Are historians right to dismiss Louis VII’s crusade to the Holy Land as having failed to achieve what it was supposed to?

This essay achieved a low 2:1 in the first year of my undergraduate.

Are historians right to dismiss Louis VII’s crusade to the Holy Land as having failed to achieve what it was supposed to?

The success (or lack thereof) of Louis VII’s crusade is arguably the least contentious area of the Crusades. Historians argue almost exclusively that the crusade failed not only in its varying aims, but also had negative long term impacts for the Franks of the Holy Land.[1] Most argue that the established aim of the Papal Second Crusade was to retake Edessa,[2] which had fallen in 1144, a year before Eugenius III issued the Quantum praedecessores.[3] While most historians agree with this, there are a few who admit that it did have the positive and probably unintentional effect of reigniting European religious fervour with regards to the Holy Land.[4] One must be careful when addressing the aims of the Crusade however, as it is debatable whether the Papal crusade and that of Louis VII were the same thing.[5] This does arguably mean that referring to Louis VII’s crusade encompasses neither the greater Second crusading movement nor the German expedition led by Conrad III. The crusade led by Louis was ostensibly following Papal direction, and so was aiming to retake Edessa, although there were possibly other goals mixed in. Despite this, Louis’ crusade can be considered at least as much a failure as the Second Crusade overall.

Most historians would consider the whole Second Crusade an utter failure for obvious reasons, and they are probably right to do so. When one considers that the initial aim of the Second Crusade was the recapture of Edessa, then there is no way in which it can be interpreted as a victory. The fact that the conquest of Edessa was not even considered upon reaching the Holy Land[6] is unforgivable, and it can be argued that from that moment on, the campaign was a failure. The reasons for the lack of interest in Edessa are debatable. Mayer argues that it was due to the fact that Louis considered his forces too weak following the losses in Anatolia,[7] while Richard states that it was a far more personal motive; that it was a case of his individual crusading vow being one of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as well as pointing out that only the nobility of Jerusalem were present at the meeting, and not that of the north. [8]

Even though the military aim of the movement changed from Edessa to Damascus,[9]  it is still impossible to interpret the Crusade as a success; the fact is that they failed to take the city, and all that was achieved was a significant loss of lives. It was not only this which made the siege such a disaster however. There was a seemingly impossible diplomatic situation, and the choice to attack is normally condemned as having destroyed the good relationship with Damascus: simply another thing which added to the failure of the Second Crusade.[10] More recently however, some historians such as Richard and Phillips have suggested that relations were not as friendly between the Crusader states and Damascus as was initially thought, and while this does not excuse the  stupidity of the venture, it means that it was not as counter-productive as was first thought, nor did it doom the crusader polities.[11]

While it is impossible to argue that Louis’ crusade was successful in terms of the Papal aim, it has been argued by some that it did have some victories. Perhaps most significant of these was the huge support that it gained initially,[12] and the precedent it set. The impact of the Crusade on Europe was arguably for more considerable than that on the Holy Land. In Europe, there was a vast amount of preaching the Crusade following the announcement of the Papal Bull, and this was instrumental in reigniting the religious fervour which had been present at the height of the First Crusade. [13] The general raising awareness of the plight of the Eastern Franks can be considered a victory, even if the response was not particularly successful. The re-ignition of the ideas of crusading was however a decidedly Papal motive, and so any credit cannot be attributed to Louis. Despite this, Mayer credits him with involving Bernard of Clairvaux; arguably the most significant figure in garnering support for the expedition.[14]

On the other hand, the events which took place in the Holy Land seem to contradict this feeling of cooperation. The lack of awareness of the local conditions in terms of the peaceful coexistence which had been established in areas was ignored completely and taken over by the religious fervour of the new arrivals. Naturally then, once the siege of Damascus had concluded unfavourably, the blame was cast on the native Frankish nobility, stating that they had given deliberately bad advice, or that they had been bought by the Damascenes.[15] Understandably, this caused a certain degree of tension between the European nobles and those native to the Holy Land, which arguably continued past the Second Crusade. This meant that each group possessed a pre-conceived notion of the other in later expeditions, and there was long a sense of distrust and dislike between them.[16]

While neither faction was responsible for this individually, there are certain events which it can be argued caused its growth. The first, and perhaps more important is the scandal concerning Louis’ wife, Eleanor of Aquitane and Raymond of Antioch which is given as one of the reasons for Louis’ hasty departure from Antioch.[17] The other, seemingly smaller issue was that Thierry of Flanders, a crusading noble was to be given Damascus when it was taken, rather than a native Frankish ruler.[18] All of this served to create and expand a rift between the native Franks, and the Europeans.[19] The fact that the expedition was also probably intended to shore up relations and blood ties between the Western nobility and that of the East means that it can be considered a failure in this respect as well.

As well as the divide between the Europeans and the East Franks, Louis VII’s crusade, and the aftermath also intensified the hostility of the Byzantine Empire. While it was not necessarily the fault of Louis VII, the passage of first the German army and then the French army through Byzantine territory meant that relations were already strained. This was coupled with the fact that Byzantine soldiers were instructed to defend Byzantine citizens,[20]while the Crusaders were harried by Turkish forces.[21] These factors meant that there was already tension between the Latin forces and the Greeks, even before Louis among others of the crusading nobility began to blame the Byzantines for their troubles. As well as this, there was further hostility following the conclusion of the siege of Damascus which resulted in Louis trying to call for another Crusade directed towards the Byzantines.[22] All of this served to irreparably damage relations between western Europe and the Byzantine Empire, something which undoubtedly aided the decline of the Crusader states. As a result Louis VII’s crusade must be considered a disaster in the long term as well as short.  Some people may point to this break down in relations as a further failure of Louis’ crusade. It is however unfair to say this, because there was no aim at any point to nurture relations with the Byzantines. They must be considered unfortunate by-products of the expedition.

There is some debate concerning the personal motives of Louis VII, and where they diverge from those of Eugenius III and the papacy. These range from things such as seeking repentance for burning the church of Vitry,[23] to a personal vow to his brother Philip, and finally, a vow to complete a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.[24] The latter is the most significant as it arguably played a considerable role in Louis’ decision-making once he reached the Holy Land. His personal crusading vow was probably one of pilgrimage, however armed,[25] as were those of his nobility. This significant difference to the more standard vow of protecting the faith meant that upon reaching the Holy Land, when faced with a choice between attacking Aleppo or Shaizar, and moving south towards Jerusalem and the other holy places, he did not make the more strategically sound choice, but rather jumped at the chance to fulfil his pilgrimage.[26] It is possible that a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to serve as his repentance for the burning of the church. This means that Louis’ crusade can in some small way be considered a success, but only if one accepts that the aim was a much more personal one of pilgrimage to Jerusalem rather than to retake Edessa.

The question of whether or not Louis managed to repent is a somewhat theological one. It is possible that the pilgrimage and participation in the Second Crusade was not enough, because on returning west, he tried to call for a crusade against the Byzantines, suggesting that he did not feel he had repented enough. Another, more cynical interpretation is that Louis simply used religion as a cover for his personal vendetta against the Byzantines whom he perceived as having ruined his crusade.[27] This means that the success of this goal can be used on either side of the debate with different interpretations, but the more sceptical view is probably more believable. Having decided this, it is still open to interpretation whether Louis fully repented or not.

It is increasingly clear therefore that whether or not Louis VII’s crusade failed depends on how you define it. If your conclusions are drawn based on the initial aims of the Second Crusade, or indeed when they changed to include Damascus, then by any stretch of the imagination it was a resounding failure. If however Louis’ crusade was only one of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, then it was definitely a success, even if he did lose a good proportion of his troops. The latter is a little too focused on semantics to be credible, while there is no shortage of physical evidence for the former. The fact is that Louis VII returned from the Holy Land without having made any notable gains. If anything, his campaign damaged both the stability of the Crusader States[28] and the European relations with them and the Byzantine Empire both. While the latter was not necessarily a priority, the former was certainly the overall aim of the larger Crusade. To a certain extent, Louis probably was trying for something similar, he was just wildly incompetent. In conclusion therefore, historians are right to consider Louis’ Crusade a complete failure.

Word count: 1,990

[1] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, B. Hamilton, The Crusades, S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades Volume II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East 1100-1187

[2] B. Hamilton, The Crusades, pp.35-6, T.F. Madden, A Concise History of the Crusades, p.53-4, J. Richard, The Crusades c.1071-c.1291, p.156.

