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Theodosius: The Empire at Bay (Roman Imperial Biographies) [Paperback]

Gerard Friell , Stephen Williams
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 May 1998 Roman Imperial Biographies
Emperor Theodosius (379-95) was the last Roman emperor to rule a unified empire of East and West and his reign represents a turning point in the policies and fortunes of the Late Roman Empire. In this imperial biography, Stephen Williams and Gerry Friell bring together literary, archaeological and numismatic evidence concerning this Roman emperor, studying his military and political struggles, which he fought heroically but ultimately in vain.
Summoned from retirement to the throne after the disastrous Roman defeat by the Goths at Adrianople, Theodosius was called on to rebuild the armies and put the shattered state back together. He instituted a new policy towards the barbarians, in which diplomacy played a larger role than military might, at a time of increasing frontier dangers and acute manpower shortage. He was also the founder of the established Apostolic Catholic Church. Unlike other Christian emperors, he suppressed both heresy and paganism and enforced orthodoxy by law.
The path was a diffucult one, but Theodosius (and his successor, Stilicho) had little choice. This new study convincingly demonstrates how a series of political misfortunes led to the separation of the Eastern and Western empires which meant that the overlordship of Rome in Europe dwindled into mere ceremonial. The authors examine the emperor and his character and the state of the Roman empire, putting his reign in the context of the troubled times.

Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New Ed edition (28 May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415170400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415170406
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,064,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid defence of Theodosius 12 July 2011
By Kuma
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Theodosius isn't a particularly fashionable emperor. Sometimes seen as the unwitting architect of the fall of the Western Empire, he is often shunned as a topic of serious academic discussion, often only gaining a guest starring role in histories of the Early Church or the emergence of the Eastern Empire. This is by and large a missed opportunity, Theodosius reign provides a lot of scope for insight into key themes in later Roman History such as Rome's relationship with the Goths, religious unrest and the East/West divide. Williams and Friell, provide a useful account of Theodosius reign, drawing on literary, archaeological, epigraphical and numismatic evidence.
The work is primarily a biography. It starts prior to Theodosius with a brief build up to Adrianople, whilst the work then carries on with a good chapter on Stilicho and a discussion as to whether the East/West split was inevitable. The authors know their source material well and this is evident in how they structure the chapters and also in how the use Gibbon, who centuries later still, looms large in this subject area.
The work is largely a defence of Theodosius, setting his reign between two key historical turning points, the battle of Adrianople, which destabilised the East and his early death, which left his two young sons nominally in charge of the Empire. Such a revision is welcome in helping to rebalance the historical scales, though at times it can feel, that the work defers too much toward absolving Theodosius; he certainly made mistakes (hereditary rule for his sons, was an example, especially given his non-hereditary elevation by Gratian) and it is possible to tackle both his indecision and inconsistency (such as volte-face regarding pagan worship in the Empire).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Did the best he could under the circumstances 24 April 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Following on from his excellent Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, Stephen Williams has here co-authored with Gerard Friell another book of the same high standard. Neither of the two are academic historians, which makes their achievement all the greater. The analysis of all aspects of the period is well written and thorough, with copious notes given at the back.

The religious policies enforcing uniformity, which are usually analysed as a Bad Thing by those modern day historians with a liberal eye obsessed with "diversity" (that is, almost all historians these days), are here properly put in the context of the age. (I really don't recognise what another reviewer said about it being a leftist analysis of the religious policy - I actually thought it quite neutral and even handed.)

Militarily, the numerous problems Theodosius had in dealing with the Goths are detailed making it understandable that he was not dealing from a position of strength, and the treaty creating foederati was the only real option. From our privileged position looking backwards, we see this as the thin end of the wedge leading to the breakup of the West. But in the final analysis, the authors conclude that although he was ultimately unsuccessful in terms of his political and military legacy, Theodosius did the best he possibly could under the circumstances.

Essential reading for this critical period of history, easily accessible to the general reader and not just for students and academics.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Given the impact of Theodosius on history, it is surprising that most people probably have no idea who he was: consolidator of the power of the Catholic church, oppressor of "paganism" (which included abolishing the original Olympic Games), chief architect (intentionally or not) of the fall of the Western Empire, by giving power to the Goths and leaving as heir Honorius, one of the most disastrous emperors ever. Theodosius - called "the Great" by a grateful church - is a towering figure in relation to his successors in the Western Empire, bit a mediocre one when compared to his predecessors. The impression is that of a good, but not extraordinary, military chief and administrator, lacking long-term vision, and whose main concerns were to preserve his own power, that of his family, and to save his soul. Still, whatever his personal limitations, Theodosius was a key figure in shaping history, and this book is an excellent way to understand why.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theodosius: The Empire at Bay 11 July 2013
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
Having been reading about the Nicene Creed lately in Charles Freeman's AD 381: Heretic, Pagans and the Christian State, I thought this seemed a good next book to read, particularly after having just read David Potter's Constantine: The Emperor.

Theodosius I seems to have been an upstanding kind of chap; not brought up with any expectations of becoming Emperor, but rather having a father who clearly knew what he was doing in the service of the Emperor, until factional politics saw the Count executed, and Theodosius the son in respectable exile on the family estates. After the disaster of Adrianople and the death of Valens in 378, Gratian called on Theodosius to step up into what was effectively a co-emperor role, that of supreme military command in the East. This was clearly a formidable challenge for anyone to have to face. Theodosius seems to have had an intelligent and good nature, and believed strongly in the righteousness of his role and what he was doing. But unfortunately for him, and for the Empire, his love for his family and his determination to offer a dynastic succession to his sons meant the neglect of the best interests for the Empire as a whole, and his early death led to fractures among those who should have worked to hold the Empire together. Theodosius died so suddenly and at such a critical juncture in the history of the Eastern and Western Empires that it is important, and welcome, that the authors continue the story into the reigns of Honorius and Arcadius, and considers the important role that Stilicho continued to hold and the ongoing struggles after Stilicho's death.
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