The Lost World of Byzantium is a look back through Byzantium’s (aka Constantinople) long history as a city and as an empire. Jonathan Harris begins by pointing out that people often make the mistake of assuming that Byzantium was a dismal failure when, in fact, it lasted for over a thousand years in challenging circumstances, alongside other, strong nations and empires who were ready to invade. It survived not only through military might but through the use of diplomacy, of art, and a willingness to absorb newcomers.
Throughout his history, Harris points out the ways different emperors managed the difficult job of fending off invaders, maintaining a thriving trade, and building magnificent monuments. These last not only served to show the emperor’s wealth, they served as an advertisement to other nations, signs of the nation’s power that often impressed visiting ambassadors and royalty into befriending rather than invading. He shows the way that Constantinople was not a break from the Roman empire but a logical change of capitals.
The Lost World of Byzantium is a sweeping history, with little time to focus on individual personalities, and it focuses on the bigger, political picture rather than on daily life. It gives a look at a time and place not often examined. The book is a scholarly study suitable for those already interested in the history of the Middle East in general and of Byzantium in particular, though those interested in Roman history really should add it to their reading list as well.