How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower [NOOK Book]


"At the time of Marcus Aurelius's death in the second century A.D., the Roman Empire controlled most of the known world. By the end of the fifth century, the empire had disintegrated, and only a small fragment remained in the eastern Mediterranean, a mere shadow of its former might. Well over a thousand years would pass before the levels of prosperity, literacy, and technological sophistication would match those of the Roman era." In this book, Adrian Goldsworthy explores the years of Roman decline, from the second to the sixth century, when men, ...
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How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower

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"At the time of Marcus Aurelius's death in the second century A.D., the Roman Empire controlled most of the known world. By the end of the fifth century, the empire had disintegrated, and only a small fragment remained in the eastern Mediterranean, a mere shadow of its former might. Well over a thousand years would pass before the levels of prosperity, literacy, and technological sophistication would match those of the Roman era." In this book, Adrian Goldsworthy explores the years of Roman decline, from the second to the sixth century, when men, women, heroes, and tyrants made decisions that altered Rome's destiny. He brings into sharp focus a factor neglected by historians - Rome's frequent civil wars - and shows that from 217 A.D. onward, almost constant internal conflict sapped the empire's strength in ways that eventually proved fatal. As Goldsworthy points out, more Roman soldiers were killed by other Romans than by any foreign enemies.
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Editorial Reviews

Diana Preston
Goldsworthy's meticulously researched, complex and thought-provoking book…is persuasive, though in such a long and intricate span of history where scarcity and sparseness of sources make it particularly hard to distinguish cause from effect, questions inevitably remain.
—The Washington Post
"Goldsworthy . . . claims the empire''s fatal move was to make the centre of authority—Rome and its experienced senatorial government—irrelevant. . . . Goldsworthy''s expertise guarantees his clearly and powerfully articulated thesis will open up the debate all over again."—Peter Jones, Telegraph

— Peter Jones

California Literary Review

"On a more profound level, Goldsworthy has depicted the grim process by which the Res Publica, the common good of the Roman many, was sacrificed for the self-preservation of the Imperial few, leading in due course to the destruction of all."—California Literary Review

The American Spectator

How Rome Fell is an interesting and compelling analysis. It is definitely worth the price to obtain and the time to digest, even if you are not a student of classical history.”--Brandon Crocker, The American Spectator

— Brandon Crocker

The NYMAS Review

“A very important book for anyone interested in Roman history.”--The NYMAS Review
The New Criterion

“[A] masterful survey.”--The New Criterion
Wall Street Journal

“Goldsworthy gives a vivid account. . . . [he] tells us clearly and well--and without attempts at literary majesty--about the series of events that brought Rome’s western empire to a state of collapse.”--Wall Street Journal
Washington Times

“. . . weaves a compelling narrative that has enough new research to keep even well seasoned ‘Romanphiles’ satisfied.”--Washington Times
Magill's Literary Annual 2010

"Goldsworthy is not the first historian to note the self-destructiveness of Roman imperial and military institutions. He has, however, provided one of the most penetrating and well-written analyses of how this dysfunction led to the fall of the Roman empire."--Daniel P. Murphy, Magill''s Literary Annual 2010

— Daniel P. Murphy

Telegraph - Peter Jones
"Goldsworthy . . . claims the empire's fatal move was to make the centre of authority—Rome and its experienced senatorial government—irrelevant. . . . Goldsworthy's expertise guarantees his clearly and powerfully articulated thesis will open up the debate all over again."—Peter Jones, Telegraph
The American Spectator - Brandon Crocker

How Rome Fell is an interesting and compelling analysis. It is definitely worth the price to obtain and the time to digest, even if you are not a student of classical history.”--Brandon Crocker, The American Spectator
Magill's Literary Annual 2010 - Daniel P. Murphy

