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Aurelian and the Third Century (Roman Imperial Biographies) Hardcover – 25 Feb 1999


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; first edition (25 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415072484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415072489
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,754,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"It is good to have an up-to-date biography of aurelian in English, and this is a good one."-Classical World ...".the author has woven numismatic and epigraphic evidence with the more traditional literary sources to construct a fuller picture of the emperor and his world.."-"Ancient History Journal "This work opens with the best summary analysis of the third-century 'crisis' that this reviewer has ever come across. For this introduction alone, Watson's book is worth reading.."-"Ancient History Journal "A full-length monograph on Aurelian is long overdue, and Watson's will prove very useful for undergraduate and graduate level course, because it is at once very readable and well grounded in primary and secondary research.."-"Ancient History Journal "This is a splendid book, lucid, well-written, judicious in its interpretations, comprehensive in its use of the appallingly inadequate sources...I have notread a better, more judicious, concise account of the third-century "crisis," nor a more lucid narrative of the divided empire from 248 onwards.."

About the Author

Alaric Watson has a PhD from King's College London in Roman history and has taught Roman history at the University of North London and Queen Mary and Westfield College. He is now a Barrister in Lincoln's Inn.

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In 248, amid tremendous pomp and ceremony involving several days of magnificent and gory spectacles, the emperor Philip celebrated the millennium of the foundation of Rome. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. L. Wisty TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 Nov 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Watson's appraisal kicks off with a short introductory chapter on the third century 'crisis'; he notes that this term is hardly appropriate to describe what seemed to be very much the normal state of affairs over several decades. The fundamental changes which occurred both within and without the Empire during this period are discussed and the effects they had.

The first half of the book is a narrative of Aurelian's reign, the reconquest of the East and the victory over the breakaway 'Gallic' Empire. Although Watson extols Aurelian's generalship, it almost sounds like Zenobia's gains evaporated very quickly after a single defeat inflicted by the Roman forces; likewise the reconquest of the West was very much a pushover.

The second half of the book is an analysis of Aurelian's policies. First the economic reforms are discussed. Though Watson might regard Aurelian as a saviour of the economy, I can't really see how increasing the amount of silver in the coinage from a little over three percent to a whopping, er, five percent could really have reinvigorated the currency.

Secondly the public works and administration are covered. Slighly oddly, in speaking about the walls of Rome commissioned by Aurelian, Watson notes that they held off the Goths in 408 and 409 but not in 410. As any fule kno, the walls held in 410 too; it was only because some of the occupants of the city regarded surrender as better than slow starvation that they opened the gates to Alaric's army.

Third up is consideration of Aurelian's relationship with the senate and army.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Jun 2001
Format: Hardcover
Watson has taken as his subject a poorly documented period of Roman history and written a book that, with humour and academic rigour, lays out the historical context of a Roman emperor who made a real difference to the longevity of the empire, rebuilding a single political unit from three large breakaway empires. Watson's deep knowledge of the sources has enabled him to build a cohesive picture of a period that is difficult to gain a firm understanding of. I'd heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the later Roman empire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Arch Stanton on 20 Mar 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book contains everything that is known about Aurelian. It isn't all that much. Aurelian's reign is only documented in brief summaries of the entire empire or an inaccurate Life. Archaeology adds some information about the times he lived in, but apart from numismatics and the occasional inscription it isn't particularly helpful in dating any of his actions or campaigns. For this reason this book has a great deal of background information and textural analysis. This should not discourage anyone interested from reading it, but it does mean that the book isn't a biography in the traditional sense. For a rather less accurate but slightly more readable account of his reign see Restorer of the World.

This book begins on rather a sour note. I dislike the modern tendency to downplay the term 'crisis' in the third century. Yes many of the changes had shown up under the Antonines or sooner, and yes many of these tendencies represent the direction in which the Roman state had been going for years, but that does not lessen the significance of the changes nor does it mean that the 'crisis' had no effect on them. Certainly the crisis accelerated the policies already present at a dramatic rate. A lot of these complaints strike me as being part of the nit-picking which historians like to perform to show that they know better than their peers/predecessors. There are a significant number of scholars who argue that feudalism, for example, never existed because there was always a significant amount of cash payments and exemptions from service in kind. This is like arguing that democracy doesn't exist because there are people who don't vote.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Excellent read on the era of the Empire and Aurelian! 19 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book! I was recently in London and discovered this book in a Picadilly area bookstore. I read it when I could, finally finishing it on my flight home. The author dives into the time period and does an excellent breaking down and putting events back into order, backing everything with evidence. Aurelian the Emperor has always been a fascination of mine since childhood (along with Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Julian the Apostate, even Valentinian III; along with every detail of the Roman Empire!), and I am now 48. And to-date this is the best book of literature/ biography of what is known about that fascinating emperor, Aurelian. And one of the best about explaining the backdrop of "Political" Roma during the mid -3rd century. A must read!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The Best Book that Can Be Written on Aurelian 20 Mar 2012
By Arch Stanton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book contains everything that is known about Aurelian. It isn't all that much. Aurelian's reign is only documented in brief summaries of the entire empire or an inaccurate Life. Archaeology adds some information about the times he lived in, but apart from numismatics and the occasional inscription it isn't particularly helpful in dating any of his actions or campaigns. For this reason this book has a great deal of background information and textural analysis. This should not discourage anyone interested from reading it, but it does mean that the book isn't a biography in the traditional sense. For a rather less accurate but slightly more readable account of his reign see Restorer of the World.

