Stewart's monograph is an attempt to nuance the broad scholarly consensus that the triumph of Christianity almost completely revised Roman culture and cultural values along Christian lines. His specific topic is the enduring importance of conceptions of masculinity defined by military service or prowess from the late fourth through the seventh centuries C.E. Although sensitive to the ways in which Christianity affected the development of Roman culture, Stewart contends that the story of Roman masculinity, especially the public masculinity communicated in literature and imperial iconography, was one of continuity rather than change.
Stewart's first chapter, the introduction, argues for the connection between Romanitas, political legitimacy, and conceptions of masculinity. It includes a discussion of the terminology, both modern and ancient, that the author employs, as well as an outline of the monograph. The work begins in earnest in chapter 2, “The Study of Men as a Gender,” in which Stewart argues that the rhetorically exaggerated men who appear in the pages of ancient sources, in particular secular historiography, can be used to reconstruct popular attitudes towards masculinity. The chapter also includes brief discussions of scholarship on intertextuality and genre, before concluding with a survey of recent scholarly work on ancient masculinity. Hereafter, the chapters proceed in a roughly chronological order.
Chapter 3, “Vita Militaris: The Soldier's Life,” demonstrates the longstanding connection between military service and authentic masculinity in Roman thought before turning to the emperor's role as a masculine military paradigm. Stewart demonstrates the prominent role of gender and gendered language in characterizations of both “good” and “bad” emperors during his period. The chapter continues with a strong discussion of Synesius of Cyrene's De regno, a work addressed to the emperor Arcadius, and concludes by arguing that militarily-defined masculinity did not disappear despite the demilitarization of the Roman upper classes in Late Antiquity.
Chapter 4, “The Manly Emperor,” is the strongest in the monograph and focuses on the various strands of masculine ideology operating in the fourth and fifth centuries. Its central argument is that self-control, including sexual moderation and physical endurance, were not new features of masculine identity brought into the Roman mainstream by Christian asceticism, but longstanding features of elite Roman codes of masculine conduct, especially those linked to a philosophical education. Stewart argues, focusing primarily on the Res gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus and the fragments of Eunapius, that the emperor Julian represented a unique synthesis of these two strands of Roman masculinity: personal self-discipline arising from philosophical study and military dominance. Stewart convincingly demonstrates the essential role that gendered language and concepts played in the depiction of imperial success and failure during the fourth and fifth centuries.
Chapter 5, “The Wars Most Peaceful,” argues that Roman conceptions of masculinity permeated early Christian literature, especially in the genre of ecclesiastical history. Moreover, Stewart's work in the preceding chapter allows him to demonstrate that many of the features that have been viewed as the unique contributions of Christian masculinity had their roots in earlier Roman traditions. Stewart's argument concerning Eusebius’ conception of masculinity is particularly compelling.
Chapter 6, “Representations of Power and Imperial Manliness in the Age of Theodosius II,” turns to the most challenging subject for a book discussing military masculinity in late antiquity: the house of Theodosius. The dominant narrative of the fifth century emphasizes the prevalence of politically weak, court-bound emperors who were dependent upon barbarian generalissimos and increasingly Christian in their politics and ideology. This is inhospitable ground for traditional military masculinity, and Stewart is ultimately able to provide only inconsistent evidence for the prevalence of masculine ideals in this period. Nonetheless, he raises a worthwhile point: the loss of almost all of the secular literature from the fifth century has likely influenced our image of the Theodosians as a hyper-pious regime.
Chapter 7, “Emperors and Generals,” continues chronologically through the end of the western Roman empire. Here Stewart lapses into lengthy and unnecessary narrative summaries of the fifth century, but the chapter concludes with a worthwhile assessment of the role of gendered stereotypes in the struggles between Leo and Aspar, and Anthemius and Ricimer. Chapter 8, “Contests of Manly Virtue,” suffers from the same narrative turn as the preceding chapter. It is strongest when Stewart focuses on the depiction of important figures from Procopius of Caesarea's account of the Gothic Wars in Italy, such as the noble Amalasuintha and dissolute Theodahad. Nevertheless, some arguments, such as the suggestion that Procopius made Teïas’ death noble in order to give the Romans a heroic enemy to defeat or the idea that the lack of unambiguously positive figures in the Wars reflects Procopius’ belief in original sin, fail to convince. The final chapter serves as the conclusion and briefly considers the effects of the Islamic conquests before jumping to discuss the Byzantine historian Michael Atteliates in the eleventh century for the concluding two pages.
Stewart does a good job of amassing evidence and calling attention to the prevalence of gendered language in the historiographical record. His work is strongest when he is analyzing the language of specific authors and disentangling the implications of their gendered and military imagery. Nevertheless, the work is unlikely to persuade scholars not already sympathetic to its arguments, who may wish to see a tighter and more consistent framework for integrating the disparate discussions of masculine ideologies. As written, the framework for interpretation is not always clear, and the author's discussions of masculinity and militarism do not always inform one another in a meaningful way. These limitations can be traced back to the second chapter, in which Stewart surveys and situates himself inside of existing scholarship (emphasizing his opposition to Mathew Kuefler),1 but does not articulate a method by which to incorporate his varied evidence into a coherent model of late Roman military masculinity.
The book contains minor problems throughout, including odd citations,2 the absence of appropriate citations,3 and the inconsistent presence of the original language following quotations.4 There are eleven black and white plates, the last of which is actually two images, but these are rarely integrated into the author's argument. Moreover, the resolution of the plates is relatively low, especially plates 5 and 9, the former of which occludes the presence of the trousers the author discusses. In addition, the plates are occasionally misidentified in the text (e.g., the reference to plate 7 on page 212 is actually to plate 9) and are not generally placed close to their discussion in the text (the most extreme example is the discussion of plate 7, misidentified as plate 8, which comes 55 pages after the plate).
In sum, Stewart's monograph is a welcome attempt to push back against overly broad narratives of Christianization by identifying a critical nexus of cultural attitudes surrounding masculinity and military service that persisted with minor variations throughout Roman imperial history. The study is strongest when analyzing the works of particular authors, and compellingly demonstrates the ongoing importance of secular, military values and gendered language in public discussions of Roman masculinity and imperial politics from the late fourth through seventh centuries C.E.