Book Review: The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila

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by Michael Maas, editor

Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xxxii, 486. Illus., maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $36.99 paper. ISBN: 1107633885

How Bad was Life in the Age of Attila?

Prof. Maas (Rice) and nearly two dozen of his colleagues explore the ancient world from about AD 375 to about AD 525, a period in which the most memorable historical figure is Attila the Hun (fl. c. 400-453), “The scourge of God” and most ironically barbaric of all the barbarians. The 23 essays in this volume are grouped into three parts.

The first part, “The Rome Empire,” includes nine essays on the state of empire and the wider Roman world in the period. Individual essays give us an overview of the era, and then explore subjects such as government, patterns of rural and particularly urban life, military institutions, economics, dynastic politics, law, and “Romanness,” though oddly omitting religion.

The second part, “Attila and the World Around Rome,” had eleven essays that examine the origin of the Huns and other “Barbarian” peoples, the nature of Hunnish and “barbarian” settlement in general, patterns of migration, the Vandal settlement of North Africa, and the Hunnish impact on SassanidPersia.

The final part, “Religious and Cultural Transformation,” has seven essays. Several of these address various aspects of Christian such as asceticism and monasticism, doctrinal questions, and anti-paganism. There are also essays on the state of the Jews in the Empire, and two on intellectual life, on the contemporary understanding of geography and the other discussing the nature of our sources.

While all of these essays naturally tend to have a narrow focus, taken together they make for a surprisingly comprehensive and interesting look at the history of what Maas calls “the long fifth century.” As these essays reflect the most recent scholarship, they offer some surprises, notably the well documented observation that compared to the other invaders of the Roman world, Attila and his Huns were neither the most destructive nor the cruelest, despite their received reputations.   While written for the specialist, this would make enjoyable reading even for the amateur student of late Antiquity.

A volume in the series “Cambridge Companions to the Ancient World, while  The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila is written for the specialist, it would make enjoyable reading even for the amateur student of late Antiquity.

 

Note: The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, is also available in hardback,   $99.00, ISBN 978-1-107-02175-4, and as an e-Book.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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