by Ilkka Syvänne
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen and Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xxviii, 356+.
Illus., maps, plans, appends, notes, biblio., index. $52.95. ISBN: 1848848544
The Division of the Theodosian Empire
In this volume of Prof. Syvänne’s impressive series on the final ages of the Roman Empire, we get a detailed look at the division of the empire under his sons, into Western and Eastern branches, albeit still considered a single entity. Initially both sections appeared strong and coherent, yet within a generation the West would begin a seemingly unstoppable decline, while the East would emerge as the stronger.
As in the case of the earlier volumes, Syvänne takes a more or less chronological approach, following events on a reign by reign basis, cutting back and forth from theatre to threatre or across time as necessary, while explaining the reasons for changes and reorganizations of imperial political and military institutions.
While he discusses the increasing separation of the two parts of the Empire in this period, Syvänne looks at efforts by each section to offer support when possible to the other. However, the Empire suffered from the juvenile and inept emperors, multiple usurpations, particularly in the west, the rise of local elites and warlords resistant to imperial authority, barbarian invasions and some disastrous developments, such as the loss of Britain.
But he also covers some interesting, and often overlooked developments, from the largely neglected reign of Theodosius II (402-450), and the surprising alliances with erstwhile enemies Axum and the South Arabians to secure the sea routes that would cut Persia out of the lucrative Indian trade.
In addition to available documentary and archaeological evidence, which he often subjects to very critical analysis, Syvänne uses lessons learned from experimental archaeology and re-enactors. Very commendably, he does not pretend omniscience, and often tells us why he is interpreting events in a particular manner, while noting alternative viewpoints.
The many illustrations, some in color, maps, and plans of battles or fortresses help the reader to a better understanding of the events.
An outstanding work, The Military History of Late Rome 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.
Other Volumes in the Series:
Military History of Late Rome, 284-361
Military History of Late Rome, 361-395