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The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey. 2 Vol. Set (Volume 1 and 2) Paperback – June 1, 1986
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A classic summary of the late empire from Constantine through Justinian.
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It is often been said of these volumes that they are "seminal", which is perfectly true, although readers might not realize to what extent this is the case. I tried to provide a number of answers in my review of volume I and will try to do the same here, and add a couple of things that I forgot to mention previously.
First, and despite being published in 1964, much of the issues raised, the book's contents and the conclusions made are still valid, or have become areas of (often heated) discussions among historians. A typical example is the debate about the causes of the Fall of the (West) Roman Empire. Jones provided one of the first in-depth analysis of these causes and factors, which two generations of historians have then explored, one cause at a time. To give a few examples, A. Ferrill insisted on the (most traditional) military explanation (1986) while a couple of years latter, Ramsey Mc Mullen rather insisted on "Corruption and the Decline of Rome" (the title of his book), believing, contrary to Jones, that the internal weakening of the Empire was a key reason for the Fall. More recently, this divide has been, yet again, illustrated by the books of Goldsworthy, insisting on the internal causes, and of Heather, more inclined to put more weight on the pressure from the BArbarians in general, and on Attila, in particular. Regardless of your preferred explanation, or even if you believe that BOTH types of explanations are in fact valid and even interacted with each other (less taxes meaning less soldiers, meaning a lower ability to defend the Empire and a higher risk of being defeated, meaning in turn less taxes as provinces were either devasted repreatedly or lost), what is important ot note is that these discussions largely started with Jones. It is therefore unsurprising, and perfectly fitting, that a nujmber of leading historians of the Late Roman Empire will be publishing in a few months a whole book (which, of course, you will be able to find on Amazon)assessing much better than I can ever do the major contributions that Jones had had and how the issues he tackled have evolved over time.
Second, another major area of research which opened up after this book was published was to explain why the West fell (old Rome) but not the East (Constantinople/New Rome) which very much survived the Barbarian attacks in the fifth century and ultimetly became the Byzantine Empire, also surviving the invasions from the Avars, the Slavs and the Bulgars and the Arabs in particular. Here again, numerous explanations have been offered and they are summarized and discussed in an excellent book from Williams and Friell first published in 1999 ("The Rome that Did Not Fall"). One of the main conclusions of this book is that the Eastern part WAS more populated and richer than the Western part of the Roman Empire; conclusions that are only tentative in Jones but that are demonstrated in this book. It had also more cohesion and its society and its economy were less "unhealthy" to use Jones' expression. At about the same time and latter on, other books have also drawn attention to the huge importance and disparities in richness and the corrupting and disrupting political influence that a very small but ultra rich number of families that made up the Roman Senate had in the West thanks to their huge wealth inherited down the centuries. They contrasted this with the situation in the East, where Senators in Constantinople were not as ploutocratic and where the Senate included a higher percentage of civil servants who owed everything to the Emperor and his government. This unequalities had a huge impact on the economy through possession of the land, the sources of about 85% to 90% of the Empires revenues, the ability to tap the respective manpower pools of the two halves of the Empire. All of these discussions largely started with Jones, although he tended to believe, at the time, that the two halves of the Empire had very much the same problems and that the differences were more a question of degrees than anything else.
Third, this vollume also includes still very valuable chapters on the Church, Religion and Morale and Education and Culture. I would discuss these in any detail, if only because I am supposed to be written a review, not a dissertation. Suffice is to say that this chapters stidying the rise of the Christianity, its growing importance and its impact on the whole of the Empire have also been followed by a prolific amount of studies on the Christinisation of Europe and of both the Westrn and Esatern parts of the Empire. To a large extent, the same kind of conclusion can be reached for Jones' study of the Empire's "Industry, Trade and Transport" (the title of his 21th chapter) and that of "The Land" (the title of his 20th chapter). This has been followed over the next few decades by numerous studies on Late Roman World and the Mediterranean or, to mention two other massive book:
- on the "Origins of the European Economy (300-900)" from Michael McCormick (first published in 2001) and subtitled "Communications and Commerce" and
- Hendy's collection of very valuable "Studies in the BYzantine Monetary Economy (300-1450)".
