by Ian Hughes
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2017. xx, 288.
Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1781590184
The Man Who Sacked Rome
Hughes, author of Belisarius, Aetius, and a number of other works in Roman history, takes on the life and deeds of Gaiseric, who was king of the Vandals and Alans from A.D. 428 to his death 477. This was the period during which Western Empire breathed its last, a demise for which Gaiseric certainly bears more responsibility than the more famous Attila the Hun, albeit with the aid of some serious ineptitude by a series of remarkably dim Roman emperors.
Hughes has done a fine job of squeezing every useful bit of information from ancient literature, archaeological evidence, and other sources to tell Gaiseric’s story within the framework of his remarkable tumultuous times. After reviewing the available evidence, he looks at the origins of the Vandals, Gaiseric’s early life and rise to kingship, and his life-long struggle with Rome. In the process of telling this story, Hughes also gives us a lot of cultural information on the many different peoples involved, the military and even naval systems, the ferocious religious politics of the age, a great many battles and sieges, some murders, and more, including glimpses at a surprising number of individual men and a few women.
Hughes makes a point of noting that while the Hun Attila and even the Goth Alaric are far more famous than Gaiseric, the latter certainly inflicted more harm on the empire. Of course Gaiseric certainly wasn’t the man who “destroyed Rome”, an “honor” that belongs to the Romans themselves; their many civil wars and court conspiracies are a major thread through the book.
Despite this, in Gaiseric, Hughes has given us one of the best accounts of the final age of the Western Empire, well worth a read by anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject.
Note: Gaiseric is also available in several e-editions.