[3] T.F. Madden, A Concise History of the Crusades, p.54

[4] J. Richard, The Crusades, p.169, B. Hamilton, The Crusades, p.36

[5] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, p.96, J. Richard, The Crusades, p.156

[6] T.F. Madden, A Concise History, p.62

[7] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, p.105

[8] J. Richard, The Crusades, p.165-6

[9] S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades Volume II, pp.280-1

[10] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, pp106-7, B. Hamilton, The Crusades, p.37

[11] J. Phillips, Holy Warriors, p.96, J. Richard, The Crusades, p.166

[12] B. Hamilton, The Crusades, p.36

[13] J. Phillips, Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the the Crusades, pp.77-83

[14] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, p.96

[15] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, p.107, J. Richard, The Crusades, pp.166-7

[16] J. Richard, The Crusades, p.479

[17] S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades Volume II, p.279

[18] J. Richard, The Crusades, p.167

[19] T.F. Madden, A Concise History, p.63

[20] T.F. Madden, A Concise History, p.60

[21] S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades Volume II, pp.273-5

[22] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, pp.107-8

[23] J. Phillips, Holy Warriors, p.79

[24] J Richard, The Crusades, p.156

[25] H.E. Mayer, The Crusades, p.97, J. Richard, The Crusades, p165

[26] J. Richard, The Crusades, p.165

[27] T.F. Madden, A Concise History, p.63

[28] T.F. Madden, A Concise History, p.63


Madden, T.F., A Concise History of the Crusades (Oxford & Lanham, 1999)

Riley-Smith, J., The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades (New York, 1995)

Richard, J., The Crusades, c.1071-c.1291 (Cambridge, 1999)

Runciman, S., A History of the Crusades Volume II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East 1100-1187 (Cambridge, 1952)

Hamilton, B., The Crusades (Stroud, 1998)

Mayer, H.E., The Crusades (Oxford, 1972)

Phillips, J., Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades (London, 2009)

Barker, E., The Crusades (London, 1925)

Hillenbrand, C., The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (Edinburgh, 1999)



All the following feedback is rated on the following scale: Outstanding-Excellent-Good-Competent-Pass-Fail.

Breadth of Reading: Excellent-Good

Critical approach to historiography: Good

Focus on question: Good

Organization of the material: Good

Depth of understanding and insight: Good-Competent

Use of examples: Good

Introduction and Conclusion: Good

Factual accuracy: Good

Comprehensiveness of coverage: Good

Fluent and correct English: Good

Accurate spelling/proof reading: Good

Sources cited correctly: Good

General Comments and Advice: A well constructed essay, which discussed the 2nd Crusade thoroughly. You had obviously read widely and your footnotes were good, although there could have been a few more, I have no doubt that the number of these will improve with experience.

You introduced your argument well. Your conclusion began by stating that the interpretation of whether Louis VII’s crusade failed depended on an analysis of his agenda. A very astute comment, and one worth discussing in the conclusion. However, because you obviously had a strong opinion on this subject you had, throughout the essay, been a little subjective at times and this somewhat detracted from your conclusion. It is important to remain as objective as possible, allowing your reader to be persuaded by your argument.


Book Review: ‘Well of Ascension’, by Brandon Sanderson

Warning: Minor/Vague Spoilers.

Well of Acesnsion

Initially the book seemed in a very similar style to the previous book, which I very much enjoyed. Much of the plot is very character-based, and the empathies developed for the cast in the first book only continue to be strengthened throughout the second. The whole book is one of an expanding scope, both in terms of plot and geographical area covered, with a much more in-depth exploration of what promised to be a fantastic world in The Final Empire. The ease with which Sanderson manages to switch between characters without the jump being too jarring also remains remarkable, and only makes the book all the more readable.

I very much enjoyed the hints in The Final Empire at this wider world, and in Well of Ascension we get to see other dominances, more characters, and the feared Koloss. In short, the book moves on from the ‘coming of age’ story detailed in The Final Empire to something far closer to epic fantasy, with the climactic battle scene an awesome confirmation of this fact. I also very much enjoyed Vin’s transformation in the course of the book: from simply Kelsier’s student to the near-deity she becomes. Her fight against the Koloss is one of the highlights in a final few chapters which are full (as with The Final Empire) of twists which absolutely blindsided me.

‘Well of Ascension’, by Brandon Sanderson is the second in The Mistborn Trilogy.

Book Review: ‘The Emperor’s Blades’, by Brian Staveley

Emperors BladesI think perhaps the most significant thing to say about my feelings for this book is that I read it in no more than two sittings. Rarely have I been so grabbed by a book as The Emperor’s Blades. The characters were all well-written and developed, but it was the world which attracted me so strongly to the novel. It is richly detailed, with fully developed history and religions, something which as a history student, I massively enjoy.

More than this though, there are no massive exposition dumps near the start of the story, with it instead being spread at a very comfortable rate. There is perhaps one section near the middle of the book where there is a lot history in one go, but it had already been hinted at throughout, and really served to confirm my own thoughts and theories. Perhaps my favourite sections of the book were Valyn’s chapters. The group of characters at the Kettral are fantastic, and I look forward to reading more about them.

It reads like a coming of age story, but also enjoys the benefits of multiple perspectives, as well as a number of dark sub-plots. It remains twist-filled, with a good number of unexpected deaths and betrayals, as well as feeling somewhat more mature than a typical ‘coming of age’ novel. While the ending did not tie everything up, I found the ending far more satisfying than I usually do the first in a trilogy.

I will certainly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, and can’t wait to get started on Providence of Fire.

‘The Emperor’s Blades’, by Brian Staveley is the first in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Identify and evaluate three of the major chronicle sources for the reign of William I (the Conqueror).

This essay achieved a high 2:1 in the third year of my undergraduate.

Identify and evaluate three of the major chronicle sources for the reign of William I

The events of 1066 has been at the forefront of English history for closing on a millennium, and the man at the centre of it William, variously known as ‘the Bastard’ or ‘the Conqueror’ has understandably been the subject of much study. Modern scholarship has been forced to rely on a whole spectrum of primary sources, of which chronicle sources are but one small part. Nevertheless, the range of significant chronicle sources which document William’s reign is extensive, and includes the likes of Eadmer’s Historia novorum in Anglia, William of Poitiers’ Gesta Guillelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum, as well as the works of William of Jumièges and John of Worcester.[1] The chronicle sources under consideration in this essay however, are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), The Ecclesiastical History (EH) of Orderic Vitalis, and William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum (GRA). The significance of these three sources above the others listed is a contentious topic, and justification for the choice must inevitably precede any attempt at evaluating either the sources themselves, or the chroniclers who wrote them.

ASC, as the most important and widely studied, is one of the best known primary sources for the period, alongside the iconic Bayeux Tapestry.[2] When combined with the fact that it was one of the main contemporary sources for the aftermath of the Conquest, its value to modern historians when assessing the reign of William I would seem to be obvious – even William of Malmesbury regarded it as ‘authoritative’, it having provided a fundamental contribution to his own work.[3] Even those who contest its value as an historical source describe its contents as ‘invaluable but scanty’, which would seem to put its significance beyond doubt.[4]

While ASC is the most contemporary of the selected sources, it does not diminish the significance of both Orderic’s The Ecclesiastical History, and William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum. Written by Orderic Vitalis, EH is the product of Anglo-Norman heritage, which would imply impartiality, and therefore value as an objective historian – at least with regards to the relative fair treatment of the English and the Normans.[5] As well as this, Orderic’s upbringing in the vicinity of Roger of Montgomery’s household meant that he was close to a very powerful family, with all the resources, privileges and wider scope that might have come along with it.[6] As a primary source then, EH would seem to be incredibly important for the modern historian in the appraisal of William I’s reign.[7] Similarly William of Malmesbury, as the author of GRA, has received wide praise, with the likes of Williams and Thomson in particular both admiring the breadth of his reading, as well as his critical acumen and historical judgement.[8] This has led to the perception that he is by far the best historian of his day, and certainly ahead of his time, something which undoubtedly points to the importance of his GRA, not just when considering William I’s reign, but rather through the full period recorded.[9]

Although differing factors affect the evaluation of each individual chronicle source, some recurring themes are prevalent, courtesy of contemporary influences. For example, both Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury are of mixed, Anglo-Norman heritage which, as noted above, arguably leads to a degree of impartiality when considering protagonists of differing origins.[10] This objectivity is contested by Williams, who argues that condemnation of the episode known as the ‘Harrying of the North’ was universal across all sources.[11] Such a statement makes a sweeping generalisation by its nature, and it has been heavily opposed by Hagger, who argues that it was not especially brutal by the standards of the time, and that only Orderic Vitalis presented any vehement condemnation.[12]

All three chroniclers were Benedictine historians, and as such followed similar practices in their approaches to history.[13] While it is argued that William of Malmesbury alone is representative of both the benefits and confines of this style, one might point out that all three chroniclers write in a similar manner, thus making a comparison between them far more legitimate.[14] On this basis, perhaps the most obvious point of similarity is that all three authors had similar monastic backgrounds, something which has both advantages and disadvantages.[15] Writing in a monastery meant that each author had access to privileges and resources which were rare in the period; namely education, and books. It also however meant, as noted above, that they were confined to a certain style, which inevitably led to hagiographical embellishments.[16] In itself a manifestation of the distinct emphasis on the religious rather than the secular, this was most obvious in EH, with its prevalent religious imagery.[17] As record of events, the embellishment and exaggeration typical of such works would therefore seem to hinder modern historians, thus challenging their reliability if not usefulness.

