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Ian Hughes specializes in Late Roman history and is the author of Belisarius: The Last Roman General (2009), Stilicho: the Vandal Who Saved Rome (2010), Aetius: Atilla's Nemesis (2012) and Imperial Brothers: Valentinian, Valens and the Disaster at Adrianople (2013). A former teacher whose hobbies vis mere include football, wargaming and restoring electric guitars, he lives near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. vis mindre

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Ian Hughes' bad news i Ancient History (februar 2014)


Academic, but still quite readable biography of Aetius, the last great (Western) Roman general, who defeated Attila the Hun. The sources for this time period are sparse and suspect. Hughes leads us through the fog, pointing out the shadows that may look like something they are not. He is careful to state when he is speculating and why he comes to the conclusions he does. In the end, we know little about Aetius the man, but can extrapolate from his actions. This is a useful work for anyone interested in "The Fall" of the western Roman Empire particularly when paired with Hughes' "Stilicho: The Vandal Who Saved Rome."

My only complaint: a sprinkling of copy edit (factcheck?) problems where a name was wrong. For example, the author would be speaking of Placidia and suddenly it was changed to Pulcheria or Pelagia. Anyone knowing the time period, knew this was an error, but others might be confused. This book was supposed to come out in April and arrived in July. Possibly some delays in production led to shortcuts, but that's just speculation!
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MarysGirl | 1 anden anmeldelse | Sep 28, 2012 |
Hats off to Ian hughes and his publisher, Pen & Sword Books, for gradually filling some gaps in our Late Roman libraries. Thanks to them we finally have English-Language biographies of Aetius and Stilicho as well as a new work on Belisarius. Hughes appears to be working on yet another volume covering Valentinian and Valens.

I first read of Aetius and the battle of Chalons as a child and my interest in the topic never waned.
As multiple works on Attila appeared over the years I always wondered why no one wrote an Aetius biography (or one on Stilicho for that matter). Novels concerning Aetius appeared (of very varying quality). Thankfully, the Later Roman Empire has recently gained more adherents in the historical community (and among war gamers) and the period has received more scholarly attention.

The author begins with an illuminating discussion of the problematic original sources, and their varying modern interpretations - we're truly groping in the dark at times. Hughes supports the narrative with many good maps to include a series of conjectural deployments for the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains; a very solid bibliography, a useful glossary of personalities as well as a chronology which materially assists in following the many and varied military campaigns of Aetius and his lieutenants. Hughes also has chapters examining both the Late Roman Army and its barbarian opponents ( the Huns asymmetrical composite bow and Phil Barker's plumbate are explained).

Hughes interweaves the rise and fall of Aetius, his time as a hostage with both Goths and Huns, his
many campaigns, his stormy relationship with Galla Placidia and the impact of the Huns on Europe.
Students of the Patrician Roman Army will find a wealth of useful material as Hughes examines operations and the personalities of various commanders. The author covers a lot of murky ground in a short space and ends with an analytic conclusion of Aetius.

I have minor nitpicks but no show-stoppers; I would like to see crisper editing from Pen&Sword for instance, but this book is well worth the price. It's a must buy for students of the period. Many will find the chronology and bibliography of great use. I was extremely glad to get both [Stilicho] and [Aetius] on my bookshelves!

I'm including a link to my Late Roman section:
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1 stem
Ammianus | 1 anden anmeldelse | May 27, 2012 |
From the Foreword by Adrian Goldsworthy:

"It is a frustrating and intriguing challenge to write the history of this period. Ian Hughes sets himself an even more difficult task in writing a biography of Stilicho, where the central thread is the career of just one man. It is well worthwhile, for it is always good to remind ourselves that men like Stilicho, Honorius and Alaric were just human beings. Historians rightly concern themselves with wider social trends, where the successes and failures of individuals are seen principally as illustrations of broader patterns. Yet this is not how people actually live their lives, and it is very dangerous to remove this human element from history."

The lead up to and "fall" of the Western Roman Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire continued for another 1000 years as Byzantium) in the 4th and 5th Century is a time of turmoil. Primary sources are fragmented and sometimes contradictory, giving the novelist lots of leeway, but making the historian/biographer's job tough. Stilicho is one of the major figures of this time. Born of a Vandal father and high-born Roman mother, he married Theodosius the Great's niece (and adopted daughter) Serena and spent his life fighting for the empire. After Theodosius' death, he raised the emperor's son Honorius and daughter Galla Placidia. He effectively ruled the Western Empire during Honorius' minority, putting down usurpers and fighting barbarian incursions while balancing the politics of the Roman Senate. He eventually falls afoul of the "anti-barbarian" faction in Western Roman politics, not because of his own parentage, but because he incorporates barbarians into the Roman army. Stilicho faced enormous challenges both external and internal while trying to save the Empire. His death, on the orders of the Emperor he dedicated his life to, was poor recompense for his years of dedicated service. In his final chapter, Hughes turns to his title and asks the question "Did Stilicho save Rome?" given its dissolution decades later.

I've read and reviewed several biographies in the past year (both for pleasure and research.) Those authors blessed with a plethora of primary sources can tell their subjects' story in their own words and those of contemporaries. Those without have addressed the challenge in different ways. Schiff in "Cleopatra: a Life[", speculated on emotions and even put thoughts in her subjects' heads. A choice that made the book highly readable, but was troubling to me. Hughes presents what is known, takes sides in the historical controversies, but is also not afraid to say "we don't know" when there is no evidence. This is a dense book, both in pages and information. The style is a bit dry, but a wonderful resource for anyone interested in this time period.

Note: I purchased this book for my own research; the opinions in this review are my own.
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MarysGirl | Jan 18, 2012 |
In contrast to some voices at Amazon, it is not readability that troubles this work. It is the choice of sources the author likes to quote that is its main fault. By basing much of the military aspect of his book on unsourced Osprey titles, the author breaks the chain of evidence and opens up his work to a flood of potential errors, given the lack of quality control at Osprey's, Like every other life of Belisarius, the author follows Procopius closely. The main benefit of Hughes' account are the neat battle diagrams which, although mostly empty of identifiying geographical features, helps identify the tactical situation.

Despite Liddell Hart's championing Belisarius as an advocate of indirect strategy (and early Blitzkrieg), reading this book, I come to realize that Belisarius' genius was in politics. On the battlefield itself, he suffered defeat as often as victory. He owed his successes to convincing the locals that he would restore the Empire's order and stability. With local support, Belisarius managed to displace and defeat the small Barbarian ruling class. The Empire, however, was to weak or too uninterested to fulfill the obligations promised by Belisarius (the Empire even failed to pay its own troops in Africa). Thus, Belisarius' removal of the Barbarian lords and failure to replace them with strong local institutions set up the spectacular breakdown of defense against the Arab invaders. The true battlefield genius of the era, however, was a man without balls - Narses the Eunuch. In his seventies, he defeated and killed in three battles the three opposing Gothic commanders.

Overall, Hughes' book is a readable, popular account of Belisarius' campaigns. The ultimate Belisarius study remains to be written.
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jcbrunner | Oct 11, 2010 |

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