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Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D. (Transformation of the Classical Heritage) Hardcover – 14 Mar 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 460 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (14 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520233328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520233324
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,286,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

From the Inside Flap

This book will be a hard act to follow. W. H. C. Frend, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History
Splendid book . . . Lenski offers an extraordinarily suggestive description . . . information is presented without fanfare, but with style and much good sense. Clifford Ando, American Historical Review
In this energetically reasoned and learned book, Noel Lenski links the imperial biography to the administrative, military, and religious history of the late Roman StateThe result is a thought-provoking and enduring contribution to what we know about late antiquity: a book to be welcomed. Sabine MacCormack, author of The Shadows of Poetry: Vergil in the Mind of Augustine
Failure of Empire is exceptionally well organized: one gets the sense of a guiding intellect behind every paragraphLenski brings coherence to a reign that has long seemed to lack anything of the sort. Hal Drake, author of Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Noel Lenski is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
For those who don't know, the Emperor Valens was the man who lost the Battle of Adrianople to the Goths thus allowing them to establish themselves on Roman territory. They never left it for the rest of the history of Rome. Many historians see this as the battle that led to the end of Rome 98 years later. So essentially Valens is remembered as a great failure. If you're wondering why someone would want to read a book on a failure then the author has an answer for you. The book is designed to show what qualities were needed in an emperor by showing the qualities that Valens had and the ones he was lacking. And Valens did have good qualities. He wasn't one of those despotic tyrants that show up from time to time in Roman history. He was just a man of average abilities who found himself unable to cope with events. He's also well documented for a fourth century emperor. Ammianus Marcelinus describes his as consisting of "equal parts good and bad qualities," which is another advantage to a historian. The man is not obscured by propaganda in this era of high religious tensions. Nobody tries to make him a saint or a villain, he's just... a man.

OK, onto the book. Aside from the kudos due to the choice of such an awesome topic, there are many reasons to read this book. As far as I know, there aren't any other biographies of Valens out there so you're pretty much stuck with this one anyways. But that's OK, because this book is all you'll need. As mentioned above the book's main purpose is to analyze Valens' abilities and find out what he had and what was lacking. The information on this is fascinating, but it's also arranged in chronological order which means that it reads like a biography and not just some scholarly thesis. The book is written very well on the whole.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a masterpiece in several respects. Drawn from the author's dissertation, but with a couple of additional chapters, it retraces the troubled reign of Valens (AD 364-378) up to his death on the battlefield of Adrianople. This relatively obscure Emperor of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire is mostly known for this disastrous defeat, which many historians have seen - perhaps a bit too quickly - as the beginning of the terminal decline of the Roman Empire. He is also known as the younger brother of the energetic Emperor-soldier Valentinian the First (AD 364-375), who ruled the Western part of the Roman Empire while his brother ruled the East.

The first quality of this book is its relative originality. Most books written on Roman Emperors concentrate on either the great ones or the ones that turned out to be monsters, or were painted to be so after their death. This book is about an Emperor who was neither one nor the other, who struggled during his whole reign, and who finally failed.

As the author shows so well, he was a "misfit". Although he was far from incapable and was a talented administrator, he was out of his depth. His lack of education - he neither read nor spoke Greek although this was the main language spoken in the Eastern part of the Empire - put him at a disadvantage. Neither was he a relentless soldier, like his elder brother. He was perseverant, he struggled and he tried his best, but this was not enough.

The third remarkable point made in this book is to list in a seamless way through a mostly chronological narrative the series of challenges that Valens had to face one after the other.
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By E. L. Wisty TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 Jan. 2016
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not going to go over the same ground when there are already a couple of thorough reviews covering this book well. This is a superb book by Noel Lenksi considering the problems which the later Roman empire faced by focussing on the 14-year period of the rule of Valens. In this reassessment Valens is treated to neither hagiography nor hatchet job but Lenski's insightful analysis of all the various responsibilities of and issues facing the emperor and the chain of events which unfolded is masterful. This is how historical writing should be.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whilst there is much to admire from Lenski's 'Failure of Empire', he unfortunately at times makes rather sensational statements without evidence to back such statements up. I find this one, on page 127 particularly annoying and based on Lenski's own speculation-
'Valens arrived with his army the following spring, when he is attested at Marcianople from May 10. There, he supplemented his rather deficient strategic knowledge with the new manual 'De rebus bellicis', written for him in the period following the Procopius revolt. The manual not only recommended the sort of border fortifications that he soon built and the manufacture of the ballistae with which he equipped these forts, it also had advice on shirts to protect his men from cool and damp weather, and portable bridges, which would have been ideal for the marshy territory in which he was about to campaign'.

There is no evidence to support Valen's even knew of the existence of the 'De Rebus Bellicis' let alone took a copy of it on campaigns, and even if he had done so it would not have given him any real strategic or tactical knowledge and was full of untested and fanciful idea's to boot, especially those around the scythed chariots and ballista's.

There are similar such issues in the book which prevents me otherwise giving it a five star rating.
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