This is a slightly earlier book than Hughes’ works on the end of the Western Empire. Unfortunately, the main way this shows is that the Kindle edition has problems. This seems to be an OCR translation to ebook as there’s a number of repeating errors. The normal text seems to be in very good shape, but any time the text goes to italics it falls apart. Since there’s a lot of italicized Latin terms, this is a real problem (13 instances of bucellam compared with 7 for the correct bucellarii…). Interestingly, the italics are all present and correct, so it’s either fairly advanced OCR, or someone did go through it pretty well (I’m betting the latter), but doesn’t know the late Latin military terminology, and didn’t know better. On the other hand there’s occasional gaffes such as “twenty stades, approximately 2V3 miles,” so maybe not (I believe that should be “2 1/3″… but I don’t have a hard copy to check).

As for the actual contents of the book, its pretty good. I do think the later Western Empire ones a bit better, and certainly more valuable as going into subjects that are really short on focused attention. He describes the problems with sources well early on. The third chapter goes into the current organization and equipment of the Roman/Byzantine army of the Sixth Century AD, which is certainly handy for readers expecting old-fashioned legions, and lets him discuss how some of these units were being used. However, the equipment part is basically an Osprey book without the illustrations and photographs (there are some in a separate section, at the end for the Kindle version), and feels a bit summarized even from that.

The main part of the book starts with Belisarius’ campaigning in Persia, which is a bit muddy. The battles are described well enough, but there’s doubts as to whether he was in command at some of them, or just a subordinate, which makes it harder to draw conclusions. And then we get the preparations to go west, and a good description of the actions in Africa, and of course the campaign for Italy. The highlight of that is the primary (first) siege of Rome, which always seems glossed over in the other (limited) accounts I’ve seen. And then there’s a campaign in Persia, back to Italy, and apparent retirement.

Hughes does seem to draw unwarranted conclusions (something I’ve noted elsewhere), but is mostly on reasonable ground. There’s also a postmortem on Belisarius’ and his opponents’ generalship at the end of each chapter which is a mix of unhelpful and interesting points. I’d say his later books are a definite step up from this one, and this is still a useful introduction to Belisarius’ career.