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VINE VOICEon 15 November 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The first thing that struck me about this book is its neat size. It is about the same bulk as a beachside book, so if you are at all self-conscious about reading a British Museum history book when you're supposed to be on holiday, nobody would notice. The cover illustration also proclaims it to be a book of action. As one would expect from the BM, it is beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated. It includes timelines, maps and a comprehensive list of the main people involved.

I thought I might find the going hard but I could not have been more wrong. The writing style is exciting, clear, enthusiastic and very informative. The people come to life from the page and the descriptions of daily life in Rome are fascinating. The quotations from the contemporary writers are salient and surprisingly modern. Reading how the ordinary citizens behaved showed me that nothing much has really changed: people still enjoy wine shops, gambling on sport and supporting their favourite teams. And those in power fight desperately to hold onto it. The motives, successes and errors of the main people involved in the running of the Roman Empire are examined meticulously; fact is given as fact and surmise as surmise. I did not find any fancying-up of suppositions or passing-off of theories as truth.

Looking at the mismanagement of the Empire and spotting the mistakes which led to its fall is easy from such a distance in time and with the benefit of hindsight, and one thinks that the same will apply to our own culture. I had a completely incorrect idea of who the Goths were and of how they behaved but this account of the events leading to the Sack of Rome has enlightened me in an enjoyable and interesting way.

The book is written with discipline and verve and I highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 27 August 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Just because a book carries the words The British Museum upon its title page does not means this will by a dry and obscure academic work, indeed this compact volume bursts with facts, illustrations and photographs attracting even the most casual reader.
I knew very, very little about this era and location other than `didn't the Romans get invaded and pillaged by Huns, Goths or Vandals sometime in the 500s?'
This book has cleared up a lot of my ignorance and misconceptions in a clear, orderly and bright way. The account covers the period from Diocletian's attempts to restore Roman to her former glory and power in the late 3rd century; the break up of the empire into West and East, the rise of Christianity as the official religion and finally the events leading up to the sack in 410 by the Goths lead by Alaric and subsequent aftermath.
The 184 pages are filled with a wealth of detail and colour. The overall theme being that the Roman elite at this time were an in-fighting arrogant ungrateful group who could not see the enmity being built up by their careless treatment of their allies, the Goths who in trying to avoid the even more fearsome Huns were seeking new lands to settle in. In short and in current parlance the sack was pay-back.
In addition to the account being in a clear style, there are lists of relevant characters at the beginning and small biographies of the more important of these at the end, so allowing the reader easy access to check just who is who and why, because this era was marked by treachery, duplicity and power-grabbing by a large number of individuals.
I daresay those who are very familiar with this subject might find this a bit `light', but for those whose curiosity is piqued, or always meant to find out more or are intending to start out studying the period then this is an ideal work to start with.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In C.P.Cavafy's famous poem Waiting For The Barbarians the senators and citizens sit waiting at the city gates to welcome the barbarians, to shower them with treasures and honours, and are disappointed when they don't show up. For they view the barbarians as a kind of answer to their problems, the problems of a tired and degenerate civilisation that needs an infusion of new blood. Well, as we know the barbarians did turn up at Rome and in AD 410 sacked the city. But, as this book makes clear, if the Romans had played their cards a bit better, Alaric and his Gothic hordes might have been an answer to many of the Empires afflictions.

The later Roman Empire was not a particularly happy place for the average person whether citizen or peasant. When, at the end of the 3rd century AD, the emperor Diocletian stabilised the empire after 50 years of anarchy, his stultifying fiscal and social reforms gripped the empire in a kind of straitjacket, tax burdens increased and bureaucracy and corruption became rampant. And then to top it all Germanic tribes poured into the empire across the Danube and the Rhine to escape the onslaught of the even beastlier Huns. The Gothic king Alaric, like many of the Barbarian leaders, admired and respected the legacy of Rome and would probably not have sacked the city if he had been granted living space for his people and some respect and decency from the Romans. Indeed, shortly before he sacked the city, he made an extraordinary offer to emperor Honorius who was holed up in the impregnable city of Ravenna surrounded by self-serving advisers: if the emperor would grant his people some modest tracts of land and an annual grain quota then Alaric would forget about his demands for gold tribute and agree to a military alliance "to oppose all who took up arms and waged war against the emperor." The feeble and fearful Honorius declined the offer, but how different things might have turned out for Rome and the western empire had he accepted.

