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The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization Paperback – 13 Jul 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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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: 19.3 x 1.3 x 12.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


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 The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. XIV, his previous publications include From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, also published by Oxford University Press.

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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
<em>The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation</em> by Bryan Ward-Perkins is politically important to us now. It may seem strange that a study of (mostly) Western Europe between 400 and 800 should be 'topical'. The Roman Empire fell and things went dark, and that's it. Roman Empire, then Dark Ages. Right? Well, no, actually. That is not now the view in Academe.

One of the most popular and flourishing areas of classical studies in recent decades has been what is termed Late Antiquity, applied to the years between 250 and 800. Historians of Late Antiquity prefer not to speak of 'decline', 'fall' or even 'crisis' with regard to Rome, but rather of 'transition', 'change' and 'transformation' and the rise of Christianity, Islam and Medieval civilisation. It is "a distinctive and quite decisive period of history that stands on its own" rather than "the unravelling of a once glorious and 'higher' state of civilisation". Not only that, but they downplay the idea of invasion and conquest on the part of the barbarian tribes. Instead they talk about the barbarian desire to be included in the Roman Empire and Rome's attempt to accommodate them, or even make use of them for defence of the Empire itself. Thus was Rome not destroyed but transformed into another type of civilisation, not inferior, only different. In the words of two American historians, this transition occurred in a "natural, organic and ierenic manner" and we should not "problematize the barbarian settlements". (Does that last verb sound a warning to you? Is this beginning to sound familiar?)

So we don't talk of the fall of a civilisation, but of the rise of a different culture. We don't talk of agression, victory or defeat, but of accommodation and transformation.
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Format: Paperback
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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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 enjoyable to read. Written very much as a repost to American historians who has recast the "Dark Ages" is a more positive light, the author demolishes their arguments with glee and makes some compelling observations to back up the traditional view that the barbarian invasions of the 5th and 6th Centuries had catestrophic effects upon the Roman Empire with regions like Britian effectively being reduced to conditions barely better than experienced in the Bronzze Age.

I have recently been reading a lot of Roman history about Roman Britain and these books have offered a conflicting range of opinion as to just how far our island was Romanized. In his book, Ward-Perkins takes a broader view and considers the wider Roman Empire and considers that some areas seemed to fair better than others with the result that the impact of incursions by Huns, Goths and Vandals, etc were moe firmly felt in some areas than others. The evidence to support this argument is gleaned from various sources such as pottery, moustaches,trade, building technology and even writing. I found this author's arguments well presented and the overall impression of this neat little book is one that is favourable due to the quality of the writing and some nice illustrations and diagrams. There are also many many fascinating quotes and I loved the fact that this book let you hear the voices from over 1500 years ago speak again.

That said, my only gripe is that this book does cover a wide area of Europe, North Africa and the Near East as well as covering a period of approximately 400 years after 400AD.
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