"Goldsworthy is not the first historian to note the self-destructiveness of Roman imperial and military institutions. He has, however, provided one of the most penetrating and well-written analyses of how this dysfunction led to the fall of the Roman Empire."—Daniel P. Murphy, Magill's Literary Annual 2010
From the Publisher
"This richly rewarding work will serve as an introduction to Roman history, but will also provide plenty of depth to satisfy the educated reader." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
The Barnes & Noble Review
There's been a steady stream of books about the fall of the Roman Empire these last few years. Publishers' interest reflects a popular perception that there is something to be learned about contemporary America from studying Roman decline. ("Are We Rome?" asked one of the more egregious examples -- exemplifying the old adage that if a title is a question it's because the answer is no.) It's a perception that runs to the very highest levels of government. Adrian Goldsworthy's new How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower had its origin in his being invited to lecture U.S. policymakers at a two-day conference devoted to the historical strategies and decline of great powers. Goldsworthy was intrigued by the parallels encouraged at the conference, and his publishers saw an opening for the historian to figure in the wider debate on America in the 21st century.

What's ironic about the heavy marketing of this specious parallel is that many of the books are important studies of the collapse of Roman power in West in the fourth and fifth centuries. These are reactions not to politics or contemporary events but to one of the greatest scholarly achievements of the postwar era: the acceptance of the idea of Late Antiquity. This concept -- essentially established by a single great historian, Peter Brown -- was that the centuries between A.D. 300 and 800 were a period of continuity more than of decline. Rome didn't collapse so much as the old classical Roman order give way to a new Mediterranean world.

This reflects the fact that something every schoolboy once knew -- that the Roman Empire fell in 476 -- is not necessarily true. Odoacer, a Germanic general in Roman service, deposed the last of the Western Roman emperors -- Romulus Augustulus -- in that year. But this was merely one in a long series of Roman debacles in Italy, the culmination of which was a five-year war between Odoacer and the Ostrogoths under Theodoric, which ended in 493 with the establishment of a Gothic kingdom in Italy. Thus 493 was a more important year than 476, as were 410 (the Visigoths sacked Rome over three days), 452 (Attila and the Huns devastated northern Italy), and 455 (the Vandals spent a full two weeks looting everything portable from Rome).

Theodoric's kingdom, like the Visigothic one that ruled a large swathe of Spain and Gaul, was Roman in institution and ideal. They were essentially client states of the Eastern Roman emperor Constantinople and can be seen as perpetuating the system of subdividing Roman rule between junior and senior emperors inaugurated by Diocletian in the 290s. In 536, the Eastern emperor -- and it is important to note that while we may call them Byzantines, they thought of themselves as nothing but Romans -- launched a war to regain direct control of Italy. It raged for 20 years and proved more devastating to the classical Roman culture than the barbarian invasions had been. There were three major sieges of Rome, the first lasting more than a year. The Gothic leader, Vitiges, ordered the destruction of Rome's great aqueduct system, and it would be 1,000 years before the citizens of Rome did not have to draw their water from the foul Tiber. The baths that had been such a conspicuous part of everyday Roman life and business passed away, a greater symbol of the end of classical Rome than the deposition of Romulus Augustulus. The heart of the West was again in Roman hands, but only temporarily. The Lombards would shortly replace the Romans as Italy's major power, and Constantinople would begin its long struggle with expansionist Islam. This is Late Antiquity: a world still dominated by Roman institutions and ideas, but no longer a Roman world.

How the Roman Empire, which was at its apex in 300, declined is a story that has attracted innumerable historians. (In 1984, the German historian Alexander Demandt estimated that 210 reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire had been hazarded over the centuries -- gluttony, lead poisoning, and egotism are my favorites.) It's a crowded field with more monuments than just Gibbon: Mikhail Rostovtzeff's Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (1926) revolutionized the historical study of the classical world by drawing in archaeological and economic evidence to fill out Gibbon's portrait of uncheckable decay, while A.H.M. Jones's still-incomparable survey The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 (1964) stressed the economic crises attendant to constant warfare.

