Book Review: The Military History of Late Rome. 425-457


by Ilkka Syvänne

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen and Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xxiv, 304+. Illus., maps, plans, append., notes, biblio., index. $52.95. ISBN: 1848848536

Collapse in the West, Survival in the East.

In this, the fourth volume in Prof. Syvänne’s military history of the Roman Empire from A.D. 284 to 565, he opens with a look at a clearly weakened, but nevertheless coherent empire. He looks at the continuing decline of the West under the feeble, and unfortunately long-lived Valentinian III, and the survival and even revival of the East under the latter’s cousin, the even longer lived and well-advised Theodosius II.

Valentinian managed roved unable to manage the complex threats to the Western Empire, notably Frankish expansion in Gaul, but arguably more seriously the loss of Africa, the principal source of imperial revenue, to the Vandals, completed in A.D. 439. Valentinian proved unable to secure the support of the senatorial class, which clung to its money rather than investing in the empire. He had some able subordinates, most notably Flavius Aetius, who led a Romano-Frankish army to defeat Atilla and the Huns in 451,but squabbling among them was fierce, and even Aetius was murdered by his emperor. Soon after Valentinian was himself murdered, but his successor proved incapable of ruling, and was torn to pieces by the citizens as he fled Rome on the eve of the Vandal sack of 455.

In contrast, in the East Theodosius, advised by a very astute sister Pulcheria, managed to hold things together, restored imperial authority over several areas hitherto overrun by barbarians, and fortified Constantinople. He was succeeded on his death by Marcian, a professional solider who wed Pulcheria, and continued the work of keeping the eastern half of the empire secure, while trying to send help to the west.

As is the case with the earlier volumes, Syvänne gives us a critique of the sources available, reminds the reader of alternative interpretations of some events, looks at some obscure campaigns, and offers us numerous word portraits of many people, in a book that is both well illustrated and well mapped..

The Military History of Late Rome. 425-457 is a valuable read for anyone with an interest in the late empire


Other Volumes in the Series:

Military History of Late Rome, 284-361

Military History of Late Rome, 361-395

Military History of Late Rome 395-425



Note: As with the earlier volumes in the series, The Military History of Late Rome. 425-457 is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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