This book looks at the last major war between the united Roman Empire and the Sassanian Persians, a prolonged struggle for control of a series of provinces that had been won by Rome in 298. For most of this period the Persians were led by the very capable Shapur II, but he was matched by the equally able Constantius II, an Emperor who managed to hold off a series of Persian invasions while at the same time fighting a series of civil wars against usurpers and family members.
In 298, after suffering a serious defeat two years earlier, the Persians were forced to give the Romans a number of their western provinces, moving the border dangerously close to their heartland. The fortress city of Nisibis was at the heart of this area, and its recover became one of the main aims of Shapur II. His three attempts to besiege Nisibis all ended in failure, but the defensive policy of Constantius II was unpopular, and his successor Julian attempted a full scale invasion of the Persian Emperor, possibly with the aim of overthrowing Shapur. This ended in a disastrous defeat, allowing Shapur to achieve his aims through diplomacy, forcing Julian's trapped successor to agree to a peace treaty in which most of the disputed provinces were returned to Persia.
This book covers the both the Persian war, and the fairly constant civil wars that distracted the Roman leaders during this period (Constantius's father Constantine fought his way to the uncontested rule of the Empire, Constantius successfully defeated one usurper and died at the start of a campaign against Julian, who despite being appointed as Caesar and ruler of the West by Constantius, decided to try and seize the entire Empire.
Constantius gets a generally positive press here. Most ancient historians were fairly hostile to him for a variety of reasons, including Pagan historians attacking a Christian emperor, Church historians attacking a 'heretic' Arian and historians who were sponsored or writing under his successors and rivals. His defensive strategy was also unpopular in a Roman world used to aggressive wars, despite being effective. He was also accused of being paranoid, hardly fair given that he was indeed constantly being plotted against! He emerges from this text as an impressive military leader and popular Emperor, capable of forming a network of alliances, and using them to keep the Persians and other external enemies isolated.
This is an interesting account of an important late Roman conflict, the last major clash between the Persians and the theoretically united Roman Empire, before the fall of the Western Empire. It demonstrates that even this close to the beginning of the end in the West, the Empire had a powerful army and under capable leaders was perfectly able to defend itself against attacks on multiple fronts.
1 - The Nisibis War (337-363): Thesis, Sources and Methodology
2 - Background of the Nisibis War
3 - The Military Aspects of the Geography
4 - The Mid-Fourth Century Roman Army and Strategic Defence of the East
5 - The Persian Army and the Strategic Offence
6 - Roman Active Defence, 337-350
7 - Stalemate in Persia 350-358
8 - From the Hopeless Depths of Misery to the Height of Power: The Failure of Caesar Gallus
9 - Usurpation and Crisis: Campaign in the West 350-355
10 - Caesar Julian: 'An Emperor in Strategy, a Commander in Tactics, a Hero in Combat'
11 - Roman Passive Defence 358-361
12 - Roman Strategic Offence, 362-363
13 - The March Down River
14 - The March Up Country
15 - Conclusion
Author: John S. Harrel
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military