The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians

The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians

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by Peter Heather

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The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors Rome called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling an Empire that had dominated their lives for so long. A leading authority on the late Roman Empire


The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors Rome called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling an Empire that had dominated their lives for so long. A leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians, Heather relates the extraordinary story of how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled the empire apart. He shows first how the Huns overturned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers, to force the Goths and others to seek refuge inside the Empire. This prompted two generations of struggle, during which new barbarian coalitions, formed in response to Roman hostility, brought the Roman west to its knees. The Goths first destroyed a Roman army at the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and went on to sack Rome in 410. The Vandals spread devastation in Gaul and Spain, before conquering North Africa, the breadbasket of the Western Empire, in 439. We then meet Attila the Hun, whose reign of terror swept from Constantinople to Paris, but whose death in 453 ironically precipitated a final desperate phase of Roman collapse, culminating in the Vandals' defeat of the massive Byzantine Armada: the west's last chance for survival. Peter Heather convincingly argues that the Roman Empire was not on the brink of social or moral collapse. What brought it to an end were the barbarians.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A rich and dramatic synthesis of the latest research on Gibbon's old story.... The drama of Mr. Heather's book lies not just in the world-changing story he has to tell, but in his behind-the-scenes view of how historians work. Like a master detective, Mr. Heather employs the most various techniques—everything from pollen sampling to archaeology to literary criticism—to wring the truth from the reticent past.... What Mr. Heather offers is not easy analogies but a realization of the complex strangeness of the past—the achievement of a great historian."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"Like a late Roman emperor, Heather is determined to impose order on a fabric that is always threatening to fragment and collapse into confusion; unlike most late Roman emperors, he succeeds triumphantly."—The Times of London

"Gibbon's 'awful revolution'—the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West—still casts a pall. Yet, as Peter Heather's brilliant mixture of rapid flowing narrative and deeply thought analysis fully brings out, it still exerts a pull too. 'Lepcisgate', Alaric's Goths, and Attila's Huns are all thrown into Heather's melting pot along with Roman imperial aims and mismanagement. The outcome is a conclusion Heather finds pleasing—and Gibbon would not have despised—that Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own demise."—Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

"To a period that has often appeared as impenetrable as it is momentous, Peter Heather brings a rare combination of scholarship and flair for narrative. With this book, a powerful searchlight has been shone upon the shadow-dimmed end of Rome's western empire."—Tom Holland, author of Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

"Deftly covering the necessary economic and political realities of decline and fall, Heather also presents the stories and the characters of this tumultuous epoch, in a colorful and enthralling narrative."—The Independent

"Masterful, lucid.... Always rewarding."—ForeWord Magazine

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Oxford University Press
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Meet the Author

Peter Heather teaches at King's College, London. A leading authority on the barbarians, he is the author of The Goths, Goths and Romans, and The Huns.