The number of serious work in the recent surge of "Roman decline" books is attributable to the generation of scholars who came of age after Peter Brown's pioneering work -- his World of Late Antiquity was published in 1971 -- offering mature thoughts on Late Antiquity. One of the most individual is Bryan Ward-Perkins's essayistic The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, which considers the horrific realities of this age of "continuity" -- technology and learning basically vanished in the West thanks to the collapse of civil society. Almost all reviewers paired Ward-Perkins's book with another 2005 book, Peter Heather's full and dynamic portrait of the age, The Fall of the Roman Empire. Heather, the author of major works on the barbarians' ways of warring against Rome, has no doubts about the cause: It was the Huns that did it. Attila's empire may have collapsed within a decade of its founding, but it undid all of the careful layers of civil and military organization that held Rome and the barbarian groups in balance.

Heather seemed likely to hold the field for a generation, but several additional contenders have appeared since his book was published. James O'Donnell's The Ruin of the Roman Empire is a fine synthesis of Late Antiquity scholarship. Focused more on the Eastern Empire and the fifth and sixth centuries, O'Donnell makes a compelling defense of the Gothic kingdoms and a hero of Theodoric, who tried to maintain Roman-style order in Italy. Christopher Kelly's The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome is marvelous account of the rise and fall of Hunnic power (and a superb narrative supplement to Heather).

Receiving the most attention is Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell, and expectedly so: the author's previous book, Caesar: Life of a Colossus, took serious classical history to a broad international audience. Here, though, Goldsworthy is troubled by the sheer scope of the material -- he is covering the four centuries from the reign of Marcus Aurelius to that of Justinian, far different from the focused Caesar -- and his narrative comes across as workmanlike in a field where elegance is much prized. Goldsworthy, moreover, favors political reasons for Rome's collapse. (Rome-Washington parallelists like to cite the vast increase in the Roman bureaucracy in the wake of Diocletian and the attendant loss of efficiency.) The Roman state did evolve into an institution concentrated on protecting the emperor from usurpation and enriching an inner circle. But as compelling as this argument seems in detail, it is utterly undone by even a cursory comparison with the Eastern Empire, which lasted another thousand years with a bureaucracy even more inefficient and calcified than that in the West. It survived because its borders were defensible and were defended.

The West collapsed for many reasons, but the catalyst was the barbarian invasions. As Peter Heather, rejecting Gibbon, so clearly notes in his conclusion: "Without the barbarians there is not the slightest evidence that the Western Empire would have ceased to exist in the fifth century." Goldsworthy's is a steady survey, well aimed at a general audience that his books are doing much to establish, but the vastness of the material requires an impeccable guide. In a field dominated by figures like Gibbon and A.H.M. Jones, Heather is a worthy heir. --Robert Messenger

Robert Messenger is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300155600
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 295,823
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

A native of the United Kingdom, AudioFile Earphones Award winner Derek Perkins's audiobook narration skills are augmented by knowledge of three foreign languages and a facility with accents. He has narrated numerous titles in a wide range of fiction and nonfiction genres.
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Read an Excerpt


Death of a Superpower
By Adrian Goldsworthy

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2009 Adrian Goldsworthy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-13719-4

