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Gallienus: a Study in Reformist and Sexual Politics [Paperback]

John Bray
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 July 1995 1862543372 978-1862543379
John Bray reconstructs the life of the unfairly maligned emporer Gallienus, a pivotal figure in Roman history, whose bizarre lifestyle often antagonised traditionalists.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Wakefield Press (1 July 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862543372
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862543379
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 20.4 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,949,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Arch Stanton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
When I saw this book I got quite excited. It was a 300 page book on an emperor about which very little is known. Given the choice of a subject there seemed no way he could fail. But he managed to achieve it anyway. Unfortunately this book seems to take the worst of two very different styles and put them together. Popular histories are easy to read but are often short on accuracy. Scholarly works are accurate but often tedious and difficult to decipher. What we have here is a work that is inaccurate and tedious. It is written in a fairly laid back style, but features constant scholarly digressions on matters of little relevance. I have a hard time believing that this man was a poet and Chief Justice of South Australia. It seems too vague for a judge and too poorly written for a poet. It reads more like a university essay written by a nervous undergrad.

The amount of research done is impressive, but the author doesn't seem to have processed it. He certainly accepts most of what it says uncritically. He seems reluctant to toss any nugget of information out, no matter how far fetched. He also gives the impression of trying hard to show off how much he researched. He likes to go off on tangents at only the slightest provocation. Case in point: his discussion of Valerian's name. In a fairly brisk introduction he introduces Valerian and then gives this:

"The gens Licinii (Valerian's nomen), though originally plebeian, was one of the most ancient and famous of the Roman nobility, going back at least to the fourth century BC. The name is generally held to be of Etruscan origin. The original form is said to be Lecne. The conclusion however has been questioned. There, is however, much stronger evidence to connect Gallienus with Etruria.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Researched But Utterly Accepting of the Most Outrageous of Lies 16 Feb 2012
By Arch Stanton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When I saw this book I got quite excited. It was a 300 page book on an emperor about which very little is known. Given the choice of a subject there seemed no way he could fail. But he managed to achieve it anyway. Unfortunately this book seems to take the worst of two very different styles and put them together. Popular histories are easy to read but are often short on accuracy. Scholarly works are accurate but often tedious and difficult to decipher. What we have here is a work that is inaccurate and tedious. It is written in a fairly laid back style, but features constant scholarly digressions on matters of little relevance. I have a hard time believing that this man was a poet and Chief Justice of South Australia. It seems too vague for a judge and too poorly written for a poet. It reads more like a college essay written by a nervous undergrad.

The amount of research done is impressive, but the author doesn't seem to have processed it. He certainly accepts most of what it says uncritically. He seems reluctant to toss any nugget of information out, no matter how far fetched. He also gives the impression of trying hard to show off how much he researched. He likes to go off on tangents at only the slightest provocation. Case in point: his discussion of Valerian's name. In a fairly brisk introduction he introduces Valerian and then gives this:

"The gens Licinii (Valerian's nomen), though originally plebeian, was one of the most ancient and famous of the Roman nobility, going back at least to the fourth century BC. The name is generally held to be of Etruscan origin. The original form is said to be Lecne. The conclusion however has been questioned. There, is however, much stronger evidence to connect Gallienus with Etruria."

This whole paragraph served no purpose in the chapter. The Licinii were an old established family but it is not known what branch Valerian came from nor whether he was even of that family or simply came from a family which adopted that name when given citizenship. The latter option is much more probable since the old Republican families had mostly died out by the third century and new citizens taking their patrons name was common. And of course it is utterly irrelevant what the name was originally when the Etruscans used it 500 years before.

Connected to that point is Bray's claim that Valerian was a member of the Italian nobility. Despite having just given a description of how the cognomen worked he manages to get his facts completely wrong. He has concluded that Valerian must be related to the emperor Decius on name-based reasons alone. There is an inscription in Nicomedia which records the governor of Lower Moesia as C. Messius Q. Decius Valerianus and he believes that this may be the emperor C. Messius Quintus Traianus Decius. If that is the case then the emperor Decius has the same cognomen as Valerian, from which Bray concludes they must be related. But as he has just gotten through explaining, the cognomen is not the same as a nomen. The nomen was the family name which did not change. The cognomen was more of a nickname attached onto a person's name as an identifier. They did often pass down from generation to generation, but just having the same cognomen did not make you related. If the nomen was different then you were just two people who happened to have the same name. It was only slightly more unusual than having two men called Francis. Valerian's name was Publius Licinius Valerianus, and the two nomens do NOT match. They are not related and any similarity in cognomen is simply coincidence or the deliberate assumption of a name in emulation. Even if it were certain that Decius had the additional? cognomen of Valerianus this would not count as proof. It certainly doesn't connect him to the Italian nobility despite that statement. Aurelius Victor alone says that Valerian was from a noble family. He doesn't specify Italian and he certainly doesn't specify Etruscan.

