428 AD: An Ordinary Year At The End Of The Roman Empire, by Guisto Traina
This book was a very enjoyable one to read, and followed the pattern of a few books that view a particular time rather than a particular person as the context in which to organize a work of history . This is an approach I enjoyed here, and definitely one that I will have to explore more in the future, as it allows a writer to pursue various threads of material at the same time that share a context even if they are usually viewed together. As a way of joining together material that is largely unknown and often viewed in isolation, this approach to historical context is a worthy one in that it provides the opportunity for insight by seeing the same facts in a different way. Although I am not familiar with any of the author’s other work, this book is definitely one I recommend if you have an interest in the problems of late antiquity concerning the fall of the Western Roman empire as well as concerning the question of continuity between the late Roman world and the one that followed it in the European and Mediterranean worlds.
This book of just more than 100 pages is divided into eleven chapters that look at what was going on in 428AD in various parts of the world in and around the Roman Empire. After a preface, acknowledgements, and introduction, we look at the travels of one obscure Flavius Dionysius and the end of the independent kingdom of Armenia, which was at that time integrated, at least somewhat, into the Persian empire, which signified a geopolitical defeat to Rome that was largely ignored by the historians and commentators of the time (1). We then see this same gentleman escort one Nestorius to become the Patriarch of Constantinople, which leads to his fall and to the discrediting of his views about the nature of Christ (2). The author then explores the path between Antioch and Constantinople and the local issues and banditry faced in the area (3) as well as the oriential and ceremonial monarchy being created in Constantinople at the time (4). We move to the anatomy of an empire and look at how the internal reunification of Rome under the same dynasty was conducted at the cost of a lack of ability to engage with the outside world in the same way (5). The author looks at Italy in transition through the rise of Ravenna (6) and examines the behavior of Franks, Visigoths, and generals like Aetius as serving as trial runs for the Middle Ages (7) when viewed in hindsight. There is a poignant chapter about North Africa in the period just before the conquest of the Vandals (8), the interaction between pagans and Christians in Egypt (9), the poignant loss of the Jewish patriarchate in Jerusalem (10) and the strength of Persia (11) and its own robust self-confidence during this era.
Admittedly, 428 is not a very famous year, but its very ordinary qualities allow the author to find its incidents worthy of note. The author pays a great deal of attention not merely to massive battles but also to issues of demography, ceremony, diplomacy, and religious history. As someone with an interest in these subjects, the vignettes included here provide the reader with a great degree of interesting material that is worthwhile for readers to examine so that they may better recognize the larger trends that were operating even during years when it appeared little was going on in the outside world. The refusal to replace a Jewish patriarch and the fall of the Armenian king had consequences and repercussions that lasted for a long time, and the conflict between Rome and its imperial governor in North Africa made the territory especially vulnerable to the Vandal conquest that would come soon, a conquest that would greatly endanger Rome by jeopardizing its food supply. Likewise, the conflict over Nestorius’ beliefs as well as the rise of asceticism in the Middle East and increasingly Europe was also interconnected with the political malaise of the time, all of which the author graciously allows the reader to connect through his command of source material and his skillful prose.
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