Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Fitbit



There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 31 March 2017
Well considered companion volume takes the evolution of Europe from the Roman collapse to the 'Barbarian' successor kingdoms.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 14 July 2013
Peter Heather is without doubt a great historian who has done much to revisit some of the theories that used to be common currency regarding the end of the Roman Empire. In this book, he seeks to demonstrate how, after three failed attempts by "imperial pretenders" to "restore" the Roman Empire, "barbarian popes" finally managed to succeed in the "Restoration of Rome", although in a quite different form.

Written with a large audience in mind, this book is an entertaining and, at times, a brilliant read backed up by the author's rather exceptional scholarship. The three first parts of the book are vignettes telling the stories of Theodoric, Justinian and Charlemagne, and, according to the author, how each of them attempted, and failed to restore the Empire. The fourth part is about the ascendency of the papacy and how it managed to dominate and become the head of the Church in the western part of what had been the Roman Empire.

This is where I started having some problems. One of the lesser ones is the use of profanity because this allegedly "people's prose" is supposed to make the book's contents more accessible or even more endearing to a large audience. One of the mildest is the author's rather sweeping judgement about Justinian being a "bastard", given the Nikea massacre that saved his throne (and his life) and his long wars which he pursued with little consideration about the sufferings of the populations. He even gets compared to Hitler, Staline and Pol pot. Needless to say, passing judgement on a historical figure in such an anachronistic way is quite amazing for a historian of this calibre who clearly knows better than to compare apples and oranges and call them fruit.

Another manifestation of what can be seen as "dumming down" includes modern references, expressions and analogies which are supposed to help the reader to better understand the story although they may have little to do with it. So Emperors Justinian, Charlemagne (and, ultimately, the popes) get compared to the "Godfather" as if they were some kind of Mafiosi Don. Another of the author's "favourites" is to compare Charlemagne to some kind of CEO of the Early Middle Ages. Added to that, you get "treated" to the author's attempts to be clever and witty. Some of them were rather amusing but others were not really necessary nor were they particularly helpful.

More important is the ways in which the author sometimes feels obliged to manipulate what little historical facts are known to present what are some rather controversial - and sensational - interpretations. This is particularly the case in the first vignette on the life and times of Theodoric, which Peter Heather's portrays as wanting to restore the Western Empire. There is in fact very little evidence to support such a case and the author is essentially speculating and interpreting this evidence to match his speculations. The letter to Anastasius, to which Paul Heather refers, was clearly an assertion of independence. Whether it was a veiled declaration of parity and an attempt to lay claim to the Empire of the West is however much more doubtful, despite the author's statements to the contrary and regardless of what the Ostrogothic King's subject called him to flatter him (Semper Augustus, for instance). Another example is the take-over of the Wisigothic Kingdom in 511. This is presented as an offensive move allowing Theodoric to lay his hands on most of Gaul south of the Loire and on Spain, illustrating his imperial ambitions. In fact, it was a rather desperate attempt to shore up the Wisigothic monarchy shattered by its defeat and the loss of its king in battle a few years earlier. The purpose seems to have rather been to ensure that it would not fall prey to the Franks' inroads. Interestingly, the author does not mention that Theodoric's failure to support his Wisigothic relative Alaric II against Clovis was largely because the Byzantine fleet was raiding the coasts of Italy at the time and threatening a landing. It seems in fact that Anastasius, the Byzantine Emperor, encouraged the Franks' ambitions and supported them against the Gothic kingdoms, pitting them against each other. If such an interpretation, which the author neither discusses nor mention, is correct, the "strongman" of the story is no longer Theodoric...

The vignettes on Justinian and Charlemagne and his successors are less controversial, apart from some blunt and judgemental statements about Justinian's personality. In both cases, however, the extent to which they sought "the restoration of Rome" needs to be qualified. Both wanted to unify under their rule territories that had formerly been part of the Empire, and they were at least partly successful in doing so, for a time. Both also sought to revitalize elements of Roman culture, starting with the rule of law, and to use their control of Rome as a source of legitimacy. However, neither of them intended to rule from Rome or even to make Rome into one of their capitals. Moreover, at least in the case of Justinian, historians currently agree that he did not set out from the start with some kind of "master plan" to reconquer the West, as Peter Sarris shows rather well in his "Empires of Faith". As for Theodoric, his expansion in the North and his take-over of the Wisigothic Kingdom seem to have been defensive ad hoc measures more than anything else.