This book begins on rather a sour note. I dislike the modern tendency to downplay the term 'crisis' in the third century. Yes many of the changes had shown up under the Antonines or sooner, and yes many of these tendencies represent the direction in which the Roman state had been going for years, but that does not lessen the significance of the changes nor does it mean that the 'crisis' had no effect on them. Certainly the crisis accelerated the policies already present at a dramatic rate. A lot of these complaints strike me as being part of the nit-picking which historians like to perform to show that they know better than their peers/predecessors. There are a significant number of scholars who argue that feudalism, for example, never existed because there was always a significant amount of cash payments and exemptions from service in kind. This is like arguing that democracy doesn't exist because there are people who don't vote. Society never fits a model exactly, but a general theory can be applied with only minor exemptions. I view this as a version of the reductio ad ridiculum argument and not the reductio ad absurdum one. Define something you wish to disprove so precisely that the reality cannot possibly match it, then disprove it. I don't know of any scholars alive today who define the 'crisis' in the narrow terms that he so dislikes. If the 'crisis' has often been overstated that doesn't mean it wasn't real. I can accept the term as lasting fifty years of civil war, barbarian invasions, and inflation. If you cannot then please provide an alternate term and defend it rather than just aimlessly tearing it down.

Aside from that, which is (at most) a minor annoyance in the introduction, this book is an excellent read. It details Aurelian's career with great skill and insight. Since pretty much nothing is known on Aurelian before he began his reign it begins with the state of the empire under Gallienus, which is a good place to start anyway since that period saw the empire at its lowest ebb. The first half of the book is a straight narrative of Aurelian's career while the second half goes into various issues. This is really the best way to write a book like this since ones that discuss only the issues are incomprehensible to the beginner and those that only offer a detailed narrative provide nothing for the student. The narrative here is clear and mostly uncontroversial. It does spend a good deal of time justifying the order and progression of various campaigns, which just shows what little evidence the author is working on. It is helped by some rather good maps detailing the approximate course of Aurelian's campaigns. Overall I was very impressed with what he managed to squeeze out of these bare sources.

The use of numismatics in this book is really exceptional. It emphasizes how important this study is to the field. He is able to make arguments about when cities were conquered based on the output of coins from their mints. He uses this to disprove or at least clarify certain theories. Given this it is extremely disappointing that his pictures of coins are so small, so selective, and printed on such poor paper. I admit that I'm not always so impressed with his use of the sources. While I don't think I disagreed with any of his conclusions with regards to Aurelian, his justification for certain conclusions is rather thin. For example he justifies dismissing the account in the Historia Augusta which said that Aurelian was preparing for a Persian campaign at his death by stating that this seems to have been invented to compare Aurelian to the author's hero Julian and his Persian campaign. This is highly questionable since that author rarely displayed a consistent attitude and was not overly fond of Aurelian anyway. I know that any evidence about this century is going to be thin but this is a comment that seems very tenuous even so. His constructive analyses tend to be better than his destructive ones. When he's putting evidence together to prove a point he usually convinces.

But those are minor complaints. The book as a whole is extremely solid. Well-recommended for anyone with any interest in the period.
You really can't find a more helpful bio of this emperor anywhere 27 April 2014
By William Gunderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Want to know everything really anyone could know or would need to on this 3rd century emperor? Well this is your book in that case. Everything that Aurelian achieved is in here
First pick 11 Nov 2013
By Sean Reid - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not for the average reader looking to learn a little about history. This book is very in depth, even though little is really known about Aurelian and his reign. The research and time it took to publish this book really shows. I have enjoyed reading through and discovering new information not only on Aurelian but on the Roman world at this time.
Aurelian the Restorer 9 May 2013
By Marcel Dupasquier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book recounts a solid biography of Aurelian's life and efforts to restore the Roman Empire to its former size. I especially liked the introduction, which gives a profound picture of the "crisis" of the 3rd century, for which I would almost recommend to everybody who is just interested in this time period in general and does not really care so much about Aurelian in particular to only read the introduction and skip the rest of the book. It would for sure have made a good article about the 3rd century on is own. My only two minor points of criticism about the book are that on the one hand, the person of Aurelian stays somehow in the distance, as if you would watch him from a telescope in space and see him move his lips and act, but his actually speaking, so his motives and ideas stay actually out of sight. This is probably due to the lack of sources that would go more into detail; besides his actual actions, we hardly know anything more about Aurelian, and even those are sometimes far from clear. On the other hand, I had also the feeling that Aurelian was getting away too good in this book, as if everything Aurelian did and caused was just plain good. But maybe also here, the lacking of sources and other material simply leaves not too much space for a deeper judgment, so that one simply has to be positive or negative about his actions. Overall, this is a well written book about Aurelian and his time, recommended to everybody who is interested in this time.
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