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The Fall of the Roman Empire [Hardcover]

Peter Heather
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Jun 2005
A major new history of one of the greatest and most epic mysteries: the strange death of the Roman Empire. For half a millenium the empire of Rome stretched from Hadrian's Wall to the river Euphrates, a massive fortified state founded on military might and the pilllars of civilization - writting, the city, and the rule of law. But beyond these frontiers lay other lands, the lands of seemingly anarchic warrior tribes, the land of the Barbarians. The opening scenes of Gladiator are based on the victories of Marcus Aurelius over one such tribe, the Marcommani. Two hundered years later the Romans still seemed invincible, routing 30,000 Alamanii at the battle of Strasbourg. However, within a generation, the foundations of this order were shaken to their core, and Roman armies, as one contemporary put it, "vanished like shadows". What had happened? Covering the last 100 years of Empire, a period full of great battles, treachery, and characters as wild as Attila the Hun, Peter Heather shows how the Empire gave way before the relentless and deliberate onslaught of the Huns, Goths and Vandals. These tribes, originating in Eastern Europe, finally conquered large tracts of the old Empire, sacking Rome itself and defeating Roman armies on land and sea.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; First Edition edition (3 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0333989147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333989142
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.4 x 5.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 338,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The outcome is the conclusion that Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own demise.' -- Paul Cartledge

'With this book, a powerful searchlight has been shone upon the shadow-dimmed end of Rome’s western empire.' -- Tom Holland

[has] created stimulating new beginnings to thinking about the end of the Roman empire in the West -- Telegraph

a colourful and enthralling narrative . . . full of keen wit, and an infectious relish for the period -- Independent On Sunday

a fascinating story, full of ups and downs and memorable characters -- Spectator

a fast-paced yet detailed narrative -- Spectator

good stories, an easy style and academic excellence. Heather is a master of all three. -- Guardian

succeeds triumphantly -- Sunday Times

the story is an exciting one, bursting with action, brutality . . . one can recommend to anyone, whether specialist or interested amateur. -- History Today

From the Back Cover

In this ground-breaking book, Peter Heather proposes a new solution to one of the greatest mysteries of history: the demise of the Roman Empire. Mixing authoritative analysis with thrilling narrative, he brings fresh insight into the panorama of the empire's end, from the bejewelled splendour of the Imperial court to the dripping forests of "Barbaricum". He examines the successes of the Roman Empire and uses a new understanding of its continued strength and enduring limitations to show how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome, eventually pulled it apart.

‘Provides the reader with drama and lurid colour as well as analysis. Like a late Roman emperor, he 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.’ Sunday Times

'Heather presents the stories and the characters of this tumultuous epoch, in a colourful and enthralling narrative . . .an account full of enjoyably anachronistic flourishes, keen wit, and an infectious relish for the period.’ Independent On Sunday

‘The story is an exciting one, bursting with action, brutality . . . a gripping, and balanced account . . . one can recommend to anyone, whether specialist or interested amateur.’ History Today

‘A fascinating story, full of ups and downs and memorable characters.’ Spectator

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling account of the fall of Rome 4 Sep 2008
This is a book which is as every bit of epic as its subject matter. Peter Heather writes in an accessible, easy-to-follow manner making this book ideal for the layperson, scholar and student. Rather than seeing the end of the western Roman Empire as a result of internal decline and internecine warfare (the Edward Gibbon approach), Heather argues that the Empire fell due to the rise of the Germanic tribes north of the Danube, both economically and politically into supergroups, which became too strong for the western resources to ovecome. Coupled with this, argues Heather, the movement of the Huns in the 370s, forcing the Greuthungi and Tervingi Goths onto Roman territory, and again between 395-420 onto the Great Hungarian Plain, forcing this time more Goths, Burgundians and Alans etc, provided the catalyst for barbarian encroachment upon Roman territory. Each loss of teritory meant loss of revenue with which to pay the diminishing legions. The most telling of losses were the rich African provinces to the Vandals. Really, it is not so much as the decline of the west, but the rise of the barbarians, caused by the sudden appearance, and disappearance, of the Huns.

Other reviewers have provided more in-depth looks at the pros and cons of this book - with which I would agree (in particular some of the contemporary language and jokes would seem out of place)- therefore I will not repeat them here. Suffice to say this is an excellent, informative account of one of the world's most important events.