Nevertheless, both of these vignettes are often excellent. They make in a clear and concise way almost all of the main points. For the reign of Justinian, these include determining whether his conquests was opportunistic or whether they were part of some "grand plan" to recover the whole (or most) of the Western Roman Empire with the author concluding that there was no such grand plan initially. More controversial, however, is the author's view that Justinian's conquests were driven by a need to burnish his credentials and shore up support against the elites that had almost overthrown him during the Nika riots. The vignette on Justinian also includes a clear and unambiguous demonstration of the consequences of his conquests and on the issue of whether Justinian, through these conquests, overstretched the Empire's resources or not, and whether he can be held responsible for the Empire's subsequent and growing difficulties under his successors. For the vignette on Charlemagne and his successors, the author shows the main achievements of his reign and that of his father and grand-father, before explaining rather well why the Empire started to unravel during the last years of the reign of his son.

The last part of the book is on the reform and the rise of the papacy at the hands of "barbarian popes" and bears the rather grand title of "Second Coming." Here again, there is a rather interesting mix of fascinating story-telling and mastery of the sources, with some approximations that are needed to make the case. One example is the use of the rather inadequate expression "barbarian popes" to designate Germanic popes (mostly Frankish and, as the author acknowledges, some were not of "barbarian" origin) which mostly originated from Northern Europe. To the extent that the distinction between "Barbarians" or "Romans" in the West had become somewhat meaningless for several hundred years by the middle of the eleventh century (except, perhaps, if you were living in Byzantium!), the expression is sensational and somewhat inaccurate.

Having mentioned these reservations, this book is nevertheless worthy of praise. It is certainly a great and entertaining read although, to fully appreciate what the author has done, the reader probably needs to have quite a bit of background beforehand on each of the four parts. The first and the last part, respectively the life and times of Theodoric and the rise of the papacy, are probably the most controversial. In the part on Theodoric, the author tends to "second-guess" the Gothic warlord's intentions. In the part devoted to the rise of the papacy, he may give the somewhat simplified impression of a progressive and continuous evolution towards a medieval theocracy. Leo IX, for instance, a kinsman of the Germanic Emperor and the first of the reformist popes, does not seem to have had any intention whatsoever of asserting his supremacy over the Emperor and never really tried to do so. Instead, it is the Emperor who provided him with some 700 Swabian warriors which formed the hard core of the papal army with which he confronted the Normans in Southern Italy in 1053.
22 Comments| 52 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 15 December 2016
Professor Peter Heather's The Restoration Of Rome : Barbarian Popes And Imperial Pretenders starts approximately where, in 476, The Roman State ends--and its inexhaustible European legacy begins. The period-concept itself of Late Antiquity, the period in which Heather is a, in my readerly experience the, leading historical expert, which period may be said to span from The Crisis Of The Third Century all the way to the end of barbarian turbulence for Europe with the defeat of Harold Hydrata in 1066, and which Restoration also spans, albeit with a strong focus on the period's earlier phases, especially on the underrated (6C) reign of Theoderic, has inherently what one might call a "cultural-historical bias" : "Late Antiquity" was, after all, invented by art historians with an eye to distinguishing trends in artistic style, not a socio-political order and the continuities or ruptures thereof. Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, whose lecture series for The Great Courses, Late Antiquity : Crisis And Transformation, I also recently studied, takes, as the title of his lecture series implies, what has settled down as a conventional stance on Late Antiquity : the death of the Roman State with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odovacer in 476 is, politically-historically, a fact, of course, but a Late Antique Culture kept going and going--all the way down, if you like, to the defeat of Constantinople by The Turks in 1453.

