Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jonathan Harris' "The End of Byzantium"

Jonathan Harris is Reader in Byzantine History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The End of Byzantium, and reported the following:
The Byzantine Empire or Byzantium had been one of the great powers of the Mediterranean in the early Middle Ages but by 1400 the glory days were long gone. Most of the empire’s territories had been lost to the rising power of the region, the Ottoman Turks, and there was little left apart from the capital city of Constantinople and a few parcels of land in Greece and the Balkans. The Greek-speaking inhabitants of Constantinople thus found themselves living in an uneasy limbo between their great past and a very uncertain future. Page 99 is largely devoted to just one of them. His name was Manuel Chrysoloras and he had been born in Constantinople in about 1355. During his childhood and youth he would have seen the power of the Ottomans growing in the Balkans and he came to the conclusion that the only way that they could be stopped would be for the Byzantines to align themselves with their fellow Christians in Western Europe and make common cause against the Muslim Turks. That, however, was easier said than done because the two halves of the Christian world were divided by a schism: the Byzantines were Orthodox while the West was Catholic, a split that made co-operation very difficult. Nevertheless, Chrysoloras persevered in his belief. He learned Latin to a high standard, converted to Catholicism and became the chief ambassador of the Byzantine emperor to Western Europe. Between 1396 and 1415 he was constantly on the move, visiting Italy, France, Spain and England in an attempt to persuade their rulers to come to the rescue of Constantinople and the Byzantines. He died at Constance in 1415, shortly before he was due to address a Church council on the same theme. Not everyone in Constantinople agreed with Chrysoloras: many felt that accommodation with the Ottomans was preferable to an alliance with the Catholic West. The clash between pro-Ottoman and pro-Western views was to divide the Byzantines right up to the moment of catastrophe in 1453 when the Ottomans finally took Constantinople by storm.
Learn more about The End of Byzantium at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue