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The Emperors of Byzantium

Kevin Lygo, Robert Peston, Bettany Hughes


A compelling and vivid narrative history of one of the founding civilizations of the modern world, the Byzantine empire, evocatively told through the lives of its 92 emperors

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Based in the great city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the Byzantine empire was one of the most successful states of the Middle Ages. The continuation of the Roman empire, it ruled over a vast terrain straddling Europe and western Asia from the fourth to fifteenth centuries. Yet its history remains largely unfamiliar.

This chronicle by Byzantine expert Kevin Lygo brings this majestic and turbulent period to life through the lives of its emperors: a role that encompassed being head of state, supreme military commander, and God’s representative on earth. These rulers, who include well-known figures like Constantine the Great and Justinian I, and a number of extraordinary women such as Irene of Athens and Zoe Porphyrogennete, combined both ruthless usurpers as well as soaring intellectuals. But they all left their mark upon the modern world with the establishment of the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, the creation of a visual template for Christian art, and magnificent monuments that include the cathedral of Hagia Sophia, the mosaics of Ravenna and the architectural wonder that is Mount Athos.

Throughout, Lygo paints vivid portraits of the entire Byzantine cast, with tales of political survival, religious devotion, sexual intrigue and artistic brilliance. This is a humanizing portrayal of more than ninety individuals whose rule profoundly impacted the lives of millions.

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'I love this book. The strangeness, the darkness, the madness, the gruesomeness, the politics, the families, the feuding, the deaths! It makes Game of Thrones look like a scrap in the playground'
Russell T. Davies

'This revelatory and brilliantly researched book opens the door to one of the best-kept secrets in art – the magnificent empire of Byzantium'
Waldemar Januszczak

'Kevin Lygo is a connoisseur, collector and specialist in the Byzantine era, which when combined with his flair for storytelling, make this a publication to savour'
Will Gompertz

'A highly readable, beautifully illustrated survey of the rulers of a great medieval empire that spanned more than a thousand years, from Constantine the Great to the fall of the Eastern Empire. Lygo has succeeded brilliantly in bringing this fascinating but strangely neglected subject to life'
Paul Lay, Editor, History Today, and author of Providence Lost: the Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate

'A vivid and gorgeously illustrated study of Byzantium and its emperors'
Roger Crowley

'A fascinating read and superb production standards'
The Armourer

'Highly readable … Confirm[s] that a millennium’s worth of political upheaval and imperial strife coincided with a stunning, artistic florescence. The only thing ‘orthodox’ about Byzantium was the name given to its religion'
Art Quarterly

'An informed and accessible survey of the men and women who ruled the empire over its 1,100 years ... Excellent'
The New Criterion

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.0 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 336 pp

Illustrations: 186

Publication date: 7 April 2022

ISBN: 9780500023297

Contents List

FOREWORD by Robert Peston
INTRODUCTION by Bettany Hughes

Constantinian Dynasty (306–363)
Non-Dynastic Ruler (363–364)
Valentinian Dynasty (364–379)
Theodosian Dynasty (379–457)
Leonid Dynasty (457–518)
Justinian Dynasty (518–602)
Non-Dynastic Usurper (602–610)
Heraklian Dynasty (610–695)
Twenty Years of Anarchy (695–717)
Isaurian Dynasty (717–802)
Nikephorian Dynasty (802–813)
Non-Dynastic Ruler (813–820)
Amorian Dynasty (820–867)
Macedonian Dynasty (867–1056)
Non-Dynastic Ruler (1056–1057)
Komnenian Dynasty (I: 1057–1059)
Doukid Dynasty (1059–1081)
Komnenian Dynasty (II: 1081–1185)
Angelid Dynasty (1185–1204)
Latin Constantinople and the Empire in Exile (1204–1461)
The Empire of Nicaea (1208–1261)
Palaiologan Dynasty (1261–1453)

About the Author

Kevin Lygo is an expert in Islamic and Byzantine art who has travelled across Europe and the Middle East extensively. He has previously edited the publications Portraits of the Masters: Bronze Sculptures of the Tibetan Buddhist Lineages (2003) and Pages of the Qur’an. A study of Islamic Calligraphy (2011). He is Director of Television at ITV and was formerly Director of Television at Channel 4. Bettany Hughes is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster. Robert Peston is a journalist, writer and the Political Editor of ITV News.