I enjoyed this book. It presents a clear and entertaining exposition of the events surrounding the sack of the city and takes us through a swirl of history at a lively pace in less than 200 pages. Thankfully there is no attempt at revisionist "spin". And there are plenty of well-chosen illustrations (including, if I may correct another reviewer here, 3 maps at the back of ancient Rome and the empire.) There are occasional stylistic lapses, "it was payback time" made me wince, but I suspect the book is aimed at a young and modern readership who are not familiar with this fascinating and crucial epoch.

I can recommend some further reading. The Destruction of Ancient Rome, by Rodolfo Lanciani, was first published over 100 years ago although reprints are available on Amazon. Lanciani makes it clear that in the end the so-called barbarians did negligible damage to the fabric of the ancient city. It was the Romans themselves who through lack of resources or indifference cannibalised and then buried their own city so that for the modern tourist only incomprensible ruins remain. If you want to know what life was like circa AD410 I recommend Samuel Dill's Life and Letters in the Last Century of the Western Roman Empire, whilst a more modern work dealing with the malaise and corruption of the period is Ramsay MacMullan's Corruption and the Decline of Rome.
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VINE VOICEon 7 October 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed AD410, and if you, like me, are looking to get yourself a better understanding of what Rome was - as a city, a subject and a defining step in mankind's history - then I can heartily recommend this as a good place to dig in.

This is the second themed history book I've read from The British Museum (TBM) in the last 12-months, and it's becoming clear that the institution is putting real effort into creating historical books that not only put their exhibits to clever use, but more importantly, are focused in order to resonate with mainstream modern readers. Which is important because, let's face it, there's a world of difference between wanting to, or fancying the idea of reading a history book for leisure, and actually doing it.

Over 150+ pages, and delivered through a well printed glossy stock, which has this book feeling just as much like an Arts book than a historical study, AD410 focuses on the actual event of Rome falling to invaders, moving forward across the day while also flashing back to reveal how and why this mammoth historical swerve had to occur. Granted, the introduction does tend to lay the contemporary feel of its narrative on a bit thick, repeatedly overlaying dramatic suggestion upon sometimes hyperbolic claim; however, once you're past that and into the book, the authors' craft is expertly put to play.

Yes, there's plenty of facts to consume - not a bad thing - but this inevitable case of study is tempered throughout thanks to a well-balanced selection of relevant colour illustrations of artifacts - which not only make clever use of TBM's stock of items, but also lend a very modern documentary feeling to the overall narrative. This in turn grounds the tale of Rome's fall in a reality you can see and understand. The people caught up in this tale cease to become abstractions, and become genuine souls (like you and me) caught up in a life-defining (and in this case, threatening and/or ceasing) event.

If I had to sum up the one crowning achievement of this book, I'd say that it reaffirmed in me the notion that history can be highly emotive beyond the manipulations of television documentaries, with their dramatic use of music and tone of narration. And in doing so, forced me to recognize my own mortality and the inevitable dark sides and errors of human existence. Which is a rather over-flowery way of me saying, I connected with the people of Rome while reading AD410. Which is no bad thing, and far from assured when one chooses to engage with the other world of academic study.

To conclude: highly recommended. A good value, and highly enjoyable visual and factual study that is well printed, expertly presented and, therefore, well worth the money.
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on 18 September 2010
Previous commentators on this book, and its own publicity, led me to expect a story full of imagined encounters and dialogues, leading the reader between the fixed points of academic history in a reconstruction of the events leading to Rome's fall. It is nothing of the sort, but as a concise account of known history, it's far from a dry read. The narrative moves with a driven urgency, drawing constantly on the contemporary (and next-best) accounts of the politics and passions of the day. It doesn't quite have a cinematic feel, but with a modern turn of phrase ('a master of realpolitik', 'planning a come-back'; I almost expected 'cutting to the chase') it's plotted like a screen drama, creating a vivid impression of the rapid series of events which wrong-footed the ruling powers of the day.
One conspicuous speculation places the AD306 funeral of Constantius in York, taking advantage of a gap in the history, as admitted in the endnotes, and thus permitting an eagle released from the pyre to depart over the North York Moors, rather than the Hunsrück, wherever that is. I hope Moorhead and Stuttard will be exercising a similar dramatic license in their future work. I'd always find room for an imperial eagle (what a shame Honorius preferred cockerels).
I have only a petty criticism: references on page 139 to endnotes 109 and 110 have been inexplicably transposed, which had me foxed for a couple of minutes. I'm not an academic, and am easily defeated by slips like this.
It's a credit to the authors that their style and verve kept me hooked.
Fortis!
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VINE VOICEon 18 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What a page-turner this is! My immediate reaction on finishing was that I needed to read it again in order to really anchor the central characters and to order my impressions. However my second thought was that these impressions, as imprecise as they were, should be savoured for their remarkable vividness.

