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Imperial Brothers: Valentinian, Valens and the Disaster at Adrianople [Hardcover]

Ian Hughes
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Aug 2013
The latest of Ian Hughes' Late Roman biographies here tackles the careers of the brother emperors, Valentinian and Valens. Valentian was selected and proclaimed as emperor in AD 364, when the Empire was still reeling from the disastrous defeat and death in battle of Julian the Apostate (363) and the short reign of his murdered successor, Jovian (364). With the Empire weakened and vulnerable to a victorious Persia in the East and opportunistic Germanic tribes along the Rhine and Danube frontiers, not to mention usurpers and rebellions within, it was not an enviable position. Valentian decided the responsibility had to be divided (not for the first or last time) and appointed his brother as his co-emperor to rule the eastern half of the Empire. Valentinian went on to stabilize the Western Empire, quelling revolt in North Africa, defeating the 'Barbarian Conspiracy' that attacked Britain in 367 and conducting successful wars against the Germanic Alemanni, Quadi and Saxons; he is remembered by History as a strong and successful Emperor. Valens on the other hand, fare less well and is most remembered for his (mis)treatment of the Goths who sought refuge within the Empire's borders from the westward-moving Huns. Valens mishandling of this situation led to the Battle of Adrianople in 378, where he was killed and Rome suffered one of the worst defeats in her long history, often seen as the 'beginning of the end' for the Western Roman empire. Ian Hughes, by tracing the careers of both men in tandem, compares their achievements and analyzes the extent to which they deserve the contrasting reputations handed down by history.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military; UNKNOWN edition (30 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848844174
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848844179
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Ian Hughes is a former teacher and now a full-time military historian. He specializes in Late Roman history and is the author of Belisarius, The Last Roman General (2008), Stilicho, the Vandal Who Saved Rome (forthcoming 2010) and Aetius: Atilla's Nemesis (2012). He lives in a small, former mining village near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, bad or indifferent? 16 Sep 2013
By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is Ian Hughes' fourth book for Pen and Sword, although it is not his best, and it is not as good as his other books on Stilichon or on Aetius. The reasons for this pertain to the choice of topics, this book's structure, but also the relative lack of originality, meaning that the book felt mostly like a compilation of several previous works to me with, perhaps, a couple of exceptions.

The choice of topics, to treat the reigns of the two imperial brothers (Valentinian and Valens) in parallel, is a relatively bold one, but the execution is a bit problematic. This is especially the case when this is accompanied by an annalistic approach, with the events of each year being treated in separate chapters that gather together what was happening in the Western and in the Eastern parts of the Empire. The first problem with such an approach is that it leads to repetitions and breaks up the narrative of given campaigns or actions that straddle several years. In addition, the author frequently feels obliged to summarize the events of the past year as the opens up a new year on the same topic. Moreover, while this ploy does allow for the two stories to be told in parallel, it is also somewhat artificial and breaks up the narrative's continuity.

Another point, although not necessarily a problem, is that Pen and Sword authors often borrow from and heavily rely upon a limited number of secondary sources which they summarise and present in a non-scholarly format to the so-called "general reader". This is fine, and some of these books can be truly excellent, provided that these sources and authors are clearly and fully acknowledged. Unfortunately, I sometimes had the impression that this was not exactly the case with this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Information Marred by a Flawed Approach 3 Sep 2013
By Arch Stanton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a military biography of two Late Roman imperial brothers: Valentinian I and Valens. A military biography of these two makes sense as Valentinian is famous as the last powerful emperor of the west, who repaired the frontier defenses and campaigned in barbarian lands, while his brother Valens is famous mostly for losing the battle of Adrianople, the battle that allowed the Goths to establish a permanent foothold in the empire. The two lives are not exactly symmetrical or even often connected (events in the east and west rarely intersected militarily), but they are both undoubtedly known for their campaigns.

As with previous Pen & Sword books this one is well illustrated. It has numerous fine diagrams, maps, and illustrations which all help in understanding the events described. It's even better than Hughes' previous work. Unlike many of his previous works this one has a good deal on non-military events too, particularly in years where there weren't many wars. In addition to the Gothic, Persian, Alamannic, Quadic, and Pictish wars Hughes details the magic trials and building programs of both emperors. Sometimes it feels a bit out of place, but in general I found it aids understanding of these emperors.

This book is divided up in an annalistic format that has each chapter represent a single year. He did something similar in his book on Aetius, although it worked better there. In Aetius he was detailing the career of one man operating in a relatively narrow region. Here he is describing two men on opposite sides of the empire. The annalistic approach feels like a distraction and adds unnecessary confusion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book ! 28 May 2014
By PeterJ
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I fully expected this book to be quite technical and boring. Wrong ! It's a heavy subject but the story of Valentinian and Valens is told in an entertaining and often slightly humorous way that holds the reader's attention. I'm not sure if the author intended to be amusing but
the machinations of the Imperial Court simply are, sometimes. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good emperor/bad emperor? 29 Sep 2013
By E. L. Wisty TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm not even going to attempt to say much when there are two substantial and highly informative reviews here already with which I broadly agree, though I'm not quite so negative in a star ranking.

