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One of Rome's greatest generals - or was he?,
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This review is from: Belisarius: The Last Roman General (Hardcover)
A very different beast indeed to Lord Mahon's biography of Belisarius, this is a work very much for the military history enthusiast concentrating on the battles and campaigns of Belisarius with appropriate maps and battle plans. Everything else of the period is surplus to requirements unless it impinges directly on the campaigns.
The level of scholarship is variable. Often quite detailed, Hughes will gives references to Procopius by book and chapter, though by the time he is covering the latter stages of the Gothic War, you get the feeling that he has perhaps given up a little and is simply rewording Procopius rather than giving his copy too much thought.
Sometimes he can be a bit contrary with his regard to requirements for accuracy. In the introduction he declines to use Greek transliterations of proper names but insists on continuation of use of the Latin forms because they regarded themselves as Roman (an argument somewhat undermined by many of the Latin forms being Anglicised); but conversely he insists on updating Persian names to more modern transliterations on grounds of accuracy, sniffily remarking with a politically correct flourish - which he denies - that using the inaccurate Latin forms shows disrespect for Persian culture (he further undermines his own argument here in that very paragraph by incorrectly saying that the Eastern Romans/Byzantines of the period called themselves "Romanoi" when in fact they called themselves "Rhomaioi").
At times there is pure speculation though. He tries to get away with statements along the lines of "Vandals would have used the traditional large circular shield" without adducing any evidence in support of this, though to be fair there are other times when he will admit that there is no evidence one way or another and present the alternative suggestions made by other military historians.
Overall you wonder whether Hughes really does regard Belisarius as a great general. He seems to regard his record in battle against Persia as one which would get a Premiership football manager summarily sacked, views his victorious campaign in Africa as being frankly downright lucky, and concedes that he probably showed more skill against the Goths whilst still requiring a considerable amount of good fortune. This approach, whilst undoubtedly being closer to the truth than the standard analysis of Belisarius, doesn't really fit in with the dust jacket blurb.
A decent book for the military enthusiast, but beware the occasional deviation from rigorous analysis on arms, armour & tactics.