ASC, written in the late 11th century, provides the most contemporary account of William I’s reign, something which means that events are far more likely to be reported without too much being read into them, thanks to hindsight.[18] On the other hand, it also makes it possible that the record of events was incomplete, inaccurate, or both. In general however, the ASC is praised for its accuracy, if not its completeness.[19] The majority of the chronicle for William I’s reign was written in Peterborough, the manuscript often being referred to as the ‘Peterborough Manuscript’ or simply the ‘E Manuscript’. The limitation of this is clear at various points in the text, where there is perhaps too narrow a focus on local events.[20] Aside from when and where it was written, other criticisms of the text exist including the aforementioned primacy of religion, and the fact that some debate exists over when the start of the year was considered to be.[21] While this may seem to be arguing against its value as a contemporary source, it does offer some crucial advantages. Firstly, and most importantly, the author’s attitude is rarely entered into the records, which displays a vital objectivity sometimes found lacking in other contemporary sources; those which might have an ulterior agenda.[22] As well as this, Swanton’s translation of ASC is a very good one, something which is sometimes taken for granted by modern historians, but which makes conjecture far more valuable.[23]

In terms of the content of the ASC, there are several things to note concerning William I’s reign. Only to be expected are the numerous comparisons and references between Saxon and Norman rule, something which perhaps shows a certain amount of what might be called ‘awareness of context’, and also suggests a little of the fairness with which both Saxon and Norman rulers were treated.[24] The fair treatment of William in particular is exemplified by the restraint shown by the author in the description of the ‘Harrying of the North’. Even Williams, who argues for universal condemnation of the episode, admits that the account given in ASC is reserved, while Hagger even relegates the version given to a mere note.[25]

Throughout the years of his reign, there is only really one complete description of William I; most portrayals are restricted to a few words here and there. Before assessing the accounts of William I, one must first consider the fact that definitions of certain words will have changed over time. As such, some qualities which might have negative connotations in a modern context might have been entirely praiseworthy at the time they were recorded in the ASC. Of course this only applies to a few of the qualities described, and is perhaps best exemplified by his sternness. William I was described as ‘stern beyond all measure to those men who opposed his will’, to such an extent that ‘that no one dared do anything against his will.’[26] While the word ‘stern’ might not be appreciated as a virtue in a modern context, William is seemingly described with admiration for just how inflexible he was. Certainly when one takes into account the combination of this intransigence and the fact that he was considered very just, the image of William is one of consistency, and fairness – concerned with public order above all else.[27] It is important to note however, that throughout the description of William’s reign, he is named the King of England, rather than the King of the English, and one could interpret the subtle difference as an indicator that while he controlled the land, he did not have the ‘hearts and minds’ of the English.[28]

EH, one of the chronicles written after William I’s death in 1087, was written by Orderic Vitalis, one of the better-known Anglo-Norman historians. Born in Shropshire in 1075, he spent the first ten years of his life there, in close contact with the household of Roger of Montgomery, one of William’s chief military commanders.[29] His upbringing certainly coloured his accounts of the history of William’s reign as it related to Shropshire, for which he maintained a certain fondness through his adult life.[30] Given the fact that Orderic allowed this bias the creep in, it would not be much of a supposition to make that his contact with Roger of Montgomery’s household made Orderic inherently pro-William. His Anglo-Norman heritage, and his torn attitude to the Conquest in general serve to quash this conjecture however, as he does condemn certain of William’s actions, as well as those of other Normans.[31] The best example of Orderic’s mixed approach to the Conquest are the contrast of his writing about peaceful English-French cohabitation and his very negative appraisal of Hugh of Avranches.[32] Orderic’s negativity does not rest solely on the Normans however, as he considered the Conquest the fair judgement of the sins of the English in general and of Harold in particular.[33] It would be easy for one to mistake this indecisiveness for impartiality, but what it displays more is a worrying degree of uncertainty.

Writing in the early 12th century, it is estimated that Orderic began to write EH around thirty years before its completion in 1141.[34] As such, it is obvious that Orderic relied on the accounts of others for his descriptions of the events before his birth. His main source was William of Poitiers’ work Gesta Guillelmi, though he was also likely influenced by Bede, William of Jumièges, John of Worcester, as well as possibly Eadmer and Lanfranc of Canterbury.[35] His wide range of influences suggests that the contents of EH had been considered at length before being finalised, and supports Orderic’s own claim that he was concerned with truth and justice, and was not interested in taking sides.[36] His work has however been the subject of a lot of criticism for a variety of reasons. It is argued in particular by Barlow that some of Orderic’s writing is very obviously unrealistic, with mentions of dragon-slaying and the like.[37] Part of this is due to the same constraints of monastic writing noted with regards to ASC, whereby religion is given a position of primacy.[38] While this is more forgivable in Orderic’s work, given the title, it still restricts the credulity of his account. Alongside this, his disregard for chronology and structure, and the incorporation of folk legends and stories which sprung up in the years since William’s death also give modern readers cause to doubt the validity of EH as a useful record of William’s reign.[39] Perhaps the most obvious criticism however, is the fact that Orderic was only a small child for the part of William’s reign that he was alive for. As such, some of his accounts, most notably the arrest of Bishop Odo, are coloured by later events and controversies, such as the struggle between the King and the Church over the appointment of Bishops. In short, Orderic was prone to reading too much into past events, something which historians struggle to avoid to this day. [40]

As part of Orderic’s recurring religious theme, he does praise William’s piety at almost every opportunity. Such a description might lack imagination, but given how highly piety was regarded by contemporaries, one could interpret it as general praise for the Conqueror’s character.[41] Despite this broad and consistent praise, Orderic does condemn the ‘Harrying of the North’ in the strongest terms of any of the chronicle sources, describing the devastation in near-apocalyptic terms. It has been suggested, and seems likely, that this is due to his Shropshire origins, where it was probable that memories of the event were still fresh.[42] This contrast potentially shows what could be argued to be Orderic’s impartiality, but the vehemence with which he first praises and then condemns William strikes one more as instability of opinion than impartiality. Such a contrast is shown perhaps more starkly in the instance of the rebellion at Exeter early in William’s rule, where Orderic describes the rebels fighting for liberty against ‘valiant’ attackers.[43] While EH has many issues with it, the fact remains that it is one of the most complete accounts of William I’s reign.

William of Malmesbury’s GRA, written in an attempt ‘to mend the broken chain of our history,’ was designed to cover from Bede’s authoritative work up until the date of the work’s completion, in 1125.[44] Similar to Orderic, William was born with mixed heritage, which is considered the source of his genuine impartiality, as shown in his treatment of Harold, and the middle course he steers when considering the Conquest in general.[45] Born in 1095 near Worcester, he maintained close connections to his birthplace for the duration of his life, but still travelled extensively.[46] William’s travelling is a part of the explanation for the astounding breadth of his reading, which included 400 titles, of 200 authors, and meant that he came into contact with other chroniclers, such as Eadmer of Canterbury, and possibly John of Worcester.[47] His travels are also certain to have contributed to his experience of the world, and therefore might well have aided the development of his widely-praised acumen and judgement.[48]

On the other hand, GRA has been criticised on grounds of William’s questionable credulity, as well as his carelessness, wilful mishandling of evidence, and meandering irrelevance. Indeed, it has been questioned whether or not William perceived himself as an historian, or merely a Christian man of letters. The primacy of religion in contemporary works has always been an issue, simply because most of them were written by monks, and William allowed some of his bias into the text by implying that the corruption of the English Church in 1066 had been corrected by the Normans.[49] As a counter to this however, William’s religious rhetoric is almost non-existent when compared to that of Orderic, meaning there are far fewer embellishments and exaggerations to sift through when reading the chronicle.[50]

While all three of the sources considered are crucial to the modern historian’s understanding of William I’s reign, GRA is probably the most significant due in large part to the fact that he gives the most complete and in-depth description of the man himself, both in terms of his person and his personality.[51] Such a description is invaluable when one turns to an interpretation of certain of his actions. All three sources have their own positive and negative qualities, and one must consider what the purpose of each was. In keeping with such, it is not unfair to say that GRA is the only chronicle which makes any pretension to be a secular account of events, while Orderic’s work does the opposite. While this is not the fault of the author, it does weigh the relative usefulness and reliability of their works heavily in favour of William of Malmesbury.

Word count: 3,013

 [1] A. Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge, 1995), p.165.

[2] Williams, English, p.165.

[3] R. Thomson, William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, 1987), pp.13, 18.

[4] C. Given-Wilson, Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England (London & New York, 2004), p.159.

[5] F. Barlow, William I and the Norman Conquest (London, 1965), p.104.

[6] Barlow, William, p.108.

[7] Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History, Vol.II: Books III and IV, trans. & ed. M. Chibnall (Oxford, 1990), pp.xiii, xxix.

[8] Williams, English, p.171, Thomson, William, p.11.

[9] Thomson, William, p.11.

[10] Barlow, William, p.104, Williams, English, p.165, 172.

[11] Williams, English, p.40.

[12] M. Hagger, William: King and Conqueror (New York, 2012), p.100.

[13] Williams, English, p.165.

[14] Thomson, William, p.5.

[15] D.J.A. Matthew, The Norman Conquest (London, 1966), p.215.

[16] Williams, English, pp.64-5.

[17] Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, pp.xiv, 173, 185, Williams, English, p.165.

[18] Williams, English, p.41.

[19] Given-Wilson, Chronicles, p.159.

[20] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, trans. & ed. M. Swanton (London, 2000), pp.207-9.

[21] For primacy of religion, see: Williams, English, pp.64-5, for debate on when the year began, see: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p.xv.

[22] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp.xvii, 202-4.

