Rome Resurgent: War And Empire In The Age Of Justinian, by Peter Heather
Is it really just or appropriate to view this book as a book about Rome, seeing as it is a generally praiseworthy effort to place the conquests of Justinian in the context of the internal politics of legitimacy in the Byzantine Empire as well as the grand strategic efforts of the Byzantines with Persia as well as the barbarians of its border regions. Admittedly, reading about the Roman or Byzantine Empires is not anything particularly unusual for me, but it was intriguing to see the author take an approach of seeking to view Justinian’s military behavior in light of the politics of the Byzantine Empire and the expectations that were placed on leaders. The author certainly does not view Justinian or his era as being perfect, but all the same this is a book that seeks to absolve him of blame for the collapse of Byzantine power from its hegemonic aims and massive achievements during Justinian’s time to the regional power it became in the aftermath of the rise of Islam. If you find the mix of high politics, diplomacy, and military history to be appealing, as I did, this is a book that is well worth enjoying even if the work is more about Byzantine and than Roman history as its focus is on Constantinople and not Rome.
This book is a bit more than 300 pages long and is divided into eleven chapters. The book begins with some maps and then an introduction about Justinian and the fall of the Roman empire. After that the author provides a historical context to the period between Constantine and Justinian (1) as well as the military-fiscal complex of the ancient world and Rome in particular (2) and the problem of regime change in Constantinople (3). This leads to a look at the gamble of the invasion of North Africa to distract from major failures at home (4) as well as the small expeditionary invasion of Italy (5) and the longer conflict to conquer Italy (6). The author explores the culture of victory that developed thanks to the successes of Belisarius and Narses (7) as well as the struggles with Persia (8) and the insurgencies that developed in North Africa and Italy that hindered the establishment of peace (9). The author then looks at the aftermath of the conquests and what territories were included within the Western Empire of Justinian (10) as well as the factors that led to the drastic decline of the Eastern Roman empire in the decades after Justinian (11), after which there is a timeline, glossary, notes, primary sources, bibliography, and index.
This book is perhaps best for exploring the ways that Byzantine emperors in the early part of the Byzantine Empire (and sometimes long afterwards) could ensure their legitimacy and the crippling problems that succession could provide for ancient regimes. Both of these are areas worthy of additional study. An absence of succession can be an attempt to hold on to real power (one of the reason why second term US presidents are invariably less effective, because they are term-limited) while it can also be a sign of the presence of competing elements that need to be brought together in a ruling coalition that might divide based on too much focus on the question. Likewise, passing and organizing laws, building noteworthy construction projects, and winning wars have often been solid ways of ensuring one’s legitimacy of a ruler and passing on a sound legacy. It is a shame that after Justinian the Byzantine Empire was so poorly served by its leaders in a disastrous time that had catastrophic results. Such is the reality of the world in which we live, though, when our greatest efforts are often ephemeral in their result.