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The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine Hardcover – October 19, 2001

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Hardcover, October 19, 2001
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Editorial Reviews


'A clear account of the often confusing events of the third century.' - JACT Review

About the Author

Pat Southern has authored numerous books on Roman history, including The Roman Calvary, The Late Roman Army (both books co-authored with Karen Dixon), Domitian-Tragic Tyrant, and Augustus.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2Rev Ed edition (October 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415239435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415239431
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #975,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Having enjoyed the author�s LATE ROMAN ARMY, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this volume on a recent visit to Rome. Of course any author benefits when writing about the likes of Diocletian, Septimus Severus and Constantine the Great. Southern�s highly readable text, buttressed with extensive illuminating notes and a sound examination of the sources, brings the period alive. I find Southern�s writing to be clear and understandable ---very well-crafted. I found the author�s well-developed bibliography particularly helpful. Passable maps, interesting illustrations and the obligatory, colossal head of Constantine accompany the text as well as a number of numismatological sketches of the era�s coinage. Chester Starr in his brief but excellent THE ROMAN EMPIRE delineates this time period as �The First Test� ---a massive turning point for the empire. Southern does a masterful job examining the evolving threats to the empire including themes such as depopulation, barbarization, succession, usurpation. I also liked her analysis of the mobile, multiethnic war bands of the era as well as her defense of the Emperor Gallienus (not too surprising as she co-authored THE ROMAN CAVALRY). I thoroughly enjoyed this work, in all three readings. I recommend following this up with Birley�s SEVERUS and William�s DIOCLETIAN. The old standby, AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS, is still available in an affordable Penguin abridgment.
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Format: Hardcover
Frankly, if I'd been in charge of naming this book I'd have called it something different: 'The Third-Century Crisis', or to borrow from German historiography 'The Age of the Soldier-Emperors'. Or they could have chosen something dramatic such as 'The Collapse of Rome' or 'The Survival of the Roman Empire'. They could even have used one of their own chapter names: 'A World Geared for War.' The current title is so painfully generic that it holds out little hope of being a readable book. Which is why it is somewhat surprising that it manages to achieve a very high level of entertainment while remaining scrupulously accurate.

The book begins (unsurprisingly) with Septimius Severus. All books dealing with this time do so, which is somewhat odd since the empire didn't change so much during his reign as after it. His main contribution was to tie the military more securely to the seat of power, thus limiting the role of senators. His successors had to deal with the increasing instability of the position of the emperor and with the ever increasing frequency of assassination. After the Severans fell, the empire passed back and forth between various generals who raised themselves to the throne only to fall within a few short years. This is what's known as the crisis of the third-century.

Towards the middle of the Third-Century Crisis the book becomes little more than a list of emperors being raised and defeated. This is the same with every book dealing with this time. Nothing can be done about it since these fluctuations are important and yet very little is known about them except for the names and a brief synopsis of their careers. This book does manage a decent summary, helped out by the inclusion of pictures for most of the emperors.
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Format: Hardcover
This is probably still the most accessible and affordable overview of what used to be called the "third-century crisis". There are at least three other good books on this topic, all of which are more recent than this one. However, two of them are both massive and horribly expensive: Volume 12 of the Cambridge Ancient History set, with almost a thousand pages and the Roman Empire at Bay. In addition, the latter covers both the third and the fourth century, since it ends with the death of Theodosius I in 395. The third one is the recent volume published as part of the Edinburgh History of Ancient Rome. It is relatively short and reasonably priced, which is exactly what one might want when looking for an overview or a book to start with, but it stops in AD 284 and therefore leaves out the rather crucial reigns of Diocletian and Constantine.

Apart from this, Pat Southern's book, although published in 2001 and no longer entirely up to date - an new edition including an updated bibliography might be a good idea, by the way, especially, although not only, for students of the period - is a very good overview in many respects, and sometimes even an excellent one.
An interesting feature is that it is carefully balanced. The narrative is mostly chronological but nevertheless entertaining. The author takes the trouble to lay out systematically the numerous areas of contention between historians on various issues. She also discusses these issues and the problems related to the sources while managing to avoid being boring and she also presents the most likely causes and sequences of events, in her opinion. At times, it almost feels like a textbook for university students.

Even the book's title is quite deliberate.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent chronicle of a very difficult time period. Unlike other histories I've read, this one makes it easy to follow a chaotic chronology based on limited first-hand knowledge. Great job, Ms. Southern!
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