My main problem with Hughes (and has been my main problem with his three previous works) is his tendency to overindulge in complete and wild speculation with no basis for evidence (reviewer JPS mentions the example in this current work of a supposed inquiry by Theodosius into the reasons for the defeat at Hadrianople). He has usually tended to weave his speculation into the historically attested facts too closely for my liking in the past; he has perhaps not intertwined them together as much this time round, but I still personally don't like historians hypothesising in this manner. This apart, and bearing in mind some of the other flaws mentioned by the previous reviewers, it's a reasonable if not outstanding read. (As an aside, for a more scholarly and more general analysis of the reigns of Valentinian and Valens, I would recommend Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius.)
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, bad or indifferent? 30 Sep 2013
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First posted on Amazon.co.uk on 16 September 2013

This is Ian Hughes' fourth book for Pen and Sword, although it is not his best, and it is not as good as his other books on Stilichon or on Aetius. The reasons for this pertain to the choice of topics, this book's structure, but also the relative lack of originality, meaning that the book felt mostly like a compilation of several previous works to me with, perhaps, a couple of exceptions.

The choice of topics, to treat the reigns of the two imperial brothers (Valentinian and Valens) in parallel, is a relatively bold one, but the execution is a bit problematic. This is especially the case when this is accompanied by an annalistic approach, with the events of each year being treated in separate chapters that gather together what was happening in the Western and in the Eastern parts of the Empire. The first problem with such an approach is that it leads to repetitions and breaks up the narrative of given campaigns or actions that straddle several years. In addition, the author frequently feels obliged to summarize the events of the past year as the opens up a new year on the same topic. Moreover, while this ploy does allow for the two stories to be told in parallel, it is also somewhat artificial and breaks up the narrative's continuity.

Another point, although not necessarily a problem, is that Pen and Sword authors often borrow from and heavily rely upon a limited number of secondary sources which they summarise and present in a non-scholarly format to the so-called "general reader". This is fine, and some of these books can be truly excellent, provided that these sources and authors are clearly and fully acknowledged. Unfortunately, I sometimes had the impression that this was not exactly the case with this book. This happened for instance with regards to NoŽl Lenski's "Failure of Empire" (a rather superb study of the reign and personality of Emperor Valens). The author criticizes and, to some extent, even misinterprets Lenski when stating that the later believes Valens to have been a "poor emperor". In fact, it is Lenski's who shows that Valens was a very capable administrator and that his record was far from being one of general and abysmal failure, and Ian Hughes who borrows these conclusions for his own book.

The book also contains a fair amount of personal interpretations, not to say speculations from the author. One of the most surprising to me is to postulate, and present as "almost certain", that Theodosius set up an official inquiry into the disaster of Adrianople shortly after becoming Emperor and that this is reflected in the narrative of Ammianus Marcellinus (our main source). There is, to my limited knowledge at least, no solid evidence to back up this interesting but speculative statement and I could not help wondering where the author got this idea from. It is even doubtful as to whether Theodosius would have had any interest in such an inquiry in AD 379, especially since this could lead to recriminations and some kind of "blame game" at a time when he needed all of his surviving generals to focus on curtailing the Gothic war bands. Anyway, it is not even necessary to imagine the creation of such an inquiry: the scapegoats - the dead Emperor and his two dead generals - made ideal candidates to bear full responsibility for the disaster and exonerate the surviving generals (whom Theodosius needed) from any personal responsibility.

Having mentioned these flaws, the book does have at least two main strongpoints. One is the narrative of Valens' last campaign in general, and of the battle of Adrianople in particular, where he shows that the charge of the Gothic cavalry must have hit the Roman right wing, as opposed to the left one, contrary to what most historians have believed. The whole campaign is well described. The case for the Gothic charge coming from their left wing is well made, and the reasons for the Roman defeat - they were caught unprepared with all senior commanders gathered around the Emperor when the fighting started - quite plausible, regardless of whether you ultimately "buy it" or not.

The second very interesting point is the discussion about the respective merits of the two brothers, and how posterity seems to have exaggerated the achievements of Valentinian and, on the contrary, blackened the reputation of his junior brother who died defeated. The case for the later borrows from Lenski's failure of Empire, as already mentioned. The case for the elder brother's partly undeserved high reputation and his real military achievements against the Allemani seems to have been borrowed largely for Drinkwater's recent book of this powerful Germanic confederation. In both cases, Ian Hughes explanations are generally clear and mostly convincing.

