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The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization [Paperback]

Bryan Ward-Perkins
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 July 2006
Why did Rome fall?

Vicious barbarian invasions during the fifth century resulted in the cataclysmic end of the world's most powerful civilization, and a 'dark age' for its conquered peoples. Or did it? The dominant view of this period today is that the 'fall of Rome' was a largely peaceful transition to Germanic rule, and the start of a positive cultural transformation.

Bryan Ward-Perkins encourages every reader to think again by reclaiming the drama and violence of the last days of the Roman world, and reminding us of the very real horrors of barbarian occupation. Attacking new sources with relish and making use of a range of contemporary archaeological evidence, he looks at both the wider explanations for the disintegration of the Roman world and also the consequences for the lives of everyday Romans, in a world of economic collapse, marauding barbarians, and the rise of a new religious orthodoxy. He also looks at how and why successive generations have understood this period differently, and why the story is still so significant today.

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The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization + The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History + The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750 (Library of European Civilization)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (13 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192807285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192807281
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.9 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Teasingly stimulating, acutely critical, abundantly constructive, and certain to unleash endless debate. (Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of Civilizations and Millennium)

This hard-hitting and beautifully written assessment will, I am delighted to say, cause a great deal of trouble. (The Sunday Telegraph)

About the Author

Bryan Ward-Perkins is a lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford, and Fellow and Tutor in History at Trinity College. Born and brought up in Rome, he has excavated extensively in Italy, primarily sites of the immediate post-Roman period. His principal interests are in combining historical and archaeological evidence, and in understanding the transition from Roman to post-Roman times. A joint editor of

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pottery is fun! 23 Mar 2007
Don't be put off, as I initially was, by the technical illustrations and discussions of pottery types that at first sight may make this look like the drier kind of archaelogical textbook. It is in fact a witty and stimulating exposition, with skilfull deployment of supporting evidence of both "hard" and "soft" varieties, of the view that the end of the Roman Empire was indeed a violent, traumatic and destructive episode. His view can be summed up as being if it looks like a collapse, sounds like a collapse and feels like a collapse then that is exactly what it is. Seems fair enough to me!

This is not, nor does it claim to be, an in-depth examination of why the Empire fell or a narrative of that fall. Instead, it is an attempt, in my view a successful one, to show that this was indeed a "fall" and not just a transformation or transition from one form of society to another. Despite some of the hype around the book, at least going by the description on the back of the paperback version, I am not sure that this view ever really went away although recent years have undoubtedly seen a strengthening of the contrary view that it was essentially a largely peaceful "transformation".

I found particularly interesting Ward-Perkins' use, of evidence like the aforementioned pottery, to show that the end of the Empire was manifested not just through the immediate and obvious impact of large numbers of greedy warriors with big swords taking over the land, but the resultant loss of links between the various parts of the Empire and thus of the flows of goods and services that enabled the Roman civilization to flourish.

This is not to say that Ward-Perkins denies that the "barbarians" were incapable of any positive achievements. Clearly they were so capable, and he admits as much.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bigger they are, the Harder they Fall 1 Jun 2010
Every now and then, something happens which reminds us just how precarious is the way of life that we have all learned to take for granted. Most of us remember how, when the transport workers went on strike, petrol disappeared from the pumps and the super-market shelves emptied - all within about 36 hours. Had the TGWU not gone back to work the power stations would have shut down and mass transport would have ceased to function: you wouldn't have been able to light or heat your home; you wouldn't have been able to cook, wash or clean. People would have started pouring out of the cities to see what they could find in the country, but the country would already have been picked clean... and what would have happenned next doesn't bear thinking about... imagine the police trying to keep order without their lovely squad cars.

For a great number of years, a diverting topics of debate among those with an interest in the ancient world, has been how, in the first quarter of the CIV, the Western Empire came to collapse. One of the more entertaining of the theories advanced postulated that the Romans progressively poisoned themselves by using lead piping to convey their drinking water. I always thought this one was rather discredited when the archaeologists discovered the hollowed out tree trunks that were used to pipe water to the cisterns along Hadrian's Wall - the stalls in the Colosseum may have been full of the living dead, but the average legionary presumably still had enough in the way of brains to blow his nose?

