[Discussion/essays]Roma aeterna est?

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Thanas
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[Discussion/essays]Roma aeterna est?

Post by Thanas » 2008-04-04 03:48pm

Salve.

I have decided to post a series of essays about the later roman and the early "byzantine" empire. The time period I will be covering will primarily reach from 253 up to 620, starting with Gallienus and ending with the year in which Flavius Heraclius changed the language of the empire from latin to greek. I will admit that this definition of late roman antiquity is somewhat debatable, with some historians ending the period in 453/4 (Atiila's and Aetius death), 476 (Flavius Romulus Augustus abdicates the throne of the western half of the Roman Empire), 565 (The death of the Emperor Justinianus) or even 1453 (the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Sultanate). Note that this list is not conclusive and there are almost as many different definitions of late antiquity as there are historians. Nevertheless, I have chosen to start with Gallienus, because his reforms started the process that ended with the vanishing of the old roman legions and I will end with Heraclius for the reasons outlined above.

I will be covering a wide range of subjects although the focus will be on the political and military events of the era. This is not to say that the other areas are not as important but I believe these to be the focus of the board. Furthermore, most people are already familiar with the basics and I doubt a 20 page essay about Roman farming would be that interesting to the majority. I will however try to cover the basics of those areas as well.
A popular misconception is that late Roman antiquity was a period filled with death and untold suffering, the decay of civilization. This is only partially true - it was also a period of great technological advances, rapid civilization and the manifestation of a legal system which is still partly in place even today.


I will not be writing a book. Instead there will eventually be a collection of essays posted here, with links to the essays posted in this OP. Furthermore, I currently have no clear structure, so you might see a post about imperial garrisons of the fifth century followed by one about the battle of Adrianople.

That said, I hope you will join me in this endeavour and enjoy the following essays. I also encourage you to find any spelling and grammatical mistakes which are bound to occur since English is not my native langugage and I am in lieu of a Beta reader. I will start with a basic overview of the most important books and sources.


Roma aeterna est?
I: Literature and sources - a basic overview
Last edited by Thanas on 2008-04-04 03:50pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
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Thanas
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Post by Thanas » 2008-04-04 03:49pm

Literature and sources about late antiquity


Literature
Quite frankly, there is a ton of literature available on the market, with the majority dealing with singular subjects. I will be including those books or articles in the esssays themselves.

There are at least fifty general histories available today that I am aware of. To list them all would be simply too much, so I will just post those I work with the most.

A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602; a social, economic and administrative survey, I, II, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964 is despite its age the best comprehensive history about the period. It is flawlessly written, has no mistakes and great maps and charts. If I had to choose between all the books in the world about the late Roman antiquity, I would take this one without hesitation.

Edward Gibbon, The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire is a legend. This work from the 18th century is notable because it shaped the viewpoint of countless historians and it is still a good read. One should note that among other things he blames christianity for the fall of the empire which was a revolutionary approach considering the times he wrote in. However, the book is seriously outdated.

Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: from Marcus Aurelius to Muhammad (AD 150-750), (London: Thames and Hudson) 1989 is another good read. Brown is a noted expert on the religious transformation and probably the most prominent historian of late antiquity today. Most important is the thesis that there was no clear break but a gradual process.

Georg Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, 2nd. ed. 1968 (translated from: Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates. Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft XII.1.2, C. H. Beck, 3rd. ed. Munich 1963) is without doubt the best history of the Byzantine empire to date and good bedtime reading.

John Haldon: Byzantium in the Seventh Century. The Transformation of a Culture. 2nd ed. Cambridge 1997, is an excellent book about the transformation of the Late Roman into the Byzantine Empire.

Alexander Demandt, Die Spätantike. Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft III.6. 2nd edition Munich 2007 is the newest work I can safely recommend. A drawback of course is that it is written in german and echoes the work of Jones. However, for quick references and a summary of established theories it is an excellent book. Note that Demandt also published a collection of theories about the fall of the Roman empire (he listed more than 210 theories), which is worth reading if only to understand the scope of the subject.

Again, this is just a partial bibliography at best and anyone would be well served to pick up one of those books along the way.


Sources

The most important source for the fourth century are without a doubt the res gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus. A career military officer, he writes in great detail about the events of the fourth century and particularly about the work of the Emperor Julianus. It is a pity that from the 31 books he wrote, only 18 survived. But although he has come under severe criticism in the last century (most important being the work of Klaus Rosen, Ammianus Marcellinus, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1982) his work is still considered being generally accurate, and his level of detail is astounding. For those of you familiar with western literature it should be worth noting that Gore Vidal drew most of his inspiration for "Julian the Apostate" from him. And I can only suggest to every student of Roman history to read his marvelous work. An english translation is available here.


The works of Augustine of Hippo (354-430), probably the most important father of the church, are essential to understanding early christianity. I will not go into great detail here, however I will point you to this online translation of De civitate dei.

Libanios (314- post 393) was the most important orator of late antiquity. His speeches offer a unique view into the mind of a pagan threatened by christianity. When one wants to know about the workings of a city council or an empire or just enjoy good greek rhetoric, one should definitely pick up Libanios. Sadly I have to inform you that there is not a complete online translation available, though his funeral oration can be seen here

Themistios (317 - post 388) was another important pagan orator. His works are published in Hartmut Leppin, Werner Portmann: Themistios. Staatsreden. Stuttgart 1998 and R. J. Penella: The private orations of Themistius. Berkeley 2000., while the best biography seems to be G. Dagron: L’empire romain d’Orient au IVème siècle et les traditions politiques de l’hellénisme: Le témoignage de Thémistios. In: Travaux et Mémoires 3, 1968, S. 1–242.

Prokopius of Ceasarea (d. ca. 560) is the most important source for the period of Justinian. His bella cover the wars of Justinian until 553, his Historia Arcana is a piece of work slandering the wife of the emperoro Theodora and his De Aedificiis is a panegyricus about the architecture of the Roman empire. The secret history is available here, part of the bella here and part of de aedificiis here.

Zosimos (5th/6th century) was a pagan historian who blamed the fall of Rome on the christians. His Ίστορία νέα (Historía néa or Historia nova) is a good source despite his bias, although Ammianus is clearly superior. However Zosimos fills in some of the blanks due to the loss of several books of the res gestae. An older translations is available here.

Though there are many more important sources (like the CIC, Sozomenos, Apollonius etc) I will stop here because I feel that otherwise this section would be to bloated. I hope this was not to dire a read, and I will try to continue tomorrow.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
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A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
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Post by hongi » 2008-05-11 03:40am

I'd still be interested in reading if you're still continuing...

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Thanas
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Post by Thanas » 2008-05-11 06:53am

I am, it is just that RL has got me pretty busy with scheduling lectures etc.

Expect an update on the Roman army in the next days.Hopefully, even Tuesday...
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
------------
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
------------
My LPs

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