Monday, July 09, 2007

A new take on the Goths

I just finished reading ROME'S GOTHIC WARS by Michael Kulikowski, an important historian of late antiquity. It's short, but rare for such tomes, it is also really well-written and succeeds in being a book which is written well enough to aim for a general readers but also very scholarly. Kulikowski's most interesting academic heresy is an argument against the Gothic heritage cited by everyone ( that they originated hundreds of years before the fall of Rome, in Scandinavia, as per Jordanes). He argues, convincingly I think, that they arose in the third century on the frontiers of the Roman Empire, similar to the process that gave birth to the Franks and Alamanni. Perhaps, less convincingly, Kulikowski also takes aim at emperor Theodosius the Great, arguing that he is remembered as "great" only because Christian apologists liked his willingness to force Nicene doctrine on everyone. This puts Kulikowski in the position of having to explain away Theodosius' unbroken record of success. (Theodosius was the last Roman emperor to rule an intact Roman Empire.) After a "losing battle" against the Goths in the wake of the Battle of Adrianople, Theodosius somehow negotiates a peace treaty incorporating them into the Roman army (page 153). He defeates Magnus Maximus because of "the superior skill of Theodosius' generals" (page 159). Arbogast is a "much better general" than Theodosius, but the emperor defeats the usurper Eugenius because the wind blows the right way (page 163).

The suggestions for further reading in the back of the book are unusually thoughtful and detailed.

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