[23] J.M. Pope, Review: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, (trans. & ed.) M.J. Swanton, Speculum, 76:3 (2001), p.804.

[24] Williams, English, p.59.

[25] Williams, English, p.41, Hagger, William, p.99.

[26] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp.219-20, Hagger, William, pp.100, 141.

[27] Hagger, William, p.76, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp.219-21.

[28] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p.xxxii.

[29] Barlow, William, pp.108, 114.

[30] Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, p.xiii, Williams, English, pp.42, 53, 174-6.

[31] Barlow, William, p.104.

[32] Barlow, William, p.113.

[33] Williams, English, p.175.

[34] Barlow, William, p.164.

[35] Hagger, William, p.127, Williams, English, p.175, Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, pp.xvii-xviii, xxi.

[36] Hagger, William, pp.127, 141.

[37] Hagger, William, p.164.

[38] Williams, English, pp.64-5.

[39] Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, p.xv, Hagger, William, p. 127.

[40] Barlow, William, p.164, Williams, English, p.25.

[41] Hagger, William, pp. 117, 125, Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, pp.173, 185, 221, 239.

[42] D.C. Douglas, William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England (London, 1966), p.221, Williams, English, p.42, Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, p.233.

[43] Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, p.211.

[44] Given-Wilson, Chronicles, p.158, Thomson, William, p.3.

[45] Williams, English, pp.172-3, William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum: The History of the English Kings, Vol.1, trans. & ed. R.A.B. Mynors (Oxford, 1998), pp.425, 457.

[46] Williams, English, pp.171, 174, Given-Wilson, Chronicles, p.128, Thomson, William, pp.2, 15.

[47] William of Malmesbury, Gesta, p.425, Thomson, William, pp.7, 12, Williams, English, p.171.

[48] Thomson, William, p.11.

[49] Matthew, Norman, p.215, Thomson, William, p.11.

[50] Hagger, William, p.139.

[51] Given-Wilson, Chronicles, p.164, Hagger, William, p.133, William of Malmesbury, Gesta, pp.477, 509.


Primary Sources

Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History, Vol.II: Books III and IV, trans. & ed. M. Chibnall (Oxford, 1990)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, trans. & ed. M. Swanton (London, 2000)

William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum: The History of the English Kings, Vol.1, trans. & ed. R.A.B. Mynors (Oxford, 1998)

Secondary Sources

Barlow, F., William I and the Norman Conquest (London, 1965)

Brooks, N.P., Review: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition, by Simon Taylor, D. Dumville, and S. Keynes, The English Historical Review, 101:399 (1986), p.472

Davis, H.W.C., England under the Normans and Angevins: 1066-1272 (London, 1924)

Douglas, D.C., ‘The Norman Conquest and English Feudalism,’ The Economic History Review, 9:2 (1939), pp.128-43

Douglas, D.C., William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England (London, 1966)

Given-Wilson, C., Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England (London & New York, 2004)

Hagger, M, William: King and Conqueror (New York, 2012)

Howorth, H.H., ‘Notes on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,’ The English Historical Review, 15:60 (1900), pp.748-54

Matthew, D.J.A., The Norman Conquest (London, 1966)

O’Brien O’Keeffe, K., Review: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by M.J. Swanton, Speculum, 73:3 (1998), pp.905-7

Pfaff, R.W., Review: William of Malmesbury, by Rodney Thomson, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, 20:1 (1988), pp.79-80

Pope, J.M., Review: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by M.J. Swanton, Speculum, 76:3 (2001), pp.804-5

Stenton, F.M., William the Conqueror and the Rule of the Normans (London & New York, 1925)

Thomson, R., William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, 1987)

Van Houts, E., ‘The Norman Conquest through European Eyes,’ The English Historical Review, 110:438 (1995), pp.832-53

Whitelock, D., D.C. Douglas, C.H. Lemmon, F. Barlow (eds.), The Norman Conquest: Its Setting and Impact (London, 1966)

Williams, A., The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge, 1995)



All the following feedback is rated on the following scale: Outstanding-Excellent-Good-Competent-Pass-Fail.

Breadth of Reading: Excellent-Good

Critical approach to historiography: Excellent-Good

Focus on question: Excellent-Good

Organization of the material: Good

Depth of understanding and insight: Excellent

Use of examples: Excellent-Good

Introduction and Conclusion: Good-Competent

Factual accuracy: Good

Comprehensiveness of coverage: Good

Fluent and correct English: Good

Accurate spelling/proof reading: Good

Sources cited correctly: Good

General Comments and Advice: Very good indeed. This essay demonstrates a good understanding of the nature of medieval sources in general and the sources for the reign specifically. The conclusions are sound and well-supported by examples and with reference to the secondary literature.

But think about your introductions and conclusions more. The first couple of sentences in the introduction don’t really say much, or I’m not sure what they are saying. The conclusion is rather limited by the decision to rate the chronicles in relation to each other, which wasn’t really necessary.

Also, think about structure a little more. This jumps around a bit and the sections are a little open-ended. On Orderic, is it really a ‘criticism’ that you are making of Orderic that he was not a contemporary? It’s a limitation, certainly, but you need to be more subtle perhaps when discussing his account of the harrying of the North.


Why was Charlemagne so successful as a military leader?

This essay was given a high 2:1 in the second year of my undergraduate.

Why was Charlemagne so successful as a military leader?

Under Charlemagne’s rule from 768-814, the Carolingian realm experienced rapid expansion, largely as a result of military actions conducted by the ruler himself, or by his command. Charlemagne’s overall success as a military leader is undeniable, but there are many reasons for this.[1] Potentially most obvious are the actions and traits of Charlemagne himself, and this personal importance would seem to be definitively shown when contrasted with the latter part of his reign, when his sons played an increasing role, in the Danish campaigns among others.[2] The Carolingian military also clearly played a crucial role, and the reasons for this range from its equipment to its efficiency, its makeup and its size. Nestled among these factors are some important debates, including the extent of Charlemagne’s ability, the prevalence of heavy cavalry and the size of the armies he raised.

The obvious and possibly most important factor was Charlemagne himself. Many historians praise Charlemagne’s ability as being bordering on the supernatural, and argue that his personal qualities were vital in the military conquests of his reign, both in terms of the effectiveness of his administration and his organisational ability.[3] Oman even goes as far as stating that the ‘strong domineering spirit of the great king inspired his new subjects to undertake and carry out an adventure,’ while Nelson describes him as possessing ‘a certain constancy, steadiness or unswerving determination,’ something which he bases of Einhard’s Vita Karoli, where it is described as ‘constantia.’[4]  All of these would seem to suggest that Charlemagne was charismatic in the extreme and calm under pressure, and even if Contamine has pointed out that there is nothing to prove that Charles was an inspired strategist, he readily admits that the king was possessed of ‘extraordinary physical and moral endurance.’[5] In addition to these qualities, a recurring comment is that he was massively energetic, as is evidenced by the size of the his empire, the instance in 778 where he travelled from Spain to Saxony to put down a rebellion, and the fact that the royal itineraries were decided by campaigning needs.[6] These qualities were all useful in a military leader, and many of the historians above attribute his successes to them above all else.

Amongst these other qualities was Charlemagne’s aptitude for logistics and planning has been highly praised, both in general and with reference to the specific example of the 791 invasion of the Avar kingdom. Both contemporaries and modern historians such as Verbruggen, Halsall and France argue that Charlemagne was consistently organised throughout his reign.[7] Bowlus in particular makes the point that the use of Charlemagne’s typical ‘pincer’ movement required coordination and organisation on a large scale.[8] Others, including Collins, argue that the Charles’ long term planning only came to fruition in the initial 791 campaign against the Avars.[9] Brackmann argues differently, that the conquest of Avaria was a carefully calculated move in the series of events preceeding the imperial coronation.[10] Bachrach expands on this, stating that all long-term military planning was intended to cultivate imperial ambitions.[11] Both of these arguments would seem to strain credulity, as they would bestow upon Charlemagne an inhuman amount of foresight. While he may well have been working towards a Carolingian Empire, it is unlikely that Charles planned his military campaigns with imperial ambitions specifically in mind.

