Justinian's Flea by William Rosen
When Justinian is made Roman Emperor in 527, the Roman Empire has lost Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and North Africa to the barbarians and breakaway states. The Roman Empire is in a dire shape, and in economic turmoil. Internal power conflicts threaten to destroy the empire from the inside. Constantinople's Persian and Gothic enemies are at the borders.
Justinian's Flea is about the rise and fall of Justinian, the founding father of the Byzantine Empire. He managed to reconquer all of Italy, Carthage, the Balkans, and parts of Spain. He held back the Persians. He rewrote the legal code. Justinian's achievements are incredible on their own, but his legendary status is further reinforced by the incredible circumstances which plagued his reign.
The first Byzantine emperor surrounded himself with incredibly talented and loyal followers who were instrumental to his success. His wife Theodora, was a circus performer and prostitute who rose from the bottom using her beauty and intelligence. When Justinian was stricken by the plague she took the reigns and saved the empire. There is General Belasarius who led Justinian's armies to victory time and time again, and was instrumental in the reconquest of Rome and Carthage. Because Justinian was too busy administering his empire, he never left Constantinople. Belasarius was Justinian's sword-arm.
In 541, the plague of Justinian struck Europe. Justinian had already reconquered large portions of the Roman Empire from the barbarians
A word of caution: I listened to the audiobook version, which is very poorly recorded. While the book is great, the audiobook is terrible. Don't buy it. The narrator sounds like he's falling asleep after a large heroin overdose.
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