New Military History Book by Ian Hughes: Belisarius-The Last Roman General

Ian Hughes has produced an excellent military history text entitled:

Belisarius: The Last Roman General (2009). Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Books Limited. ISBN: 978-1-84415-833-1.


To order, kindly contact:

Address: PEN & SWORD BOOKS LIMITED -47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, England [Website:]


Hughes’ text is meticuloulsy researched with a plethora of references and resources. The academic calibre of this text will undoubtedly make this a major resource in classrooms and libraries across major universities.


This book is a military history of the campaigns of Belisarius.  After fighting the Persians, Belisarius was sent by the Emperor Justinian to reconquer North Africa from the Vandals.  This he did in a single year at the age of 29.  After this success he was sent to Italy to fight the Ostrogoths, where he recaptured the ‘eternal city’ of Rome for the Romans. 

A close-up of the Mosaic of the Basilica of San Vitale at Ravenna. The Romano-Byzantine emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) is seen at the center (note halo surrounding his crowned head). Belisarius (500-565) stands to the left of Justinian with the prominent banker, Giuliano Argentario, standing to the right. As noted by Hughes, the Basilica of San Vitale mosaic bears the only portrait we have today of Belisarius.

The book discusses the evolution of the late-Roman/early-Byzantine army and its  systems of warfare. The text also discusses the army, military equipment and tactics of Rome’s chief enemies, Sassanian Iran, Goths and Vandals. 

The Porta Pinciana (The Gate of  Pinciana). This came under the control of Belisarius during the siege of Rome. Belisarius launched a successful sortie from this location against the Germanic Goths.

There is a constant analysis of Belisarius’ exemplary abilities as a general throughout the book

Belisarius and the Military history of Romano-Sassanian Warfare

Hughes’ text is also ground-breaking in that it follows a new (and welcome) Western tradition in which (Western) scholars examine the military history of ancient pre-Islamic Iran with objectivity and balance.

Belisarius (500-565) is one of the most brilliant military strategists ever produced by the Romano-Byzantine world and its Western/European successors. Few are aware that it was in Sassanian Iran where Belisarius met his military equals. Iran’s Savaran cavalry not only held their own against the formidable armies of Belisarius but even scored a number of successes. Belisarius in turn also scored his own successes against the Savaran; indeed the Iranian-Roman frontier experienced numerous battles before the arrival of the Arabo-Islamic armies in the 7th century.

In an endeavor to provide a closer insight into Sassanian arms, equipment and tactics, Hughes has printed a number of diagrams that were produced by Kaveh Farrokh during his research for his first book Elite Sassanian cavalry published in 2005 and translated to Persian by Yusef Amiri in 2009. Farrokh also had the assistance of military historian and martial arts specialist Antony Karasuals in Australia in his research. One notable contribution by Karasulas was his deployment of the Sassanian method of firing arrows for assessment.

Below is one diagram by Farrokh which is being published for the first time in the Hughes text:


Late Sassanian sword (Farrokh 2004; reprinted Hughes 2010, p.51). Entire sword from front [1] and back [2]; sword handle at front [3] and back [4]; sword mount at front [5] and back [6].

Hughes also provides excellent maps, diagrams and battle plans throughout his text.



The Romano-Sassanian frontier at the time of Emperor Justinian. Note the location of Romano-Iranian battles in Pers-Armenia, Dara and Callinicum.

Hughes’ text is a highly recommended item for those interested in Roman-Byzantine military history, including those interested in the military history of the wars between Sassanian Iran and the Romano-Byzantines.


Late Sassanian belt found at Nahavand (Farrokh 2004; reprinted Hughes 2010, p.52). This belt system utilizes the Turco-Avar lappet suspension system for swords and quivers.

Peer-reviewed Iranshenasi Journal Praises Farrokh Book


Iranshenasi: A journal of Iranian Studies is one the most highly respected peer-reviewed journals of Iranian Studies and features an advisorry board of Iranian Studies scholars of the highest calibre. The chief editor of this journal is the distinguished Dr. Jalal Matini who has worked for decades to ensure the publication of articles pertinent to Iranian culture, history, society and the state of Iranian Studies programs in academia. Dr. Matini was the President of Ferdowsi University in Mashhad before the 1979 revolution.

Dr. Jalal Matini (standing at podium), the Chief Editor of the Iranshenasi journal  flanked by the late Iranian poet and thinker, Nader Naderpour (seated at left) at UCLA.

