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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Long-Needed Account of the Century That Changed the World
At the close of the 6th century the west was still dominated by the two superpowers of Rome and Persia. Rome may not have been as mighty as it once was, but it still occupied most of the Mediterranean and occupied the Middle East into part of Mesopotamia. By the end of the 7th century Persia was gone, Rome was reduced to a much-harried portion of Asia Minor, and the...
Published 19 months ago by Arch Stanton

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over-ambitious and problematic
This book is a valiant but over-ambitious attempt to tell the story of both the last of the Great Wars between the (Eastern) Roman Empire and the Persian one, and the early Islamic Conquests. As such, it seeks to cover the numerous upheavals that affected the whole of the Mediterranean during the whole of the Seventh century, and a good chunk of the Eight Century,...
Published 18 months ago by JPS


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Long-Needed Account of the Century That Changed the World, 3 Sept. 2013
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Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam (Hardcover)
At the close of the 6th century the west was still dominated by the two superpowers of Rome and Persia. Rome may not have been as mighty as it once was, but it still occupied most of the Mediterranean and occupied the Middle East into part of Mesopotamia. By the end of the 7th century Persia was gone, Rome was reduced to a much-harried portion of Asia Minor, and the Islamic state controlled Iran, the entirety of the Middle East, North Africa, and was preparing to invade Spain. The entire world order had changed. Yet it has rarely been discussed (at least in English). Certainly not from the perspective of the original inhabitants.

This book has set out to change that. It can be divided into two broad parts. First, it covers the final wars between Rome and Persia. The ones that left both open to invasion. Secondly, it explores the rise of Islam and the crippling defeats of both Rome and Persia. Despite the greater drama of this second set of wars Crawford does not scrimp on his accounts of the Romano-Persian ones. I have read books on both of these topics (I include a list below) but I have never seen them together before. This book takes the broad view that is often missing in discussions of the 7th century. Due to the scattered and limited nature of the sources much attention in scholarship is given to resolving details or examining one aspect of these changes. Only recently have the multiple disciplines (Byzantinists, linguists, and Arabists) started combining their material.

This book offers a basic military description of all these events. It does so with clarity and a series of very helpful maps and photographs. There are 44 maps alone, all illustrating different battles or stages within a battle. Sometimes these diagrams can make clear actions that are hard to understand without visuals. I don't agree with everything the author says by any means (particularly concerning army sizes), but I understand why he came to the conclusions he did. I have few comments to make since I believe this author did his job well and unobtrusively. The fact that he manages to combine sources from Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, and Iranian accounts into a coherent whole that (while focused mainly on the Romans) is thorough in its description of all participants is an achievement worthy of praise. If you want to read a book on this period then this is the one to choose. If you're more interested in a religious or social history then you'll have to try searching through the specialist literature.

As promised I include here a list of books that I've found helpful previously when dealing with this period. The Great Arab Conquests deals with (as might be expected) the Arab Conquest. This book outlines the course that these conquests took. Kennedy is somewhat suspicious of the details included in Arabic sources, so this book can often be vague in hopes of recording fewer inaccuracies. It is focused very much on the Arab side of things with little mention of Roman or Persian accounts. Similarly focused is The Sword of Allah, a military biography of Khalid Bin Al-Waleed famous throughout the Islamic world. I found this one suspiciously positive about very questionable accounts, but I can't deny that it provides a good overview of Khalid's campaigns.

On the Roman side there remains no single book that covers these events. However, Walter Kaegi has written several that when combined cover the period. Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium is a biography of Heraclius that covers his Persian and Arab wars. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests covers the Islamic conquest of Syria. Muslim Expansion and Byzantine Collapse in North Africa covers the Islamic conquest of North Africa. Kaegi is an expert on the period, but his works are difficult to read and poorly edited. He remains the best source for information on the Persian or early Islamic wars from a Roman perspective, although John Haldon's Byzantium in the Seventh Century offers a good overview. The Persians have less data to go on given the sources. Nonetheless, The Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire gives a gallant try at it. There is much more here than simply a history of the fall of the Persian Empire. It tries very hard to demonstrate that the Parthian families were a major power behind the Sassanian throne. It's not an easy book for the beginner (and that's pretty much all there is in English), but it is well worth the read.

There is another book that came out recently called In The Shadow of the Sword. It covers basically the same period as this one, but is focused primarily on the different religions and cultures. I rather feel that the titles of that book is more apt for this one and vice versa. At any rate, it may offer a basic look at the three different cultures but it spends surprisingly little time on the campaigns.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over-ambitious and problematic, 15 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam (Hardcover)
This book is a valiant but over-ambitious attempt to tell the story of both the last of the Great Wars between the (Eastern) Roman Empire and the Persian one, and the early Islamic Conquests. As such, it seeks to cover the numerous upheavals that affected the whole of the Mediterranean during the whole of the Seventh century, and a good chunk of the Eight Century, including the battle of Poitiers in AD 732 (which is NOT called "the battle of Tours"). Even with a somewhat enlarged format - some 230 pages of main text instead of the 180 or so that are more customary for a Pen and Sword publication; there is simply not enough space to do the two subjects justice. This, in turn, has a number of unfortunate consequences.