For me, however, Peter Heather's critical, yet vigorously inclusive, interpretations prevail : Historians eager to make a revisionary splash dismiss 476 as an Old Textbook Date, but Peter Heather, without ignoring continuities does not. According to Peter Heather, the absence of a Western Emperor was not something that, say, entrenched Romano-Gaulic landlords could ignore in their grand strategising even where they held onto their privileges as very many of them did, their administrative know-how being indispensible to fledgling Wisigothic and Frankish kings. A key example : tutoring in The Trivium such as would prepare one for life at a literarily sparkling Imperial Court took years and years and cost a terrible lot of money. ( St. Augustine's family struggled financially to provide their brilliant son with it. ) But what sense did such an investment make in a post-imperial world, wherein the new lords of the realm, lacking the core agricultural-civilian tax-apparatus that paid for a professional army for so long under the Roman Imperial System, were themselves, both perforce and par goût, generals and, consequently, had little time even to learn to write at all leave alone master every detail of the Golden Age Latin subjunctive ? Peter Heather explains that, under post-imperial circumstances--down even to the famous scholar-patron, Charlemagne--, The Nobility contented itself with reading The Classics and did not themselves aspire to write. Heather believes that this alteration in typical noble educational aspiration alone, which the absence of an Imperial Court ensured, even by itself would have amounted to a sea-change in The Culture Of Late Antiquity. I agree.

Heather is also stronger, and in a similar manner, than ancient historians who, driven by anti-nationalist antipathies, attempt aggressively to debunk early German social formations as fluid and crudely utilitarian. As he accepts the best of the period-concept of Late Antiquity promulgated by its inventors without scoffing at traditional political-historical models, Heather is deeply convinced and convincing with regards to the emergence of German Kingship, not spontaneously, but through foreign construction and in reaction against foreign construction : the coalescence of barbarian "supergroups" such as Theodoric's Ostrogoths, who ruled an empire in Italy and beyond between 493 and 553 A.D., were even conceivable only in the wake of Hunnic domination of The Goths, Heather explains ; that domination, in turn, lasted only so long as the Hunnic First Tier could keep pumping extorted Roman tribute into a Gothic Second Tier. It was that Gothic Second Tier that would go on to rule itself once The Hunnic Empire, inevitably, collapsed and in which "Ostrogothic Identity" was forged and the top-down wealth that sustained a vastly more hierarchically sophisticated society than "Native Germans" ever dreamed of was accumulated. Yes, but that doesn't mean that there "never was any such thing" as Ostrogoths but only a ragbag of tribes welded together under that moniker by Roman wealth and Hunnic tactics. They spoke a common language from time immemorial, for one thing, they could be welded together, and ( as is proof of the latter : ) their common struggle resulted in a durable identity and promising early medieval kingdoms. The great tradition of anointing Christian kings, I learned from Heather, was originated in Visigothic Spain, which, had it not been wiped out by Islamic aggression in 711, might have had a much longer tale to tell us of The Restoration Of Rome. Four rather than five stars because of a general impression I had, to which I alluded above, that the vigor of the book, great as it is, tails off a bit toward the end and because of a somewhat sensationalistic title that the book also doesn't perfectly bear up.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 6 May 2014
Peter Heather breaks ranks with the majority of historians because he is prepared to tackle the big picture and has strong opinions. He became known for his broad view that it was the rise of strong barbarian 'super-groups' that was the major cause, albeit amongst many others, of the fall of the west Roman Empire.

Here he tackles the attempts by four very different 'pretenders' to re-create the west Roman Empire: Theoderic in the fifth century, Justinian in the sixth century, Charlemagne in the 8th/9th centuries and the Papacy during the 12th-14th centuries.

The style is racy and occasionally annoying, with many a bet on 'the smart money' and strong statements of certainty about facts and issues which are shrouded in lack of evidence. However, Heather is right to try to avoid getting bogged down in detail.

