Historian Traina, a professor at the University of Rouen, offers a series of snapshots of Roman history in a decidedly average year when the challenge was primarily to keep the grand imperial machinery running smoothly even as the empire's future was precarious. Although Traina's approach is wooden, he introduces a cast of people-pagan and Christian, military and civilian, male and female-who characterize this ambiguous and "complex period of transition." Tensions within Christianity become clear from the story of Nestorius, a Syrian monk elected bishop of Constantinople in 428 only to be condemned three years later as a heretic for his views on the full divinity of Christ. By 428, questions about imperial unity dominated discussions between Rome and Constantinople as the Goth and Hun forces knocked on both the eastern and western doors of the empire. Traina's succinct traversal of the empire provides a glimpse of this transitional moment in Rome's history. Maps. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empireby Giusto Traina
This is a sweeping tour of the Mediterranean world from the Atlantic to Persia during the last half-century of the Roman Empire. By focusing on a single year not overshadowed by an epochal event, 428 AD provides a truly fresh look at a civilization in the midst of enormous change--as Christianity takes hold in rural areas across the empire, as western Roman/i>… See more details below
This is a sweeping tour of the Mediterranean world from the Atlantic to Persia during the last half-century of the Roman Empire. By focusing on a single year not overshadowed by an epochal event, 428 AD provides a truly fresh look at a civilization in the midst of enormous change--as Christianity takes hold in rural areas across the empire, as western Roman provinces fall away from those in the Byzantine east, and as power shifts from Rome to Constantinople. Taking readers on a journey through the region, Giusto Traina describes the empires' people, places, and events in all their simultaneous richness and variety. The result is an original snapshot of a fraying Roman world on the edge of the medieval era. The result is an original snapshot of a fraying Roman world on the edge of the medieval era.
Readers meet many important figures, including the Roman general Flavius Dionysius as he encounters a delegation from Persia after the Sassanids annex Armenia; the Christian ascetic Simeon Stylites as he stands and preaches atop his column near Antioch; the eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II as he prepares to commission his legal code; and Genseric as he is elected king of the Vandals and begins to turn his people into a formidable power. We are also introduced to Pulcheria, the powerful sister of Theodosius, and Galla Placidia, the queen mother of the western empire, as well as Augustine, Pope Celestine I, and nine-year-old Roman emperor Valentinian III.
Full of telling details, 428 AD illustrates the uneven march of history. As the west unravels, the east remains intact. As Christianity spreads, pagan ideas and schools persist. And, despite the presence of the forces that will eventually tear the classical world apart, Rome remains at the center, exerting a powerful unifying force over disparate peoples stretched across the Mediterranean.
These two fine books about late Roman history bring to mind the current discussion of the worldwide economic debacle's impact on empire. Goldsworthy's popular history traces the three centuries leading up to the final collapse of the Western Empire in 476 C.E. In the shorter, more academic 428 AD, Traina follows a single year across the late empire from Egypt to Britannia. While Goldsworthy pursues large-scale trends over centuries, Traina describes life on the ground (as far as the historical record allows) through the leading figures of the day, including generals, emperors, and clerics. Goldsworthy convincingly argues that the Roman state collapsed from within, showing that internal disorder and the ballooning bureaucracy (rather than barbarian invasion or Christianity) created the conditions leading to fall. Traina's focus on a single year, a half-century before the end of the Western Empire, reveals a world already more like the medieval period than ancient times, with Christian bishops arguing over heresy, ascetic monks perched atop columns, and Germanic tribes occupying much of Gaul and Spain (and preparing to invade Africa).
The authors' complementary perspectives lead to similar conclusions: the empire's ever-so-slow collapse was almost unnoticeable to the Romans, for whom the concept of mighty Imperial Rome endured despite the reality simply because there was nothing to take its place. Unusual for a popular historian, Goldsworthy always takes the time to share with readers his interpretive process with source materials, and he is more explicit than Traina about present-day parallels. Goldsworthy's book would satisfy any reader, while Traina's scholarly work makesa good follow-up for serious students.
A. A. Nofi
Joseph P. Duggan
Jacques de Saint-Victor
John F. Drinkwater
This focus on one year is novel. . . . Traina has done the fifth century a tremendous service by describing it in such a lively and engaging style, and it is hoped that his book will help inspire research on this under-studied period.
