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Emperor, Prefects and Kings: The Roman West, 395-565.

Emperor, Prefects and Kings: The Roman West, 395-565, by P.S. Barnwell. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press, 1993. vii, pp. $62.95.

At the very beginning of the book, the author tells us "the subject of this book is the administrative structure of the western half of the Roman Empire, and that of the `barbarian' kingdoms which came to be established in the territory of the Empire in the course of that century" (p. 1). There is nothing about the administration of the parts of the west conquered under Justinian. The death of Justinian in 565 is a good stopping point, as the conquests by the Lombards in 568 completely changed the administration of Italy.

In his Introduction, Barnwell says "with one exception all the available types of source material . . . have been used" (p. 2). The exception is "material written in the Greek language." What about the sources collected by C.D. Gordon in The Age of Attila (1966), to say the least? Barnwell does mention Procopius in Parts II and III but does not use him on the same grounds that he uses for the other writers dismissed in his Introduction. He says that Procopius did not understand Vandal and Ostrogothic administration. One could argue that Procopius's grasp of them was at least as good as that of Barnwell's Latin authors.

After the Introduction, the book is divided into three parts: 1) the Emperor and the imperial court 2) the provinces (meaning mostly the kingdoms) and 3) Italy under barbarians." Italy seems to have its own section because of the quantity of data. In Parts I and III there is a section describing the relevant sources. What happened to Part II? Barnwell mentions the Notitia Dignitatum as a source for Part I. He says that it "does not appear to have been an official document and may, perhaps, have been produced by someone with an antiquarian interest" (p. 10). What about A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, III (1964), pp. 347-80? That is where a discussion of the Notitia should start.

Turning to Part III, Barnwell's suggestion that Cassiodorus "could have fabricated a career structure for himself in order to provide a respectable set of Roman aristocratic credentials" (p. 168) is highly unlikely. (See the present reviewer's "A Survey of Scholarship on Ostrogothic Italy," Classical Folia, 25 [1971]). As a result Barnwell rejects Cassiodorus's work, especially his Variae as sources for the Ostrogothic administration, to the detriment of his book.

Barnwell does not make sufficient use of Jones's basic work to achieve a clear understanding of the administrative structure of the Roman Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries. It would have been helpful to have the administrative structure of the Roman and "barbarian" west described in one volume, but 248 pages may not be enough.
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Author:Woloch, G. Michael
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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