Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe

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Empires and Barbarians presents a fresh, provocative look at how a recognizable Europe came into being in the first millennium AD. With sharp analytic insight, Peter Heather explores the dynamics of migration and social and economic interaction that changed two vastly different worlds—the undeveloped barbarian world and the sophisticated Roman Empire—into remarkably similar societies and states.

The book's vivid narrative begins at the time of Christ, when the Mediterranean circle, newly united under the Romans, hosted a politically sophisticated, economically advanced, and culturally developed civilization—one with philosophy, banking, professional armies, literature, stunning architecture, even garbage collection. The rest of Europe, meanwhile, was home to subsistence farmers living in small groups, dominated largely by Germanic speakers. Although having some iron tools and weapons, these mostly illiterate peoples worked mainly in wood and never built in stone. The farther east one went, the simpler it became: fewer iron tools and ever less productive economies. And yet ten centuries later, from the Atlantic to the Urals, the European world had turned. Slavic speakers had largely superseded Germanic speakers in central and Eastern Europe, literacy was growing, Christianity had spread, and most fundamentally, Mediterranean supremacy was broken.

Bringing the whole of first millennium European history together, and challenging current arguments that migration played but a tiny role in this unfolding narrative, Empires and Barbarians views the destruction of the ancient world order in light of modern migration and globalization patterns.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An amiable and learned companion through the centuries of migrations."-Library Journal

"An awesomely ambitious work: an attempt, in the heroic tradition of Pirenne, to make sense of nothing less than the reshaping of antiquity, and the origins of modern Europe.... Heather is a wonderfully fluent writer, with a consistent ability to grab hold of his reader's attention.... The result is a book which richly merits reading by those interested in the future of Europe as well as its past."—Tom Holland, BBC History Magazine

"Most immediately impressive is Heather's easy command of detail. A jaunty, man of the people prose style masks a sure and scholarly grip on the history and archaeology of the first millenniem A.D. One of Heather's most attractive strengths is his eye for comparision. He neatly sets his thinking about first-millennium migration against modern experiences of the lure of the New World or the desperate flight of Kosovar or Rwandan refugees."—Christopher Kelly, Literary Review

"Peter Heather's book is an important contribution to the field—the first up-to-date book that compares the Germanic and the Slav migrations of the early middle ages. It is lucid and it has a complex argument, but it is grippingly written."—Chris Wickham, author of The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

"This is a major work on the political and ethnic shaping of Europe during the first millennium A.D., embracing not just the Germanic and sub-Roman peoples, but also the Slavs and the Vikings. No one interested in the formation of European states and identities will be able to ignore this book."—Bryan Ward-Perkins, author of The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization

"Impressive in its ambition and its scope."-The New Yorker

"Heather manages to robustly balance the need for both breadth and depth. A superior piece of scholarship."-DiscoverMagazine.com

"While ambitious in scope, one of the delightful aspects of this hefty volume is its eminent readability. Heather's writing is often playful in style. This conversational and sometimes humorous tone, combined with a knack for explaining complex ideas clearly, belies the complexity of his argument and the sheer amount of information conveyed." -Laura Wangerin, World History Bulletin

"In addition to offering a new way of looking at the broad trends of European history, Heather also makes a major contribution to a long-standing debate about the role of migration in the first millenniumEL[Empire and Barbarians'] range, its highly important themes, and the boldness and clarity of its writing should stimulate argument and advance debate for years to come." -Edward James, American Historical Review

"Empires and Barbarians is a significant accomplishment and a welcome gateway for the curious as well as the deeply informed." —HNN.com

Library Journal
British historian Heather (medieval history, Univ. of Oxford; The Fall of the Roman Empire) takes a look at first-millennium migrations in Europe, examining contemporary records, archaeological remains, and modern migration theory. The collapse of Rome in the West and the advance of the Huns from the East set off mass movements of people looking for wealth and security. Examining in chronological order the movements of Germanic peoples, Huns, Slavs, and Vikings, Heather concludes that masses of humanity traipsed across Europe (which some recent historians have doubted) but not exactly in the manner described in old high school history books. The large migrant groups were made up of many temporary loose alliances rather than a single people with a cultural identity. Invaded peoples, even when their conquerors included women and children, were more likely to continue in place in a subservient role than to be massacred. VERDICT Although Heather makes an amiable and learned companion through the centuries of migrations, his exhaustive account is too exhausting and repetitive to be suitable for the general reader. Specialists in the field will want to make the effort.—Stewart Desmond, New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199735600
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/4/2010
  • Pages: 734
  • Sales rank: 703,435
  • Product dimensions: 9.54 (w) x 6.42 (h) x 1.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Heather is Professor of Medieval History at King's College London. He is the author of The Fall of the Roman Empire, Goths and Romans, 332-489, The Goths, and The Visigoths in the Migration Period.

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Table of Contents

Ch 1: Migrants and Barbarians
Ch 2: Globalization and the Germans
Ch 3: All Roads Lead to Rome?
Ch 4: Migration and Frontier Collapse
Ch 5: Huns on the Run
Ch 6: Franks and Anglo-Saxons: Elite Transfer or Volkerwanderung?
Ch 7: A New Europe
Ch 8: The Creation of Slavic Europe
Ch 9: Viking Diasporas
Ch 10: The First European Union
Ch 11: The End of Migration and the Birth of Europe
Primary Sources/ Bibliography

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 3, 2012

    Peter Heather is tops!

    I read Heather's earlier volume on the Fall of the Roman Empire, and that made this a must-read. He's an estimable historian more than capable of untangling the confused threads of this complicated period of devolution, synthesis and reintegration.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent historical book

    Mr. Heather wrote an excellent historical version of Empires and Barbarians. His clear style of writing allowed me to understand subject matter extremely well. He explains everything in detail and you can tell that the book was well researched. The book covers the Roman Empire, along with the Goths, Hans, etc, and it also goes into the fall of Roman Empire. There are also interesting stories based on actual accounts of the folks that lived during the period.

    So, if you want to get educated on the ancient empires and the Barbarians, then this is the book for you. Highly recommend.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2015

    Read this.

    An on-point and scholarly reevaluation of the place of migration in European history. The emphasis on Slavic political development is a new twist for Western readers. I have only one complaint: why the Gibbon-like antipathy for the Roman Empire in the East?

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