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The Wars of Justinian (ePub)

Ancient History Rome Military

By Michael Whitby
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 38.7 MB (.epub)
Illustrations: 12 colour & black and white maps
ISBN: 9781526760890
eBook Released: 13th August 2021


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Video review by Dr Alexander Clarke

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Justinian I was the last great conquering Roman emperor, who dramatically increased the size of his realm although he never actually led an army in person. His long reign (527-565) was devoted to the challenging project of renovatio imperii, that is the renovation of Empire. His was the will and vision behind campaigns that saw the reconquest of Rome itself and Italy from the Ostrogoths, North Africa from the Vandals, and parts of Spain from the Visigoths. These grand schemes were largely accomplished through the services of two talented generals, Belisarius and Narses, and in spite of the distractions of wars against the Persians in the east for most of his reign and the devastation caused by bubonic plague.

This is the only book available devoted to analysing all of Justinian's campaigns on the basis of the full range of sources. Besides narrating the course and outcome of these wars, Michael Whitby analyses the Roman army of the period, considering its equipment, organization, leadership, strategy and tactics, and considers the longer-term impact of Justinian’s military ventures on the stability of the empire.

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Video review by Dr Alexander Clarke

This is a thorough - and thoroughly footnoted - history of the military and paramilitary conflicts of Justinian I's long reign. The author takes the time to survey the Roman Empire's government, organisation and finances first, noting that these are vital to the prosecution of wars, before providing theatre-by-theatre breakdowns of the conflicts. Broadly speaking, this means the separate analysis of the Persian, African, Italian, Balkan and internal fronts.

The chosen organisation approach has both positives and negatives - for instance, it helps keep the progress of each theatre more contiguous, but made it harder for me to appreciate how simultaneous conflicts were impacting each other. It can also sometimes get a little dry, with a blizzard of often similarly-named men fighting, allying and betraying each other.

Probably the key thing this account brought home was the quicksand-like nature of military alliances and social loyalties during the time. Key figures would often switch sides multiple times, with allies becoming enemies becoming subordinates becoming rebels becoming allies ... it's eye-opening how much impact personal slights and ambitions played in the fates of thousands of people.

NetGalley, Adam Windsor

About Michael Whitby

Michael Whitby studied Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he also completed his doctoral research before enjoying a Junior Research Fellowship at Merton. He taught Ancient History at St Andrews, where he became professor in 1995 before moving to Warwick in 1996 as Professor of Classics and Ancient History, where he was appointed Chair of Faculty (2001) and then Pro-Vice-Chancellor (2003). In 2010 he moved to Birmingham as Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Arts & Law. Michael was co-editor of Cambridge Ancient History XIV (425-600) and of The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, as well as founder editor of the Brill series on The Medieval Mediterranean; he currently sits on the editorial board of the Liverpool series Translated Texts for Historians. He was awarded a D.Litt. by the University of Warwick for his work on Late Roman history. He has written or edited a dozen books, and numerous articles or book chapters.

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