The best novels to explore the Byzantine world

Who am I?

John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium ignited my passion for the Byzantines in the early 2000s. I knew little about them before reading that book; now I rarely read any other topic. I have always loved historical fiction and was dismayed to find so few books about the Byzantines. Once I read about the remarkable life of Anna Dalassena I realized I had found a character to write about and remedy that shortage. I am presently working on my fifth book and third novel, which will be about Anna’s son, Emperor Alexios I Comnenus. I also have a book of short stories and a brief Byzantine history.


I wrote...

Imperial Passions - The Great Palace

By Eileen Stephenson,

Book cover of Imperial Passions - The Great Palace

What is my book about?

This is the second of two novels about the life of Anna Dalassena, an 11th century well-born Byzantine woman and the mother of the Emperor Alexios I Comnenus. Imperial Passions - The Great Palace opens in Constantinople in 1057 when the magnificent Byzantine Empire only still existed because its enemies had not realized how years of corrurpt rulers had weakened it. At first Anna’s brother-in-law, Isaac I Comnenus, rules the empire struggling to make needed changes. When illness forces his retirement, Anna is crushed when her own husband, John, declines the throne. Then her greatest enemy, Constantine Ducas, becomes emperor. The turbulence of these troubled years finally force Anna to recognize her own pivotal role in the destiny of the empire’s fortunes and that of her family.

The books I picked & why

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Fortune's Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora

By James Conroyd Martin,

Book cover of Fortune's Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora

Why this book?

Byzantine history has only sporadically inspired historical fiction, although Empress Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian, has had more than a few novels written about her. I’ve read and enjoyed many of them but this book is one of the best. Her dramatic life encompassed the deadly Nike riots, the building of the magnificent Hagia Sophia, and the Justinianic Plague. And did I mention that she was a courtesan prior to marrying Justinian? Martin’s Theodora is a glorious and sympathetic woman, even if flawed. The author tells her story wonderfully through the eyes of a court eunuch!


Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

By Spyros Theocharis, Chrysa Sakel (illustrator), Justina Theochari (translator)

Book cover of Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

Why this book?

I had never looked at or had an interest in graphic novels until I saw this graphic novel about the mother of one of the Byzantine Empire’s most important rulers, Basil II. But if there was ever going to be one I would read, it had to be a Byzantine one! I loved it! The vivid artwork in this book is superb and tells of Theophano’s life from innkeeper’s daughter to wife of not one, but two emperors. If you want to ease into Byzantine historical fiction, this graphic novel is a great places to start. 


The Bear of Byzantium

By S.J.A. Turney,

Book cover of The Bear of Byzantium

Why this book?

Simon Turney’s novel, The Bear of Byzantium, covers a period of time in late 1041 to late 1042 that I wrote about in my own book. This was a real-life Game of Thrones period with stupendous Viking members of the Imperial Varangian Guard such as Harald Hardrada, a dying emperor, a spurned empress, a conniving heir, and a crafty Viking wise-woman foretelling the future. Turney’s battle scenes will have you believing you are there manning the Great Palace’s walls with the Varangians, looking down on the streets of Constantinople seething with rioting mobs ready to execute a hated emperor. 


The Sheen on the Silk

By Anne Perry,

Book cover of The Sheen on the Silk

Why this book?

Anne Perry is a superb mystery writer who ventured once into the Byzantine world with this novel and I am so glad she did. The story takes place in 1273, twelve years after the overthrow of the Latin rulers who had occupied Constantinople since the horrific attack by the leaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The city still struggles to recover and a young woman, Anna Lascaris, who has learned medicine from her father, decides to disguise herself as a eunuch to more easily find out who framed her brother for murder, which resulted in his exile to a distant monastery. Poisonous political intrigue swirls around Anna/Anastasius as she practices the healing arts while searching for clues about who was the true killer.   


Strategos - Born in the Borderlands

By Gordon Doherty,

Book cover of Strategos - Born in the Borderlands

Why this book?

Gordon Doherty is a prolific writer of ancient and medieval historical fiction, including this first in a three-book series, Strategos. Strategos was a title for a general in the Byzantine military. This first novel in the series starts the life of Apion, a boy living in Byzantine eastern Anatolia in 1046 as the Seljuk Turks begin their incursions into the empire’s borders. His life is shattered when a Seljuk raid kills the rest of his family, and the boy is taken in by a nearby Seljuk farmer. Apion lives with that farmer and falls in love with his daughter, Maria. A twist of fate leads him away from his home and into the military where he begins his rise in the ranks. The next two books lead our hero inevitably to the betrayals on the battlefield at Manzikert.   


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Byzantine Empire, eunuchs, and the Roman Empire?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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