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The Later Roman Empire: A.D. 354-378 (Penguin Classics)

by Ammianus Marcellinus

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474936,503 (3.86)4
A Roman historian chronicles Rome on the brink of collapse Ammianus Marcellinus was the last great Roman historian, and his writings rank alongside those of Livy and Tacitus. The Later Roman Empire chronicles a period of twenty-five years during Marcellinus' own lifetime, covering the reigns of Constantius, Julian, Jovian, Valentinian I, and Valens, and providing eyewitness accounts of significant military events including the Battle of Strasbourg and the Goth's Revolt. Portraying a time of rapid and dramatic change, Marcellinus describes an Empire exhausted by excessive taxation, corruption, the financial ruin of the middle classes and the progressive decline in the morale of the army. In this magisterial depiction of the closing decades of the Roman Empire, we can see the seeds of events that were to lead to the fall of the city, just twenty years after Marcellinus' death. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.… (more)
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This is a great book that begins about 20 years after the death of Constantine the Great in 337 AD and describes the tribulations of his children. Now Ammianus is not Tacitus or Livy in terms of writing style, but he had an advantage over many of these ancient historians; namely, he lived and participated (i.e., was an eye witness) to most of the events he describes.

The only unfortunate part about this book is that the editor deemed necessary to omit a large number of sections from the original manuscript. Although these sections may appear, at a superficial glance, trivial from a historical perspective (like Ammianus' opinions of what causes earthquakes), to me these kind of passages have greater value than descriptions of battles. One can find description of battles or other main events in any contemporary summary of history. But it is only by reading these ancient texts that we find out how people thought, how they spoke, their habits and culture. And sometimes, it is the off the cuff remark that reveals some surprising facts. For example, in describing Julian's campaign against the Persians he mentions of a town that was deserted "by its Jewish inhabitants because of its low walls." This town was close to today's Basrah in southern Iraq, close to the beginning (or end) of the Persian Gulf. To me this was unexpected as I never thought that Jewish people lived in their own towns so far away from Jerusalem. ( )
  Alex1952 | Feb 15, 2016 |
Very readable history surrounding the reign of Julian the Apostate. I believe there's a novel by Gore Vidal that uses this as a source. Ammianus Marcellinus is one of the last voices of the classical era, making this a book of particular interest, closing a chapter that begins with Heraclitus. ( )
1 vote le.vert.galant | Jan 26, 2015 |
I enjoy this book. Mr. Hamilton made a translation with an elegant lilt for a Roman history. It is also a history, not a disguised biography, with exploration of the general decline of the empire. Ammianus seems to have had some access to official decrees and some internal documents. He also includes some period and touching details such as the doffing of helmets by army officers when fighting in the emperor's presence to increase the likelihood of recognition in the promotion sweepstakes. Silly, but the kind of thing people might actually do. This is the last coherent history written until Procopius in the sixth century, by a well placed Roman and the historian is advised to read this book. ( )
1 vote DinadansFriend | Dec 29, 2013 |
One of my favourite Latin histories, perhaps because I'm more interested in the fall of the Roman empire instead of its rise. Ammianus was quite unusual, born a Greek, raised and educated in Greek, he preferred writing in Latin, possibly thorugh having been a soldier, as Latin was still the lingua franca of the military. His account of the decay of the Empire is fascinating, particularly the brief reign of Julian, tagged htroughout history by vengeful Christians as Julian the Apostate. Julian tried vainly to turn back time and reinstate paganism as the state religion. He loathed Christianity, but was liberal-minded enough not to try and destroy it as earlier Emperors had done, merely end its stranglehold on the running of the Empire. His failure is the focus of this account. It is excellent if gloomy reading., the smell of decay throughout the Empire is redolent within this book. Required reading for anyone who wished to understand how the greatest empire of the ancient world began its precipitous fall. ( )
1 vote drmaf | Sep 24, 2013 |
one page separated from binding.
  Tryon_Library | May 28, 2012 |
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