The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
By Michael Angold
(St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 9780312284299, 192pp.)
Publication Date: December 2001
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Michael Angold's book is a clear, concise and authoritative history of the successor to Roman imperial power: the Byzantine Empire. Byzantium was a Greek polis on the Bosphorus that gained importance in 324 AD when it was re-founded by Constantine the Great and named Constantinople. One of the pre-eminent cities of the Middle Ages, Constantinople played a vital role in the emergence of the medieval order in which Byzantium, western Christendom and Islam became three distinct civilizations.
This book charts precisely the development and characteristics of Byzantine art and society. Angold begins in Constantinople, from which the new empire emerged, and examines the city in relation to the world of the early Middle Ages. He shows how the foundation and subsequent growth of the city altered the equilibrium of the Roman Empire and shifted the center of gravity eastwards; he describes the emergence of political factions and their impact on political life; analyzes the disintegration of the culture of late antiquity; and elucidates the reaction among Muslims and western Europeans to Byzantine iconoclasm.
Angold concludes with an account of the end of imperial Byzantium and its disintegration. His book is an excellent introduction to one of the most important, and least well known, of Europe's civilizations.
Michael Angold studied at Oxford University. Since 1970 he has taught at Edinburgh University where he is currently Professor of Byzantine History. His publications include A Byzantine Government in Exile (1974), The Byzantine Empire 1025 - 1204: A Political History (1984), and Church and Society in Byzantium Under the Comneni, 1081 - 1261 (1995).
"A clear and authoritative portrait . . . [Byzantium] is an excellent introduction to what remains the least well-known of European civilizations."--Eastern Daily Press (UK)
"[Agnold's] clear, readable study does indeed do much to help bridge a major gap in historical awareness."--The Scotsman (UK)
"This richly layered narrative brings to life the many faceted culture of Byzantium, crown jewel of the East from the fourth century to the Middle Ages. Angold, a historian at the University of Edinburgh, begins with Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and moved his capital to Constantinople (Byzantium), which competed with Rome as the center of politics and religion. The ancient city became even further spiritualized when Justinian I built the Church of St. Sophia, turning the city into a kind of New Jerusalem whose inhabitants believed themselves protected by the 'Mother of God.' During Justinian's reign, Byzantine Christians' use of icons to represent spiritual reality became their culture's defining mark. However, Angold contends, iconology provoked iconoclasm between the sixth and the ninth centuries, when Western Christians such as John of Damascus challenged the veneration of icons. But disagreements within the Christian community were not the only assault on Byzantine unity. Beginning in the seventh century, Islam challenged the political and religious unity of the city and the empire, first through military incursions and later through religious controversy, namely their rejection of the veneration of icons. Even so, mosque and church architectures were mutually influential, though perhaps mosques, with their emphasis on large spaces for prayer, affected Byzantine Christian design more significantly. By the Middle Ages, Angold argues, the art and religion of Byzantium, once rejected by the West, had become firmly entrenched. Icons, especially, were accepted as religious art, even though East and West disagreed over their precise uses. Angold's fascinating book reveals a magnificent holy city both divided and unified"--Publishers Weekly