Surprisingly, for one whose expertise was founded on the rise of the barbarians, the weakest part concerns Theoderic, perhaps because there are few big issues associated with this one-shot chieftain, who left little legacy. The intellectual vigour of the book starts to come through more effectively in the sections on the ruthless Emperor Justinian. Heather debates the achievements - if any - of the re-conquering Emperor and ponders how much he was to blame for the subsequent rapid collapse of most of the Eastern Empire (little). Wisely, Heather notes that it all depends on whose point of view one is writing from. He notes that the rise of Islam - which precipitated the descent of the Byzantines to wobbly regional power status - was not predictable nor anything to do with Justinian.

Heather really gets into his stride when writing about Charlemagne and the Papacy, possibly because this is relatively new ground for him so he is fresher. There is still too much detail, but the focus narrows down to the tussle between the centre and the periphery alongside the perennial issue of succession. This gives a reasonable frame with which to view the confusing swing of fortunes and purpose in the successor Carolingian rulers.

An illuminating set of contrasts are drawn between the old Roman Empire - built on a standing army, taxation and the necessary civil and bureaucratic culture to sustain institutions - and the medieval Carolingian empire, which remained based on personal warlordism, except for the crucial sphere of ecclesiastical politics. The Carolingian church reforms were central, particularly the search for written, legal authority from the past (not shrinking from large-scale forgery). The complexity of the power struggle between French bishops and archbishops and between German Emperors and their magnates, spilling over accidentally to a strengthening of the weak Roman Papacy, is extremely well told.

Eventually, this book becomes a tale of how elite-centric power slipped from Emperors to Popes in the medieval era - by accident, as 'barbarian' or northern Emperors and their clever churchmen sought church reform largely for their own ends, which ended up enhancing the hitherto nonthreatening Roman theocracy. However, in explaining the rise of the Papacy in terms of all-too-human political opportunism, Heather fails to account for how the Popes gained such a hold on the public and private lives of the whole population of medieval Western Europe: you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Heather's rigidly secular and power-focused perspective is not wide enough.

Despite his best intentions, Heather still includes too much detail: in my opinion, the book could be cut by at least one third to make its arguments clearer and stronger. At the same time, the end story of the appeal and influence of the medieval Papacy needs more evidence and elucidation. Nevertheless, overall this is a welcome and accessible work of sweeping, broad-brush history.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 January 2014
A sequel to his The Fall of the Roman Empire, Heather here continues the story of what happened to the Roman west under three `imperial pretenders': Theoderic, Justinian and Charlemagne.

This is a popular book aimed at a non-academic audience, and Heather writes in an informal style throughout. Some of the chattiness of this grated a bit with me ("My own hunch would be...") and I didn't like the sweeping perjorative terms (the constant use of the term `barbarians' - what exactly does that mean? And from whose perspective? The ancient Greeks who first coined the term meant non-Greek speakers whose language sounded like bar-bar to them) and the popular cultural references so that Charlemagne, for example, is described as a Mafioso `Godfather' - very sensational, not terribly accurate.

But that's personal taste. This gives a broad historical narrative of what happened when, and helps to make sense of the period between about the fifth century CE and the eleventh century. It doesn't delve into cultural history so this isn't the book to go to if you're interested, for example, in the Carolingian court and the revival of Latin literature and poetry - practically all our extant Latin texts, for example, can be traced back to catalogues in Charlemagne's library, but Heather isn't interested in this aspect of appropriations from Rome.

So a good book if you want an accessible and fairly lively account of political history from the fall of Rome to the rise of the popes.
11 Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 19 October 2015
This is a very interesting book exploring episodes in history that are fairly unknown to most general readers.

Heather discusses the various attempts to restore the Roman Empire, starting from the Goth Theodoric (who attempted to grab land from the Byzantines, got booted out / bribed and ended up taking over Italy, then expanding into Spain and France). The next story is how Justinianus and his general Belisarius reconquered North Africa and much of Theodoric's land, temporarily restoring the 'full' Roman Empire as they combined the reconquered territories with Byzantium itself. After the muslim advance things fell apart, and Heather fast-forwards to Charlemagne and his Franks. The final part details the rise of the papacy. From inauspicious beginnings, the papacy arguably reached a nadir in the 9th and 10th century, with the farcical trial against the corpse of Pope Formosus - check out the epic painting! as one particular low point of this 'pornocracy' period where Rome-based aristocrats/thugs fought it out for control of Rome itself, resulting in an average papal lifetime of about a year and the most likely papal cause-of-death being strangulation / stabbed / clubbed to death. However, in the 11th century a number of 'barbarian popes' (i.e. popes born outside Rome) managed to become spiritual leaders of the Western world (in addition to being local potentates in central Italy).