The iranshenasi journal also utilizes first-class academics in the field of Iranian Studies to review recent books and publications. The recent Iranshenasi edition features the following book review by Farhad Mafie of California State University (Fullerton):

Mafie, Farhad (2010). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh. Iranshenasi, Volume XXII, No.1, Spring 2010, pp.1-5 (see document in pdf).


Introduction & the State of Iranian Studies Programs

Below are some select quotes from Mafie’s introductiory observations:

Fortunately, more and more first- and second-generation Iranian scholars, archaeologists, and researchers in the West have shown great interest in…studying ancient Persia…faciliated some serious scholarly works  on Iran’s pre-Islamic eras, in spite of the lack of financial support nad many other limitations” (Mafie, 2010, pp.1).

Mafie’s reference to the “lack of financial support and many other limitations” is very astute and to the point. Professor Ehsan Yarshater, the editor of the Encyclopaedia Iranica, noted in an interview with the Gooya News Service on June 6, 2004 that:

“…the total number of competent scholars in Iranian Studies is decreasing…the number of young scholars drawn to Iranian Studies has become alarmingly low…the one exception is Italy…”.

Since that interview, Iranian studies in Italy have been threatened by the possible closure of the Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente .


Professor Yarshater meets Farrokh during the Persian American Society’s honoring ceremonies for Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye on March 1, 2008. It was during one of the key speeches at this event when Professor Yarshater raised alarm with respect to anti-Iran historical revisionists and the dangers of insufficient support for Iranian Studies in the West.



Mafie has provided a number of points evaluating Farrokh’s text. Four of these are cited below’: 

Even though the book obviously focuses on the history of warfare and armaments during the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian Empires, Farrokh metioculously analyzes the cultural, political and religious aspects of each period and he shows how they are all interwoven and how they have impacted each war and its aftermath” (Mafie, 2010, pp.2).

To his credit, while he shows the glories of the Persian Empires, he makes objective assesments of the events and their consequences…based on the historical evidences  ”  (Mafie, 2010, pp.3).

Even if one does not have the time to read this wonderful and informative book in its entirty…Chapter 19 (“The Legacy of Persia after the Islamic Conquest”) must be read, especially by all young Iranians interested in learning about Sassanians’ and Iran’s impact throughout history upon civilizations around the world…Chapter 19 could be expanded to a separate volume… ” (Mafie, 2010, pp.4).

The book contains a very useful chronology and a comprehensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources, which help the reader to find the desired relevant references much faster. In addition to a comprehensive index, Farrokh provides an excellent Endnotes section that offers further explanations, references and relevant information on various key points in each chapter. A great help to students! ” (Mafie, 2010, pp.4).



Mafie has made reference to the text’s recognition by noting that:

Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War received the “Best History Book of 2008 Award” in the London WAALM (the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media) ceremonies in November 2008. It has also been selected as among the top three history books of 2008 by the Independent Book Publishers Association of the United States” (Mafie, 2010, pp.4).


Farrokh at the WAALM ceremonies of November 2008.


Conclusion Notes

Mafie has referred to the text as a reference source at the post-secondary level:

Many historians in major universities…have selected this outstanding volume…I am sure more and more universities and colleges will be adopting Farrokh’s book once they have had the opportunity to read and examine this informative volume for themselves” (Mafie, 2010, pp.5).


Meeting his mentors: Farrokh greets Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye of Harvard University(shaking hands with Farrokh) and world-renowned Iranologist, Dr. Farhang Mehr (at center), winner of the 2010 Merit and Scholarship award (photo from Persian American Society,March 1, 2008).  As noted by Mafie, Professor Frye of Harvard University wrote the foreword of Farrokh’s text stating that “…Dr. Kaveh Farrokh has given us the Persian side of the picture as opposed to the Greek and Roman viewpoint …it is refreshing to see the other perspective, and Dr. farrokh sheds light on many Persian institutions in this history…” (Mafie, 2010, pp.2).  

Mafie conludes that:

“I highly recommend this wonderful bookl to anyone who is interested in learning about pre-Islamic Iranian history…and how the legacy of the Persian Empires continues in today’s world (Mafie, 2010, pp.4)…this book is not limited to textbook use or to scholarly studies. Everyone who is interested in world history will enjoy this volume…” (Mafie, 2010, pp.5).