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The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power (Roman Imperial Biographies) [Paperback]

J. A. S. Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

29 Jun 2000 Roman Imperial Biographies
The Age of Justinian examines the reign of the great emperor Justinian (527-565) and his wife Theodora, who advanced from the theatre to the throne. The origins of the irrevocable split between East and West, between the Byzantine and the Persian Empire are chronicled, which continue up to the present day. The book looks at the social structure of sixth century Byzantium, and the neighbours that surrounded the empire. It also deals with Justinian's wars, which restored Italy, Africa and a part of Spain to the empire.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New Ed edition (29 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415237262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415237260
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 14.1 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 154,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"The work is properly approached as a textbook for students of the period ... [I]t is a solid piece of scholarship."-"Virginia Quarterly Review --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

J.A.S. Evans is Professor of Classics at the University of British Columbia and began his career as a papyrologist. His publications include Procopius (1972) and Herodotus, Explorer of the Past (1991).

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During the night of 9 or 10 July, 518, the emperor Anastasius died in Constantinople. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I was a bit surprised to discover that this book, first published in 1996, has not been reviewed on either Amazon.co.uk or on Amazon.com up to now. The author claimed, at the time, that there was still room for the "definitive history" of the reign of Justinian. One cannot help wondering as to whether there ever is such a thing as a definitive history or any character, event or period in history. If this was meant to mean that the author's purpose was not to come up with the most comprehensive and detailed book as possible on Justinian, then his claim is both correct and refreshingly modest. This book is not a biography of the great Emperor either. Rather, it is a reassessment of his reign and, accordingly, an excellent overview covering the period AD 491 to AD 574, from the beginning of the reign of Anastasius to the death of Justin II, Justinian's nephew. It is also perhaps the most accessible book and therefore the easiest to get to grip with this Emperor's long reign. This is only the first of its many qualities.

The second quality that I found n this book was the trouble and care taken in assessing both the context in which the reign began and its aftermath. At some 270 pages of text, the book is not too long to discourage a general reader. Almost 100 pages are dedicated to setting the scene, that is describing what Evans terms "The Imperial Environment" or, perhaps even more accurately, "the empire which Anastasius left behind". The care with which the "starting point" is described is worthy of praise, especially since the author manages to present an excellent overview while not overburdening the general reader with too much detail. The last section of the book ("The Final Years") describes Justinian's last decade, the reign of his immediate successor and assesses his reign.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The easiest read to start getting to grips with Justinian 24 Jun 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was a bit surprised to discover that this book, first published in 1996, has not been reviewed on either Amazon.co.uk or on Amazon.com up to now. The author claimed, at the time, that there was still room for the "definitive history" of the reign of Justinian. One cannot help wondering as to whether there ever is such a thing as a definitive history or any character, event or period in history. If this was meant to mean that the author's purpose was not to come up with the most comprehensive and detailed book as possible on Justinian, then his claim is both correct and refreshingly modest. This book is not a biography of the great Emperor either. Rather, it is a reassessment of his reign and, accordingly, an excellent overview covering the period AD 491 to AD 574, from the beginning of the reign of Anastasius to the death of Justin II, Justinian's nephew. It is also perhaps the most accessible book and therefore the easiest to get to grip with this Emperor's long reign. This is only the first of its many qualities.

The second quality that I found n this book was the trouble and care taken in assessing both the context in which the reign began and its aftermath. At some 270 pages of text, the book is not too long to discourage a general reader. Almost 100 pages are dedicated to setting the scene, that is describing what Evans terms "The Imperial Environment" or, perhaps even more accurately, "the empire which Anastasius left behind". The care with which the "starting point" is described is worthy of praise, especially since the author manages to present an excellent overview while not overburdening the general reader with too much detail. The last section of the book ("The Final Years") describes Justinian's last decade, the reign of his immediate successor and assesses his reign. While the description of the last years and the summary of Justin II's reign are also good, I was a bit disappointed by the book's conclusion and reassessment: a mere 4 pages. To be fair, however, most of the author's points are made in it, or summarized again, and for the few that may not be, they can be found in the relevant sections of the main text.