Thoroughly recommended.
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97 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional book 18 Aug 2006
By Henry Ireton VINE VOICE
I think some of the reviewers here are far too harsh in what they say about Heather. This is an immaculate study of the decline and fall of Rome. Heather's theories sit well within the prevailing historical consensus- he is illuminating on many of the themes that surround the fall- the rise of Barbarion tribes and the reasons for their rising and falling. He writes an analytical narrative- unlike some major popular histories he actually does analyse why things happened. The Fall of Rome can easily be reduced to battle after battle, imperial slaughter after slaughter but Heather gives you the reasons why one tribal confederacy won through, why imperial turnover was a constitutional feature of the empire. Perhaps most impressively, Heather thoroughly describes what he doesn't know as well as what he does- we don't have an internal account of the Hunnic Empire so can't know why Attilla headed west but can guess for example. Overall this is a wonderful study- full of analysis, full of narrative, which provides a coherent account of why the Empire fell and how it fell.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on an exciting period of history 29 May 2007
By Mr X
When I first bought the book I was intimidated by its length for a while and so delayed starting to read it. However, once I stared reading it I enjoyed it so much that I read it very quickly. In fact I read the last third in one go.

The book deals very well with a number of complex themes and always has an eye on the overall argument which I will not set out here as others have done so in their comments. This period of history is certainly a very exciting one and there are many important parallels for present-day situations. That writers such as Mr Heather are producing books such as this one on the late Roman period is a benefit for us all and a change to the majority of history books published today which, I feel, tend to concentrate on much more recent history.

The Who's Who at the back of the book is very useful to keep track of the individuals mentioned in the text (as, necessarily, a book covering such a large and complex topic must deal with a many personalities). My only criticism, and it is a minor one, is that the maps could be improved; often the text refers to the maps but then goes on to discuss places that are not on the maps. Overall a brilliant and surprisingly 'unheavy' read for a book of its length.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but... 29 May 2009
This is a well written and useful introduction for those - like me - who have a limited knowledge of the subject.

But, like some other reviewers, I have some serious misgivings about how thorough Heather has been in ensuring that he has taken all the latest discoveries and research into account. For example, how can he claim that this is a "New History" when he repeats ideas that have already been challenged, if not discredited? Besides the claims about Carthage and the location of Julius Caesar's assassination, there is also the matter of describing the Roman building at Portchester as a "military installation," when archaeologists have already failed to find any evidence that the compound in question was ever used for that purpose. In fact, the whole assumption that the so-called "Saxon forts" were - indeed - a consciously planned network of defensive structures has been brought into question on both evidential and practical grounds.

He is also rather inconsistent. On the one hand, he devotes much time and energy in emphasising the durability of the Empire while also claiming that its revenue systems were "ramshackle." But how could an Empire last for half a millenium if that was the case? And - what's more to the point - how did the Romans compare with their contemporaries in this respect? Did the Persians, Chinese and American civilisations use revenue systems that were any more sophisticated than those used by Rome? Such a comparison should have been undertaken before Heather drew his conclusions. Similarly, the evidence we have from the Roman period is far from perfect. The imperial archives were burned to the ground on a number of occasions.

Lastly, there are times when he comes across as unjustifiably negative.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best history book on the fall of the Roman Empire ...
The best history book on the fall of the Roman Empire so far. It fills many gaps but not all of them, still it's the best we have for now on that subject.
Published 1 month ago by Naim Zyberi
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great narrative history.
Published 1 month ago by Matthew Samson
5.0 out of 5 stars a truly great book
This i a really well written book that is detailed a complex but also easy to read and follow. The writer often uses his expert knowledge of the period and people involved to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mr. Richard Bristol
3.0 out of 5 stars Too academic for my taste.
Packed full of facts, but does not grab the reader by the arm. I hope he continues to write because he obviously knows his stuff.
Published 5 months ago by Brian Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and very interesting
I'm not a scholar on ancient history but I'm interested in the field and have read a number of books on ancient Rome. I loved this book. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr. Paul Newton
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and very interesting
Good sound research combined with a very readable style - excellent book! A book that I would definitely recommend to others interested in this period of history.
Published 8 months ago by Gary Kitching
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
Good book with interesting facts. Very good for research and general education about the Roman Empire and its fall. I thoroughly recommend.
Published 10 months ago by Dommy
5.0 out of 5 stars I have become a Peter Heather Fan
One of my favourite periods in history because of all the questions it throws up is the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the succession of the Dark Ages. Read more
Published 12 months ago by C Castleton
5.0 out of 5 stars ' Do not go gentle into that good night' (Thomas)
I was surprised when opening a book on the LATER Roman Empire to be confronted by an episode from Book V of Caesar's 'Gallic Wars' which took place in 54 B.C. Read more
Published 18 months ago by BobH
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
A very well constructed piece, well researched and vital to the understanding of anyone attempting to learn about the topic. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Matthew J. Walsh
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