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Customer Review

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but..., 29 May 2009
This review is from: The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History (Paperback)
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. In his closing argument he makes the passing remark that: "the Roman Empire... saw nothing amiss in feeding human beings to wild animals for the pleasure of the multitude." Maybe so, but given the fact that what we would describe as brutality was the stock in trade of every tribe and polity on the planet at the time, this is a rather pointless assertion to make, especially as he provides plenty of evidence to that effect himself. Admittedly, the Romans' contemporaries may not have had the resources and technology to indulge their own impulses in the same manner, or to the same extent, as the Romans, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that their intentions were just as red in tooth and claw.
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