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Monday, January 29, 2007

In order to not brood about the January from Hell....

I'm going to distract myself with yet another post about That Centuries Dead Empire and Its Culture. If you want updates about our schedule for the week, check here.

Last September, I posted a recommended reading list on the topic. I can imagine some poring over the list and thinking to themselves "What the [insert favorite interjection]? He's gotta be high. As in Tester's coated 'shrooms. I'm not going to order 1000 page opii nor pay shipping costs charged by previously-unheard of publishers located in the Balkans. More importantly, I don't share the obsessive mental illness."

OK--fine. The following are offered suggestions for Byzantium on a budget.

1. Byzantium, by Philip Sherrard. Part of the Time-Life Great Ages of Man series, Sherrard covers the nuts and bolts in around 180 nicely-illustrated pages. Ideal for Jack Webb types. The one failing is that it offers an abbreviated view of the post-Fourth Crusade era, which is typical in shorter accounts.

While out of print, T-L churned out these volumes by the forest-load in the 60s, so they can be obtained dirt-cheap from the usual used bookstores, both brick-and-mortar and on the 'net. I'll even put in a plug for the entire GA0M, with the usual warning that such series invariably tend to be uneven in quality. In general, Time-Life books were pretty solid (we own five series, not all history) and, because of the quantity, remain very affordable.

2. For those who like their history visual, yes, Virginia, there is a DVD series: The Lost Empire by the Discovery Channel. Though it seems to go in and out of print, the DVD is currently "in." You can also find it in VHS from the usual 'net suspects. Narrated by John Romer, it is a four part series that was shown in 1996. Romer is a superb (and sympathetic) narrator, and does an unmatched job of giving the "flavor" for the imperium and its culture. You won't learn much about the emperors or great figures, but you will get an understanding of how Byzantium ticked. He also takes a look at less-well known areas such the Renaissance-like court at Mistra, in Greece, pointing out a little-known intellectual flowering that occurred even as the Empire receded toward extinction.

Warning regarding the DVD set: Discovery really didn't think much of this gem--there are no scene selections available, apart from being able to start at the beginning of the individual episodes. Instead, there are chapter breaks every ten minutes. Then again, you may not notice--it's that good.

3. Finally, I forgot the obvious geek source--Osprey Publishing. Sure, it's pure militaria, but that's not a deterrence for most (Angus McBride rules!). I can recommend the following: Byzantium at War, Romano-Byzantine Armies, Byzantine Armies 886-1118, and Byzantine Armies 1118-1461.

There you go--happy (and cheaper) hunting!

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