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Review: Justinian and Theodora

Robert Browning

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Justinian and Theodora

The sixth century of the Christian era was undeniably a very interesting period in our history. Fortunately, quite a few written sources from that time have survived. Thanks to this, industrious historians and writers have full scope to show off in order to bring these turbulent years closer to their readers by writing their works. One such historian who undertook this seemingly difficult task was the British Byzantinist Robert Browning (1914 – 1997).

In his work entitled Justinian and Theodora, he focused on the rule of the couple of the title characters of his work. Reading this very well-written work provides the reader not only with a detailed picture of the rule of this extraordinary couple, whose evil actions the author often justifies and explains but also with a picture of the Byzantine world and the peoples interacting with it. Mr. Browning does not hide his great sympathy for Emperor Justinian and tries to blame the beautiful and extremely dark half of the emperor, Theodora, for many bad deeds attributed to him.

The author tries as far as he can to distance himself from the highly critical presentation of the emperor and empress made in his old age by Procopius of Caesarea in his Secret History. However, as a professional historian, he holds fast to very rich source material. But sometimes Mr. Browning falls into a kind of inaccuracy. For example, in one place he happens to state that the imperial spouses trusted each other implicitly, while in another place the reader can read that the secretive and suspicious Justinian probably did not trust anyone, including his beloved Theodora.

I enjoyed this book better than the somewhat less detailed work entitled Justinian and the Byzantine Empire, on exactly the same subject, by another British man, Mr. James Allan Evans. The richness of the presented details, in which the presented world was rich, and the exceptional clarity of the message completely eliminate the minimal shortcomings of the work discussed in this review. Another fact worth mentioning and also commendable is that Mr. Robert Browning’s socialist sympathies are not reflected in any significant way in the text other than the use of the term ‘social classes’.

From time to time, the author gives the reader sympathy for the paupers of the big cities (supported by the state) and the poor peasants in the countryside. I recommend reading this study together with the “Secret History” by Procopius of Caesarea in order to form your own judgment about the events described in these works.

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Author: Antypater (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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