New Book: The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire

By Edward Luttwak (Belknap/Harvard, 498 pages, $35)

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire By Edward Luttwak

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire By Edward Luttwak

In A.D. 395, Roman Emperor Theodosius I split his realm between his two sons, giving the Western empire—with Rome at its heart—to Honorius, and the eastern half—Byzantium—to his brother, Arkadios. Honorius seemed to get the better deal. Byzantium was a disjointed empire made up of regions scattered across eastern Europe, Asia and northern Africa, and it was vulnerable to attack. Invaders came from all directions—Huns from the steppes, Avars from the Caucasus, the mighty armies of the Sasanian Persians, followed by the Arabs and the Turks and, most disastrous of all, Crusaders from the West.

And yet the Roman Empire, and Rome itself, fell in the fifth century A.D., while Byzantium endured for almost a millennium longer. How was this possible? That question drives Edward N. Luttwak’s “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.” Mr. Luttwak, an inveterate provocateur and the author of several earlier studies of strategy, including the audacious “Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook” (1979), has been pondering this Byzantine puzzle for two decades.

Read more of this book review from the Wall Street journal here.

Buy the book!

Watch Edward Luttvak interviewed by Harry Kreisler in the Berkeley University series Conversations with History.

About proverbs6to10

Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
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2 Responses to New Book: The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire

  1. proverbs6to10 says:

    In his review of “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire” by Edward Luttwak (Bookshelf, Nov. 23), Eric Ormsby highlights the longevity of the empire for 1,000 years after the destruction of the Western Empire, ending in 1453 with the conquest by the Ottoman Turks. However, it is interesting to note that while the nominal rulers and their official religion changed, the conqueror, Mehmed II, saw himself as the heir to the classical Roman Empire and its Christian successor. As Lord Kinross so ably described in his “The Ottoman Centuries,” this was Byzantium reborn in a new idiom.

    The new Turkish rulers enthusiastically adopted all variety of Roman (as it was then called, though now called Greek) culture in music and dance; they rebuilt and restored the city of Constantinople. They took over Constantinople’s state apparatus and bureaucracy and the Byzantine approach to strategy and government. Their millets—self-governing communities—were adapted from Byzantine practices. They even recruited Christians for the civil service (albeit technically as slaves). The patriarch of Constantinople had an excellent relationship with the sultan, echoing a common sentiment of the time, “Better Turks than Latins!”

    So, in another sense, Byzantium survived for an additional 400 years after the Turkish conquest, until the waves of modernization and liberation of the 19th century. In this sense Turkey had always been more Western than we realize, even before the Ataturk revolution.

    Robert Altabet

    Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

  2. proverbs6to10 says:

    See my article in the Fall of Constantinople 1453 series which picks up this theme

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