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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DID IT FALL OR WAS IT PUSHED?, 20 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization (Paperback)
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 years; and his central thesis, that the Empire was undermined from within but ultimately fell to the assault of various barbarian invaders, remained the conventional wisdom for much longer. However, from the 1960s, the advocates of the idea of 'Late Antiquity', led by Peter Brown,succeeded in substituting the idea that the Empire changed rather than fell. Rather than conquering the Empire, the barbarian hordes were taken in and 'accommodated', and a new and Christianised civilisation was born, which lasted roughly from 200 to 800 A.D. This idea can still be found, in the case of Anglo-Saxon England, in Peter Ackroyd's 'Foundation' (2011).

Bryan Ward-Perkins will have none of this. In an admirably concise text, supported by excellent maps and diagrams, he blows the revisionists out of the water. The maps on pages 15 and 55 alone are enough to dispose of the theory of the accommodation, in relation to the Visigoths. Yes, they were allowed to settle in the South of France by means of a treaty; but they then proceeded to conquer a far larger area.

Ward-Perkins re-uses the old literary sources, to great effect - for example Gildas on the rape of Britain; but most of his argument is based on archaeology. He has excavated cities, and found the layer of ash which gives the lie to the idea of peaceful accommodation. More strikingly, he provides ample evidence for the catastrophic economic decline which followed the fall of Rome. The fact is that the post-Roman world was unable to match the Empire, in its production of 'low value products', such as pottery, houses, churches, coinage and graffiti, for several hundred years after the invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries. The population plummeted and even the cows grew smaller (see diagram on p 145).

I will close with the author's devastating parable (see pp 82-3). The revisionists would have us believe that the process of barbarian settlement within the borders of the Roman Empire were like a tea party at a vicarage, where a shy newcomer is invited in, but quickly made at home. Ward-Perkins points out that 'the new arrival had not been invited, and he brought with him a large family: they ignored the bread and butter and headed straight for the cake. Invader and invaded did eventually settle down together; but the process... left the vicarage in very poor shape.'

Stephen Cooper
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