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Response to Review no. 594

How does one respond to a book review that is in general quite positive and whose criticisms are constructive and offered in a most courteous and collegial way? The first thing to do is to thank the reviewer, Peter Bell, for his careful and thoughtful reading of The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian and then thank Mark Hagger for the opportunity to respond in the first place. I would also like to compliment this electronic journal on its policy of allowing authors to respond to reviews. I am sure I speak for scholars everywhere who have at one time or another gnashed their teeth in frustration at the inability respond directly to a reviewer’s criticisms felt to be unfair, unmerited, or just plain wrong. But this is not one of those times!

Bell offers three main criticisms of the book. (I will not comment on his specific objections to individual chapters, as I should not speak for the contributors without their permission).

First, Bell suggests that the book fails to address directly the many intense internal social conflicts, especially in the provinces, that plagued Justinian’s empire. The result, he suggests, is that the first portion of the book is rather bland. While I do not agree with that characterization, I do think that the question of social conflicts in the provinces (and in the cities, too) might well be addressed in a separate chapter, drawing on much important new research. If a second, expanded edition should someday appear, a chapter by P. Bell on securing and maintaining public order throughout the empire would be a welcome addition.

Second, Bell suggests that the book is, ‘not conspicuous for methodological originality’, but unfortunately he does not say more about what those methodologies might be. I will only say as the editor that no particular methodological perspective was envisaged or imposed on the expert contributors, who were free to follow their charge to provide introductions to fundamental problems of the age in the manner they saw fit. Each chapter in its own way is methodologically sound and is a sure introductory guide for beginners, acquainting them with basic themes and bibliography. This is a primary purpose of the Cambridge Companion series. More advanced scholars will also find something new and valuable in each chapter. All of us connected with the volume hope that it will promote further research on this fascinating age.

Finally, Bell notes insufficient treatment of the complex ancient sources—implying the need for yet another chapter. A chapter on sources was considered (with a treatment of Procopius in particular), but it was finally abandoned for lack of space. However, prefatory materials in the book describe the most important ancient authors, giving pointers to further discussion. Readers moved to explore the ancient sources more deeply will find a useful starting place there, and in the various chapters when different sources come into play.

The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian is intended to be a starting point, not an end point. It does not pretend to cover all aspects of the age and reign of Justinian, but it does endeavor to help readers appreciate the chief historical issues enticing them to further reading and research. I am glad that Peter Bell appreciated the scale and scope of the volume, and I hope that other readers will continue to do the same.