by Ilkka Syvänne
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen and Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xxiv, 304+.
Illus., maps, plans, append., notes, biblio., index. $52.95. ISBN: 1473895324
The Passing of the West, the Survival of the East
In this, the fifth volume of his masterful survey of Roman military history from the late-third through the mid-fifth centuries, Prof. Syvänne contrasts the “fall” of the Empire and the rise of “barbarian” successor states in the West, with the survival and revival of the Empire in the east. As with the earlier volumes, he discusses sources, is careful about explaining his conclusions when trying to elucidate some obscure or complex matters, and discusses the evolution of military institutions as the fortunes of empire rose and fell.
In the West, we see the disintegration of centralized authority, as warlords squabbled over power and wealth while various “barbarians” appropriated vast swathes of territory for themselves, even as some short-lived emperors – Majorian, Anthemius – strove with some success to restore unity, while able emperors in the East – notably Leo I, Zeno, Anastasios I – managed to cope with the multiple threats to survival and begin rebuilding the empire’s fortunes.
Syvänne reminds us that the “barbarian” conquest was not necessarily very barbaric, and the various kingdoms of the Visigoths, Vandals, Franks and particularly the Ostrogoths under Theoderic, fairly quickly established stable, rather Romanized societies.
There’s not much to criticize in this work, though one would wish Syvänne had spent a bit more time on the isolated islands of Roman power that survived for a time amidst the successor states, such as the “Kingdom of Soissons” maintained by Aegidius and his son Syagrius in Gaul or Saint Severinus in Noricum
Military History of Late Rome, 457-518, is an essential work for anyone interested in the Late Empire and the origins of the Medieval world.
Other Volumes in the Series:
Military History of Late Rome, 284-361
Military History of Late Rome, 361-395
Military History of Late Rome 395-425
Military History of Late Rome. 425-457