The action is set during the implosion of the Roman Empire in AD 410 with barbarian invaders camped outside the city of Rome. The description of the stranglehold the Goths were able to maintain by the single act of cutting off food supplies is chilling with accounts of disease, starvation and even cannibalism. The Roman influence in Britain as portrayed at school omitted this Achilles' heel of urbanisation, focussing on the positive aspects such as rule of law, road building, the amenities of a rationally laid-out town and the luxuries of villa life.

The Empire's problems stemmed from its very success: its expansion. Rule from Rome became infeasible and a single authority was replaced with two emperors and two assistants,(who would in theory ultimately replace the emperors) establishing bases in the east and the west. Divided authority within the empire however invited ambitious generals to test the strength of their own claims and gave rise to internal strife.

This fracturing of the power structure opened the way to all manner of barbarian invasions and the eventual invasion of Italy itself. In AD 410 the absent emperor Honorius, based in Ravenna, could have saved Rome with a treaty providing a homeland for the Goths had he been more insightful and respectful of the motivations of his enemy. Instead he vacillated and finally goaded Alaric, the leader of the Goths, into sacking Rome.

The other strand of the book was the establishment and survival of the Catholic Church during these turbulent years. Despite the fall of the city occurring under the auspices of Christianity rather than paganism, the faith and the church retained its place in the Vatican. This was in no small part due to the scholarly expositions on the misfortunes of the empire as a part of God's plan by Saint Augustine (The City of God).

In conclusion this is a dense but delightful read which would benefit from a leisurely revisit if time allows.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 August 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is excellent popular history that stretches from C3rd Rome under Diocletian to the invasion of the Goths and the fall of the city in 410. It takes in the growth of Christianity under Constantine, probably the best known episode of later Roman history, and ends with a brief look at the aftermath of the collapse of the western empire, including Augustine's theological interpretation in his City of God (Penguin Classics).

This is not, and is not intended to be, a scholarly work: it offers nothing new, it is only lightly end-noted, and it doesn't evaluate its sources though these are listed in a brief bibliography. As a British Museum publication, it is lavishly illustrated with contemporary objects, and the authors make excellent use of original quotations to add vividness to the vibrant narrative.

My only small quibble is that like some of the other BM books, it is printed on the glossy paper more usually used in coffee-table books: I know this makes illustrations better but it does rather impart the feel that this is a book to be dipped into rather than read right through as a narrative in its own right.

That said, this tells an interesting story and binds together a multiplicity of strands to make a complicated history both accessible and coherent. If, like me, your knowledge of the Roman empire more or less stops after the Flavians then this is an excellent read.
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on 29 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
An excellent book and well put together. From the sacking of Rome and the collapse of the western Roman empire to the rise of Rome again, the Byzantine empire, reaching its zenith under a ambitious and enigmatic figure, Justinian.
Telling the events which sealed the end for one of the most well known powers in history, the book pieces together the events which led to the downfall of an empire, the years and years of neglect and erosion of both society and of civilisation. Telling the events which came of this, the civil wars, the religious unrest, the apathy and the extinguishing belief of the dream of Rome, not to mention the rebellious and bitter Gothic leader Alaric, along with the chaos which came about not long after.
I personally found this book interesting and to the point, which I found to be a very good read, its not to detailed but enough to give you a general idea on the events of those days. The maps are a nice touch, and the pictures of the emperors and the locations really give you a pleasant idea of what and who you are reading about.
Anyone with a fond interest for the history of the Roman empire or even those with a fondness for classical history, will enjoy this book.
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This book about the sack of Rome in AD 410 is published by the British Museum Press and written by Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard. First a few words about the authors:

* Sam Moorhead is National Finds Advisor for Iron Age and Roman coins in the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum.

* David Stuttard has taught classics and published his own translations and adaptations of Greek tragedies, which he has directed in the UK and in classical theatres in Turkey and Albania.

The book begins with a brief presentation of the magin characters: "Dramatis Personae." The main text is divided into five acts. Here is an overview:

PROLOGUE
Preface and Chapter 1: Rome, eternal city

PART 1 - A HOUSE DIVIDED
Chapters 2-3

PART 2 - THE STORM CLOUDS GATHER
Chapters 4-6

PART 3 - THE SACK OF ROME
Chapters 7-10

EPILOGUE
Chapter 11 and Aftermath: Rome AD 410-575

At the end of the book there is a reference section where we find the following:

* Who's Who in AD 410
* Original sources
* Further reading
* Endnotes
* Timeline 753 BC-AD 711
* Maps
* Index
* Picture credits

The illustrations are numerous and in colour, but most of them are rather small. The reason is obvious: the book measures only 15 x 21 cm.