On the other side of this, Ganshof simply dismisses the Brackmann thesis, stating (correctly) that there is no evidence to support it, and this would seem to support the view that Charlemagne did not plan his campaigns with a view to being crowned emperor.[12] Collins among others argues that at least some of Charlemagne’s campaigns were purely opportunistic, and he cites both the Lombard campaign of 773/4 and the Spanish campaign of 778 as examples.[13] Both Reuter and Schieffer argue much more generally, with Reuter stating that early medieval warfare only consisted of raiding for plunder. They both continue to say that Charlemagne had no long term goals at all, and that even the 791 invasion of the Avar kingdom was merely for material gain.[14] While it is difficult to argue that Charles planned his military expeditions with his imperial ambitions in mind, it is potentially more so to contend that no preparation whatsoever went into his campaigns – as has already been pointed out: a degree of planning was required for the coordination of multiple armies. With regards specifically to the Avar campaign in 791, Collins argues that the invasion not beginning until September of that year is evidence enough of the amount of preparation.[15]

Charlemagne’s ability to inspire loyalty was also crucial to his success as a military leader, as it meant that he was able to garner support for his various campaigns. Different historians are of varying opinions as to how exactly he went about this, with such as Fouracre stating that simply being successful was enough to promote loyalty.[16] Others are far more cynical but potentially more realistic, stating that Charlemagne bought their loyalty with captured treasure, as is shown especially following Pippin the Hunchback’s rebellion in 792.[17] The fact that this loyalty extended through the different social levels also meant that Charlemagne was able to make the utilisation of his resources much more efficient.[18] While this was directly applicable to the raising of military levies, it was also useful when mobilising workforces for construction projects, such as attempting to link the rivers Rednitz and Altmühl with a three kilometre canal.[19] Even though the project was ultimately unsuccessful, it proves the extent to which Charlemagne could galvanise the population, and would therefore imply that even if short of outright devotion, the loyalty he inspired was a potent force, and one he undoubtedly utilised in his military campaigns.[20]

The various tactics utilised by Charlemagne during the course of his military expeditions have also been argued as the crucial factor determining his success as a military leader. Collins, among others, argues that Charlemagne used ‘shock and awe’ style campaigns to demoralise his enemies, and this is shown in the winter of 784/5 in Saxony, as well as perhaps more obviously at the outset of the Saxon Wars in 772 with the destruction of Irminsul.[21] Alongside, and perhaps in concert with this was the use of terror tactics, particularly against the Saxons. Most notable of these was the infamous slaughter of some 4,500 Saxon prisoners at Verden, who were said to have taken part in the Frankish defeat in the Süntel Hills in 782.[22] The effects of such tactics would have been to demoralise the Saxons, and to cow them and perhaps other foes – argued by Bowlus as being a major factor in the Avar collapse in 791-6.[23] While one might argue that this was a more general, Carolingian approach to warfare, others might cite the ultimate success in ‘pacifying’ the Saxons under Charlemagne as evidence that he introduced new shock or ‘terror’ tactics to the theatre, and that they were potentially the reason for his successes both in Saxony and Avaria.

Charlemagne’s wider strategy also undeniably contributed vast amounts to his success, and is perhaps the most convincing aspect of the argument for the king’s personal importance. Charlemagne used novel winter campaigning in 784/5 in Saxony to great effect, as shown by the fact that he forced the Saxon leader Widukund to treat with him in 785.[24] As well as this, he was able to organise marching in parallel columns, as in 791 in Avaria and 804 in Saxony.[25]  The technique of converging on an enemy from several directions at once has also been promoted, and is heralded as one of the most significant factors behind Charlemagne’s successes, whether it was in Saxony in 774, Bavaria in 787 or Avaria in 791 and 796.[26] The success of the strategies seems clear, as the Carolingian army suffered only a few major defeats, most infamously at Roncesvalles in 778, although the same technique of splitting his forces up has been blamed for the defeat.[27]

While Charlemagne obviously played a part in his military successes, a strong case can be made that his role was not as much as is suggested above. One can argue that the Carolingian military was in fact the driving force behind Charlemagne’s success as a military leader. The speed and efficiency of the Carolingian army undoubtedly played a role in the successes it enjoyed in the period, notably in the Lombard invasion of 773/4, and later when responding to the Saxon uprising of 778.[28] Riché in particular argues that the ‘rapid mobilisation and concentration of forces’ was of paramount importance for the Carolingian military.[29] The contention remains when one asks the question whether this speed of mobilisation was down to Charlemagne’s personality or the legislation he created, or whether the system already in place was effective. It is debatable how much Charlemagne would have been able to change the levy system, even with the Capitularies he introduced, and it is perhaps more convincing that the Carolingian military was efficient before Charles came to power.

As well as the efficiency of the Carolingian army, the equipment of the individual soldiers has been the subject of scrutiny, with many historians arguing that Charlemagne was more interested in raising better-equipped forces than large ones, as perhaps he predecessors had been.[30] The majority of the evidence for this is found in the various Capitularies, although the ‘Capitulare de Exercitu Promovendo,’ in 803, and those of Aquisgranense in 805 and 813 have been examined more closely by Oman and France, as they are the ones which provision for the weapons and armour of the host.[31] The general quality of Frankish equipment would seem to be beyond contestation then, but Riché points out that the repetition of many elements of the Capitularies perhaps implies their ineffectiveness.[32]

Another area in which the Carolingian military is argued to have led to Charlemagne’s military successes is in the makeup of the various armies raised. As one of the areas of greatest contention in not just Carolingian history, but wider medieval history, there is considerable debate over the role of heavy, ‘shock’ cavalry in Charlemagne’s armies. The portrayal of shock cavalry as the dominant force on the medieval battlefield was introduced by Lynn White Jr, and then developed by Brunner, and it still finds support among more modern historians.[33] The view rests on the spread of the stirrup occurring during the reign of Charles Martel, and has been challenged strongly by Bachrach and Bullough, who argue that it was only the combination of stirrups and the development of the saddle which allowed a couched lance to be used.[34] Bowlus offers an alternative, stating that artillery was the decisive arm of the Carolingian military, which seems somewhat convincing due to the primacy of sieges and fortifications in particularly the Saxon Wars.[35] Both Bowlus and France also point out that the presence of cavalry in Charlemagne’s armies did not necessarily mean that they were shock troops – that horses were used for their strategic rather than tactical value.[36] While the use of heavy cavalry might have explained some of the Charlemagne’s successes, it is unlikely that they played such a prominent role as some have portrayed, and the thesis that horses were used more as a mode of transport is much more convincing. Mounted troops did exist, as there is evidence of such in contemporary chronicles, but they were nowhere near as common as has been suggested.[37]

The size of the Carolingian army is also the subject of intense debate, and depending on the more convincing figure, is an obvious area in which one can argue Charlemagne enjoyed having superior tools at his disposal.[38] So-called ‘Minimalist’ historians such as Reuter and Bachrach argue that the armies raised by Charlemagne were smaller, more elite affairs, based around ‘scarae,’ although Bachrach does concede that there was also a mass levy, but that Charlemagne was reliant on a more select one.[39] Primarily opposing this is Werner, who argues that the ‘striking element’ of Charlemagne’s armies consisted around 35,000: part of a total of 100,000, although Reuter dismisses this as wild guesswork, stating that no town north of the Alps had a population a third that size.[40] France strikes a middle ground of sorts, arguing that armies raised by Charlemagne would not have numbered more than 20,000, but they were by no means as small as is suggested by the Minimalists.[41] Verbruggen supports this to a certain extent, although his view arguably more simple: he points out that the ‘convergence’ technique noted above by its nature required more than one amry.[42] Although the estimates are somewhat diverse, France puts forward a convincing argument, and the number he has suggested would not indicate any overwhelming numerical advantages in most theatres.

It would seem then that the most convincing reasons why Charlemagne was such a successful military leader were his personal characteristics and ability, coupled with the execution of his plans. While one might argue that he was only able to complete the extraordinary campaigns that he did due to the versatility and strength of the Carolingian military, one can also contend that a lot of this strength was a result of Charlemagne’s actions, the most obvious example being how the Capitularies affected the general standard of equipment in the Carolingian army. It also seems convincing that the efficacy of the Carolingian military was a product of the cooperation between Charlemagne and his magnates, and that by rewarding loyal service as stated above, he promoted such support.[43] In short then, while the Carolingian military clearly was important, it was nowhere near as much of a foregone conclusion as has perhaps been suggested: Charlemagne himself provided a crucial catalyst to spark the rapid expansion, and constant campaigning which characterised the greater part of his reign, and for which he is considered a greatly successful military leader.

Word Count: 2,981


[1] P. Contamine, War in the Middle Ages (Oxford & New York, 1984), p.23.

[2] P. Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul to 814,’ in ed. R. McKitterick, The New Cambridge Medieval History vol.2: c.700-c.900 (Cambridge, 1995), p.105, R. Collins, Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000 (2nd edition) (Basingstoke, 1999), p.279, Charlemagne (Basingstoke, 1998), p.171.

[3] P. Riché, The Carolingians: A Family who forged Europe (trans. M.I. Allen) (Philadelphia, 1993), p.88, J. France, ‘The Composition and Raising of the Armies of Charlemagne,’ The Journal of Medieval Military History 1 (2002), p.82, G. Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (London & New York, 2003), p.153.

[4] C. Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, vol.1: 378-1278 AD (London, 1998), p.78, J.L. Nelson, ‘Charlemagne the man,’ in ed. J. Story, Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester & New York), p. 34.

[5] Contamine, War, p.24.

[6] Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ pp.101-2, J.L. Nelson, ‘Kingship and royal government,’ in ed. R. McKitterick, The New Cambridge Medieval History vol.2: c.700-c.900 (Cambridge, 1995), p.386.

[7] France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ p.68, Halsall, Warfare, p.149, J. France, ‘The Military History of the Carolingian Period,’ in eds. J. France and K. DeVries, Warfare in the Dark Ages (Aldershot & Burlington, 2008), p.326, Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ pp.103-4.

[8] C. Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria: The Grand Strategy behind Charlemagne’s Renovatio Imperii in the West,’ The Journal of Medieval Military History 1 (2002), pp.55, 59

[9]  Collins, Early Medieval Europe, p.287, Charlemagne, p.93.

[10] Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ p.45.

[11] Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ p.46.