Chapter One

The Kingdom of Gold

'Reflect upon the rapidity with which all that exists and is coming to be is swept past us and disappears from sight. For substance is like a river in perpetual flow ... and ever at our side is the immeasurable span of the past and the yawning gulf of the future, in which all things vanish away. Then how is he not a fool who in the midst of all this is puffed up with pride, or tormented, or bewails his lot as though his troubles would endure for any great while?' - Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius died sometime during the night of 17 March 180. Rome's sixteenth emperor was just a few weeks short of his fifty-ninth birthday and had ruled his vast empire for nearly two decades. Later there were rumours of foul play - there nearly always were when any emperor died - of doctors ensuring his death to please his son and heir Commodus. This is very unlikely, and in fact it is in many ways surprising that he had lived as long as he did. Never a robust man, he had driven himself hard during a reign troubled by war and plague. Even so, later generations remembered him as the ideal emperor, and the senator Dio writing in the next century described hisreign as a 'kingdom of gold'. Marcus' remarkable Meditations - the diary-like collection of his philosophical ideas, which was never intended for publication - reveal a man with a profound sense of duty and an earnest desire to rule well. This was not from a desire for reputation - 'It is the king's part to do good and be ill spoken of' - but because it was the right thing to do and the best for everyone. Reputation meant nothing to the dead, and he, like everyone and everything else was destined to die: 'in a short while you will be no one and nowhere, as are Hadrian and Augustus'. Death, and the need to accept it without resentment, is a constant theme, which suggests that he was never quite able to convince himself. His private letters reveal his deep emotion at the loss of friends and family. Yet change was the nature of the world, and even those historians who deny that the Roman empire ever declined or fell describe its transformation. Before looking at this process it is worth examining the world of Marcus Aurelius.

Educated people like Marcus knew that the world was round. Greek philosophers had first realised this, but for centuries the Romans had also spoken of the globe or orb. There were occasional suggestions to the contrary, but the trend amongst philosophers was to claim that the stars and planets revolved around the Earth rather than the Sun. Knowledge of the night sky was considerable in many cultures of the ancient world, in part because people had a deep-seated belief in astrology. Emperor Hadrian was supposed to have been able to predict even the smallest events in minute detail, including the day and hour of his own death. The world was round, but only three continents were known - Europe, Asia and Africa - and there was no clear idea of the full extent of the last two. Around the land masses was the vast encircling ocean, broken only on its fringes by a few islands like Britain. In the centre of the continents was the Mediterranean, the middle sea. This was the heart of the world, and of the Roman Empire.

In Marcus' day the empire stretched from the Atlantic coast to the Rhine and Danube, and from the line of the rivers Forth and Clyde in northern Britain to the Euphrates in Syria. This was a vast area - by far the greatest part of the known world as far as its inhabitants were concerned. It was all the greater in an age when transport was never faster than a ship could sail across the sea or a horse could gallop overland. It was some 3,000 miles from the easternmost fringes of the empire to its northernmost tip, and yet we know that people made such journeys. In 1878 a tombstone was found near the site of the Roman fort of Arbeia at South Shields overlooking the mouth of the Tyne. It commemorates Regina - Queen or perhaps Queenie - the thirty-year-old 'freedwoman and wife' of 'Barates of the Palmyrene nation'. Palmyra was a wealthy oasis city in Syria and it seems likely that Barates was a merchant, and judging from the size and quality of this monument, a successful one. His wife was more local, a Briton from the Catuvellaunian tribe who lived north of the Thames. Originally she had been his slave, but he had given her freedom and then married her, a not uncommon arrangement. On the tombstone she is shown seated and dressed in the finery of a Roman lady, with a bracelet on her wrist and necklace at her throat, her hair pinned up in one of the ornate styles dictated by fashion. On the husband's part at least there does seem to have been genuine affection. Most of the inscription is in Latin, but the last line is in the curving script of his own native tongue and reads simply, 'Regina, the freedwoman of Barates, alas.'

Neither Barates nor Regina were Roman citizens, but their marriage and presence in northern Britain were all due to the empire. So was the fact that the monument was in Roman style and largely in Latin. The world they lived in was Roman, although never exclusively so. Each proudly identified with peoples that had once been independent. Barates spoke his own Semitic language and Regina is likely to have spoken the Celtic language of her people. Latin was only common in the western provinces and Greek remained the principal means of communication and culture in the east. Throughout the empire many different languages and dialects continued to be spoken locally. There were other differences, too, of religion, customs and culture, and yet the striking thing about the empire was the number of similarities from one province to another. The great public buildings - basilicas, temples, theatres, circuses, amphitheatres and aqueducts - looked much the same in Africa as they did in Gaul, Spain and Syria.

