Book review: “Belisarius: The Last Roman General”, by Ian Hughes

One of my older reviews I thought useful to post here… 🙂

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Belisarius-Ian-Hughes-20091-667x1023.jpgTo start, I must say I was a bit hopeful this book might be good by the reviews online despite being a work of popular History, but I was a bit defrauded while reading it.

The introduction and the first chapters (on the Roman world) are a bit awful, with many real basic mistakes being done there. The contrasting descriptions of the governments of Ravenna and Constantinople and the people from the western and eastern provinces regarding the way how they viewed themselves are completely false as well as the claims that the Romance languages were already around (that’s clearly ridiculous and Ian Hughes should learn something about Romance philology), the Equites Sagitarii (called by their Greek equivalent in this book) were the results of Hunnic influence (when they had been around for much longer than that), the equestrians can hardly be called “middle classes” and the late antique Roman world wasn’t stagnated. Basically, a person will learn very few actual facts if it won’t get confused by them.

The actual description of Belisarius’ campaigns are much better, but aren’t anything special at all (namely the descriptions of his private life) and the maps lack the movements by the Romans and its enemies through the theatres of operations (which would be certainly a nice addition to it), besides claiming the Suebi were subjects of the Franks (this seems a basic research error). He also sometimes uses Norwich as a source (when he isn’t a trustworthy one and even that popular historian wrote his claims didn’t have academic pretensions) and his bibliography and notes are non-existent (an horrible flaw especially if someone wants to check his sources), notwithstanding the fact he cites Procopius and Agathias often.

To end this review, this is the kind of popular History I don’t like: a book with lots of oversimplifications and mistakes which mislead the public unaware of the actual historical events. I also wonder how Goldsworthy passed many of these mistakes by what I already read from him. Perhaps he advised the author in the right direction, but was simply ignored, but even I’m a bit disappointed with his support of Ian Hughes’ work.

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