[12] Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ p.46.

[13] Collins, Charlemagne, p.75.

[14] Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ pp.43-4.

[15] Collins, Charlemagne, p.93.

[16] Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ pp.102-3.

[17] France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ p.64, Halsall, Warfare, p.76, R. McKitterick, ‘Politics,’ in ed. R. McKitterick, A Short Oxford History of Europe: The Early Middle Ages, 400-1000 (Oxford, 2001), p.53

[18] Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ p.102.

[19] Riché, Carolingians, pp.91, 108, Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ p.103.

[20] Innes argues against this to a certain extent, see Halsall, Warfare, p.77.

[21] For the winter of 784/5, see Collins, Charlemagne, p.55. For the sack of Irminsul, see T. Reuter, ‘Charlemagne and the world beyond the Rhine,’ in ed. J. Story, Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester & New York, 2005), pp.187-8, Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ p.102, Collins, Early Medieval Europe, p.280, Charlemagne, pp.47-8, R. McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008), p.103, France, ‘Military History,’ p.329.

[22] Collins, Early Medieval Europe, p.285, Charlemagne, p.54, Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ p.103, McKitterick, Charlemagne, p.104.

[23] Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ p.56.

[24] Collins, Charlemagne, p.57.

[25] Oman, Art of War, p.85, Collins, Charlemagne, p.93.

[26] In general, see Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ p.49, Halsall, Warfare, p.147, France, ‘Military History,’ pp.329-30. For Saxony specifically, see Collins, Charlemagne, p.48.

[27] Halsall, Warfare, p.147.

[28] Contamine, War, pp.26-7, for the invasion of Lombardy, see Bowlus, ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria,’ p.47, for 778, see Fouracre, ‘Frankish Gaul,’ p.102.

[29] Riché, Carolingians, p.91.

[30] Halsall, Warfare, pp.168-9, McKitterick, ‘Politics,’ p.49, Riché, Carolingians, p.90, S. Coupland, ‘Carolingian Arms and Armour in the Ninth Century,’ Viator 21 (1990), pp.30, 38.

[31] Oman, Art of War, pp.78-80, France, ’Military History,’ pp.326-7.

[32] Riché, Carolingians, p.90.

[33] L.T. White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford, 1962), pp.1-38, also see A. Ayton, ‘Arms, Armour, and Horses,’ in ed. M. Keen, Medieval Warfare: A History (Oxford, 1999), p.188, Riché, Carolingians, p.90.

[34] D.A. Bullough, ‘Europae Pater: Charlemagne and his achievement in the Light of Recent Scholarship,’ English Historical Review 85 (1970), pp.84-90, B.S. Bachrach, ‘Charles Martel, Shock Combat, the Stirrup and Feudalism,’ Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 7 (1970), pp.47-75.

[35] C. Bowlus, ‘Warfare and Society in the Carolingian Ostmark,’ Austrian History Yearbook 14 (1978), pp.4-5.

[36] France, ‘Military History,’ p.325, Bowlus, ‘Warfare,’ p.12

[37] McKitterick, ‘Politics,’ p.49 and Oman, Art of War, p.84  both argue for an upsurge in numbers, challenged in Halsall, Warfare, p.185.

[38] Oman, Art of War, pp.79-80, Riché, Carolingians, p.90, France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ p.62, Halsall, Warfare, p.119, Contamine, War, p.25.

[39] France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ pp.62, 69, Riché, Carolingians, p.90,

[40] See France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ p.69, T. Reuter, ‘The End of Carolingian Military Expansion,’ in eds. P. Godman and R. Collins, Charlemagne’s Heir: New perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (814-40) (Oxford, 1990), pp.391-405.

[41] France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ pp.67, 81.

[42] See France, ‘Composition and Raising,’ p.68.

[43] Halsall, Warfare, pp.73-5.


Airlie, S., ‘Charlemagne and the aristocracy: captains and kings,’ in J. Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester & New York, 2005), pp.90-102

Ayton, A., ‘Arms, Armour and Horses,’ in M. Keen (ed.), Medieval Warfare: A History (Oxford, 1999), pp.186-208

Bachrach, B.S., ‘Charles Martel, Shock Combat, the Stirrup and Feudalism,’ Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 7 (1970), pp.49-75

Bowlus, C., ‘Italia-Bavaria-Avaria: The Grand Strategy behind Charlemagn’es Renovatio Imperii in the West,’ The Journal of Medieval Military History 1 (2002), pp.43-60

Bowlus, C., ‘Warfare and Society in the Carolingian Ostmark,’ Austrian History Yearbook 14 (1978), pp.3-30

Bullough, D.A., ‘Europae Pater: Charlemagne and his achievement in the Light of Recent Scholarship,’ English Historical Review 85 (1970), pp.84-90

Collins, R., Charlemagne (Basingstoke, 1998)

Collins, R., Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000 (2nd edition) (Basingstoke, 1999)

Contamine, P., War in the Middle Ages (Oxford & New York, 1984)

Coupland, S., ‘Carolingian Arms and Armour in the Ninth Century,’ Viator 21 (1990), pp.29-50

France, J., ‘The Composition and Raising of the Armies of Charlemagne,’ The Journal of Medieval Military History 1 (2002), pp.61-82

Fouracre, P., ‘Frankish Gaul to 814,’ in R. McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History vol.2: c.700-c.900 (Cambridge, 1995), pp.85-109

France, J., ‘The Military History of the Carolingian Period,’ in J France and K. DeVries (eds.), Warfare in the Dark Ages (Aldershot & Burlington, 2008), pp.321-40

Halsall, G., Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (London & New York, 2003)

McKitterick, R., Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008)

McKitterick, R., ‘Politics,’ in R. McKitterick (ed.), Short Oxford History of Europe: The Early Middle Ages 400-1000 (Oxford, 2001), pp.21-58

Nelson, J.L., ‘Charlemagne the man,’ in J. Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester & New York, 2005), pp.22-37

Nelson, J.L., ‘Kingship and royal government,’ in R. McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History vol.2: c.700-c.900 (Cambridge, 1995), pp.383-430

Oman, C., A History of The Art of War in the Middle Ages, vol.1: 378-1278 AD (London, 1998)

Reuter, T., ‘Carolingian and Ottonian Warfare,’ in M. Keen (ed.), Medieval Warfare: A History (Oxford, 1999), pp.13-35

Reuter, T., ‘Charlemagne and the world beyond the Rhine,’ in J. Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester & New York, 2005), pp.183-94

Reuter, T., ‘The End of Carolingian Military Expansion,’ in P. Godman and R. Collins (eds.), Charlemagne’s Heir: New perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990), pp.391-405

Reuter, T., ‘Plunder and Tribute in the Carolingian Empire,’ Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 35 (1985), pp.75-94

Riché, P., The Carolingians: A Family who forged Europe (trans. M.I. Allen) (Philadelphia, 1993)

White, L.T., Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford, 1962)



All the following feedback is rated on the following scale: Outstanding-Excellent-Good-Competent-Pass-Fail.

Breadth of Reading: Excellent

Critical approach to historiography: Excellent

Focus on question: Excellent

Organization of the material: Good

Depth of understanding and insight: Good

Use of examples: Good

Introduction and Conclusion: Good

Factual accuracy: Excellent

Comprehensiveness of coverage: Good

Fluent and correct English: Excellent

Accurate spelling/proof reading: Excellent

Sources cited correctly: Outstanding

General Comments and Advice: You generally make good use of the historiography (but don’t name historians without citing them), and give your own opinions, but you need to use the evidence of, and quote from, primary sources. Try to pull the answer back to the question at the end of each section; it would have been particularly helpful had you summarised at the end of sections of more than one paragraph – you have, for example, two paragraphs on planning and logistics, but you end with a specific instance rather than a helpful summary of your argument. There was more to say about how Charlemagne achieved aristocratic buy-in – without it, all his tactical ability etc would have been worthless and he wouldn’t have been able to raise armies of any size. Christian ideology was another, related area worthy of consideration. And what about opposition to Charlemagne – was it up to much?

The formatting of the footnotes and bibliography is very nearly perfect (small issues highlighted).


Book Review: ‘Wolf’s Head’, by Steven A. McKay

My initial rWolfHeadeaction to Wolf’s Head was that the date range immediately annoyed me. I realise that, especially with a legend, placing the real ‘Robin Hood’ in time is difficult. However, I had always thought it tradition to place Robin Hood around the time of the Third Crusade with King Richard the Lionheart. Possible inaccuracies aside, I thought the plot was good, and moved along at a suitable pace, although certain of the developments seemed a little unrealistic. First and foremost was the idea of Robin learning the sword in just a few weeks, something which is a source of constant annoyance to me throughout historical fiction and fantasy both. The way in which youths seem to turn into battle-hardened killing machines in the space of weeks rather than years is far too unrealistic. As well as this, the prevalence of swords seems unlikely, given the fact that they would have been very expensive, with axes and clubs far more likely among outlaws in particular.

I thought the writing itself was strong to begin with, but gradually deteriorated as the book continued. It was never awful, but I had expected it to remain at the same standard throughout. Overall, an enjoyable and easy read, but I might read some other things before I continue the series.

‘Wolf’s Head,’ by Steven A. McKay is the first in The Forest Lord Series.