Yet it was more than just a question of architectural style and engineering technique. People dressed in similar and distinctively Roman ways, and particular fashions spread widely. Hadrian was the first emperor to wear a beard, expressing his fondness for this Greek custom, although others said that he just wanted to hide the blemishes on his skin. Many men copied him. Similarly women aped the hairstyles adopted by the emperors' wives and daughters, shown on their portraits throughout the provinces. Virtually identical coiffures can be seen on sculptures from the Rhineland as on funerary portraits from Egypt. These painted portraits decorated coffins containing bodies mummified according to the ancient custom of the region. Becoming Roman rarely, if ever, meant complete abandonment of local traditions.

The Roman Empire was created through conquest, which was often an extremely bloody business. Julius Caesar was said to have killed a million people when he overran Gaul in 58-50 BC, and sold as many more into slavery. This was exceptional, and the numbers are probably exaggerated, but the Romans were ruthlessly determined in their pursuit of victory and the cost could be appalling for the vanquished. The Roman historian Tacitus made one tribal leader proclaim that the Romans 'make a wasteland, and call it peace'. Very few provinces were created without at least some fighting and Caesar himself felt it was natural for the Gauls to fight for their freedom, even if it was entirely proper for him to deprive them of it in the interest of Rome. Yet in Gaul as elsewhere, there were always some communities and leaders who welcomed the legions, seeking protection from hostile neighbours or hoping to gain an advantage over rivals. The Iceni tribe of the famous Queen Boudicca had welcomed the Roman invaders in 43 and only rebelled in 60 when the royal family was mistreated. The legions were as efficient and brutal in suppressing a rebellion as they were in fighting any other war, and the revolt of the Iceni ended in utter and very costly defeat.

Rebellions often occurred about a generation after the initial conquest, but were extremely rare in most areas after that. By the second century it is very hard to detect any traces of a desire for independence from the overwhelming bulk of the provincial population. Partly this acknowledged the dreadful power of the legions, but the army was not large enough to have held the empire down by force and most regions never saw a soldier, let alone a formed body of troops. More importantly, enough people prospered under Roman rule to want to keep it. The Romans had no wish to occupy a wasteland, wanting provinces that were peaceful and rich. In some periods there was substantial settlement of Roman and Italian colonists in communities in conquered territory, but these were never more than a minority amongst the indigenous population. Provinces would never have been peaceful and paid the required taxes without the efforts of the provincials themselves.

Those to benefit most were the local aristocracies, many of whom kept their land, status and wealth. Local communities were left to run their own affairs for much of the time, since central government had neither the desire nor the capacity to interfere. Some laws were imposed, especially those for incidents involving Roman citizens or to regulate relations with other communities. Usually these communities were cities, which administered the lands around them. Many pre-dated Roman occupation, but where none existed they were usually created. The culture of the empire was primarily urban and local aristocrats were encouraged to become magistrates and city councillors. This gave them prestige, authority and sometimes the chance for an even greater career in imperial service. Many were granted Roman citizenship, but Rome had always been generous with this and it was also extended to many less well-off provincials. In the middle of the first century the Apostle Paul, a Jew from the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, was a citizen, although there is no evidence that he could speak Latin. His family was able to give him a good education, but do not seem to have been more than moderately wealthy. On a grander scale, entire cities could formally become a Roman town or colony with constitutions modelled on that of Rome itself.

