The Late Roman Army by Pat Southern and Karen R. Dixon
Book Review by Neos Dionysos
The primary mission of this book is to give the reader a detailed and examined look at the Imperial Roman Army in Late Antiquity, roughly from the time of the 3rd Century Crisis to the fall of the Western Empire and into Justinian's reign in the East.
Though being less than 200 pages long, the book gives the reader a sense of understanding on the army during the late Empire that few do. The entire book covers all aspects of the army from the sources that are used for the piece all the way to the Morale of the Army and shows the development from the old Imperial Army to one which imployed Limitani and Field Armies. The main primary sources used are Ammianus, Zosimus and Procopius and is supplamented with excellent secondary sources like A H M Jones and Ramsey MacMullen.
While the book may not be an engrossing read it is filled with evidence and information which answers the question, "What happened to the Roman Army? Why did this force which conquerored much of the known world succumb to something so simple as barbarians?" and it disproves the popular theory that barbarization was the main cause of the fall of the army which led to the end of the Western Empire. Through extensive research the author's show that not only is this not the case but that the barbarization had more positive effects than negative.
Discussed is also how many scholars in the past have been quick to write so negativily on not only the army but the emperors of the period save for Diocletian, Constantine, Julian and Justinian. They are seen as the creators of the defense and rebirth of the empire while other emperors left it to ruin, yet credit is given to those which improved fortifications and defensive works across the borders. The author's devout a good chapter on all types of fortifications in the late empire, where and why they were built and the reasoning for thier abandonment or transformation over time.
Also talked about is the equipment used by the army at this time and thier change in tactics. Numerous plates and figure sketches of equipment from the period adorn this part of the book giving the reader a vivid picture of what a soldier in the late empire would have looked like and how well he would have been trained. The authors go into the changes in recruitment at different periods as well as the change in pay and compensation and the corruption which ate away at the army's structure to the point where civilians and citizens were more afraid of the army than of the enemies of the state.
A key aspect dicussed at length is on the role of barbarians in the army from Constatine to Justinian. The authors show how different regions responded to the barbarization of the army, how these peoples were utilized by various Emperors and thier policies toward them. One interesting point to note is the point made how two major germanic groups were settled into the empire at Rome's desire. The Visigoths and the Burgandians were both settled on Roman land with Rome having the position of strength in the diplomatic discussions. The authors go on to discuss why intergration and settlement were so important and of the positive and negative aspects of this policy.
Finally, the book leaves you with an excellent grasp at the severity of the situation faced by Rome in the 3rd-5th centuries AD and how the army faced with these difficulties still performed as well as they did, though by comparison to the Early and High Empire periods they are seen as falling quite short, and shows the relsiliance and adaptability of the Roman army and empire during times of extreme hardships and situations.
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- Empire at Bay by S. Williams
- History of Zonaras by M. Banchich
All in all, I would rate this a 4 1/2 out of 5; and would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the late Imperial Army and of causes for the decline and collaspe of the western empire. It is a lot of information to take in and I would suggest this not to the casual reader due to the heavy dose of information and facts in such a short volume, though if you have a decent grasp on the late period of Rome you should adapt quickly and be able to take in a lot if not all the information presented to you.