Several of his ideas seem outdated, particularly when it comes to race. He attributes Gallienus' "passion, his intensity, his theatricality, his love of spectacle and costume, his irony, his luxuriousness in hours of ease, his fiery energy in hours of crisis," to his Etruscan blood. He also gives some psychobabble about his feminine nature and how it dominated his personality. He calls Gallienus an "extravagant exhibitionist."

He also has little use for archaeology, which is a bit of a surprise considering how long the book is. When he does use it he comes to some rather odd conclusions. The reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam feature a depiction of Shapur's Roman campaigns. Shapur claimed to have killed one emperor, forced another to pay tribute, and captured the third. So when there appears a carving with Shapur holding the wrist of one man, with a dead one under his hooves and a third kneeling in supplication the conclusion seems fairly obvious. But Bray considers Valerian to be the kneeling man. And possibly the "prostrated one" which I can only assume is the one lying 'prostrate' beneath the hooves of Shapur's horse. The man who Shapur's holding is either Mariades or Successianus. Mariades was a voluntary defector so the depiction of him as a captive makes little sense. Successianus was captured with Valerian, but why would Shapur display him as more important than the emperor? It's just daft. If you've already decided that two of these figures are Valerian then why not go all the way and make all three him? Especially since it is known from other works of art that Shapur liked to show that Valerian was his captive by depicting Shapur holding his wrist. Or else, y'know, the three men could represent the three emperors that he claims to have humbled in an inscription just a few feet away?

As a historian Bray is the most credulous writer I have ever seen. There appears to be no story which he will not believe, no matter how absurd. He believes Zonarus' story about how Shapur threw captives into a deep ravine until the pile was high enough for him to cross over with his army. He even goes so far as to consider how they must have selected only the less skilled prisoners since so much construction work was done by the survivors. It never occurs to him to question this nonsensical statement. If the Persians truly did encounter a deep ravine (intel that bad seems impossible but still...) then the last thing they would do would be to toss prisoners down it. How many men would they have to waste until the pile of bodies was high enough to walk over? Hundreds of thousands if the canyon was any depth. A far sight more than they could possibly have had. And the amount of time it would take would be longer than it would take him to just walk around or even build a bridge across. He also accepts the statements of the Historia Augusta unless contradicted elsewhere and believes that Gallus betrayed his army "into the hands of the Goths." A rather absurd possibility for a Roman emperor.

That is the book unfortunately. I really wanted to like this one, but for all his obvious research his inability to spot even the most basic of lies ruins most of what the book aims to achieve. He has clearly put a lot of work into this which just makes it more disappointing when he fails. If you can find this book (an unlikely proposition at this moment since it's been out of print for years) then you may find it useful for the bibliography which covers an extraordinary range. Otherwise I recommend you seek out The Policy of the Emperor Galienus. It's hard to find too but it's more thorough and less credulous.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful account - highly readable! 31 Jan 2000
By J. Burns - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful biography of a fascinating, enigmatic, and underrated hero of Roman history, the third century Emperor Gallienus. The author is careful to present the full range of viewpoints on the sketchy and often controversial evidence, but he does this without losing the momentum of the story, which is historically important and very entertaining. I've read lots of books on Roman history - this is one of the best and should appeal to the interested layman as well as to the scholar. Beautiful cover!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A careful study of an important Roman emperor 25 Jun 2007
By Bruce Trinque - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
John Bray's "Gallienus: A Study of Reformist and Sexual Politics" is, as far as I know, the only published full-length biography of that Third century Roman emperor, a man who reigned for fifteen years (about seven years as junior co-Emperor under his father, Valerian, and then for about eight years on his own after his father's capture by the Persians). In his time, the Empire seemed near to collapse, with the westernmost provinces under a rebellious usurper and barbarian invaders breaking in from the north. But Gallienus managed to hold things together, finding time in the meantime to be seen as an accomplished orator and poet and a patron of the arts. Eventually, he was assassinated by a conspiracy of top military leaders, but not before Gallienus had reorganized the army to create a powerful mobile force to quickly react to new military threats and to give cavalry a far more important role than it had played in the past, both to prove key elements in the defense of the Empire for the next two centuries. The historical sources for Gallienus's life are fragmented and usually contradictory. His reputation suffered greatly from later writers anxious to instead laud his successor, Claudius Gothicus (who probably played some role in Gallienus's murder) who was claimed by the family of Constantine as an ancestor. In addition, later Christian writers anxious to exhalt Constantine and his reputed ancestor followed the same course. Lastly, adherents of the senatorial caste were hostile to Gallienus's memory, at least in part due to restrictions he placed upon senatorial careers in the military.

Bray very carefully assesses the competing claims, presenting a synopsis of all sides of any controversy, and delivers a well-explained conclusion in each case. His ultimate picture of Gallienus is of an energetic and intelligent ruler, although not a man without flaws.

"Gallienus" is somewhat hampered by an index that appears less than comprehensive, and Bray's arguements are sometimes spread out over so many sections of the book that the reader may lose direction. Nonetheless, the result is a valuable, well-reasoned study of one of history's more interesting, although little-known characters.
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