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The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome Hardcover – June 1, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (June 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393061965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061963
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,089,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on the Roman historian Priscus of Panium's History of Attila the Hun, Cambridge University historian Kelly (Ruling the Later Roman Empire) restores the image of Attila as a politically ingenious leader bent more on making strategic alliances to benefit his people than conquering neighboring tribes by savage attacks. With the grace of a good storyteller, Kelly narrates the Huns' origins as nomadic peoples who eventually settled in the Great Hungarian Plain. As they began to consolidate their control over new territories, says Kelly, the Huns recognized the need for a more stable form of government, a greater concentration of military effort focused on a single objective, and the closer coordination of all clans under one leader. In A.D. 434, they found their leader in Attila, and the Huns steadily conquered—by force and by strategic political agreements—various regions of the Roman Empire. They were never able to take Rome, but battling the Huns so weakened Rome's resources that Vandals sacked the city in A.D. 455, effectively ending the Western Roman Empire. Kelly's first-rate history provides a singularly fresh look at a fractious period in the life of ancient Rome. Maps. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Kelly (ancient history, Univ. of Cambridge; The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction) paints an engaging portrait of Attila the Hun's rise to prominence and places the feared warlord in the context of his own time. The title is something of a misnomer, as Kelly writes of Attila's ability to build his own empire as well as his significant part in the destruction of Rome's empire. As the author explains, Attila was aware that it was not in his best interest to hasten the decline of the Roman Empire because much of his control over his own people and lands was paid for with Roman gold that he received through bribes and raids. Kelly's well-written narrative is founded on extensive research, and he provides informative notes as well as suggestions for further reading. Recommended as an excellent addition to libraries with collections in ancient history, Roman history, European history, or classical studies.—Crystal Goldman, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

I recommend this book both to laymen who are interested in learning about late antiquity and to those with a deeper interest as well.
Mark Mellon
I recommend it to all readers interested in the late Roman Empire, the rise of the Byzantine Empire, and the invasions of the Barbarians into Western Europe.
David M. Dougherty
I'm going to give this book 3 stars because the author had a lot of information about the fall of Rome, but it tells us the wrong view of Attila.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I ordered this book with misgivings about someone building a portrait of Attila from the two dozen or so ancient sources even mentioning Attila, I was enormously pleased with the author's scholarship. The reader must remember that the Huns left no written accounts of their own, essentially no archaeological evidence, and everything written about them came strictly from their enemies. So accounts like Ammianus Marcellinus' (who never saw a Hun) describing them with flattened skulls, misshapen bodies, evil appearances, etc., etc., must be taken with very large grains of salt. Even their horses were supposedly ugly. The author strives mightly to present the probable truth, and is probably as successful as a researcher at this distance can be.

The litmus test for me came early with the author's treatment of cranial deformations to identify the Huns. Although this was a practice of certain steppe dwellers and has been associated with the Alans, whether of not the Huns practiced this is questionable. Amazingly (to me), the author addresses this issue, and in his end notes actually points out that if the process was to beautify, then high ranking Huns like Attila and his wives would have undergone this practice. But no eyewitness description of Attila mentions such a deformation! The author therefore mentions this practice as occurring among the Huns, but carefully retreats from using it as a means of identifying them. Frankly, this is scholarship at its best, and not just because the author agrees with me.

Although the author's careful use and non-use of certain sources might put off some readers, this work is probably as accurate as possible for a modern researcher.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mellon on August 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The name "Attila the Hun" is centuries-old shorthand for the senseless, destructive fury of barbarian hordes unleashed upon civilization, bent soley upon its destruction. In his new biography of Attila, Christopher Kelly debunks this stereotype. He instead depicts the legendary Hun as an effective, dynamic monarch and warlord with a sophisticated, nuanced approach to strategy and tactics, purposefully building and maintaining a powerful Hunnic kingdom. Through close examination of the historical record and evidence from recent archaeological finds, Kelly tries in this history to determine what can be known of Attila's character and life.

One of the chief primary sources of information is the account by the Byzantine rhetorician Priscus of his encounter with Attila as part of a diplomatic mission. Priscus's account unfortunately only survives in epitomized fragments from a later Byzantine work, but by close analysis of what remains, Kelly draws some interesting conclusions. He pays particular attention to an official banquet given by Attila, notes the monarch's moderation, his subtle handling of the Byzantine delegation, and the richness of the food, all in stark contrast to the usual old wives tales of Huns dressed in mouseskins, squatting outdoors, eating half-raw meat.

Kelly succinctly and briskly relates how, through a clever combination of negotiation, threats, and military action, Attila was able to play off both halves of the decaying Roman Empire against one another and thereby extract tribute and increased territory. He notes that despite the Huns' fearsome reputation as the worst of the barbarians, they skirted the Empire's edges and never sought to occupy and hold Roman provinces like the Goths or the Vandals.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on June 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's almost beyond argument that the sudden appearance of the Huns in 4th century eastern Europe helped precipitate the fall of the Roman Empire. The difficulty for any historian of the period is to tell the story of both Huns and Fall from the random scraps of literary and archaeological evidence that have survived antiquity.

Christopher Kelly writes well enough and makes good use of the slender extant materials, especially fragments of Priscus's History of Attila. Following Priscus, Kelly argues that Attila was no irrational barbarian but a sophisticated ruler who played a clever hand in contemporary international politics.

This view is hardly revisionist. Kelly's thesis might almost be summarized from The Columbia Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (1963): "The fear Attila inspired is clear from many accounts of his savagery but, though undoubtedly harsh, he was a just ruler to his own people. He encouraged the presence of learned Romans at his court and was far less bent on devastation than other conquerors before and after him."

End of Empire seems aimed at the History-Book-Club-sort of general reader, and the question these folks will have to answer for themselves before tackling this book is the degree to which they are willing to put up with all the surmises, "perhapses," and "probablys" almost necessary to creating a coherent extended narrative such as this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By MJS on October 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Fall of Rome is one of those rare event that demonstrates that even when history is written by the losers the truth can be in short supply. For a man whose name can still inspire visions of terror Attila the Hun is poorly understood. When he's depicted as a barbarian (see most histories of the Roman Empire written before 1850) Attila seems more Neanderthal Frat Boy than brilliant military leader. When he's shown as a worthy adversary to the crumbling Empire, Attila seems more like Alexander the Great without the fancy tutors.

Christopher Kelly aims to show us Attila as he was - the leader of a civilization that the Romans dismissed out of arrogance, ready to play power politics with Roman, Constantinople, and Persia. This is genuine popular history that draws on the latest archaeological research to show us a society with laws, elites, fools, geniuses, and above all pride. Kelly places the old stories about the Huns in the context of their times, explaining what all that hyperbolic language really meant. He doesn't glorify the Huns any more or less than the Romans or Byzantines. He shows them all acting with honor, lying, conniving, breaking treaties, and upholding right as they understand it.

Best of all, Kelly has a sense of humor and he knows a good story. The story of the Roman librarian on a diplomatic mission is half farce, half James Bond and wholly entertaining. Where else are you going to find scheming eunuchs, Dudley DoRight-esque Roman soldiers, gossipy librarians, stuttering love-sick con men and day long dinner parties? Attila did not bring about the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire but his story exposes the weaknesses, corruption and rot that did.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in ancient/Roman history.

Kindle note: photographs not included even though they are (annoyingly) referenced in the text.
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