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The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians 1st Edition

153 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195159547
ISBN-10: 0195159543
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Editorial Reviews


"A rich and dramatic synthesis of the latest research on Gibbon's old story.... The drama of Mr. Heather's book lies not just in the world-changing story he has to tell, but in his behind-the-scenes view of how historians work. Like a master detective, Mr. Heather employs the most various techniques--everything from pollen sampling to archaeology to literary criticism--to wring the truth from the reticent past.... What Mr. Heather offers is not easy analogies but a realization of the complex strangeness of the past--the achievement of a great historian."--Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"Like a late Roman emperor, Heather is determined to impose order on a fabric that is always threatening to fragment and collapse into confusion; unlike most late Roman emperors, he succeeds triumphantly."--The Times of London

"Gibbon's 'awful revolution'--the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West--still casts a pall. Yet, as Peter Heather's brilliant mixture of rapid flowing narrative and deeply thought analysis fully brings out, it still exerts a pull too. 'Lepcisgate', Alaric's Goths, and Attila's Huns are all thrown into Heather's melting pot along with Roman imperial aims and mismanagement. The outcome is a conclusion Heather finds pleasing--and Gibbon would not have despised--that Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own demise."--Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

"To a period that has often appeared as impenetrable as it is momentous, Peter Heather brings a rare combination of scholarship and flair for narrative. With this book, a powerful searchlight has been shone upon the shadow-dimmed end of Rome's western empire."--Tom Holland, author of Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

"Deftly covering the necessary economic and political realities of decline and fall, Heather also presents the stories and the characters of this tumultuous epoch, in a colorful and enthralling narrative."--The Independent

"Masterful, lucid.... Always rewarding."--ForeWord Magazine


‘A rare combination of scholarship and flair for narrative. With this book, a powerful searchlight has been shone upon the shadow-dimmed end of Rome’s western empire’ - Tom Holland

‘a brilliant mixture of rapid flowing narrative and deeply thought analysis ‘ - Paul Cartledge

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195159543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195159547
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

372 of 381 people found the following review helpful By Curt Emanuel on December 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this volume Peter Heather attempts to explain that ultimately, the cause of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire was not due to tax inequities, a failure of the economy, internal discord, etc., but rather because of the simply overwhelming level of barbarian invasions which began in the late 4th century. This he proceeds to do very well.

This work is divided into three main parts; "Pax Romana" for chapters 1-3, "Crisis" for chapters 4-7 and "Fall of Empires" for chapters 8-10. I will discuss each of these briefly.

In "Pax Romana" Heather discusses the Barbarians, the Romans, and the Roman Empire briefly. For each of these groups he gives an overview of their development to the latter part of the 4th century, in order to provide us with a starting point for the period of the barbarian invasions. He discusses what it meant to be "Roman" and how even cities far removed from Rome, such as Trier, were fully involved in Roman life and, rather than being rustic frontier outposts, were as fully a part of the Empire as cities of the Italian peninsula. He discusses the increased autonomy of the Emperor and how the Empire changed and adapted to the rise of Sassanid Persia as a threat to the East, including changes in the taxation system to support an increased military presence in that area. He also discusses the evolution of Germanic tribes and their coalescence from small, isolated people into larger, more unified kingdoms, capable of truly threatening Rome rather than just gaining an occasional, ultimately meaningless victory, as had previously been the case.
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138 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Omer Belsky on September 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Notice the title of Peter Heather's fascinating study of the final centuries of the Roman Empire. It is a clear tribute to Gibbons, yet the "Decline" is intentionally missing. Because according to Dr. Heather the Roman Empire never declined; its fall was due to external, rather then internal, forces, and the perpetrators were two: the Huns and the Goths.

Heather rejects the theories that see the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire in internal maladies. Contra popular opinion, he argues that the division of the Empire to Western and Eastern parts was rational given the increased size of the Roman population. As the Roman way of life spread, and more and more conquered people became Roman citizens, the patronage that had to be distributed became too enormous for any single Imperial Court - hence, the need for two Courts.

Nor is the fault in the Christianization of the Empire; although he acknowledges that the rise of Christianity brought a Cultural Revolution (separation of the Living from the Dead; Equality of all before the Lord; diminished importance for the educated Romans in comparison with the simple true-believers, pp. 121-122), Heather doubts it effected the functioning of the empire much. The Roman Empire was still perceived as divinely blessed "only the nomenclature was different" (p. 123), Christian theology fitted neatly into Roman Chauvinism, and it was only as consequences of defeat that St. Augustine started to develop his anti-Nationalist theology (pp. 230-232).

The best evidence against the "internal decline" thesis is that the Roman Empire did not actually collapse - only it's western half did. In the East, the Roman Empire soldiered on, until another powerful foreign threat - Islam.
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174 of 186 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Villegas on November 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Heather has accomplished kind of an academic miracle: he has given new light to a very old issue that has been explored, analyzed and written about almost to death: the causes of the demise of western roman empire.

I know all the big names that have ever written about this: Gibbons, Bury, the many italians and french XIX century scholars, T. Mommsem, Spengler, Toynbee and many many more. Heather is different to all of them. Clear, simple explanations grounded in common sense AND new archeological discoveries make the trick and Heather make it very well. With his approach we see less the monumental and unavoidable development of a macro-dramatic internal "decline and fall" as the simple, direct and at last unbearable action of very obvious facts...once they have been explained by Heather. We simply see an still prosperous empire being gradually overwheelmed by too many enemies that became less barbarian and enough civilized to gather and muster the military forces and pressures that at last, coming from every side, were too much to be resisted anymore by the imperial resources. How this came along centuries of accumulative evolution is the task that brillianty accomplish Mr Heather. At the very least, his book offers a new, refreshing, intriguing view of such a colossal development. So it is a must for any history geek.
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274 of 301 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on January 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Peter Heather, an Oxford history professor, offers a "new history" of one of the most controversial subjects in world history - discussing what caused the fall of the (west) Roman Empire. Although this book makes for interesting reading at points, the author's main hypothesis is neither particularly fresh nor well constructed. Heather's main focus is on external factors - Barbarian actions - rather than internal Roman factors such as political corruption or economic disintegration. The author's main thesis revolves around the contention that Germanic society changed rapidly between the 1st and 4th Centuries and allowed the heretofore-weak tribes to form confederations that could challenge Roman power. Once Hunnic aggression pushed these Germanic tribes into Roman territory he argues, the Romans could no longer assimilate or destroy these Germanic "super-groups" such as the Goths, and the resultant loss of territory gradually deprived the empire of revenues. A vicious cycle began with the arrival of the Goths on Roman territory in 378, and eventually resulted in a growing inability of the Empire to defeat the swarm of new foes, such as the Vandals, Franks and Huns. Heather tends to dismiss all other theories about the reasons for imperial collapse out of hand, claiming that internal factors were not essentially irrelevant. Hmmm...not exactly sound historical methodology. Essentially, the author subscribes to the "mono-causal" explanation for this very complex process of imperial collapse - his explanation. It is a telling indictment about the intellectual foundations of this book that the author never questions whether a "mono-causal" theory can even be applied to such a lengthy, complex process.Read more ›
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