The author's views are particularly interesting, regardless of whether the reader agrees with them or not. The statements that Justinian's wars to "reconquer the West" were not "a misguided attempt to reverse the course of history" and did not "result in fatal inattention to the eastern provinces" have become more mainstream than fifteen years ago, even if they may not have been accepted by all. Again, regardless of the debate between historians, the succession of events - the expedition against the Vandals, that against the Ostrogoths and then the expedition against the Wisigoths of Spain - do show that, in each case, Justinian took advantages of circumstances. This allows Evans o portray his conquests as opportunistic and to imply that there was no "masterplan" to reconquer the West. He only shows that Justinian was careful to ensure that the eastern provinces were at peace when new expeditions were sent out to the West so that is rather unfair and incorrect to state that Justinian did not pay attention to the East.

Another interesting point made in this book (and picked up by other authors afterwards) is to show how the bubonic plague disrupted his wars in Italy and how it drastically affected the Empire's whole balance and strength. Here, Evans does no shy away from estimating that the plague and its resurgence in the 550s could have cost the lands around the Mediterranean up to 40% of their population in the short term. The disruption that this would have created and its impact on the Empire would have been tremendous and it is this entirely unpredictable event which overstretched the Empire, rather than Justinian's Wars which were not necessarily as unrealistic as they have been sometimes been portrayed to be with hindsight. That Justinian decided to impose a crushing tax burden on the Empire's population to make for lost income and cover expenses (including war expenses) that had not been reduced is easy to understand: had I pulled out of Italy and admitted defeat, it is doubtful as to whether the "upsart" Justinian would have remained on his throne for very long.

Finally, a fascinating point, although perhaps one which is more controversial and more difficult to make is the one on the influence of Empress Theodara, whom Evans sees as being almost the "loyal opposition to the throne", in particular with regards to religious matters. I am not so sure about the extent of her influence after her death, with the author claiming that it remained and going as far as implying that Justinian's last foray into theology showed that it became a monophysite, but the claim in itself is a very interesting one to make. It also illustrates the Emperor's will to compromise for the sake of unity.

Anyway, this is an excellent introduction for anyone wanting to know the essentials about Justinian. It is also a thought provoking and refreshing starting point for those who intend to dive into the century of Justinian in more depth. Highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a well-written, detailed and accessable history of the late Roman / early Byzantine era 11 Dec 2013
By doc peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
J.A.S. Evans, in his introduction rather modestly writes that this is not the diffinitive history of Justinian or his age. While I am not an anitquarian, this is by a wide margin the best single book on the topic I've read. The book addresses all aspects of 6th century Byzantium: its origins as first a Greek outpost and later second capital to the Roman empire; the economy, tax system and economic classes of the early Byzantine empire; the political climate of Justin out of which Justinian rose to power; the socio-economic rivalries within the city and their influence on Justinian's policies; the relationship between Theodora and Justinian (in itself a fascinating story); the various religious controversies of the age and the nature of Byzantine military and the way in which Justinian wielded it to maintain power and reclaim lost territory.

With its encyclopedic breadth, Evans also brings suprising detail and a critical eye towards the veracity of primary sources (like Procopius) and incisive analysis of the conclusions by other historians (on the Nika rebellion, for example.) There is much to like here. What sets this history apart from many others on the ancient world is the clarity of writing; while the subject matter can be dense - as in the case of the Byzantine economy - it is not dry, as Evans does what every exceptional historian is able to do: provide anecdotes and details to make the topic alive.

Even with its focus attention to detail, the book is accessable enough for anyone interested in Justinian or the time period. While the detail may be a bit daunting (even overwhelming), it is my first recommendation on the topic. Highly recommended.
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