How did the Romans respond to the threat posed by Sassanian Persia and how effective was that response?

This is the first in my series of undergraduate essays, which I’ll be putting up once a week (on Saturdays).

I will be putting them up in chronological order of the subjects considered, with each essay being followed by a complete bibliography of the texts cited, and then the general feedback provided by my tutors.

This essay was given a high 2:1 in my first year at university.

How did the Romans respond to the threat posed by Sassanian Persia and how effective was that response?

The threat of Sassanian Persia was unlike anything the Roman Empire had faced since the Punic Wars, with a few of their leaders being comparable to Hannibal in terms of their skills as military leaders. The offensive capability of the Sassanian armies initially stunned Roman generals; their much improved mobilisation by comparison to their Parthian predecessors, combined with their skilled use of siege warfare was a fearsome combination[1]. As well as this, the Sassanians made great advances in the building of fortifications[2], which were to have a significant impact on the value of the various Roman responses through the period.

The response from the Roman Empire to this new and challenging threat was almost exclusively based in the military, and in foreign policy. The Roman military response can be divided into the actual campaigns and raids undertaken across roughly four centuries, and the instigation of various reforms which included the make-up and organisation of the Roman forces in the area, and the definition of the frontier. Alongside and frequently resulting from this, there was the more diplomatic side, which included the assorted peace settlements. The latter was distinctly in the minority in terms of the overall Roman response. The response to the danger presented by the nascent Sassanian Empire had differing levels of success, ranging from successful campaigns such as that of Carus in AD 283, who invaded Mesopotamia and reached and captured Ctesiphon (the capital)[3], to the resounding failures which included that of the first invasion by Severus Alexander in the early 230s[4], as well as the countless successful raids made by Sassanian forces into Syria.

As previously stated, the Roman response was overwhelmingly military in nature, and consisted of an assortment of raids and campaigns into Sassanian territory of varying strength and success, as well as the perhaps more subtle changes in organisation of the frontier fortifications, and the forces stationed there. The initial Roman military response was led (as mentioned prior) by Severus Alexander in the 230s: a campaign which aimed at capturing a greater portion of Armenia, but was resoundingly unsuccessful[5]. Following this, there were further planned invasions by Gordian in 244, Valerian in 260, Aurelian in 275, Carus in 283, Julian in 363 and finally much later by Heraclius in 626. These campaigns almost exclusively failed, for a range of reasons. Gordian was killed, “by the treachery of Philip who reigned after him,”[6] Valerian was defeated or tricked and captured or killed, depending on which source is read.[7] Aurelian was assassinated before setting off, and Carus was to a certain extent successful but was ultimately killed during a thunder storm in Ctesiphon, following which his superstitious troops fell back.[8] Julian’s expedition looked promising until he realised that he was unable to take the heavily fortified Sassanian cities, including Ctesiphon, despite his veteran army of 60,000. This fact turned his invasion into a mere raid, however large, and he turned back for Roman territories and was harried by the more mobile Sassanian army, eventually leading to his mortal wounding and death.[9]

The Roman Empire also made internal changes in response to the danger of the Sassanian Empire. The vast majority of these were made up by reforms, both in the distribution and make-up of Roman forces, and how well the frontier was defined (particularly by the construction of fortifications). There are various historiographical debates, most of which are addressed by Isaac[10] surrounding how much the various sources and archaeological evidence should be interpreted by modern historians.

One of the more useful sources for determining the organisation of the late Roman army is the Notitia Dignitatum; a late fourth century document showing the disposition and location of units. The Notitia Dignitatum shows that there were increasing numbers of cavalry units, including the emergence of equites sagitarii or horse archers, and heavy cavalry (clibanarii or cataphractarii) on the eastern frontier.[11] These types of troops were very similar to those used by the Sassanians, the worth of which had been proven time and again when used against the Romans. It was only natural therefore that the Romans, being a very pragmatic military force would adopt successful troops and tactics as their own.

As well as the new expanded use of cavalry, there began to be a differentiation between limitanei or border guards[12]  and comitatenses or soldiers of the field armies. It is suggested that this distinction began to be made from the reign of Diocletian, but it was more widespread by 325 C.E., under Constantine.[13]  As Isaac addresses however, there are limitations to the Notitia Dignitatum in that it was a bureaucratic list, and so did not provide anything but information, about the formal structure of the army (rather than the reality). Even that was fairly vague; it gave the disposition of units at undefined dates[14] which obviously meant that it is of limited accuracy. The thought was that the limitanei would defend the borders only, while the field army would move around to reinforce, or to launch raids and campaigns into Sassanian territory.

The reforms were not restricted to just the army however: increasingly different and improved fortifications emerged on the eastern frontier during the Diocletian period. The exact nature and purpose of these fortifications is debated although according to a contemporary source, Diocletian built a series of forts in the frontier regions between Egypt and Persia.[15] This series of forts could be argued to be part of the strata Diocletiana, a view which is supported by Van Berchem[16], and this coupled with the presence of a second fortified road running parallel to it arguably provides evidence of an increasing emphasis on the security of northern Syria, as a direct response to Sassanian aggression. The function of the new fortifications is debated, with Luttwak in particular making a case for the forts being used in merely a defensive capacity, as part of his ‘defence in depth’ theory,[17] conjecture which has become popular among historians. By contrast, Isaac dismisses it, pointing out that in no contemporary sources is there any evidence for a Roman strategy of ‘defence in depth,’ and that it would be incorrect to deduce too much.[18] As well smaller and separate fortifications, there was a definite improvement in the fortifications of cities under Diocletian, and this was to play a pivotal role in the Roman response to Sassanian invasions, as shall be addressed later on.

Politics also played a significant part in the overall Roman response showing it was not necessarily limited to simply military action. Initially, the Romans made the misjudgement to support the outgoing dynasty, offering the Arsacids refuge, and supporting the Arsacid king of Armenia which resulted in gaining the city of Hatra as a protectorate. This would seem only to provoke the newly established Sassasnian leadership.[19]There were despite this, periods of peace between the Roman and Sassanian Empires, and the various treaties were usually designed to be lasting. Perhaps the most notable of these resulted when Narses of Persia invaded Armenia and was thrown back by Diocletian. The peace settlement which followed compelled Persia to cede no fewer than five provinces beyond the River Tigris (the previous border). These provinces were intended (much like the conquered section of northern Mesopotamia) to be a ‘buffer’ zone against Sassanian aggression, but were lost soon after, following Julian’s disastrous campaign in 363.[20] Other settlements included the peace of Nisibis in 297, and a peace made by Kobad in the mid-fifth century. Noshirwan also made numerous peace settlements, the first of which was in 531 involving Rome paying eleven thousand pounds of gold, and the second following his later capture of Antioch, which again involved Rome paying war indemnities to the Sassanians.[21] These would seem to show that as Rome became increasingly aware it would not be able to subdue the Sassanian Empire, they became content with simply paying it off.

How successful the Roman response was is very open to interpretation. It is possible to argue that due to the fact that the Roman Empire survived past the end of its Sassanian counterpart (at least in the form of the Byzantine Empire), the measures put in place were effective. Such a view however is too simplistic, as the Roman Empire did not arguably suffer anywhere near the same external pressures in the east as the Sassanian Empire. The main reason for the fall of the Sassanian Empire was arguably the emergence and rapid spread of Islam[22], and while the Roman Empire did fragment under the pressure of the ‘barbarian’ migrations, the Byzantine Empire emerged as its recognisable incarnation. A perhaps more plausible argument for the success of Rome in dealing with the Sassanian Empire is that, although there were some very successful raids into Roman Syria and Mesopotamia, very little land was actually lost control of, with the exception of the five provinces lost in 363. The main reason for this was the improvement and expansion of the fortifications present in the area, and protecting the various cities – a result mainly of the reforms of Diocletian, and aided by Constantine’s later additions. As well as this, there were some successes on the offensive, however few. Most notably were those of Carus in 283 when he reached the Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon, and Diocletian in 296-8 who ceded five provinces from Persia as a result of a resounding victiory[23].

Despite these viewpoints, it seems overwhelmingly clear that taken individually, the Roman responses to the immediate threats of various Sassanian monarchs was woefully inadequate. This manifested throughout both the Roman offensive and defensive operations in the area. The fact that the vast majority of the various campaigns into Persia were ineffective at best, and damaging to the Roman Empire at worst clearly showed that in this respect the response was if anything, counter-productive. One end of this spectrum can be demonstrated by the planned campaign of Aurelian in 275 which never went ahead and so achieved nothing, with the other extremity (of which the examples are far more numerous) being embodied by Severus Alexander’s initial invasion in the early 230s, as well Gordian’s failed advance of 244,[24] and Julian’s later campaign in 363.

