, interesting and informative. He is a great lecturer and, as an additional bonus, has a lovely voice.
I've listened to this book about 4 times. Not in one sitting. The fact I've listened over and over again is testimony to how informative and interesting it is- and as a lecturer, Prof Madden is great. Not at all condescending.
This was a good listen but really left me wanting more.
I wanted more connections made between the different lectures.
I'm usually a fan of the Modern Scholar series but every time I got really interested in a topic it felt like it ended.
The structure was separate lectures on some important topics (important according to the author) but they seemed somewhat disjointed from one another.
I wanted more connections made between the different themes.
Definitely listen if the topic interests you but if you are addicted to this kind of audiobook (like I am) It might not leave you feeling entirely satisfied.
I have been looking for an audiobook on the history of the Byzantine Empire for ages, and this lecture pretty much was the next best thing, this lecture should be deemed a sequal or continuation to the other lecture "decline and fall of Roman Empire."
I listened to this one before i'd got the hang of writing reviews, but I had to go back and tell everyone about these lectures. The way John Madden explained the intrigues, social changes and catastrophes that befell the Eastern Roman Empire, it sounded like a fantasy or spy trilogy, and yet it really happened. It made me want to read more about Byzantium, whi'ch I've been doing. I don't know why more historical novelists don't set their stories in this period. Many of the tragic characters who played their part are worth a novel. The Modern Scholar seminars are expensive, but well worth your credit. I've purchased quite a lot of them, and this one's the best so far.
I listened to this series prior to a trip to Turkey. First, the good news. The lecturer clearly knows the subject, and had a fair amount of intersting insights. If you like lots of detail, lots of dates, and lots of names, and want to find the themes on your own, this series is for you.
However, I didn't enjoy it. First, there was way too much emphasis on naming each leader. At times it sort of like reading the some of the latter chapters of the biblical book of Numbers (i.e., the decendants of X was Y, and Y begat ZZZZZZZZZZZ).
I think a better way of approaching such a long sweep of history would have been to lay out some themes and mention individual rulers to make the point.
Second, there was virtually NOTHING about where all the gold came from. At one point, the lecturer said "lots of money changed hands there" and then went back to droning on about some supposedly juicy palace intrigue. I would have liked something more about what goods were being traded there, and why it was so profitable.
That's my two cents.
Thomas Madden does an excellent job of covering this very long time period. I have listened to this presentation several times, and was even inspired to print the syllabus. Glad I did, because it named Professor Madden's reading material, now I can go deeper. I guess that makes the good Professor an inspiration as well. I purchased this lecture because I drive a truck, no sense in not learning while I drive. Like most drivers, I am also an avid reader.
concise understandable history
The Modern Scholar series is a great way to learn about the past. The lecturors give you a great overview of the topic in a very straight forward, matter of fact, way. They present the information in an ordinary everyday fashion that makes them a pleasure to listen to, easy to understand, and easy to retain.
Prof. Madden is a pretty good lecturer, and he addresses enough details and primary sources to give a good overall picture of the Byzantine Roman Empire from Late Antiquity through its demise in the 15th century. His perspective, however, is consistently Western and Latin, and even his lectures on the Crusades sympathize with the Crusaders and unduly criticize the Byzantines (this is the case even with the disastrous and indefensible Fourth Crusade invasion of Constantinople). Madden does not present an informed understanding of Islam and its impetus for spreading outside of Arabia. His overall western-oriented history of Byzantium comes as much from his omissions of details as from his inclusions. I purchased this as a fruitful way to spend my commuting time, and it does that well. I'm just disappointed that his presentation of the history is so obviously biased and seemingly reflects his (presumed) Catholic identity and Catholic institution.
"An Engrossing Story Told By An Expert"
I just finished listening to Professor Madden's lectures on the History of the Byzantine Empire and cannot recommend it enough to anyone interested in history.
Not only is the history of the of the Byzantine Empire interesting, per se, but one also learns a lot of background information about things in Western Europe. For example, one learns how and why the Pope came to rule extended lands in Italy, how Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire "by accident", and many others.
The text is excellent with a lot of wit, particularly when discussing all the various schisms that occured on religious grounds over 1000 years between the Popes and the Patriarchs of Constantinople.
The delivery of Professor Madden is a bit hesitant and stilted, at the beginning, but one gets used to it and around the middle of the series of lectures the sound engineers do some tweaking and the voice is less nasal. In any case it is obvious that these lectures are being given by someone who knows the Bizantine Empire inside out and one is left with an heavy heart when it finally collapses in 1453 (sorry for the spoiler ;-).
this was a very clear, easy to listen to and informative series of lectures on a subject that has been generally neglected and few know very much about.
"A Clear Presentation of a Fascinating Story"
I found this lecture course extremely interesting. This is a very complicated story with lots of highs and lows for the Byzantine Empire, and Professor Madden presents it with enormous clarity. The extent of background presented at the start and the level of detail through the course are both perfectly judged, as is the extent to which side-stories such as the crusades are pursued. Professor Madden is a little dry as a lecturer which is why I gave this only four stars for performance -- very little of his personality comes through. So this is (highly) informative without being particularly entertaining. But I would recommend it thoroughly. One final remark -- I came to this course having listened to the Great Courses course "The World of Byzantium" (Professor Harl) which I found very disappointing. Professor Madden's course is much more interesting and contains much more detail on the story, despite being shorter. If you're wondering which course to choose, go with this one.
I have listened to most of Prof. Madden`s lectures on Medieval Ages and Crusade. This, however has been a slight disappointment. The story should be about the empire, but the the formation of the empire is somehow missed at the beginning. The book is rich on facts, dates, names and events. But still one has a feeling that something is missing. Personally I miss the description and image of the empire formations, its significance and role in history.
This of course is a lecture rather than a history book or even a fiction. But having listened to other books of this author, one can compare.
"Different, and not the best"
The key thing I missed when I downloaded this was that is was a series of lectures. That means it is a succession of largely unscripted talks by a professor discussing various aspects of the Byzantine Empire in roughly chronological order. Now that is all very well, and I am sure that the guy knows his stuff, but to me this is not the best way to get a subject across. Essentially it is just like being in a lecture hall, but with the lecturer all to yourself. He knows broadly what he is going to talk about, but he is making it up as he goes along. He pauses as he searches for the right words, he refers to what he is going to talk about later, and he sometimes repeats himself or seems to go off at a tangent for a while. All normal lecture characteristics, but not the most efficient way to get a story across, and I found myself being sometimes frustrated as I waited for him to get out whatever point he was trying to make. Reading from a book, where the author has had all the time they need to lay things out properly and succinctly, is a better method in my view and I will probably avoid lectures like this in the future.
Having said all that I found the subject interesting and the lecturer adequate though hardly charismatic or entertaining to hear. Breaking the lectures into 30 minute chunks made no sense to me, so although I learned something from this book I wouldn't recommend the exercise to anyone else.
"Poor speaking - but good information"
I am interested in the subject, but to be told I am going to receive a "lecture" just closes my mind down. Maybe having flu while listening to my first audio book was not a good diea, but somebody erring, stuttering, pausing for thought has not help and I am only onto lecture 2.
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