All in all I found this quite a fascinating read. The book is written with palbable enthusiasm. Personally I did not like the popular idiom (calling the pope a 'CEO', texts 'going viral', Justinianus being an 'absolute bastard' and so on); however this did not materially detract from what is still a fascinating book. Recommended.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 December 2016
A clunking style out of keeping with the dry but exact academic style of his previous books, it veers irritatingly from serious and measured prose to a sort of "horrible histories" jokiness crashing through laddish turns of phrase and dated mass cultural allusions, with jolting changes of stylistic gears and hopeless attempts to be right on and down with the kids. A pity really, as the historical illumination is at bright as ever, but every page has its infelicities as he can't decide where to pitch the underlying seriousness of the study. I suspect a new and low brow editorial hand attempting to score a popular stocking filler, when the glove really doesn't fit his focus of study. I hope he drops both the strained blokishness and the hopeless editor as soon as possible. Alas, this departure from his norm will not last the test of time.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Peter Heather is a superb historical writer, entertaining, witty and deeply insightful. After reading this you will probably never look at the post-Roman West in quite the same way again. Heather considers three failed attempts to restore the geographic Western Roman Empire before turning to the totally unexpected rise of the Papacy and an ideological empire rather than a military one.

Theoderic King of Italy gets relatively little attention in the literature, but Heather considers his rise from the earliest days as a hostage in Constantinople, to King of Italy and effectively an emperor of territory also encompassing the Visigothic territories of southern France and Spain and hegemony over the Burgundians and Vandals of north Africa. Lack of dynastic succession doomed this new empire to collapse after Theoderic's death.

Subsequently the Eastern Empire under Justinian reconquered both Vandalic Africa and Ostrogothic Italy. Heather persuasively argues that retaking these Western territories was never a preconceived plan, but opportunistic. He rightly notes the devastation which the Italian wars caused, from which the region took a long time to recover, weakening it to such an extent that the reacquisition was never going to become permanent. On the other hand, unlike some authors, Heather absolves Justinian of blame for the later reversals of fortune for the Eastern Empire itself a couple of generations later.

Third to enter the stage is Charlemagne. Despite some analyses, his coronation as Emperor by Pope Leo III was the Carolingian king very much calling the shots. The Papacy was an institution of little real power, content in being acknowledged in its episcopal primacy, largely busy with using Carolingian money to keep the churches of Rome in good decorative order for visiting pilgrims. Meanwhile the Carolingians were busy completely remoulding Western Christianity entirely on their own terms. But the decentralisation necessitated to hold together militarily the various successor kingdoms to Charlemagne's empire ultimately had the opposite effect with the reduction in central tax revenues. No longer could a vast Roman style empire hold, with centralised tax revenues paying an army keeping an emperor in place by force. Many new territories outside the original empire had now grown wealthy and powerful, in a continuation of what Heather sees as happening in the later Western Roman Empire (see also his Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe) to the extent that no one side would ever be able to exert total military dominance over the other.

The Carolingians themselves were however partly responsible for the subsequent rise of the Papacy. Documents known as "Pseudo-Isidore", based on genuine but forgotten Papal decretals but which were subsequently falsified in the copying by Carolingian churchmen to give ammunition for internal disputes, became widely circulated and, alongside what Heather characterises as a "consumer demand" for legal guidance, created the conditions for the Popes to become the ideological masters of Western Europe at the beginning of the 13th century, affecting the daily lives of its people for hundreds of years. Heather sees this rise as not intended by the Papacy, but a change which came from outside entirely and which was essentially accidental in nature.