In the simple-minded CXIX it was thought that what caused the fall of the Roman Empire was military failure: the Roman army was catastrophically defeated at Adrianople in 378 AD, and thereafter the Goths ranged through the Balkans and Northern Italy.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What did the Romans ever do for us? 8 Aug 2006
Empires are about exploitation but they can also bring benefits to the conquered peoples. Does it matter to a farmer on the hills of Cumbria whether his master is a Celtic King, Roman Emporer or Saxon? Well it does in as much that the stability of the Roman Empire and its excellent infrastructure meant he could enjoy good quality produce from olive oil to pottery. When the Empire went even kings, albeit surrounded by gold, ended up living in much reduced circumstances. The fall of Rome was such a cataclysmic event for Western Europe that is now etched on our folk memory. If Rome fell over a few short decades could it happen to us?

As other reviewers have commented, Ward-Perkins books explains the economic and cultural changes that took place immediately before and in the two centuries following the fall of Rome. Although he has his own opinions as to what happened he makes it clear where the evidence - written and archeological - is lacking and also puts across other viewpoints at variance with his own.

An excellent if slightly slim volume and a lesson from history that all empires come to and end sometime. Will the pax Europa ultimately be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of immigration from excluded people from beyond the frontiers or will its own internal problems, declining population and inability to renew itself prove its downfall?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Postmodern bashing of the finest 4 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This little book is not going to catalogue all of the barbarian invasions or exhaustively explore the many reasons for the fall of the western Roman Empire but it is going to answer the question: what was the effect of the century-long collapse of civilization? The sensitive New Age Guy historiography of the 1990s that saw the invasions as a kind of semi-consensual rough wooing and which downplayed the older accounts of devastation and ruin have now been authoritatively blown out of the water. Ward-Perkins shows that the barbarian incursions did, in fact, lead to the destruction of comfort, leisure, law and civilization and he has done so by meticulous demonstration of material evidence. The postmodernists who claim that exposing the truth of barbarian barbarity is merely a kind of lingering racism or "othering" the Outsider should be embarrassed by the intellectual clarity and courage of this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read
An excellent read
Published 16 days ago by Thomas Fenton
4.0 out of 5 stars A straightforward and first ratework.
A first rate account showing that there was such a thing as the Dark Ages, that Roman civilisation did fall (it was not "transformed") and that a period of great suffering... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Paul Marks
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book
Very good book taking a realistic stance on the fall of Rome. Historians love to change viewpoints on matters and recently, we have seen such a change. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Dommy
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Well written and researched and an opening into the reasons why the Roman Empire collapsed. I enjoyed every page and could rerad it again
Published 11 months ago by Peter M. Gladwell
5.0 out of 5 stars History keeps changing.
After reading Bryan Ward-Perkins' Fall of Rome you realize how historians keep reinterpreting past events in light of recent discoveries or even political convenience. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jorge Teixeira
4.0 out of 5 stars Rejecting the politically correct account of the fall of Rome
It's a job to know how to rate this book. Without doubt, Bryan Ward-Perkins' writing is lively and opinionated so that even the more academic elements of his topic are easy and... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Ian Thumwood
5.0 out of 5 stars What an interesting book
I never thought I would find coins and pottery so interesting. This is my first book on the fall of the Roman Empire and I have to say that I'm not sure if I'm going to find other... Read more
Published on 5 April 2012 by M. Longazel
5.0 out of 5 stars DID IT FALL OR WAS IT PUSHED?
Edward Gibbon's great book on 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', which was written in the reign of George III, remained the standard work on the subject for over 100... Read more
Published on 20 Oct 2011 by Stephen Cooper
4.0 out of 5 stars Good solid history, not for the casual reader
I'm fascinated by the theory behind why Rome fell (or didnt, see anything Byzantine for ref) and this book is very highly regarded. Read more
Published on 9 Sep 2011 by dave.P
4.0 out of 5 stars a dense essay to refute the "revisionist" view on the Dark Ages
This is less a history text or narrative than an essay taking aim at current academic fashion that sees the first few centuries of the Dark Ages not as an abrupt and brutal... Read more
Published on 10 Aug 2011 by rob crawford
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