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How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower Paperback – September 28, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, May 2009: Adrian Goldsworthy's Caesar: Life of a Colossus was a masterly fusion of vivid historical biography and scholarly detail, an impeccably researched work that also succeeded as a compelling read. With How Rome Fell, Goldsworthy's eye turns to the forces that ultimately destroyed the Roman Empire, challenging the traditional assumption that Rome was sacked by ultimately irrepressible foreign armies. Goldsworthy asserts that Rome's foes in the death throes of empire weren't any more formidable than those at its peak, but that the cutthroat nature of its political system fractured and diverted forces better spent maintaining the integrity of provincial borders--it was civil war and paranoia that destroyed the empire from within. Drawing parallels to modern societies might be tempting, but Goldsworthy is interested in Rome and resists foreboding or moralistic tones--even making a point of acknowledging the different dynamics that drive the rise and fall current powers. In just over 400 pages, How Rome Fell speeds the both the casual and Rome-savvy reader through 400 years of tumultuous and world-changing history--it's a worthy successor to the triumph of Caesar.--Jon Foro --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At only 40 years of age, British historian Goldsworthy's (Caesar) ninth Roman history offers the same high level of scholarship, analysis and lucid prose as the previous eight. After a superb survey of Roman politics and civilization, Goldsworthy begins with the death in A.D. 180 of emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose reign is traditionally viewed as the apex of Roman power. During the disastrous century that followed, emperors rarely ruled more than a few years; most were murdered, and civil wars raged, though there was some stability during the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine. Invasions slowly chipped away at the empire until it vanished in A.D. 476 with the abdication of the last Western emperor. Goldsworthy makes sense of 300 years of poorly documented wars, murders and political scheming. Highly opinionated, he presents surviving documents and archeological evidence to back his views such as that Constantine became Christian because Roman leaders traditionally believed that divine help won battles, and the Christian god seemed to Constantine like the front-runner. This richly rewarding work will serve as an introduction to Roman history, but will also provide plenty of depth to satisfy the educated reader. Illus., maps. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300164262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300164268
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adrian Goldsworthy was born in 1969 in Cardiff. He was educated in Penarth and then read Ancient and Modern History at St. John's College, Oxford, where he subsequently completed his doctorate in ancient history. His D.Phil. Thesis was the basis for his first book, The Roman Army At War 100 BC - AD 200, which looked at how the Roman army actually operated on campaign and in battle.

For several years he taught in a number of universities, and began to write for a wider audience. A succession of books followed dealing with aspects of ancient military history, including Roman Warfare, The Punic Wars (which was later re-issued as the Fall of Carthage), Cannae, In the Name of Rome and the Complete Roman Army. More recently he has looked at wider themes, combining the military focus with discussion of politics and society in a biography of Caesar, and a study of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, titled How Rome Fell (although released in the UK as The Fall of the West). His latest book is a paired biography of Antony and Cleopatra.

He is now a full time writer, and no longer teaches, although he is currently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Newcastle. However, he frequently gives one off lectures and talks both to universities and other groups in the UK, USA, Canada, and Europe. In the last couple of years audiences have included local history societies, graduates and undergraduates in a range of countries, the cadets of VMI, and the distinguished cast of a new production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. He frequently appears as a talking head or presenter in TV documentaries and has acted as consultant on both documentaries and dramas. He will appear in six of the eight episodes of the forthcoming When Rome ruled series for National Geographic. He often appears on radio.

More information can be found on his website -

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

161 of 165 people found the following review helpful By Mohe on April 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Goldsworthy does a nice job here in giving a good, very up to date, discussion of the collapse of Roman power from the time of Marcus Aurelius to Justinian. Unlike many books, "How Rome Fell" discusses the evolution of Roman power in the East in parallel with the West, and it actually treats the Sassanid Persians with some subtlety.

