The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 by A.H.M Jones

Book Review by Divi Filius

Let's face the facts; social and economic history is just tedious at least compared to the military one. Rather then read of great battles, you read of its effects on the economy, rather than reading of great personalities you read about their decrees, indexes and monetary records and scrolls and how the personality affected them.

So it comes to no surprise that it is the military works that fly of the shelves are the ones done by military men focusing on military aspects of the Roman Empire. This is where The Later Roman Empire comes in. Rarely has such a vast amount of information been written up in such an easy and accessible form.

Originally published in 1964 by the late A.H.M. Jones, the book was written up in two packed volumes starting with the accession of Diocletian to the collapse of the eastern empire to the Arabs giving a short description of the succeeding emperors. It will also include the "Barbarian West" to a good extent. For those looking for a general history or a bedtime reading, you will likely get turned off, the book offers a narrative first part before dwelling off completely into the social economical survey of the latter but even here it is largely a survey of the social and legislative aspects of the empire under the rule of that particular emperor and rarely an actual history.

Be prepared to come in with some knowledge of the era and having some awareness of the reign of the Antonines ("5 Good Emperors") and the Third Century Crisis. The third century crisis will be gone over in a quick but in a rather but well organized and informative way in about thirty pages, but the Antonines will get very little attention besides the mention of some social aspects of army/emperor/senatorial relations, which will serve as precedents to the explanation of some of the events in the reign of Diocletian. But even these historical narratives will get tangled up in different dates and terminologies (I would recommend keeping a note pad and jotting them down for later references should you forget their purpose and meanings) which will appear over and over through the volumes.

Volumes being already mentioned, the book contains two, second being formed up largely for the 300 sum pages of notes (yea, when I say big, I mean big). The second volume also includes a third part of the work, the social aspect which will explore the church, trade, agriculture and learning, while volume one focuses on the both the historical narrative and legislative aspect of the empire, the army recruitment.

All being finally said, I was at awe as to how well such information was presented, basing his works heavily on such works as the Notitia Dignitatum, he has been able to absorb this and throw it out in a form which will not overwhelm. It is not easy to capture a reader for over an hour while he sits through such information as the recruitment of the military, the agriculture and finances, among others.

Much of the sources he uses are not available to the average reader (I have spent hours on end looking through the works of Zosimus, Aurelius Victor and Eutropius but ended up empty handed) let alone the massive amount of inscriptions and papyri. The constant use of Latin terminology and the later Greek ones, which are not turned into Latin alphabetized.

The size of the work is, expected of such a major study, will inevitably scare away the average reader, but such a massive work should not be ignored by anyone doing studies on the era of the empire. The pages may end up needing some re-reading here and there to suck up all the info, but you will be hard pressed to find a better and fuller study of such information presented so well.

For its textbook size this works acts like nothing close. It is a triumph in Roman studies and one of, if not, the best on the era and of the Roman Empire in general. A salute to Jones for his work, it is a masterpiece.

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