Pick up and read. You will be entertained by great historical writing, and perhaps attain a new perception on post-Roman Europe.
0Comment| 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 23 October 2016
If you need to brush up on Theodoric, Justinian or Charlemagne then you could do worse than this book, which is by no means short on detail.

As a coherent historical argument, however, Heather fails to justify his eye-catching claim that these three leaders can be said to have restored the Roman Empire in a meaningful way. It's not until chapter 6 that he says why he makes this claim - that Theodoric and Charlemagne ruled roughly the same geographical area as Rome in the West; or their nation was "top nation" in Europe; or was Roman in terms of the institutions they ruled through. None of the arguments seem to me to stand up, apart from Justinian. If it's mere power over a geographical area that counts, surely Napoleon Bonaparte has as good a claim as Theodoric? Does being "top nation" among many nations make that nation Roman? And the claim that Theodoric governed in a Roman way just does not stand up - ask yourself did he have a standing army? A navy? A tax collections system? A system of local government that had a set of rules written down for how it did its business?

One of the debates underlying study of this period is " Do we believe that the "barbarian" groups which entered the late Empire were large social units which we can think of as being a bit like nations, or do we see them as much smaller, fluid groups?" It's to Heather's credit that he sets this debate before the reader and states his own position - he sees the "barbarians" as operating in larger groups - but the narrative he then relates contradicts his own view, (for instance on pages 50 and 53 it's clear that the "barbarians" were in fact operating as small fluid groups).

The book is not short on detail, but huge sections of it could be summarised thus -

"An egotist wanted to be alpha male and cheated/lied/killed until he succeeded. Not much later he died, and the whole wretched business began again".

A historian needs to do more than recite facts, and I was dismayed that Heather did not really analyse why this this horrid saga kept repeating itself ad nauseum.

The written style will not be to everybody's taste - for example Heather tells us that Theodoric killed a rival "over the brandy and cigars", meaning at the end of a feast. Perhaps he's trying to be contemporary, but personally I found it irritating and a little juvenile, though not as juvenile as the space Heather gives to the more bizarre claims about the sex life of Theodora, Justinian's wife. In "The Fall of the West.." Adrian Goldsworthy simply tells us that Theodora had worked as as sex worker before becoming Empress, and that she then set up homes for girls who wanted to give up prostitution - a far more adult approach. His book does not cover Theodoric or Charlemagne, but it is a far superior work. (He takes the opposite view to Heather about the "barbarian" intruders, generally seeing them as small, primarily male. raiding parties that came together into larger groups according to the circumstances).
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 4 October 2013
One of my favourite periods about which to read is the fall of the Roman Empire and the so-called 'Dark Ages' which followed. At times the period seems remote, but despite the intervening distances, which brought about such radical developments in technology and culture, human nature hasn't changed that much and, though some of them were hidden from the ancients, economic, political and psychological laws operated then just as inexorably as they do now.

Ancient Rome fell partly because the elites stopped supporting it and, apart from the Church, left the lower classes, including what composed the military rank and file, to fend as best they could with diminishing state and social support. Sounds familiar?
I am but halfway this latest work of Peter Heather but already I want to read his previous work on the Fall of the Roman Empire. He has a light and easy style of writing, which is both erudite and a page-turner (though admittedly the occasional lapse into colloquialism or slang can be a bit jarring). A mere chronicle of events, exciting though they are, would not be enough for me. Heather supplies a political, diplomatic and economic hinterland without which no real sense can be made of what followed the Fall. He basically sets out the explain why in the changed conditions of the world hundreds of years Anno Domini the Roman Empire could not be reconstituted. Basically, Rome taught the barbarians how to fight and the residual culture of Rome taught them how to rule so that there could be no longer be one overarching power such as Rome had exercised until perhaps now with the project of the European Union.

The only complaint I have against Peter Heath is that because his writing is so good my plan of reading in history for the next several months is wrecked while I read and consume this and his previous work!

Ave atque vale. ('Hail and Farewell'.)
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)