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Aetius: Attila's Nemesis Hardcover – 16 Feb 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (16 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848842791
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848842793
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 610,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 May 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is another book which I found difficult to review, hence the fact that the review is only coming up today, as opposed to last week. The difficulty for me was to determine whether this book was worth five stars - the top rating - or somewhat less. Interestingly, the previous reviewer seems to have had a similar problem, although I am not quite sure that he has addressed it in a consistent way. As a customer (and a avid buyer of books!), I am always a bit puzzled when a book's excellent rating does not quite correspond to the contents of a review. This is especially the case when a reviewer rates a book five stars but then comes up with a mostly critical review that exceeds a page. For me at least, this raises a bit of a consistency issue : either the rating is inflated and the contents of the critical review are spot on or, on the contrary, the rating is justified but the criticism is excessive. There is, of course, a third possibility : the book may be worth five stars AND some of its contents may be questionable, but perhaps NOT for the reasons mentioned by the previous reviewer. This is the case that I will try to make.

First of all, this is the only recent history book (as opposed to novels) written specifically on Aetius in English in about a century. To my knowledge, there is only one recent biography on Aetius in French, but it is rather poor and more of a novel than the work of a historian. I am not aware of any recent work in German. I didn't check for Italian, however. This seems surprising, given Aetius' lasting fame as "the last of the Romans", but it can be explained by problematic sources. The explanation helps to illustrate the kind of challenge that Ian Hughes decided to take up.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Given that Aetius was the most important and influential man in the Western half of the Roman Empire for a period of around 20 years and that he is credited with delaying the collapse of this half of the Empire during his life it is remarkable how little is known of him. Earlier generals and statesmen were well served by the classical historians whilst Bellisarius has Procopius. Unfortunately the life of Aetius has to be reconstructed from fragmentary evidence such as chronicles which are not generally considered to be the most accurate of sources. The event for which he is most widely remembered is his victory over the Hunnic and Allied Army of Attila at the Catalaunian Plains yet there is disagreement over the site of the battle and details of the battle are sketchy to say the least.
Whilst his achievements and career have been analysed in many history books there are few books which are dedicated to a study of his life and career (at least in English) and virtually nothing is known about Aetius as a human being as opposed to his military and government career. This is unfortunate as the fact that he retained the loyalty of the army and was able to form alliances with the Germanic tribes and Huns in the way he did would indicate he was blessed with some impressive human qualities. Whilst there are many disagreements over the historical importance of the Catalaunian Plains there is almost no disagreement that his influence and impact on the Western half of the Empire was immense and that his efforts secured a semblance of stability and apparent recovery which it is hard to imagine could have taken place otherwise. That this stability and recovery was fleeting and merely delayed the fall of the Western half of the Empire is hardly his fault.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like Mr. Hughes' previous books this work is filled with both very good and very bad qualities. Unlike the previous ones this book manages to consistently rise above them to provide an interesting and informative read. The subject is a fascinating one, and on a topic that I find to be unbelievably poorly covered in the existing works. Aetius was the western Empire's last great general. After him the empire quite quickly fell into pieces. In just over twenty years after his death the western empire had ceased to exist. For twenty years he was pretty much all that was holding the empire together. He's also the guy that took on Attila and won. A very impressive man.

The interesting thing about this book is the extremely positive image it presents of Aetius. In Hughes' previous books his subjects suffer a great deal of criticism despite the generally favorable conclusion. It's one of the things I've always liked about his books, even though it makes his hyperbolic titles seem that much more out of place. And now in the most prosaically named book he heaps on the praise. Perhaps this is due to how little information there is on the man, although even here he finds excuses for the worst of the accusations against Aetius. The lowest point in Aetius' career was when he got into a power struggle with the commander of North Africa while the Vandals were invading, yet Hughes argues (pretty convincingly) that it was in fact a third general, Felix, who was busy playing power politics at the empire's expense. I can't help but be amused by the fact that Belisarius with his own private historian and Stilicho who has panegyrics providing the main source for his actions both come off worse than a man whose praise-singers have been lost.
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