Both books and authors, and hundreds of others, are significantly indebted to AHM Jones and his Latter Roman Empire, if only as a starting point.
The basic purpose of this book is not to tell a narrative history, but to analyze the various features of Roman life and administration which changed in Late Antiquity. There is a narrative included for clarity's sake (which takes up the first 317 pages) but it is not the primary focus. Looking at the narrative, it is a clear and concise guide to the era. Perhaps more time could be spent on the first three centuries (especially the third since without it it's impossible to understand the reason for much of what is to come), but that's a minor quibble. The focus here is on the changed empire and its governance. This section will be rather confusing to the beginner. It doesn't include much about political events except as they indicate changes in the way the empire was shaped or run. Military campaigns are barely mentioned at all. Julian's Persian campaign is covered in a only few sentences.
This section is very technical. It deals a great deal with the terminology and titulature and how the positions and responsibilities changed over time. He has a tendency to leave Greek words and Latin quotes untranslated. He does this enough that it will severely impair the reader who doesn't have even a minimum level of Latin comprehension. In this section the worst that could be said is that he only examines the continuity of institutions within the Later Empire. The survival of features from the early Empire gets little mention, possibly because he assumes the reader already knows it.
The second section is the longer one. It deals with the Government, Administration, Finance, Justice, Army, Cities, Land, Trade and Industry, Church, Education, and the Decline of the Empire. These sections are highly useful as they make it far easier to find information on specific areas. Many history books nowadays are organized in this way, but they don't cover such a wide area so thoroughly. The essential purpose of this section is to examine how the Empire was run, a very different goal from most previous books. You see this a lot nowadays, but it's generally limited to an examination of a single reign or dynasty. That nobody has really attempted to take on Jones speaks volumes for how thorough he is. It lays out the command structure and duties of the Romans and examines how they changed over time.
The biggest complaint and problem with this book is its reliance on written sources to the almost total exclusion of everything else. He admits in the opening that he has little knowledge of the relevant archaeology and it shows. He makes statements like there is "no reason to doubt Eusebius' assertion that [Constantinople] was never sullied by pagan worship," which is a fact that should have been questioned even by the archaeological evidence available then. In many sections this doesn't damage his case too much since the issues he raises aren't much affected by archaeology, but that doesn't mean it doesn't severely limit his work. He does make use of epigraphy which is fortunate. He had access to a large number of inscriptions and gives them as much thought as the other written sources.
The book is printed in two volumes for a total of 1518 pages. That is a lot of room to discus topics. If 1500 pages sounds a bit of a hurdle, it may help to know that the last 500 of them are just the footnotes and bibliography. The first volume is 782 pages long and split simply for length. The juncture isn't at a particularly good place. It actually separates the chapters on the land and the cities, which would work better read in tandem. So there really isn't much point to buying them separately. The books were conceived as once since the footnotes for book one don't show up until the end of book two.
Adrian Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell analyzes the reasons for the decline of the empire and pushes his own solution: political infighting and the willingness of the soldiers to fight civil wars. It doesn't always convince and is written by a man whose main focus is in the late Republic, but it does a pretty good job of explaining what went on and is, importantly, quite cheap and easy to find. It's a narrative history and not really an administrative study, which may be useful to fill in some of the gaps left by Jones. David Potter's The Roman Empire at Bay covers the first period of Jones' book in exquisite detail. Basically it details the period of the crisis and then the recovery under Diocletian and Constantine through Theodosius. This book may be good as a primer for Jones' work since Jones summarizes the first half of this period only briefly in his first chapter. Potter is interested in both the collapse and the recovery while Jones is only interested in the recovered empire. This book is mainly narrative, but it deals with many other issues as well. Also detailing the crisis is Pat Southern's The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, although it doesn't go beyond the early 4th Century. Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire does a great job of covering western Rome's last century. He also pushes his own theory (the Huns are responsible for Rome's collapse), but is a horde of valuable data and should not be missed. After the fall of Rome there are few books dealing with wide spans of time. There are several books on Justinian and one on Belisarius, but no general history covering 500-600 except for books on the Byzantines, and most of these start later. So for those last few centuries this book is currently the best there is.
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