Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Monday, 17 January 2011

image for History Review: The End Of Byzantium, by Jonathan Harris.

Constantinople fell to the Turks on May 29, 1453 - the last embers of the Roman Empire were finally extinguished. Ken Lucid considers this latest retelling of the end of a very long story...

Leeds railway station, Friday morning. A two-and-a-bit hours ride back to London after a conference... Girondins and Jacobins, I seem to remember. Scintillating stuff.

Anyway, I was knackered. Completely worn out - it was a conference with a pretty good night life! I always like a visit to Leeds. I like to try to get one dinner in Whitelock's, an olde worlde pub hidden down an alley off one of the main shopping drags. Wonder if they still do their great pies...

So, I was in my seat on the train anticipating a quiet journey. No work to do, bit of a drink, sleep - you know the score. Anyway, this bloke came and sat opposite me and after settling down he started to talk... and he was a Yank! He could talk Olympics class!

Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of American chums and I love visiting the USA, but this guy was one of those you dread meeting.

He was something to do with household electricals. He blathered on about that for a while and asked me what I did. When I told him I was a historian he went on about the usual rubbish, you know: "I don't know how you remember all those dates... who was it who said 'history is bunk?'

So I forced a laugh and repeated the usual apologetic stuff and reminded him that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.

Then I told him I knew something interesting from history that would make him think.

"Do you know how many ways there are to pronounce Byzantine?" I asked him.

"Er, By-zan-tyne... By-zan-teen... Biz-an-teen... Ha. Four or five, I guess," he replies.

"Nope. There are 25."

The next time he opened his mouth, we were pulling into King's Cross.

"OK," he said, "I got 23."

That was a peaceful ride!

Harris (I don't know him - remarkable, really, since he's a Reader at Royal Holloway) has written a very readable account of the siege that led to the fall of Constantinople (this was the Turks' sixth attempt). All of which reminds me... I must go back and read Gibbon again sometime: "Reign and character of Mahomet II ... extinction of the Roman Empire in the East ..." My tatty old copy from student days is propping up a desk somewhere I think. Sacrilege!

Ken Lucid is Chair of History at the University of Thames Valley East.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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