This account is based on ancient sources and modern scholarship. As you can see from the table of contents, the authors do not only cover the main topic - the sack of Rome in AD 410 - they also tell us what happened before and after. In this way the dramatic event is placed in a historical context.

The character sketches in the beginning and at the end of the book are useful for the general reader.

The authors provide a lot of information. It is quite an accomplishment to be able to present so much information in a book which has only 184 pages. The text is well written. The authors pay attention to the details and to the grand picture. I like this book, but I have to mention a few things which bother me:

(1) Having described the death of Constantine in AD 337 on page 52, they add the following words: "In Rome, the Senate, still predominantly pagan, passed a decree proclaiming Constantine a god. Fifty-seven years later, in 394, no such decree would follow the death of Theodosius." But Theodosius died in 395, as stated in the chronology on page 176, so the correct number is 58 years.

(2) Most illustrations are relevant and well-chosen - but there are exceptions:

(a) On page 59 the authors mention an event in 376 where some Gothic youths are sold as slaves. They refer to the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (note 37), which is fine. But they also refer to illustration # 4.4 on the same page. This picture shows a detail of the Septimius Severus Arch in the Roman Forum. How can this arch, dedicated in 202, document something which happened in 376, almost two hundred years later?

(b) On page 90 they describe the end of Stilicho's life in August 408. They say he took refuge in a church in Ravenna and refer to illustration # 6.5 on the same page, which shows a church in Ravenna built after his death. How can a church, built after his death, document the last day of his life?

(3) On page 87 they tell us how some people felt and what other people thought, although they cannot prove this.

(4) On page 121 they claim the Circus Maximus in Rome "could hold around 385,000 spectators at its peak" (caption to illustration # 9.5). This figure is too high. It should be ca. 250,000.

(5) On page 167 they present Procopius and claim that his work "History of the Wars" was written "c.551-553." This is not quite correct. As far as we know, books 1-4 were completed 548-549; books 5-7 were completed in 551; while book 8 was completed 553-554.

(6) On page 168 they claim Synesius lived "c.373-c.414" and that he was born at Ptolemais in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya). Later they refer to a website - Livius.org - which includes a section about Synesius. But the website gives the traditional dates for Synesius (ca. 370-ca. 413) and tells us that he was born in Cyrene, which is correct. In other words: the authors recommend a website, but they do not quote it accurately.

[For more information about Synesius, see J. C. Nicol: Synesius of Cyrene: His Life and Writings.]

(7) Augustine of Hippo is mentioned several times (e.g. pp. 14, 131, 147, 159). Each time the authors refer to him as a saint (St), which is unfortunate, because they describe his activities while he was alive. In order to be a saint, you must be dead.

(8) The bibliography (pp. 169-170) is divided into five sections. In the section about "The Later Roman Empire" I miss Kenneth G. Holum: Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity. published in 1989.

In the section about "Constantine and Early Christianity" I miss Paul Stephenson: Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor published in 2009. But perhaps it was published too late to be included here?

In the section about "Barbarians and Early Medieval History" I miss Alan Cameron: Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius published in 1993.

Hagith Sivan, Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress (Women in Antiquity) was published in 2011, so Moorhead and Stuttard could not possibly have included it, but I will mention it anyway, because it is relevant for the topic.

"AD 410" is a good book about an important event, but as you can see there are some flaws and therefore I think it deserves a rating of four stars.
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on 10 June 2012
Before I read this book, published in 2009, I had read "The Romans who shaped Britain" published in 2012 and written by the same pair of authors, Sam Moorhead and David Studdard. Sam Moorhead is a British Museum expert on Roman coinage and David Studdard is a freelance, well informed author. Together they just seem to get everything right in the creation of a superbly informative and, very importantly, superbly interesting book.
Along with many other older persons, what I learned at school about the departure of the Romans from Britain in around 410 AD was that the empire came under threat and so the legions left Britain to defend Rome. A more rounded and complete picture is presented in this book and I must say it is a vastly more complex and interesting series of events than I had ever thought.
The book is a combination of historical facts and theories presented in a competent and very interesting way and I recommend it as an excellent buy.
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