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Military History of Late Rome 518–565 (ePub)

Ancient History > Rome & the Roman Provinces Colour eBooks Military

By Dr Ilkka Syvanne
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 29.6 MB (.epub)
ISBN: 9781473895300
Published: 5th May 2021


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The Military History of Late Rome 518-565 provides a new, fresh analysis of the revival of Roman fortunes during the reigns of Justin I (518-527) and Justinian I (527-565). The book narrates in great detail the re-conquests of North Africa, Italy and southern Spain by Justinian’s armies. It also explores the massive encounters between the Romans and Persians in the east, and the apocalyptic fights in the Balkans between the Romans and barbarians. The author pays particular attention to the tactics and battles so there is detailed analysis of all of the period engagements, such as Dara, Satala, Callinicum, Ad Decimum, Tricamarum, Rome, Scalae Veteres, Antonia Castra, Gallica, Campi Catonis, Hippis River, Busta Gallorum, Mons Lactarius, Casilinum, Archaeopolis, Phasis, and others. The narrative features the military exploits of the great Roman heroes, such as Belisarius and Narses, while not forgetting the many other overlooked generals such as Germanus, Mundus, John the nephew of Vitalian, Martinus, Dagistheus and Sittas, not to mention the dashing hero John Troglita whose achievements were immortalized by the Roman epic poet Corippus.

Review as featured in


I confess, I haven’t developed a major interest in the late history of the Roman Empire, particularly the portion of the empire’s story when it had split in two. Cursory reading found too many invasions going on and too many dudes crowning themselves emperor only to be usurped by someone else. However, a series is being published that might change my interest. Pen and Sword has teamed with Dr. Ilkka Syvänne, University of Tampere in Finland, to produce a seven volume Military History of Late Rome. Five volumes have been published so far, covering the period 284 AD to 518 AD. Book 6 takes the story out to 565 AD and is due in May 2021.

Syvänne starts each book with an overview of where the Roman Empire stood at the start of the period being covered; this includes administrative as well as the military situation. He then discusses details of the “enemies” Rome faced at this time. The first several books have far more information on the various threats from the Picts in the West, the Germanic tribes in the North, the Arabs in the South, and the various Persian empires in the east. Following those chapters, he delves into a narrative of the period covered by the particular book.

As you can probably imagine with a series of books extending over 300 years, trying to fit “what has come before” in each volume could have been extensive, so the author has simply given you a snapshot of where the book begins. So, you can end up with somewhat cryptic statements like this one from book four (425-457 AD) “The empire somehow managed to weather out the disasters caused by Honorius’s racist policies.” Begging of course the question, ‘what racist policies?” (hint: they’re in book #3 (395-425 AD.) If you are interested in a particular leader (say Constantine, or Justinian) knowing their dates will help you figure which book to get. If you’re interested in the whole period, start from #1 and read on. Syvänne has provided lots of maps and diagrams to aid your reading. This is a colossal work.

There are a couple caveats to my recommendation. First, the text is very dense. This is not light reading at all. The books have a lot of information in them and you can easily go into overload if you try to read and assimilate too fast. Taking it more slowly will reward you.

The second caveat is more of a warning. I have read other reviews of the series that call into question some of Dr Syvänne’s conclusions and assumptions; some of the questions simply point to not having enough detailed footnotes to track or confirm a source. As a non-ancient Roman expert, I really cannot comment on the questions. However, I found I enjoyed reading the narratives without the usual “this source says this” and “that source says that” and liked the author’s attempts to tell you when he disagrees with someone else’s conclusions. He has provided a good list of sources and endnotes to aid those who want to delve deeper into particular periods of this history. But delving into the details is what afficianado’s of the period will and should do for themselves. For readers interested in a very good overview of 300+ years of Roman history, this one is worth a look.

John D. Burtt

As featured by

The Armourer, October 2021

"Military History of Late Rome 518-565" is a well crafted, exhaustively researched, deftly organized and presented study which must be considered a core and essential addition to all community, college, and university library Roman Military History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

“An outstanding work… [the series] gives us a very good picture of the long process that has come to be known as the “Fall of Rome”. This is an invaluable read for anyone with an interest in Late Antiquity.”

The NYMAS Review

The material of the book is vast and dense, but well written, and it is clear that a great deal of research and analysis has gone into the author’s work... In conclusion, this is well-worth picking up and will be a useful addition to anyone interested in Late Roman military history. It offers a unique and dedicated focus on battles and their tactics during this period. For that reason, I will be sinking my teeth into it for some time to come.

Read the full review here


About Dr Ilkka Syvanne

DR ILKKA SYVÄNNE* gained his doctorate in history in 2004 from the University of Tampere in his native Finland. Since then he has written extensively about ancient and medieval warfare and his publications include: The Age of Hippotoxotai, Art of War in Roman Military Revival and Disaster 491-636 (Tampere UP 2004), the multi-volume Military History of Late Rome published by Pen & Sword and the critically acclaimed Caracalla: A Military Biography also published by Pen & Sword. He is the co-author with Professor Katarzyna Maksymiuk of The Military History of Third Century Iran (Siedlce UP, 2018) and The Military History of Fifth Century Iran (Siedlce UP, 2019). He was Vice Chairman of the Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies from 2007 until 2016. He was appointed as an Affiliated Professor of the University of Haifa in 2016. He lives in Kangasala, Finland.

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