Most of the provinces were artificial creations of the empire, combining different tribes, peoples and cities into divisions that would have had no real meaning before the Romans came. Tribes and cities continued to inspire real emotion. Paul would boast of being a citizen of Tarsus, 'no mean city', as well as a Roman. In the second century cities were at their most prosperous and were fiercely competitive with their neighbours, striving to out-do them in splendour and prestige. Grand public buildings were constructed as physical symbols of a city's importance. Only a fraction survives from what once existed, but such monuments today provide many of the most spectacular reminders of the Roman era. Magistrates were expected to contribute plenty of their own money when presiding over such projects, commemorating this in great inscriptions set up on the completed buildings. Sometimes ambition got out of hand. At the beginning of the second century Pliny the Younger was sent to govern Bithynia and Pontus - modern northern Turkey. He found that Nicomedia had spent over 3 million sesterces on an aqueduct, which had never been completed. Nearby Nicaea had spent 10 million on a theatre that was already collapsing. These were vast sums - a legionary soldier was paid only 1,200 sesterces per year - and give an indication of the huge amounts lavished on improving cities. Most projects were more successful. There were always local peculiarities of custom and ritual, but it is striking just how similar civic life was throughout the empire.

However dreadful initial conquest by Rome may have been, if it created a wasteland, then it was never permanent. The famous Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, was a reality, and we should not forget how rare prolonged peace was in the ancient world. Before the Romans arrived warfare and raiding were a common occurrence everywhere, and in some regions endemic. Tribes, peoples, cities, kingdoms or leaders fought each other frequently, and in many cases were wracked by internal violence and civil war. This was as true of so-called barbarian tribes as it was of the Greek world - democratic Athens had proved extremely aggressive in its foreign policy. The Romans, however, stopped all of this. Rome was the most successful imperialist of the ancient world, but it was most certainly not the only expansionist state. It is a mistake to think of conquered peoples as mere victims of Rome rather than aggressive in their own right. The Romans had a unique talent for absorbing others and managed to convince the provinces that remaining loyal to Rome was better than the alternative of resistance. This element of consent was ultimately what made the empire work. By 180 no one could seriously imagine, let alone remember, a world without Rome.

Violence was not completely absent from the provinces. Banditry was a serious problem in some areas at some periods and may at times have had a social or political element to it. Both pirates and bandits figure regularly in Greek and Roman fiction, suggesting that they captured the imagination, which does not necessarily mean that they were common in real life. However, there is frequent mention in a range of sources of other organised or casual violence - of landlords against tenants or any group against the vulnerable. We need to be a little careful, since crimes - especially violent crimes - attract disproportionate attention in today's media, quite simply because no one wishes to report or hear about days when nothing happened. There was no organised police force above a local level and the empire was certainly not without crime, but then this has also been true of other large states. Serious rebellion was very rare. Judaea rebelled under Nero (66-73) and again under Hadrian (132-135), while the Jewish population in Egypt, Cyprus and several other provinces rose against Trajan (115-117). In each case the fighting was bitter and costly, but eventually the Romans brutally suppressed the revolt.

The Jews were unusual in having such a strong sense of nationhood, reinforced by religion, and traditions that emphasised resistance to invaders. There were Jewish communities dotted throughout the cities of the empire, but also many living outside, within the great kingdom of Parthia. The Parthians were the only significant independent power on the empire's borders, ruling a realm that covered much of today's Iraq and Iran. The Romans treated them with a degree of respect unmatched in their diplomacy with other peoples, but never as equals. Parthian cavalry armies were formidable in the right circumstances and had in the past inflicted a number of defeats on Roman armies, although conflicts invariably ended with a treaty favouring Rome. Yet their power should not be exaggerated and was dwarfed by the empire. Trajan had launched a major invasion and had sacked the Parthian capital at Ctesiphon. There was never any prospect of a Parthian army threatening Rome itself. Between Parthia and Rome lay the kingdom of Armenia, which clung on to a precarious independence. Culturally it had more in common with the Parthians, and its throne was frequently occupied by members of their royal family. However, the Romans insisted that only they could grant legitimacy to a new king.

