A sweeping political history of the turbulent two centuries that led to the demise of the Roman Empire.
The Tragedy of Empire begins in the late fourth century with the reign of Julian, the last non-Christian Roman emperor, and takes readers to the final years of the Western Roman Empire at the end of the sixth century. One hundred years before Julian’s rule, Emperor Diocletian had resolved that an empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, and from the Rhine and Tyne to the Sahara, could not effectively be governed by one man. He had devised a system of governance, called the tetrarchy by modern scholars, to respond to the vastness of the empire, its new rivals, and the changing face of its citizenry. Powerful enemies like the barbarian coalitions of the Franks and the Alamanni threatened the imperial frontiers. The new Sasanian dynasty had come into power in Persia. This was the political climate of the Roman world that Julian inherited.
Kulikowski traces two hundred years of Roman history during which the Western Empire ceased to exist while the Eastern Empire remained politically strong and culturally vibrant. The changing structure of imperial rule, the rise of new elites, foreign invasions, the erosion of Roman and Greek religions, and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion mark these last two centuries of the Empire.
As Kulikowski presents it, the end of the Roman Empire in the West was mean and dirty—and thoroughly Roman…In a brilliant tour d’horizon of the West from Ireland to the Black Sea, he measures the effect of the fall of Rome on the world beyond Rome.
A tour de force history of the inner workings of the late Roman Empire. Kulikowski tells a vivid, compelling story of the humans who fought to control the machinery of the empire until the entire system could no longer hold.
Kulikowski pairs his comprehensive understanding of late Roman politics with an uncanny eye for spatial and material details as he reconstructs an empire in a downward spiral of self-destruction. Roman emperors and barbarian kings, pagan aristocrats and Christian bishops, loyal soldiers and self-serving condottieri are woven into the brilliantly dramatized story of The Tragedy of Empire.
Kulikowski’s lively and engaging account brings clarity to the murky world of the late Roman Empire. It lets us understand the endless infighting between imperial hopefuls, the profound reforms of Diocletian, and the social transformation that expressed itself in Christianity. It explains the many forces which led to the western empire’s disintegration and expertly guides us through a post-Roman world which was eventually to give rise to modern Europe.
Michael Kulikowski tells the story of the Roman Empire from the fourth to the sixth century. He writes boldly and fluently about imperial politics, incorporating the latest scholarship yet avoiding getting bogged down in academic controversies. Highly recommended as an introduction to the political history of this period.
Kulikowski’s tale is complex, and frequently bloody, with dynastic intrigue, Persian wars, assassinations, usurpations, religious disputes, barbarian incursions, and repeated civil wars… A very valuable overview and analysis of the knotty question of why the empire ‘fell’ in the west, while it survived in the east.
- 424 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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