One of Books & Culture's Favorite Books for 2009
"Traina's focus on a single year, a half-century before the end of the Western Empire, reveals a world already more like the medieval period than ancient times, with Christian bishops arguing over heresy, ascetic monks perched atop columns, and Germanic tribes occupying much of Gaul and Spain (and preparing to invade Africa)."--Stewart Desmond, Library Journal
"The great strength of Giusto Traina's elegant book is that it offers a new perspective on the Roman empire in the fifth century--precisely by bridging the long-standing historiographical gap between the East and the West. His idea is attractively simple: to offer a panoramic view of the Mediterranean world from Iran to Britain in one ordinary year, AD 428. The subtle tracing of a delicate and complex web of social, religious and political interconnections across the whole Mediterranean world offers an unparalleled opportunity to rethink the dynamics of the Roman empire in the fifth century. That exhilarating breadth of vision is Traina's substantial achievement."--Christopher Kelly, Literary Review
"The writing is crisp and clear, and while Mr. Traina introduces many different people to the reader in a short span, he carefully brings to life each one of them and gives us a glimpse into what life was like in an average year at the end of the Roman Empire."--Kevin Winter, Sacramento Book Review
"Put this on the shelf next to Philip Jenkins' The Lost History of Christianity and Adrian Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell."--John Wilson, Books & Culture
"Traina has written a compelling book on the late Roman world. By focusing his narrative on a single year, 428 CE, the year that the Kingdom of Armenia fell, Traina's narrative illuminates the breadth of the late Roman Empire in transition from its Classical past to its Medieval and Byzantine future. . . . Like Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity, this work is certain to generate new enthusiasm for the period and open fresh avenues of inquiry."--Choice
"In all, the subject matter of 428 AD is genuinely interesting. It has been researched thoroughly and paints a picture of an empire in flux, although religious change certainly takes centre stage as the main trend discussed in most of the chapters. The methodical notes and citation references could provide a valuable research tool for history students of this period."--Bija Knowles, Heritage Key
"A good book for anyone with an interest in the Roman Empire, Late Antiquity, and the rise and fall of empires."--A. A. Nofi, Strategy Page
"This focus on one year is novel. . . . Traina has done the fifth century a tremendous service by describing it in such a lively and engaging style, and it is hoped that his book will help inspire research on this under-studied period."--Conor Whately, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"This book provides a helpful snapshot of life in the Roman Empire during the empire's declining years."--John Aloisi, Journal of Early Christian Studies
"Regarding the lands of today's Muslim world, this is a fascinating panorama of a moment in 'late antiquity.'"--Joseph P. Duggan, Saudi Aramco World
"A brilliant essay and, basically, very useful for today."--Jacques de Saint-Victor, Le Figaro
"Written in an accessible style, Traina's book will be read with profit by anyone interested in the transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages, whether from a political, cultural, or religious perspective. His nuanced treatment of the interaction between an increasingly beleaguered paganism and an increasingly assertive Christianity in the urban centers and rural backwaters around the Mediterranean should be especially welcome to anyone interested in the history of the Church."--Claudia Rapp, Catholic Historical Review
"Traina's book is . . . an important statement about the nature of empire in the fifth century. His decision to consider this 'ordinary' year has allowed him to demonstrate, with great clarity and in a lively manner, his primary thesis. In 428 the empire still cohered as a political entity, the reality of which Traina has brilliantly captured in this study. His interpretation should be required reading for students of Roman history who assume, wrongly in my view, that the military defeats of the early fifth century signified the end of empire."--Michele Salzman, Journal of Ecclesiastical History
"The publication of this work . . . throws light on the important work being carried out not only by the author himself but also by many other scholars in Italy and elsewhere. For this reason at least, Princeton deserves our thanks for broadening the bounds of scholarship on late antiquity."--Geoffrey Greatrex, Historian
"While reading it, I felt that I was, indeed, on a grand historical/archaeological tour, led by a first-rate guide. In such a situation one cannot expect to be told about, or remember, everything; but one is brought into contact with areas and topics that one would not normally encounter, and has one's interest sufficiently whetted to encourage a return to some of these in more depth afterwards."--John F. Drinkwater, European Review of History
"Giusto Traina's very stimulating book embodies a highly original conception. . . . [T]he result is extremely illuminating."--Tamara Lewit, Ancient East & West
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Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of "The Americas: A History of Two Continents" and "Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration"
Peter Brown, author of "Augustine of Hippo: A Biography"
Michael Maas, Rice University
Meet the Author
Giusto Traina is professor of Greek history at the University of Rouen. He is the author of several previous books on Roman and Greek history.
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I was hoping this would be like "The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England". Which I really enjoyed. Instead it just skimmed the surface of history with a walk around the Mediterranean in the year 428. It was not in depth and not particularly interesting. I did not come away with the feeling I had learned much. It was an easy read though and I might recommend it if you can borrow a copy.