by Peter Heather
Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 386.
Illus. maps, chron., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0199362742
Justinian and the Resurgence of the Late Roman Empire
Prof. Heather (King’s College, London), author of a number of works on the late Roman Empire, notably The Restoration of Rome, on efforts to restore the Empire in the West after its “fall”, takes a deeper look at the most successful of those efforts, that by the Eastern Emperor Justinian in the mid-sixth century. Of course, although his subject is the events of Justinian’s long reign (AD 527-565), Heather often refers back to the fifth or even the fourth century, to set the stage for the events.
Heather’s first two chapters are of particular importance, as they discuss the effects of the Christianization of the Empire following the conversion of Constantine the Great in the early fourth century, and the extensive restructuring of the financial and military institutions of the Eastern Empire in the fifth century, notably the introduction of light infantry and horse archers, which enabled it to survive the fall of the West.
Heather then follows with a discussion of the Justinian’s rise to the imperium and how he wielded power, not only reflecting his ambitions, but also in furthering his hold on the purple, since the best way for an emperor to be secure on the throne was to be successful. We then get a well rounded account of Justinian’s reign, in which Heather tries, with considerable success, to show the interrelationships among events. So we see how the security of the Persian frontier related to the success of wars in North Africa and Italy, religious influences on policy, diplomacy, and war, the effects of the great plague, and even the role of the emperor’s ambitious building projects.
Those who know of Justinian only through Procopius’ Anekdota, or Robert Graves’s novel Count Belisarius, which is drawn from it, will find many surprises here, with Heather’s more nuanced view not only of Justinian, but also the Empress Theodora, Belisarius (not quite the paragon of virtue of fiction), and Procopius himself, as well as a host of others of importance who are rarely named in more superficial treatments.
As he ends the book, Heather gives the reader a look at the state of the “restored empire”, with some observations of the question of “imperial overreach” and ends with a discussion of the longer term consequences of the events of the sixth century which played out in the collapse of the Eastern Empire in the seventh.
A volume in Oxford series “Ancient Warfare and Civilization”, Rome Resurgent is quite readable, so that while it is required reading for the specialist the Late Empire and early Middle Ages, it is also a good read for the layman with a passing interest in the period.
Note: Rome Resurgent is also available in several e-editions.