Belisarius – Ian Hughes

The Last Roman General

This is the last book, chronologically at least, in Hughes’ trilogy featuring major generals of Rome in the late empire or early Byzantine empire.  This one features Belisarius, a general who won a major victory against the Persians, was sent by Justinian to conquer the Vandal kingdom in North Africa and then the Ostrogoth kingdom in Italy.

As in the other books, Hughes does a great job in collating the available information into a coherent story.  It was interesting that he seemed to downplay the traditional idea that Justinian was jealous of Belisarius and his success.

However, unlike the other two books Hughes seems to go out of his way to try and puncture the general’s reputation by downplaying the victories as due to “luck” or “good subordinates” and crowing about the setbacks and defeats.  When a subordinate disobeys orders, it is the general who is attacked, since he should be able to rule a fractious collections of nobles with their own personal armies like a modern day sergeant can bully a raw recruit.

Hughes seemed to certainly be a lot more understanding of the similar problems Aetius and Stilicho faced than he is here.  Belisarius does get his share of hero worshipping press, but we don’t have to compensate for that with slanted attacks.  His merits will stand or fall on the facts.

Aside from that, an excellent book from the author and Pen and Sword Books, who I am glad to have discovered as a publisher of ancient military history over the last few months.

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