Goldsworthy's thesis is that the Empire was critically weakened by endless civil war and the insecurity of the Emperors. This instability was greatly increased with the rise of Emperors who were not of Senatorial rank, after the death of Caracalla. From this point onward the number of threats to Imperial power expanded greatly, and because of the Empire's vast scale and lack of any actual equals to its power (Goldsworthy's discussion of Sassanid Persia is premised on proving it was not Rome's equal), each successive Emperor, and later Imperial puppetmaster, saw internal enemies as a greater threat than any outsider. On the whole I think this is pretty much the case and Goldsworthy makes a very good case for it. It is well worth reading the book to understand the considerable nuance of his argument.

So why am I not giving this book 5 stars? The chief reasons are that the book is often sketchy about details, not particularly well cited, but most of all because the narrative suffers from failing to introduce new characters properly, each successive official, soldier, or barbarian chief is just dropped in and sort of left hanging. On several occasions I found myself going back two or ten pages, or even consulting the index to figure out who this person was. This is not helped by a few sloppy proof reading errors, which are more irritating than serious (ie. the text corrects itself), and possibly the worst set of maps I have ever seen in classics book. These of course are minor problems, and it is a great read. just not 5 stars.
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47 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Cato on September 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I want to start off by noting that any book dealing with the fall of the Roman Empire will be unsatisfactory to some because an author has only two choices: 1) cram as much info into a set amount of space to make the book marketable or 2) publish an academic treatise. In this regard, any commercial work on the subject will not be fully complete.

Operating within these confines, this is a good book. To answer another commentator, this book is intended for the serious amateur or armchair historian and provides a great narrative of the last centuries of the glory that was Rome and a convincing explanation for the primary cause of its collapse. This book is also clearly meant to refute Peter Heather's work, which claims that Rome fell not because of internal weakness, but because of the superiority of newly formed barbarian supergroups.

What I find fascinating is that both authors use the same evidence to reach drastically different conclusions. For instance, a cache of weapons found in a lake in Northern Europe is used by Heather to demonstrate that the Germanic tribes had achieved a new level of sophistication and material wealth, as well as weapons equal to that of Rome. Goldsworthy uses the same find to conclude that only the top echelon of Germanic tribes had access to such weapons.

Although I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle, I believe Goldsworthy has the better argument. Although I do not find Goldworthy's assessment that the Germanic tribes were no different than those facing Caesar to be persuasive (on this point Heather wins), at the same time I cannot accept Heather's conclusion that Rome post-3rd century crises was as vibrant and stable as before.

Here is where Goldsworthy really shines.
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88 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on May 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Adrian Goldsworthy has crafted a lucid and compelling narrative history of the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire (the author consciously follows in the footsteps of Edward Gibbon).

In recent decades it had become quite fashionable to describe what happened in Western Europe in the fifth century CE as a "transformation" from the Roman imperial state to a cluster of Germanic kingdoms, emphasizing continuity rather than disruption. However, the current generation of Roman scholars once again find that political, social, and economic changes were substantial enough to warrant a description of a "fall". Of course, there is -- and very probably never can be -- a consensus as to what caused that "fall". Literally hundreds of possible factors have been proposed since Gibbon wrote his classic work. A few years ago, Peter Heather in "The Fall of the Roman Empire" argued strongly that the Western Empire fell at the hands of irresistable military force at the hands of Germanic "barbarians" (Goths, Franks, Vandals, etc.), groups that had become more cohesive and formidable thanks to centuries of exposure to the Roman Empire. The suggestion was that external forces, not internal weakness, caused the catastrophe of the fifth century.

Adrian Goldsworthy, on the other hand, contends that the Germans of the fifth century were not substantially more powerful than their ancestors of previous centuries (Goldsworthy takes great pains to point out that the "barbarian armies" of the fifth century most often numbered only a few thousand men), and that the real problem was that the Roman Empire had fatally weakened itself through many decades of civil wars and internal struggles for power. The acquisition of personal power, not service to Rome, had become all.
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