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Still a major reference, despite its age,
This review is from: The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey (Paperback)
This is the second tome of AHM Jones massive Survey of the Latter Roman Empire. It should best be read together with the first volume, if only because it includes all of the notes and annexes for both volumes. However, its six chapters could possibly be read on their own, although I would not advise this.
It is often been said of these volumes that they are "seminal", which is perfectly true, although readers might not realize to what extent this is the case. I tried to provide a number of answers in my review of volume I and will try to do the same here, and add a couple of things that I forgot to mention previously.
First, and despite being published in 1964, much of the issues raised, the book's contents and the conclusions made are still valid, or have become areas of (often heated) discussions among historians. A typical example is the debate about the causes of the Fall of the (West) Roman Empire. Jones provided one of the first in-depth analysis of these causes and factors, which two generations of historians have then explored, one cause at a time. To give a few examples, A. Ferrill insisted on the (most traditional) military explanation (1986) while a couple of years latter, Ramsey Mc Mullen rather insisted on "Corruption and the Decline of Rome" (the title of his book), believing, contrary to Jones, that the internal weakening of the Empire was a key reason for the Fall. More recently, this divide has been, yet again, illustrated by the books of Goldsworthy, insisting on the internal causes, and of Heather, more inclined to put more weight on the pressure from the BArbarians in general, and on Attila, in particular. Regardless of your preferred explanation, or even if you believe that BOTH types of explanations are in fact valid and even interacted with each other (less taxes meaning less soldiers, meaning a lower ability to defend the Empire and a higher risk of being defeated, meaning in turn less taxes as provinces were either devasted repreatedly or lost), what is important ot note is that these discussions largely started with Jones. It is therefore unsurprising, and perfectly fitting, that a nujmber of leading historians of the Late Roman Empire will be publishing in a few months a whole book (which, of course, you will be able to find on Amazon)assessing much better than I can ever do the major contributions that Jones had had and how the issues he tackled have evolved over time.
Second, another major area of research which opened up after this book was published was to explain why the West fell (old Rome) but not the East (Constantinople/New Rome) which very much survived the Barbarian attacks in the fifth century and ultimetly became the Byzantine Empire, also surviving the invasions from the Avars, the Slavs and the Bulgars and the Arabs in particular. Here again, numerous explanations have been offered and they are summarized and discussed in an excellent book from Williams and Friell first published in 1999 ("The Rome that Did Not Fall"). One of the main conclusions of this book is that the Eastern part WAS more populated and richer than the Western part of the Roman Empire; conclusions that are only tentative in Jones but that are demonstrated in this book. It had also more cohesion and its society and its economy were less "unhealthy" to use Jones' expression. At about the same time and latter on, other books have also drawn attention to the huge importance and disparities in richness and the corrupting and disrupting political influence that a very small but ultra rich number of families that made up the Roman Senate had in the West thanks to their huge wealth inherited down the centuries. They contrasted this with the situation in the East, where Senators in Constantinople were not as ploutocratic and where the Senate included a higher percentage of civil servants who owed everything to the Emperor and his government. This unequalities had a huge impact on the economy through possession of the land, the sources of about 85% to 90% of the Empires revenues, the ability to tap the respective manpower pools of the two halves of the Empire. All of these discussions largely started with Jones, although he tended to believe, at the time, that the two halves of the Empire had very much the same problems and that the differences were more a question of degrees than anything else.
Third, this vollume also includes still very valuable chapters on the Church, Religion and Morale and Education and Culture. I would discuss these in any detail, if only because I am supposed to be written a review, not a dissertation. Suffice is to say that this chapters stidying the rise of the Christianity, its growing importance and its impact on the whole of the Empire have also been followed by a prolific amount of studies on the Christinisation of Europe and of both the Westrn and Esatern parts of the Empire. To a large extent, the same kind of conclusion can be reached for Jones' study of the Empire's "Industry, Trade and Transport" (the title of his 21th chapter) and that of "The Land" (the title of his 20th chapter). This has been followed over the next few decades by numerous studies on Late Roman World and the Mediterranean or, to mention two other massive book:
- on the "Origins of the European Economy (300-900)" from Michael McCormick (first published in 2001) and subtitled "Communications and Commerce" and
- Hendy's collection of very valuable "Studies in the BYzantine Monetary Economy (300-1450)".
Both books and authors, and hundreds of others, are significantly indebted to AHM Jones and his Latter Roman Empire, if only as a starting point.