by Peter Crawford
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2016. Pp. xxx, 354+.
Illus., maps, diagr., stemma, appends., notes, biblio., index. $36.95. ISBN: 1783400552
A Much Maligned Emperor
Constantius II (r. 337-361), the second son of Constantine the Great, has long been regarded as inept and tyrannical, lambasted by pagan and anti-Christian authors seeking to glorify his supposedly abler successor the pagan Julian “The Apostate”, and also by Christian writers, for supposed heretical tendencies.
Constantius’ reputation has, however, in recent years undergone some rehabilitation as historians look more carefully at the surviving evidence, literary, legal, archaeological, numismatic, and monumental.
Dr. Crawford, author of several works on the later Empire, including a life of the Emperor Zeno, makes a good case that Constantius was “A good emperor in need of a publicist”. In what is essentially a military biography of the Emperor, he covers the military problems with which Constantius had to contend, internally from usurpations and civil wars, and externally from Persian and barbarian incursions. Often occurring simultaneously, these greatly strained the Empire’s manpower and financial resources. Crawford gives us several good accounts of various campaigns, including excellent analyses of a number of battles and sieges; notably those of Strasbourg, Amida, and Bezobde.
Nor does Crawford neglect non-military matters, covering, albeit less deeply, the Empire’s religious problems, as Christianity, having largely triumphed over paganism, fell into internal doctrinal disputes. This is not a white-wash of Constantius, for we see him at times acting brutally, perhaps even tyrannically, particularly when confronted by usurpers, even within his family.
Crawford is quite critical of Julian, arguing that despite his reputation as an “enlightened” ruler, mostly created by ancient pagans and modern academics, his domestic polices were divisive, and he bungled an unnecessary war with Persia that not only caused his death but wasted invaluable manpower and reversed centuries of Roman gains on the eastern frontier.
Constantius II is a good read for anyone interested in the late Empire.
Note: Constantius II is also available in several e-editions.
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