So while this is perhaps not the author's best book, and there are also some other glitches and questionable statements in it which I did not mention in this review, it is nevertheless a rather interesting introduction to the military challenges that these two little known successors of the House of Constantine had to face. One problem and limit, however, is that the book's focus on military affairs is somewhat narrow. For instance, while the author repeatedly mentions military manpower shortages that plagued the Emperors, he never really gets to explain them.

While not a "bad" book, I was a bit disappointed given the high expectations that the author's two previous books had created as far as I am concerned.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Information Marred by a Flawed Approach 4 Oct 2013
By Arch Stanton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a military biography of two Late Roman imperial brothers: Valentinian I and Valens. A military biography of these two makes sense as Valentinian is famous as the last powerful emperor of the west, who repaired the frontier defenses and campaigned in barbarian lands, while his brother Valens is famous mostly for losing the battle of Adrianople, the battle that allowed the Goths to establish a permanent foothold in the empire. The two lives are not exactly symmetrical or even often connected (events in the east and west rarely intersected militarily), but they are both undoubtedly known for their campaigns.

As with previous Pen & Sword books this one is well illustrated. It has numerous fine diagrams, maps, and illustrations which all help in understanding the events described. It's even better than Hughes' previous work. Unlike many of his previous works this one has a good deal on non-military events too, particularly in years where there weren't many wars. In addition to the Gothic, Persian, Alamannic, Quadic, and Pictish wars Hughes details the magic trials and building programs of both emperors. Sometimes it feels a bit out of place, but in general I found it aids understanding of these emperors.

This book is divided up in an annalistic format that has each chapter represent a single year. He did something similar in his book on Aetius, although it worked better there. In Aetius he was detailing the career of one man operating in a relatively narrow region. Here he is describing two men on opposite sides of the empire. The annalistic approach feels like a distraction and adds unnecessary confusion. For example, the "barbarian conspiracy" is introduced in 367, then he goes on to discuss the Goths and Persia, and then in the next chapter he returns to Britain and the imperial response. The Armenian and Germanic campaigns are similarly split between multiple chapters. Just as confusingly he is often forced to mention incidents from other years anyway since events don't happen in isolation. A regional approach like he took with Belisarius would have been far more suitable for this material. Alternatively he could have divided it by the emperor involved.

I wish that Hughes had done what he did previously and focused on a single man whose career has been neglected by modern accounts. Valentinian is famous, but has never had a biography written on him. As a (relatively) well-documented emperor whose career was quite important it is about time he was served with a close study. Valens on the other hand has the excellent Failure of Empire focused on him. Hughes thus feels he has to constantly justify his choice of Valens, and he does this in the usual scholarly way by finding flaws with the previous work. The reason that's a problem here is that, despite repeated protestations that Lenski's work is biased, he doesn't disagree with it that much at all. He claims that Lenski viewed Valens as a bad emperor when that book offered a substantially more nuanced view. A mediocre emperor perhaps. A poor general, but one skilled in many peacetime areas. Hughes' conclusion says the exact same thing. The result is that a good deal of the sections on Valens feel like a rehash of that book. The sections that are different I usually disagree with. His sections on Armenia are particularly confused with him relying heavily on the largely fantastical work of P'awstos Buzand, whose spelling he alternates between P'awstos and Pavstos (occasionally abbreviated BP) so often that the reader could be forgiven for thinking them two separate people. At any rate, any historian who records dozens of campaigns in half as many years with numbers into the millions cannot be relied on for troop strengths even when the figures he provides seem semi-realistic.

Hughes' work on Valentinian though is first-rate. Even though it is fragmented by the Valens material enough gets through that a clear overview of his reign can be understood. Hughes emphasizes correctly that many of Valentinian's achievements are overstated, but he sees a real core of truth behind later exaggerations. The problem of course, is that he is dead by the year 375 leaving us with only Valens for three years. Fortunately he covers Gratian's (Valentinian's son) rule during this time, but from here on Valens absolutely dominates the narrative. The book is of course ruled by the shadow of Adrianople, and Hughes spends an appropriate amount of time setting up the battle. While I wouldn't say he adds much apart from some excellent campaign maps, his account goes beyond being merely satisfactory and serves as quite a good introduction to the battle.

I think that this is my least favorite of all Hughes' books. The focus on two separate emperors and his annalistic chapters are both questionable decisions, but they prove disastrous when combined. Although still readable, it makes the task of sorting out events needlessly difficult. Unlike his previous books he never offers much insight into the personalities of his protagonists, who remain distant figures throughout. It is in fact slightly inaccurate to call this a military biography of their campaigns since it is more of a history of military activity during their reigns. The material in here is good enough to be worth reading, but it needs some serious reorganizing before I can come to like it.

Incidentally, for another take on the battle of Adrianople I'd recommend The Day of the Barbarians. It's a bit sensationalistic but it covers the events well. It's also a lot shorter.
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