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The Fall of the Roman Empire Hardcover – 3 Jun 2005
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'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 Romes 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
A major new narrative account of one of history's greatest and most epic mysteries: the strange death of the Roman Empire. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
A few academics, like James J. O'Donnell, have written snooty write-ups of this book and there is supposed to be a political correct fight going on between this and Bryan Ward-Perkins book. I found nothing of the sort. Both books are impressive. Bryan Ward-Perkins is basically arguing that Rome lost more land and hence less taxes and less taxes meant losing more land; this was the Roman death spiral. Heather also says something similar and much more. I'm simplifying to the extreme here but I bought both books to see what the argument was about, but found little to quibble about. Heather also has little respect for Gibbon; this is sacrilege; Gibbon is still God writing in English!
However, these and numerous other imperial stress-factors might have been managed. What ultimately caused the empire to collapse, in Peter Heather's opinion, was the exogenous shock dealt by Attila the Hun driving huge numbers of Gothic immigrants across the borders of the empire.
These groups, which had existed in a long-standing symbiotic relationship with the Roman empire, were transformed by the process of interaction into coherent and formidable power blocs. That transformational process was accelerated by the process of migration. As a result, Rome allowed into its borders powerful, military and cultural elements whose competing demands it was unable to meet.
As the invaders began to take control of the situation and seize territories for themselves, Rome became increasingly starved of revenues until its generals no longer possessed the necessary resources to meet the military challenges.
The control of detail in this account is formidable but the narrative never gets bogged down Authoritative, entertaining and comprehensive, of all the recent accounts of the fall of the Roman empire, Peter Heather's is the most meticulously assembled.
Peter Heather cleverly and carefully shows that the Roman Empire had not, on the eve of the first of the 'barbarian' invasions in the late 370s AD, sown the seeds of its own destruction.
So what was it that led to the fall of Rome?
Were the peasants taxed too heavily, and as a consequence did land go out of production because it wasn't economic to till it, and did this lead to a shortfall in the imperial coffers? No, late Roman rural populations were probably as high or higher than they had ever been.
Was it the fact that the upper classes, the curiales, had withdrawn from local government? Certainly it's true local government was no longer as autonomous as it had been under the early empire and finances were now centrally controlled. Local politics was no longer a fun as it had once been. But Heather shows that many upper class aristocrats re-invented themselves as imperial bureaucrats in the expanding bureaucracy.
So were there too many bureaucrats and not enough farmers/soldiers? In fact the costs of all those civil servants were not as burdensome as some have previously thought. The Roman armies generally retained their fighting abilities, the Germans were not a significant military threat.
However, what happened in Germania beyond the borders was the development of regional groupings of peoples, where - fuelled by improvements in agricultural and productivity of land - there were population increases and a growth in competition for resources.
What did do for the Empire in the west, was the three main waves of 'barbarian' invasions, largely triggered by folk movements way beyond the Roman frontiers; movements of peoples caused, by Attila and his Huns. Cometh the hour, cometh the Hun....
The Goths, Vandals, Alans, Suevi and all the rest were looking for a litle bit of lebensraum inside the frontiers of the Roman empire - and they had the military muscle - thanks to those economic improvements in the barbarian economies - to get it.
So why couldn't the Romans kick them out? And how come the eastern Roman empire survived while the western half went down 1-0 in 476 AD after extra time?
Crucially the west Roman state lost control of its economically vital North African provinces which financially weakened it - drastically reducing the army it could afford to pay for. That smaller army could no longer kick out the barbarians with out OTHER barbarian support. For a while, ironically, they were able to use the Huns to help out. But when the Hunnic empire itself collapsed in the wake of Attila's death the so-called barbarians nations inside the territories of the western Roman state were able to make their settlements permanent.
But did the Empire strike back? The Eastern and Western Roman empires did come together to mount a hugely expensive campaign to kick out the Vandals. It bust the treasury at Constantinople, but it was a disaster, the Roman fleet was knocked for six by the Vandals, and neither Rome (or by this time Ravenna) or Constantinople had another shot left in their lockers.
After that it was Game Over for Rome in the west, and all that remained was for the last Roman to leave the Senate House to turn out the lights.
Okay, that last bit is slight exaggeration -- the successor states were keen to adopt as much of Roman civilisation as they could, and the Ostrogothic Italian kingdom was certainly no bunch of hairy grunting barbarians.
So Civilisation and Democracy died and the Lights of Civilisation went out and people blundered into the Dark Ages?
Not quite. The late Roman state was a one-party state where everybody had to toe the party line with extravagant praise for the Emperor.
Think of a cross between Stalin's Russia and Mao's China, except with togas. I doubt everybody was all that sad to see it go. Certainly not the great mass of peasantry.
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Based on a deep fascination with the Roman Empire's fall and a total lack of knowledge around the events which triggered it, I took a punt on...Read more
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