A main missing element is the absence of any meaningful discussion of the sources, and to what extent they can be relied upon. While Pen and Sword books are targeted at the so-called "general reader" and authors accordingly (and quite correctly) tend to keep a discussion of the sources to a minimum, there is hardly any discussion at all in the present volume. This is a significant gap since it is precisely because of the defects and problems related to these sources that there is comparatively little about the Seventh Century crises which had ever lasting effects. In other words, and contrary to the author's initial statement, the "immense historical importance" of this century has not been "much over-looked". It has been plagued with source problems and it is these, which the author does not cover, which explain the difficulty in coming up with a continuous narrative.

A second missing element, which I found rather problematic for a book dealing with military history, is the absence of any meaningful discussion about the organization of the respective East Roman, Persian and Early Arab Conquest armies, and their respective strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, explaining the state (including morale) in which these armies were by the end of the Great War of AD 602-628 might have gone some way towards explaining subsequent events.

A third consequence is that the book is essentially a narrative of the main events, with little room for discussions and explanations as to why these occurred. In particular, there is little to explain the early and tremendous successes of the Persians against the East Romans, why these successes occurred and lasted for so long until Heraclius undertook his major gamble of attacking the Persian Empire's heartlands. Even more important, there is little explanation provided to explain the early Muslim triumphs between AD 634 and AD 652, the reversals and the first bout of civil war that they suffered afterwards, and what another author has termed the "battle for the Mediterranean" that the Caliphate then waged against the rump of the Eastern Roman Empire up to and included to siege of Constantinople in AD 717-718.

What you get instead is the story of a succession of campaigns and events, often with an emphasis on the major battles. Even when campaigns and battles are well described, and they mostly are, strategy and tactics are often lacking. At times, the narrative can even become confusing and almost boring as events as presented in succession with little accompanying explanation being provided. The author's style, with over-use of terms such as "however" (on average 3 to 4 per page, and sometimes as many as 8!) and double negations, also makes it unnecessarily complicated and adding potential confusion for the reader.

Another problem that makes the narrative somewhat disjointed at times is that the author tends to rely mainly on one or two secondary sources for each of his main chapters (including, among others, Kaegi, Howard-Johnston, Hugh Kennedy and Alfred Butler). This is something that the "catching" title chosen for each chapter fails to cover up. The overall impression was that of a jigsaw puzzle made of numerous but ill-fitting bits and pieces.

Finally, there is also a rather large collection of unexplained statements that are scattered across the book, and some of them are rather odd although I will only mention a couple. One is the statement, reflecting what has now become a somewhat outdated view, that the Eastern Romans lost their supremacy at sea following the battle of the Masts in AD 655 of the coasts of Asia Minor. This, at best, is an over-simplification, especially since the victorious Muslim fleet was largely destroyed by storms after the battle. Another traditional exaggeration is the statement that had the Muslims not been stopped at Poitiers in AD 732, they would likely have overrun the whole of modern France. The extent to which the supposedly "decisive" victory of Poitiers has been exaggerated has already demonstrated by historians (see the works of Paul Fouracre in English, for instance). It neither stopped Muslim raiding, nor did it put an end to Muslim presence north of the Pyrenees. A further couple of decades would be needed for this to happen.

To conclude, and while this book may be just about acceptable as a starting point; I am not sure as to whether I can even recommend it for this category of readers unless you are mainly looking for a list of events. One of my main criticisms here is that, despite the author's work, he has in fact failed to present a convincing narrative explaining both why the initial Muslim Conquests were so successful and how the Eastern Roman Empire, despite initial (and subsequent) disasters, managed to survive and become the Byzantine Empire. Two stars.

There are quite a few books on various aspects that this book attempted to cover. On the sources and at explaining the events, Howard-Johnston's monumental "Witnesses of a World Crisis" is much better, although very scholarly and very expensive (although a paperback edition is due to be published). On the Muslim Conquests, either Donner or Hugh Kennedy's books are better in my view. Both are affordable and much clearer than this one.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Congratulations, 7 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam (Hardcover)
The description of a very short and convulsive period of History, from 3 different sides is very difficult, if you also make a clear and
quite precise resumé of the 3 sides at war. Very, very good! Congratulations to the Author!!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A serious and well written history, 4 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam (Hardcover)
This book provides a well researched and readable overview of a crucuial turning point in the history of the world which Western readers have little opportunity to investigate. The history is fascinating and answers many questions about the end of the Roman empire and the rise of Islam.
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The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam
The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam by Peter Crawford (Hardcover - 31 July 2013)
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