There are several good histories of Byzantium out there on the shelves but most of them are the chronological studies of the rulers, the wars and the church issues. This isn’t the way Herrin’s book goes. Within a broad framework of eras, Herrin’s book is organized by theme – from art and architecture to Roman Law, from economics to the schism of the Orthodox Church and lots and lots of material between those subjects.
She starts at the beginning, with Emperor Constantine moving the capital of the Roman Empire to the small town of Byzantium and the set-up of the administration as well as the inter-niscene church difficulties. She moves to the “Transition from Ancient to Medieval” with chapters on literature, icons, Islam and the Saints – even the sporting events and food distribution. Then on to the Medieval State in which the idea of “born in the purple,” and the Imperial family are discussed as well as the multi-ethnic make-up of the mature Empire. Lots of problems. Finally there is the issue of the Crusades and the sack of Constantinople.
The point here is that because the European Christian crusaders did such horrendous things to Constantinople – supposedly our friends – we have to demonize them and not much at all is learned about this very sophisticated, wealthy, powerful useful (and so on) Empire. We owe them a lot but we haven’t been exactly forthcoming about it.