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Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584 Paperback – Deluxe Edition, October 1, 1987

ISBN-13: 978-0691102313 ISBN-10: 0691102317

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691102317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691102313
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,214,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A wholly new interpretation. . . . Professor Goffart argues his case clearly, forcefully, and at length. He has the ancient sources at his fingertips."--E. A. Thompson, Times Literary Supplement

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
Goffart challenges the widely held perception that the "barbarians" (Goths, Lombards, Alans, etc.) were an invading horde that established themselves in Europe like marauding motorcycle gangs. Rather, their settlement in the West took place as an expediency of the Imperial system. What has commonly been viewed as grants (or capitulations) of land, involving major upheavals for the inhabitants, Goffart convincingly recasts as the transfer of units of taxation. In other words, barbarian warlords and their followers were not given land per se, but the right to the assessed tax proceeds from certain parcels. In a way, then, the Imperial government simply removed itself as the middleman between taxpayer and soldier. This, Goffart argues, entailed much less demographic and political turbulence than has commonly been thought, and explains (to a degree) the rather sparse and urban character of barbarian archaelogical evidence from this period. The legal and social roots of the later feudal system are also revealed. Extensive footnotes and appendices drill down into the details of late-Roman taxation and troop-billeting practices, supporting his conclusions. Very well done scholarship which has, judging from its citations, caused researchers in this field to stop and think.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Goffart takes issue not only with the common misperception of a violent and massive barbarian invasion of the Roman West, but also with the more prosaic picture which has been drawn in 19th and 20th century historical scholarship of the period--one in which the Goths, Burgundians, etc., were basically granted a third of all the useful lands in Gaul, Spain and Bavaria, causing a monumental upheaval in power and property. He feels this consensus springs from faulty assumptions and misinterpretations of the primary sources particularly those pertaining to Roman tax law. Instead of actual lands, he concludes that the barbarians were granted the proceeds from a third of the assessed properties that were taxed, and that little or no property changed hands as a result. The Empire, in effect, was dealing itself out of the military payroll game, letting the local (barbarian) militias collect their own damn pay. Although Goffart deduces this mostly from a close examination of the documentary evidence, he also feels it helps explain the anomalous paucity of barbarian archaeological finds from this period, and the usually urban nature of what little is found. There are several ramifications of this picture. Instead of painful disruption of Gallo-Roman property owners, we see instead a sort of book-keeping maneuver designed to minimize the impact of barbarian settlement. We see the opportunistic devolution of Roman taxation and bureaucracy, ingeniously devised to smoothly incorporate barbarian power, without reducing imperial revenues (the empire still received its customary third, the remaining third was for local govt). And, on a larger scale, Goffart believes that one can trace in all this the embryonic stages of early-Middle Ages seignurial arrangements.Read more ›
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By aa-Pam TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Alas for those of us who are enamored of the visages of hordes of barbarians invading the Roman west. Walter Goffart has produced a pin to pop our bubbles. In this book Prof. Goffart makes a very interesting argument against the popular notion that hordes of rampaging barbarians invaded the Roman west in the 4th and 5th centuries.

He argues that the Germanic tribes were not in fact all that numerous and that they were provisioned, not with land ripped from the terrified fingers of its rightful citizen-owners; but rather that they were supported with the results of taxes. To support his argument Goffart looks at a diverse evidence: Everything from the homey reports of Sidonius, to legal records, archeology, and linguistic analysis.

Sidonius, Goffart notes, complained that he couldn't write because there were 10 bulky barbarians billeted in his home, cooking their foul smelling meals to his discomfort.

The archaeological and linguistic evidence, he adds, does not support the notion that the Visigoths were given land. With land holdings one would expect the Visigoths to become entrenched within their surrounding communities. And if that were so, one would not expect them, en masse, to suddenly arise one day and decide to move elsewhere.

Five Stars. [A-]. Academic work. Expect tons of long, useful footnotes; and thought-provoking Appendices.

Important rethinking of primary sources and archaeological data. Includes comprehensive consideration of recent historical thinking - i.e. a look at Dopsch, Pirenne, Lot and their ilk; what they thought and why.

Fantastic Bibliography.

The use of Latin is rather extensive in the Appendices.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Caleb Hanson on May 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is a study of one particular question: just what was the arrangement called 'hospitalitas', by which several Germanic tribes were peaceably (more or less) settled in Roman territory in the 5th and 6th centuries? The traditional view is that it was based on the old Roman system for quartering soldiers with civilians, and that one third of each Roman estate in the region was alienated from its Roman landlord and given over to barbarian "guests." Goffart proposes instead an accommodation based on Roman tax administration, and this book is his case for it - there is no historical narrative here, just a close analysis of the few sources we have on tax and land laws.

The analysis is very close and very carefully studied - I would guess that on average each page is two-thirds text and one-third notes, and that's *average* - his logic is persuasive, and his explanation makes better sense than the alternative. It's just that the more sources he looks at, and shows how they can be made to fit his model or how his model explains otherwise confusing passages, the more noticeable it becomes that no source ever actually *says* that's what was happening, whereas several do seem to be saying land was in fact expropriated (Goffart even acknowledges this himself from time to time), and to me that makes the theory "plausible" but still short of "convincing."

Still, and though I usually prefer more narrative with my history, I found it a good read, engaging, and like I said, plausible.
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