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on 23 February 2011
As someone who has little knowledge about the Roman Empire, Heather's work was an excellent introduction.

Heather basically states that the western Roman Empire did not collapse under its own weight (as stated by other scholars) but was pulled apart by barbarian immigration. Huns, Goths and Persians all played a role in both draining the empire's wealth as more and more money was spent on defence and frontier security. The Germanic tribes were not a political threat in the first century AD but by the fifth they were a clear and present danger to the Roman entity, coupled with a simmering Sassanid superpower to the east.

Written in simple and understandable language, Heather's work is both informative and entertaining and has left me wanting to know more about the period which he describes as the crossing line between ancient and medieval history. Good solid research has been used where available with Heather freely admitting the areas where there are vague facts.

All in all, excellent.
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on 21 March 2017
A remarkable reading. This book is a modern, natural integration of "Decline and Fall of Roman Empire" of E. Gibbon. The book is well written and highly readable: recommended.
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on 12 September 2014
The best history book on the fall of the Roman Empire so far. It fills many gaps but not all of them, still it's the best we have for now on that subject.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2006
I think some of the reviewers here are far too harsh in what they say about Heather. This is an immaculate study of the decline and fall of Rome. Heather's theories sit well within the prevailing historical consensus- he is illuminating on many of the themes that surround the fall- the rise of Barbarion tribes and the reasons for their rising and falling. He writes an analytical narrative- unlike some major popular histories he actually does analyse why things happened. The Fall of Rome can easily be reduced to battle after battle, imperial slaughter after slaughter but Heather gives you the reasons why one tribal confederacy won through, why imperial turnover was a constitutional feature of the empire. Perhaps most impressively, Heather thoroughly describes what he doesn't know as well as what he does- we don't have an internal account of the Hunnic Empire so can't know why Attilla headed west but can guess for example. Overall this is a wonderful study- full of analysis, full of narrative, which provides a coherent account of why the Empire fell and how it fell.
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on 23 May 2007
This is a splendid and comprehensive examination of the last hundred years of the Roman Empire, and provides convincing arguments that the external pressures on the empire were the primary cause of its collapse in Europe.

However, Heather allows himself to get a little carried away for dramatic purposes; for example, repeating the (widely disbelieved) myth that the Romans sowed the ruins of Carthage with salt, and claiming that Caesar was assassinated "on the steps of the senate" when all contemporary accounts agree that the murder took place in the atrium of Pompey's Theatre. Minor inaccuracies maybe; but it is the propagation of such inaccuracies that slowly mutates real history into myth, and also makes one then question the accuracy of other areas of the book.

Overall, an interesting and well written history, but one which is best read in accompaniment to other titles dealing with the same period.
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on 22 November 2008
I've been interested in this period of the history for a while but never found a book good enough to explain all the events. This book is thoroughly researched, scholarly yet written in a style and language easy to follow. A couple of reviewers have put foward the point that this book is more about the rise of the barbarians than the fall of the Roman empire. I'm afraid this is not correct as the two are inextricably intertwined. This book comes with the highest recommendation.
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on 17 October 2013
One of my favourite periods in history because of all the questions it throws up is the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the succession of the Dark Ages. I am coming to the conclusion that Peter Heather's writing, which I have only just come across through a recent review in the Sunday Times, is amongst the best. He looks at a variety of economic, sociological, political and diplomatic reasons for the Fall - which indeed is the only way to examine it. A mere chronicle tells you nothing nor does a single-cause theory, most famously espoused by Edward Gibbon who argued that it was Christianity whodunnit! Pathologists find that a lot of human beings die of multiple causes; so, it seems, do Empires.

I am only halfway through the book but already have reached the point where Heather treats how the Romans so badly handled the problem of hordes of Goths turning up on the Northern Frontier that it was a major cause of the decline in what previously had been a viable Empire
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on 28 July 2007
The "Fall of the Roman Empire" casts a huge shadow. A vast Empire, one of the "great civilisations" of history, went in barely a century from being the "sole superpower" to a mere plaything of barbarian tribes.

Why did it happen? All sorts of reasons can be offered, and Heather offers several, but what it comes down to is that this is simply what empires do - they rise, they exist for a time - years, decades or (as in Romes's case) centuries - and then they fall. Rome had already had a better "innings" than most, and in the fifth century its luck ran out.

It is usual to blame the Fall on the Empire's internal problems, and say that it became "decadent" or whatever. Heather, probably rightly, focuses more on what was happening outside Rome's borders. The Barbarian tribes, living for centuries with that 800 pound Roman "gorilla" next door, combined into larger units like the Frankish or Gothic kingdoms, which were a tougher proposition for Rome to cope with. Everlasting warfare with these states gradually wore the Empire down, and finally another barbarian, Attila, drove many tribes from their old homes and forced them to try their luck migrating into Roman territory. This proved more than Rome (or at least its western half) could cope with. So down the tubes it went.

No doubt, had Rome not fallen from this cause, it would eventually have fallen another way. Empires are usually longer lived than individuals, but are no more immortal. But Heather does a magnificent job of showing how and why it fell as and when it did.

One minor regret. Perhaps a little more "afterword" about post-Roman Europe might have been in order. For the significant thing about the Roman Empire is not that it fell (which was bound to happen sometime) but that it was never rebuilt. By contrast, China fell to Mongol "barbarians" in the 13C, an invasion probably as devastating as anything Western Rome underwent, yet within a century had gotten its breath back, expelled the invaders, and installed a native Ming Dynasty. Similarly, Egypt was able to spit out the Hyksos and other intruders. Yet Rome's former subjects not only didn't do this, but (unless the Arthurian legends count) seem never to have even tried. Rather, they appear to have largely shrugged their shoulders and made the best of things under barbarian rule. While purely external factors can explain the fall itself, they can't explain this apparent acceptance of it. Even when Roman lands were "liberated" by Justinian, the inhabitants seldom rallied round, and when Byzantium's grip loosened they just flopped back into barbarian hands. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, however traumatic the Empire's fall had been, a lot of its subjects soon found they didn't really miss it all that much. This calls for explanation.

Still, that's quibbling. Heather has written a great book (even if his 21C idioms can irritate at times) and it needs to be read by anyone interested in this subject.
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on 23 October 2016
This book is certainly well written, but in it Heather argues that there was nothing inevitable in the fall of Rome in the West which was just due to an unfortunate set of circumstances. To support this argument, Heather points out that Rome in the East continued for more or less another 1000 years. In "The Restoration of Rome" Heather tells us that the fall of Rome in the west WAS inevitable, (because of the effect that Rome had had on the "barbarian" groups outside the Empire) and states that quite soon after this happens the "Byzantine" empire was not much more than another successor state (i.e. like Gothic Italy or Vandal North Africa). Historians have the right to change their minds, like the rest of us, but to deal fairly with the people who buy their books they need to do so explicitly, stating clearly that their views have changed, and why. I'd recommend "The fall of the West..." by Adrian Goldsworthy as a more coherent view of this period, where in chapter 20 he demolishes the "Rome survived in the East so could have survived in the West" chestnut.
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on 8 October 2011
Excellent, witty and knowledgeable- I thoroughly enjoyed this. Peter Heather wears his learning lightly- and while there will inevitably be areas for disagreement (for example, I would have preferred more on the economic reasons for the fall of the Western Roman empire) , it is highly recommended.

And for undergraduates short on time, here is a precis of the main reason for the fall of the Western Roman Empire. To misquote the famous phrase on the Murdoch owned newspaper, "Its the Hun Wot done it".
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