Trajan attempted to annex much of Parthia, but was thwarted by a spate of rebellions in the newly conquered territories and his own failing health. His successor Hadrian withdrew from the new provinces and Parthia gradually recovered some of its strength. Elsewhere along the frontiers Rome faced communities far smaller in scale. The vast majority were tribal peoples, politically disunited and frequently hostile to each other. Occasionally a charismatic leader emerged to unite several tribes for a while, but his power rarely survived to be passed on to a successor. The bulk of the Roman army was deployed on or near the frontiers to face whatever threats emerged. This in itself suggests that serious rebellion was considered unlikely in most of the internal provinces. Writing in the second century, the Greek orator Aelius Aristides compared Roman soldiers to the wall protecting a city.


Excerpted from HOW ROME FELL by Adrian Goldsworthy Copyright © 2009 by Adrian Goldsworthy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps

List of Illustrations

Preface 1

Introduction The Big Question 11

Pt. 1 Crisis?The Third Century 27

1 The Kingdom of Gold 29

2 The Secret of Empire 53

3 Imperial Women 70

4 King of Kings 86

5 Barbarians 103

6 The Queen and the 'Necessary' Emperor 123

7 Crisis 138

Pt. 2 Recovery? The Fourth Century 155

8 The Four - Diocletian and the Tetrarchy 157

9 The Christian 174

10 Rivals 194

11 Enemies 205

12 The Pagan 223

13 Goths 245

14 East and West 264

Pt. 3 Fall? The Fifth and Sixth Centuries 283

15 Barbarians and Romans: Generals and Rebels 285

16 The Sister and the Eternal City 299

17 The Hun 314

18 Sunset on an Outpost of Empire 335

19 Emperors, Kings and Warlords 353

20 West and East 370

21 Rise and Fall 388

Conclusion - A Simple Answer 405

Epilogue - An Even Simpler Moral 416

Chronology 425

Glossary 441

Bibliography 449

Notes 467

Index 511

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Interviews & Essays

A conversation with Adrian Goldsworthy . . .

Q:   How does focusing on an individual life, as in your highly acclaimed Caesar, compare with the sweeping history of empire that you have created in How Rome Fell?

A:  It is very different. In a biography the framework of the book naturally follows that of an individual’s life from birth to death—fifty-six years in Caesar’s case. Looking at the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is a much bigger question. The time span I chose covers some four centuries. This makes it a much more complex story to tell, yet this complexity makes it all the more fascinating.  

Q:  Did you have Gibbon in mind as you wrote? 

A:  The scale and perception of Gibbon’s work remains awe inspiring. However, Decline and Fall was very much a product of its author and his age—the volumes were released in the shadow of the American Revolution and reflected an eighteenth-century Englishman’s view of society and religion.

Q:  How did you determine your starting and ending points?

A:  Like Gibbon, I begin with the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, as he is the last emperor for a long period whose character we can know—not least through his famous Meditations. It is also a good point to look at the Empire at this period, when it was clearly at its height. Gibbon, however, continued his narrative into the fifteenth century, ending with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. That marked the end of a state directly descended from the empire of the Caesars. However, the Eastern Roman Empire was already a pale shadow of its united predecessor by the end of the sixth century, even before much of its territory was overrun by the initial conquests of the Muslim Arabs in the seventh century. The theme of How Rome Fell is the process that led to this.

Q:  Your subtitle is Death of a Superpower. Are you suggesting a direct correlation between events of Ancient Rome and America in the twenty-first century?

A:  No, the situations are, of course, very different. Besides, we need to understand the past on its own terms before drawing lessons from the present and future.

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  • Posted January 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Another Goldsworthy Winner

    A few years ago I read The Fall of Rome by Peter Heather, another historian of this period. He was more theory oriented than Goldsworthy, who is a strong narrative writer. The only flaw I found in this book was his tendancy to repcap the situation multiple times. Considering the fragmented sources for this period, I think he has done an excellent job of making Rome's fall accessabile to the general reader. I would suggest you read both Heather and Goldsworthy before tackling Gibbon's famous history, which I found a bit dry for a 20th century reader.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Fine narrative history of the decline and fall

    Adrian Goldsworthy has written a fine narrative history of the Roman Empire from 180 AD to 640, focusing on its internal conflicts. As he observes, a long perspective is needed to record the Empire's decline and fall.

