In the year, 354 A.D., Julian, a sheltered scholar and pacifist lives in peace-until a summons from Emperor Constantine the Great changes the young man's life forever. Dispatched to Gaul to help reclaim a beaten Roman territory from German barbarians, Julian displays a surprising and brutal... read more
Where Are The Politics?
The mid-Fourth Century Emperor Julian is definitely one of the more fascinating characters in the later Roman Empire. In a time of growing Christianity and crumbling power, Julian was a strong leader and a devout Hellenistic Pagan. He brought decisive victories... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Where Are The Politics?
The mid-Fourth Century Emperor Julian is definitely one of the more fascinating characters in the later Roman Empire. In a time of growing Christianity and crumbling power, Julian was a strong leader and a devout Hellenistic Pagan. He brought decisive victories against the barbarians invading Gaul (modern-day France) and the Persians - the eternal thorn in the side of Rome, but died in a catastrophic overshooting of his resources in the midst of attacking the Persians at the heart of their Empire.
Ford's treatment of Julian and the times in which he lived is both strong and disappointing at the same time. The sense of military tension and the increasing Orientalism of the Imperial Court come through strongly, and Julian's campaigns in Gaul and Persia are well-researched. Nonetheless, there's a very "Middle Ages" sense to the Christian church of timelessness and doctrine - when it should be in the midst of faction purges and self-definition - as well as a close-knit feel of Roman politics that never existed.
Admittedly, there's little reason to make "Gods and Legions" another "I, Claudius", but the political life of the novel is boiled down to half a dozen or so memorable characters. To write a novel about the Roman Empire that glosses over politics is like writing a novel of Eighteenth Century America that glosses over the British.
It's obvious from his postscript that Ford has done his research - he's thoroughly combed the best sources of the times including Julian's own writings for the sense of power and contradiction that the man's legacy carries even today. However, the contradictions he focuses on loan themselves more to Julian's character than his history. He uses Ammianus Marcellinus (a fourth-century solider who wrote a great deal about Julian from a first-hand perspective) very hazardously, practically quoting directly at some points and totally ignoring him when he wants to give Julian a more mystical, fantastic presence (which can be somewhat odd considering that Ammianus was one of his chief supporters in the historical record).
In all, Ford's book makes for a decent novel and a decent military grounding in Julian's accomplishments, but fails in numerous accounts to give as accurate an impression of the time as Ford would have you believe. If you have a casual interest in Roman history, it's a decent way to kill a plane ride, but I'd caution the serious student to take this book with a grain of salt.
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