More generally, it was the increasing Roman inability to hold ground, traditionally achieved by taking towns and cities, which meant that their invasions were largely ineffective. When coupled with their obscure strategic aims, this would seem to dismiss any the potential impact of a Roman response to Sassanian aggression. The inability to capture the newly fortified settlements on both sides of the frontier meant that any military action was reduced to mere raiding, no matter on what scale. The raiding style of warfare was not necessarily suited the Roman army, whose core was made up of the heavy infantry of the legionnaires, despite the increasing amount of cavalry in their field army. By contrast, the Sassanian army maintained the traditional strong units of both light and heavy cavalry which had been inherent to the Parthian armies. This contrast meant that any incursion into Persia would have been harried by light cavalry, and as soon as the Romans decided to retreat (following the realisation that they were unable to take any meaningful territory), they would be easily caught by the far more mobile Sassanian forces, as is shown most poignantly by Julian’s retreat in 363.[25] The difference in mobility also meant that Sassanian armies were capable of taking the initiative against the seemingly ponderous Roman legions, and were more than capable of destroying superior forces.[26]

In defense, the Roman Empire was also found somewhat lacking for, while they did not really lose any significant territories for any length of time, they were incapable of dealing with the large scale Sassanian raids. Similar in nature to the Roman campaigns, there were a few very significant differences. Primarily, as already mentioned, the Sassanian armies were generally far more suited to raiding than their Roman counterparts, but also importantly, the campaign aims of the likes of Shapur I and II in particular was not to take ground at all, it was to plunder and raid, and so they were prepared for a particular style of warfare, which their Roman equivalents were not. The Roman defence system was also arguably non-existent. Although there were undeniably troops positioned to defend against small-scale, nomad raids, it is debatable whether or not there was in fact a true system for defending the frontier in place.[27] Past the improved fortifications commissioned by Diocletian at the end of the third century, the individual populations of towns and cities were generally responsible for their own defence, and any attempt at defending the hinterlands surrounding settlements was abandoned as impractical.[28] Many of these measures were arguably ineffective against the larger-scale and fairly common raids of the Sassanian army, which consistently managed to penetrate as far as Syria, and involved the occasional capture of cities, such as Antioch[29] (on the Mediterannean).

It is fair to say that the Roman response to the danger posed by the emergent Sassanian Empire was overwhelmingly military in its nature, due to the fact that it consisted almost exclusively of military campaigns, with the peace settlements usually being the results. The internal reforms too, were focused solely on the military, with the distribution of troops and the advances and construction of fortifications. While the value of the primary sources is questioned, and the function of the new fortifications is debated,[30] it is undeniable that the measures were taken in response to the Sassasnians, due to the fact that the campaigns were into Sassanian territory and also that the various construction works and reorganisations were undertaken in the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine – at a time when the only major threat in the east was the Sassanian Empire. Aside from the occasional successes in the field, the responses of the Roman Empire were largely unsuccessful, as the rivalry last for closing on four centuries, with no decisive victory for either side. The Romans did not have any lasting victories on the offensive, apart from under Diocletian, and on the defensive, despite the expansion of fortifications, and the reorganisation of the army the Sassanians were seemingly able to raid at will into Roman territory. In short, the Romans formed a military response, although it only gradually became clearer in its aims, as they massively misjudged the calibre of their opponents, and so perhaps treated them with undue contempt for far too long.[31] This inhibited the effectiveness of the response for so long that it eventually did not make much of a difference. There are obviously reasons for the seeming lack of interest in the eastern Empire, particularly later on, with the barbarian migrations resulting from the movement of nomads out of the Steppes into eastern Europe. These migrations posed an arguably much more serious threat to the stability of the Empire, and they are sometimes given as the reason for the fall of Rome.

Word count: 2,901

[1] D.S. Potter, ‘The Transformation of the Empire: 235-337 C.E.,’ in ed. D.S. Potter, A Companion to the Roman Empire, p.157-8

[2] P. Sykes, A History of Persia, p.35

[3] P. Sykes, A History of Persia: Volume 1, pp.407-8

[4] D.S. Potter, ‘The Transformation of the Empire: 235-337 C.E.,’ p.158

[5] For a full contemporary account, see Herodian VI, 5, 1-6, 6 in M.H. Dodgeon and S.M.C. Lieu (eds.) The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363), pp.23-6

[6] Eutropius, breviarium IX, 2, 2-3, 1 in M.H. Dodgeon and S.M.C. Lieu (eds.) The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363), pp.36-7

[7] M.H. Dodgeon and S.M.C. Lieu (eds.) The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363), pp.59-62

[8] P. Sykes, A History of Persia, p.33

[9] P. Sykes, A History of Persia: Volume 1, pp.418-22

[10] B. Isaac , The Limits of the Empire: The Roman Army in the East

[11] N. Pollard, ‘The Roman Army,’ in ed. D.S. Potter, A Companion to the Roman Empire, p.226

[12] For a fuller description, see B. Isaac, The Limits of the Empire, pp.208-13

[13] N. Pollard, ‘The Roman Army,’ p.226

[14] B. Isaac, The Limits of the Empire, p.161-2

[15] Malalas, XII, pp.308, 17-22, Ammianus Marcellinus XXIII, 5, 2, and  Procopius, de bello Persico II, 5, 2-3, in M.H. Dodgeon and S.M.C. Lieu (eds.) The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363), p.122, p.138

[16] D. Van Berchem, L’armée de Dioclétien et la réforme constantinienne.

[17] E.N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, from the First Century AD to the Third

[18] B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire, p.170, pp.186-8

[19] D.S. Potter, ‘The Transformation of the Empire: 235-337 C.E.,’ p.158

[20] P. Sykes, A History of Persia, pp.33-5

[21] P. Sykes, A History of Persia, pp.37-8

[22] P. Sykes, A History of Persia: Volume 1, pp.488-503

[23] Aurelius Victor, liber de Caesaribus 39, 33-6, in M.H. Dodgeon and S.M.C. Lieu (eds.) The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363), p.126

[24] D.S. Potter, ‘The Transformation of the Empire 235-337 C.E.,’ p.158

[25] P. Sykes, A History of Persia, p.35

[26] D.S. Potter, ‘The Transformation of the Empire 235-337 C.E.,’ p.158

[27] B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire, p.372

[28] B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire, pp.252-60

[29] P. Sykes, A History of Persia, p.38

[30] B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire, pp.252-60

[31] D.S. Potter, ‘The Transformation of the Empire: 235-337 C.E.,’ p.158, K. Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert: ancient Persia at war, p.184


Primary Sources

Ammianus Marcellinus XXIII, 5, 2

Aurelius Victor, liber de Caesaribus 39, 33-6

Eutropius, breviarium IX, 2, 2-3, 1

Herodian VI, 5, 1-6, 6

Malalas, XII, pp.308, 17-22

Procopius, de bello Persico II, 5, 2-3

Secondary Sources

Dodgeon, M.H., and Lieu, S.M.C. (eds.), The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars AD 226-363: A Documentary History (London, 1991)

Elton, H., ‘The Transformation of Government under Diocletian and Constantine,’ in D.S. Potter (ed.), A Companion to the Roman Empire (Oxford, 2010), pp.193-206

Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: ancient Persia at war (Oxford and New York, 2007)

Frye, R.N., The Heritage of Persia (London, 1962)

Issac, B., The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East (New York, 1992)

Luttwak, E.N., The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, from the First Century AD to the Third (Baltimore and London, 1976)

Pollard, N., ‘The Roman Army,’ in D.S. Potter (ed.), A Companion to the Roman Empire (Oxford, 2010), pp.206-28

Potter, D.S., ‘The Transformation of the Empire: 235-337 C.E.,’ in D.S. Potter (ed.), A Companion to the Roman Empire (Oxford, 2010), pp.153-75

Sykes, P., A History of Persia (Oxford, 1922)

Sykes, P., A History of Persia: Volume 1 (London, 1930)

Van Berchem, D., L’armée de Dioclétien et la réforme constantinienne (Paris, 1952)



Structure and argument:  Good. Argument is reasonably clear and quite well signposted. There is, however, an occasional tendency to make sweeping statements which are not borne out by the evidence. (e.g. ‘the Sassanians were seemingly able to raid at will into Roman territory.’).

Coverage and relevance: Good-Adequate. While four centuries is a large span to cover in 3,000 words, it remains the case that, despite occasional refs to later events, the main focus is very much on the 3rd and 4th century. Relevance maintained throughout.

Knowledge and understanding: Good-Adequate. Quite good, considering the relative unfamiliarity of the subject matter. Nonetheless, there are odd claims/statements (e.g. it is unclear how Hatra is relevant to Armenia, and who gained it as a protectorate; the peace settlement which in Rome gaining 5 provinces beyond the Tigris was in fact the same as the peace of Nisibis of 298/9 (rather than 297), a few lines later; Kobad did not reign in the mid-5th century; Noshirvwan’s first peace was in 532, not 531.

Use of ancient evidence: Good. Quite good use of Dodgeon & Lieu.

Use of modern discussions: Good. Quite a good range of material has been used quite well.

Referencing and bibliography: Good-Adequate. Referencing is reasonably thorough. Van Berchem is cited at n.16, but does not feature in bibliography. Format of referencing doesn’t follow a recognised system, though is clear enough as to details of sources. Bibliography of modern sources is fine. It is not usual practice to cite specific passages from ancient authors as Primary Sources: one would normally give the editions used; however, if as seems likely, these are cited from Dodgeon & Lieu, then this is the work that should be given here (rather than in Secondary Sources).

Spelling, punctuation, English: Good. Occasional careless typographical errors. Expression mostly fine.

General comments: Somewhat unbalanced in chronological focus, but a creditable effort.