There are a noticeable amount of typos in this book, very few of which render the sentence unintelligible, though some do. This is a great book that i...moreThere are a noticeable amount of typos in this book, very few of which render the sentence unintelligible, though some do. This is a great book that is made even more poignant for me because I began reading it just a week or two after returning from Jerusalem.
I tried to contact Mr. Montefiore on Facebook regarding his claim (or repetition of the claim) that the rounded menorah was a Roman invention (or the sense of the text implying that on his footnote on p. 132) and his response didn't make any sense to me. Recent archaeological evidence pretty much puts this issue to bed, but he claims it's still a "controversy." Well, between archaeology and the faith of the Lubavitchers, yes, but not in a scholarly book like this.
Especially in the latter part of the book, we veer off course a little and get caught up in geopolitics, which seems to be a bit of a departure from a biography of a city. Obviously, a certain amount of background must be given, but I felt like the background became the foreground towards the end of the book. (less)
I can see why people may not like this book. It does go off in tangents. I happen to enjoy that, and they seem to chase something that I want to know...moreI can see why people may not like this book. It does go off in tangents. I happen to enjoy that, and they seem to chase something that I want to know more about, so it works for me.
I haven't finished, so I'll update this later, but if the contention of the book is that the plague in the time of Justinian is what truly ended the Roman Empire after Justinian restored it in the west, I think there are more direct ways of making that point on the one hand, and some undermining points raised by his own points about the lasting import of some of what Justinian did...(less)
It appears that Goldsworthy's answer to the decline of the Roman empire is the numerous civil wars between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine. I'm not su...moreIt appears that Goldsworthy's answer to the decline of the Roman empire is the numerous civil wars between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine. I'm not sure what he calls the "fall" or what his rationale for that is yet.
Goldsworthy is a classicist. To his eye, the empire has changed into an entirely different thing by the time Diocletian comes along. O'Donnell, a medievalist, on the other hand, sees that except for top-down territorial control, much of what the Roman Empire created was still in place under successor kingdoms at least until the sixth century, where he would have Justinian and his immediate heirs breaking things finally.
Goldsworthy's preface also damages his credibility. He's either a contrarian or a Tory and he claims to remove his analysis from any modern influence. I find that an incredible claim. Of course your modern views are going to affect the past. I'm more comfortable with disclosure of bias and its presence than denial of its existence and it being hidden. He goes to great pains to say that there's nothing to be learned about America's war in Iraq from Rome? Really? Hmm.
Despite that, his history is excellent. He keeps his conjecture away from his conclusions without failing fill in details we are left curious about as readers. Though he may make a valiant attempt at objectivity regarding his modern views, he makes no bones about proving his case about civil wars and dismissing external threats.
After finishing the book, I must admit that I felt like there were times where he was wheeling out Thatcherism (or, to us, conservatism) in the book and attributing the troubles in Rome to a large bureaucracy and the dole. But he never draws any real conclusions from the statements he makes about these things.
It's a good read, but in light of other scholarship like O'Donnel's, I'd like to see more data on *when* standards of living started going down towards their medieval lows, when the aqueducts stopped getting repaired, etc. before we're allowed to return to this notion that 476 was a magic moment.
I'm much more inclined to say that the Roman empire fell at some point in the 3rd century, and was succeeded by another two Roman Empires (ultimately) and that those were succeeded on the one hand by the Franks, Ostogoths, Vandals, and Visigoths et al., and that the other went on for another 1000 years.(less)
This is only the second book I've read by Herrin. I probably got The Formation of Christendom 15 years ago. Anyway, I really like her style and I enjo...moreThis is only the second book I've read by Herrin. I probably got The Formation of Christendom 15 years ago. Anyway, I really like her style and I enjoyed reading this. My favorite history is the history that isn't studied enough that isn't part of our collective memories as much as it ought to be. Byzantium certainly fits that bill.(less)
This is my favorite period of history: the Roman world after empire in the west, and the Byzantine empire. It is an understudied, little known, underr...moreThis is my favorite period of history: the Roman world after empire in the west, and the Byzantine empire. It is an understudied, little known, underrated period that is given far less credit for the evolution of today's society than it deserves.
Justinian codified the Corpus Juris that forms the basis of the law in the vast majority of the world's countries (only a few common law and sharia jurisdictions are the exceptions). Because it was apparently not made clear in 1918, or in 1948, or in 1967, or in 1973, it was made clear in 2001 that the decline of Constantinople and the Sassanid Empires that permitted the explosive growth of Islam in civilization's capitals might be the event of the last two millenia.
So, understanding this time period is critical to the understanding of today. That can be said of almost all times, but few are less studied.
And O'Donnell does a great job of presenting this period. There's been an encouraging growth in scholarship on this period, probably because it's the last refuge of academics needing to specialize further and further. I hope it continues.
O'Donnell seems to think that Justinian is what ruined the Roman empire and led to the decline of the western world. I haven't had enough time after reading this book to know whether I agree with him or not. I think I buy it.(less)