How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower

How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower

by Adrian Goldsworthy

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A major new history of the fall of the Roman Empire, by the prizewinning author of Caesar

In AD 200, the Roman Empire seemed unassailable, its vast territory accounting for most of the known world. By the end of the fifth century, Roman rule had vanished in western Europe and much of northern Africa, and only a shrunken Eastern Empire remained. In his account of the fall of the Roman Empire, prizewinning author Adrian Goldsworthy examines the painful centuries of the superpower’s decline. Bringing history to life through the stories of the men, women, heroes, and villains involved, the author uncovers surprising lessons about the rise and fall of great nations.

This was a period of remarkable personalities, from the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius to emperors like Diocletian, who portrayed themselves as tough, even brutal, soldiers. It was a time of revolutionary ideas, especially in religion, as Christianity went from persecuted sect to the religion of state and emperors. Goldsworthy pays particular attention to the willingness of Roman soldiers to fight and kill each other. Ultimately, this is the story of how an empire without a serious rival rotted from within, its rulers and institutions putting short-term ambition and personal survival over the wider good of the state.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300164268
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 09/28/2010
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 510,345
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Adrian Goldsworthy is an award-winning historian of the classical world. He is the author of numerous books about ancient Rome, including Caesar, How Rome Fell, Pax Romana, and Augustus. Goldsworthy lives in South Wales.

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

Table of Contents

List of Maps vii

List of Illustrations ix

Preface 1

Introduction - The Big Question 11

Part 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

Part 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

Part 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


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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