Book Review: Roman Emperor Zeno: The Perils of Power Politics in Fifth-Century Constantinople


by Peter Crawford

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. . Pp. xxii, 360+. Illus., maps, tables, append, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1473859247

The Perils of the Purple in the Later Roman Empire

In this first ever biography of the Emperor Zeno (r. 474-491), British classicist Crawford, a specialist in Late Antiquity, uses the life of the man to help examine the convoluted history of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century.

While perhaps somewhat hard to follow at times, Crawford manages pretty well to juggle complex dynastic issues (Zeno came to the purple by reason of being Leo I’s son-in-law, and father of the old man’s infant heir), some usurpers (one of whom actually managed to capture Constantinople, causing Zeno to decamp for a time to a far off province), conspirators, tribal chieftains, and wanna-be-powers behind the throne in order to describe Zeno’s life and reign. There are also a plethora of “barbarian” nations and tribes, sub-tribes and factions, not a little religious controversy, and lot of bloodshed.

Crawford’s account is helped along by many simple, but very useful maps, some surprising, albeit apt, comparisons with Machiavelli, The Godfather, or Game of Thrones, occasional pauses in the narrative for a little comparative analysis, and a discussion of conflicting sources.

Roman Emperor Zeno is a very useful read for anyone interested in the Later Roman Empire, the fall of the Western Empire, and the emergence of the Byzantine State.


Note: Roman Emperor Zeno is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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