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The Nisibis War (ePub)

The Defence of the Roman East AD 337-363

Ancient History > Rome & the Roman Provinces Military

By John S Harrel
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 22.1 MB (.epub)
Pages: 274
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781473848313
Published: 10th February 2016


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The war of 337-363 (which the author dubs the Nisibis War), was an exception to the traditional Roman reliance on a strategic offensive to bring about a decisive battle. Instead, the Emperor Constantius II adopted a defensive strategy and conducted a mobile defence based upon small frontier (limitanei) forces defending fortified cities, supported by limited counteroffensives by the Field Army of the East. These methods successfully checked Persian assaults for 24 years. However, when Julian became emperor his access to greater resources tempted him to abandon mobile defence in favour of a major invasion aimed at regime change in Persia. Although he reached the Persian capital, Ctesiphon, he failed to take it, was decisively defeated in battle and killed. The Romans subsequently resumed and refined the mobile defence, allowing the Eastern provinces to survive the fall of the Western Empire. John Harrel applies his personal experience of military command to a strategic, operational, tactical and logistical analysis of these campaigns and battles, highlighting their long-term significance.

Much of what Harrel examines in this book will remain relevant for years to come.

Ancient Warfare, June/July 2018 – reviewed by Greg Fisher

The Nisibis War Harris offers us some excellent strategic analysis, helping explain the many military problems confronting the late empire, and evaluating the abilities of the respective armies and leaders, particularly the over-rated Julian, altogether providing us with a good account of a very confusing conflict, in an area still in contention.

Read the complete review here.

Strategy Page, A. A. Nofi

This is a good account of a very confusing conflict, in an area still in contention.

New York Military Affairs

This is an interesting account of an important late Roman conflict, the last major clash between the Persians and the theoretically united Roman Empire, before the fall of the Western Empire. It demonstrates that even this close to the beginning of the end in the West, the Empire had a powerful army and under capable leaders was perfectly able to defend itself against attacks on multiple fronts.

Read the full review here.

History of War

Harrel's book looks at a particular campaign which occurred towards the end of the Empire, as it was beginning to slide into decline. A fascianting account of a thirty-five year conflict that saw Julian killed. This is a scholarly work that adds much to the literature of the late Empire.

Books Monthly, May 2016 - Paul Norman
 John S Harrel

About John S Harrel

John S Harrels military career spanned forty years. He enlisted as an officer cadet in the US Marine Corps in 1971. Upon graduating from California State University Northridge he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the USMC. In 1980, he transferred into the California Army National Guard (a component of the US Army) as a captain, ultimately rising to the rank of Major General and retiring as Commanding General of the California Army National Guard. He is also a lawyer and retired as California Deputy Attorney General after 28 years of service.

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