Gregory, A History of Byzantium
Annotation author: Guthier, Sophia Sonja
Book author: Gregory Timothy E.

Timothy E. Gregory, A History of Byzantium, Hoboken 2010

Timothy E. Gregory (born c. 1951), professor emeritus, is an American historian and scholar, specializing in the Byzantine empire and in classical archaeology. Gregory is the director of the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia, Co-Director of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, and Co-Director of the Karavas Water Project. He is working on a “landscape approach” to the history of the Eastern Mediterranean area, especially in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. His list of publications includes high-profile books and articles on the archaeology of Greece and the history of early Christianity.

In the introduction to his work A History of Byzantium, Gregory states that the Byzantine Empire was a crucial link between the ancient and the modern worlds. It is, however, studied to a much lesser extent than most other cultures of the Middle Ages and there is very little understanding of Byzantium among the general public. He argues that the study of Byzantium is interesting in and of itself and that our society loses a great deal by not knowing more about it.

Gregory gives an overview over Byzantium’s history in sixteen chapters, from the 3rd century to the time after the fall of the city in 1453. The first six chapters are devoted to the history of the Roman Empire since 235 and the Early Byzantine period up to the accession of emperor Herakleios in 610 (pp. 21–160). Chapters 7-12 (pp. 160–281) cover the almost 600 years from the enthronement of Herakleios to the storming of Constantinople by participants of the Fourth Crusade (pp. 282–339). The following chapters 13-15 (pp. 282–339) are devoted to the Late Byzantine period (1204–1453). A final chapter deals with the aftermath of Byzantium and Byzantine culture since the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. (29th May 1453). Gregory draws a line from the 15th century to the present. He states that several Byzantine political entities survived and that the Byzantine ideal and Byzantine cultural traditions have lived on and are still with us today.

Gregory gives a very good overview over Byzantium’s history from the 3rd century to the fall of Constantinople. The book includes over 40 illustrations and eleven maps that provide a visual aid. Over 40 excurses are interspersed as informational boxes, illustrating specific issues which complement the main text. Gregory’s book does not contain footnotes but there are bibliographical sections at the end of every chapter. In summary, there is little reason to complain regarding Gregory’s rather conventional account of Byzantine history. However, there are some weak points: Gregory is unsuccessful in his account of Slavic immigration to Southeast Europe (pp. 156-160). Even though contemporary sources do not provide us with reliable figures regarding the tribes of Slavs advancing into the area south of the Danube, it is incompatible with their data when he speaks of “small numbers of immigrants” (pp. 157). A minor correction that must be brought up is when Gregory mentions the special importance of the “conversion of the Russian Princess Olga, regent for her young son Vladimir, and her visit to Constantinople in 957” (p. 234). Olga was the mother and regent not of Vladimir but of Svyatoslav.

Despite this, this book may be recommended to a general audience.