    The Augustan Principate (31 BC-160 AD) brought two centuries of relative internal peace. Then civil wars weakened the Empire, especially in the third and fourth centuries. During the crisis of 235 to 285, more than 60 different men claimed imperial power. These frequent coups embroiled strings of civil and military patrons, splitting state and army.

    These weaknesses led to the Empire's division in the fourth century. After 395 its western and eastern halves never reunited under the same rule. Each half was weaker than when they were joined.

    The west finally collapsed in the fifth century as the central power decayed. The army, the unified administration and the emperors all vanished. Barbarian groups occupied Gaul, Spain, Carthage and most of Italy, and the Empire abandoned Britain. Regional powers, independent kingdoms, arose.

    Lost provinces meant lost taxes and tribute. No longer could the economic base sustain a united empire, and, crucially, an army. The imperial power lost its clear and decisive dominance in the use of force.

    But the eastern empire stayed united and kept its army, administration and emperors. No barbarians occupied its provinces. The eastern empire lasted for another thousand years, first as a power comparable to Persia, then after the disastrous 572-620 wars with Persia, as just one power among many. In 636, the Arabs defeated the Romans near the river Yarmuk, and then, between 640 and 800, took Egypt, North Africa, Spain, Sicily, Syria and Palestine, further reducing the empire's reach.

    What caused the Empire's decline and fall? Its sheer size made it increasingly hard to rule as a unit. It was not that external threats were greater in the third and fourth centuries - for example, the Huns' power was broken before the western empire fell.

    But the succession of coups and consequent civil strife rotted the imperial structure. The Roman Empire was always based on plunder, slavery and violence, but when its ruling class turned to plundering and killing each other, divided they fell.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2011

    DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY! The eBook has NO illustrations.

    You may think that when the list of features for this eBook includes such items as "List of Maps" and "List of Illustrations," that the eBook would actually have the maps and illustrations listed. But you'd be wrong, at least in this case! The eBook has no illustrations. That's right. Yale University Press didn't secure the rights to the illustrations for "electronic media." Great. If you are an avid history reader and want things like maps and illustrations in your history books, keep on shopping. This eBook is a waste of money. Shame on B&N and shame on Yale UP. What a joke...

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  • Posted January 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Authoritative, but maybe a bit heavy for general audience.

    I have a lot of interest in history of Rome, and enjoyed reading this well researched , fundamental, but still readable book. I must say, however, that it's style is probably be a bit tedious, grayish and dryish for an average leader. Compare it to Edward Gibbons ( you can't not to) and the literary style advantage is on Gibbons side. I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is RLR unless you a scholar or Roman re-enactor.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Solid, Unimaginative

    Adrian Goldsworthy's biography of Julius Caesar was quite impressive, as was his "In the Name of Rome," an anthology of biographies of prominent Roman military commanders. So naturally I looked forward with great anticipation to his account of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. I wouldn't say I was disappointed, but the work goes but a little beyond straight narrative history. If you're already familiar with the people and events of the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries in the Western Empire, then this book will add little to your knowledge. Some interesting anecdotes are present, and Goldsworthy does do his typical excellent job dealing with the military aspects of the Roman decline. He also makes a solid and necessary argument against those who would claim that the Roman world 'transformed' and did not fall. I recommend this book highly to general readers interested in learning more on the period, but if you already have a baseline of knowledge look elsewhere for a deeper and broader exploration of this period. James O'Donnell's "The Ruin of the Roman Empire," which I am presently reading, looks to be a good place to start, although I am not sure I agree with some of his arguments. But, that is for another review.

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