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Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, by Peter Heather This new book by a professor at Worcester College, University of Oxford is a true gem among books covering historical subject matter. The past when covered by most books attempting to educate the reader on historical subject matter covering several hundred years often results in text book like reading without the inspirational individual efforts of the everyday citizen being included or explained. If you are interested in finding out just how similar our world events today are to ancient Rome and the issues they faced, read this book! Rome faced many of the same issues as we see today. Heather argues, in my opinion very successfully that it was the barbarians who brought down the Empire rather than any social or moral collapse. In my opinion it succeeds. At 459 pages just for the story and persuasive argument for his theme Heather adds a timeline and other sources as well, making the total page count 572. This book was fun, entertaining and engaging. I highly recommend it.
Conrad_Jalowski More than 1 year ago
Peter Heather's analysis of the resultant decline and fall of the Roman Empire is based on its great predecessor- Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Overall, Edward Gibbon's 1,252 page analysis has the underlying thesis that Rome had a glorious aetataureate or a Golden Age during the Antonine Principate Period. After the passing of these benevolent despots, the Roman Empire underwent stagnation and then inevitable dilapidation, decline and ulimate abjuration as it was to be swept away. This thesis of Edward Gibbon has sparked a controversy. Multitudinous theses have been proposed on the fall of the Roman Empire with Peter Heather being one of them. Peter Heather utilizes socio-demographic means with illustrative methods such as tables, graphs and charts to stress the decentralization of the political unit into the feudal period of manorialism. Within the greater context, society was disrupted to an extent in the fact that the geographic constitution of the Roman Empire had collapsed. This point is where the multifarious theses converge. Edward Gibbon proposed that the fall of Rome was a catastrophe that led Europe into an age of less civilized societies that lacked centralization, unity and internal coherence. For Edward Gibbon, the fall of Rome led to the "Dark Ages". Pirenne's thesis, however, states that Greco-Roman culture continued until 638 CE when the Muslim forces disrupted Byzantine and Mediterranean mercantile activities and deprived the Byzantine forces and all of its Greek and Roman legacies of the Exarchate of Carthage, the Exarchate of Hispania, Syria, Egypt, Cyrenaica and other outlying and semi-peripheral zones. With the disruption of trade and commerce, the age of antiquity finally gave way to the Mediaeval Period. The theory of Late Antiquity maintains that whilst geographic hegemony of Rome fell, it gave way to an era of transition with the Byzantine state and the revival in the West or Charlemagne's Empire as well as the Holy Roman Empire that maintained the Greco-Roman tradition. Peter Heather brings together all these inimical and conflicting theories and adds through assiduous research, interior images, charts, tables, graphs and a rigorous works cited/bibliography list a concise reiteration and a new perspective. For example, Peter Heather mentions that 40% of the Byzantine forces were held in check against the Sassanian Persians. The overall military expenditure, over-extension of manpower and economic exhaustion were some causes of the fall of Rome and an interesting outlook to the continuity/disruption theories that concern the topic of the fall of Rome.
Kermie13 More than 1 year ago
The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather has definitely opened my eyes to how such small minuet decisions could lead to completely disastrous conclusions. I would say that if you have an appreciation for military tactics and find the battles to be the most interesting part of a passed culture then this is a book for you but for me I am truly not one of those people who can read about that kind of history so this book was quite hard to get through personally. The concept this book should be studied in history classes all across America because history is to tell the future of the past in hopes to not repeat mistakes made but to repeat the concepts that succeeded. Great book to get a well understood stand on how complex the fall of Rome was and how its collapse was due to a well placed domino effect. =)
laural1983 More than 1 year ago
The Fall of the roman empire This book I would like to reflect on. For started this book was really detailed and explain all parts of the Roman Empire very well. From culture to how the army was as well as what the building where like. This book “Fall of the Roman Empire” started out by telling about Massacre that happened in 54 B.C.E. It was close to the borders of Belgium, Holland and Germany. This was in the time of Julius Caesar was in charge. Betrayed by their own (Ambiorox) the Romans walked right into a trap. In this battle the Romans where killed and some taken as prisoners. Some soldiers committed suicide rather then they could fall in the hands of there enemies. This part of the book was interesting to me because I didn’t know they where betrayed by their own and they lost their lives to the Germans. Then the book goes on from there and tells about Roman culture and how they lived and what they wear. What I thought was interesting is how the Romans viewed them self’s. They felt they were the best and as above any other culture or country. They also felt that, what they believed in that everyone else should too. They made it law for certain kinds of beliefs like religion. What I got out of this part was the Romans where powerful and they were above all of Western Europe. The author went the on from there to tell about the battles that went on leading up to where they were defended. Even if the Romans lost they wouldn’t stop they would attach there enemies again. There was some wars or battles where the Romans lost almost there entire army and they would rebuild their army and attach again. Roman army as had their faults or weakness. The Romans always fought the same and used the same tactics of war. Right down to the food they ate never changed. What was interesting to me was that the Romans where so powerful and yet an army that was smaller than them and the Romans considered them Barbarians but they still defeated them. There is a lot more to how they got defeated but that’s what I think about now after I read this book. Also there empire grow over centuries and became very powerful until the fifth century when they where defended. I learned a lot about the Roman Empire by reading this book. I believe that this book was a good book by explaining what really happened with the Roman Empire and how they were defended. The detail was amazing and the way the author explained the situations was well written. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out why the Roman Empire fell.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
There is much to learn from the backward slide of an advanced civilization when put upon by 'Huns'. I am quite sure that the dramatic decline in populations, living standards, economic, hygene, recreation, longevity, security, educational, technological was something akin to a nuclear event.