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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Appraisal of the Restitutor Orbis, 4 Nov. 2009
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This review is from: Aurelian and the Third Century (Roman Imperial Biographies) (Paperback)
Watson's appraisal kicks off with a short introductory chapter on the third century 'crisis'; he notes that this term is hardly appropriate to describe what seemed to be very much the normal state of affairs over several decades. The fundamental changes which occurred both within and without the Empire during this period are discussed and the effects they had.

The first half of the book is a narrative of Aurelian's reign, the reconquest of the East and the victory over the breakaway 'Gallic' Empire. Although Watson extols Aurelian's generalship, it almost sounds like Zenobia's gains evaporated very quickly after a single defeat inflicted by the Roman forces; likewise the reconquest of the West was very much a pushover.

The second half of the book is an analysis of Aurelian's policies. First the economic reforms are discussed. Though Watson might regard Aurelian as a saviour of the economy, I can't really see how increasing the amount of silver in the coinage from a little over three percent to a whopping, er, five percent could really have reinvigorated the currency.

Secondly the public works and administration are covered. Slighly oddly, in speaking about the walls of Rome commissioned by Aurelian, Watson notes that they held off the Goths in 408 and 409 but not in 410. As any fule kno, the walls held in 410 too; it was only because some of the occupants of the city regarded surrender as better than slow starvation that they opened the gates to Alaric's army.

Third up is consideration of Aurelian's relationship with the senate and army. Watson presents a valuable reanalysis suggesting that Aurelian had a very good relationship with the senate; many commentators have regarded this period when many officers and emperors, including Aurelian himself, began to come from outside the senatorial class, professional soldiers working their way up through the ranks, as one of conflict between senators and emperors. Incidentally, the potrayal of Aurelian as extremely cruel and a disciplinarian comes in for a bit of a hammering; his treatment of the defeated Palmyrans and 'Gallic' Empire seem relatively speaking to have been quite enlightened for the age.

Finally Watson ponders 'the Emperor and the divine'. I was hoping to discover something more about precisely when certain practices came in, such as wearing the diadem and prostration, as I have seen a number of conflicting claims on this. Watson is unfortunately no help here. He does regard the transition from 'Principate' to 'Dominate' as a gradual transition, making it impossible to cleanly divide two contrasting eras as historians have tended to.

Whilst Watson is clearly a great admirer of Aurelian and his achievements, unfortunately he has failed to convince me of quite the same belief. A decent, if not particularly outstanding work covering this short but important period of Roman history.
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Reviewer

E. L. Wisty
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   

Location: O'er Hill And Dale

Top Reviewer Ranking: 345