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The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians [Paperback]

by Peter Heather
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 11, 2007 0195325419 978-0195325416
The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors Rome called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling an Empire that had dominated their lives for so long.
A leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians, Heather relates the extraordinary story of how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled the empire apart. He shows first how the Huns overturned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers, to force the Goths and others to seek refuge inside the Empire. This prompted two generations of struggle, during which new barbarian coalitions, formed in response to Roman hostility, brought the Roman west to its knees. The Goths first destroyed a Roman army at the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and went on to sack Rome in 410. The Vandals spread devastation in Gaul and Spain, before conquering North Africa, the breadbasket of the Western Empire, in 439. We then meet Attila the Hun, whose reign of terror swept from Constantinople to Paris, but whose death in 453 ironically precipitated a final desperate phase of Roman collapse, culminating in the Vandals' defeat of the massive Byzantine Armada: the west's last chance for survival.

Peter Heather convincingly argues that the Roman Empire was not on the brink of social or moral collapse. What brought it to an end were the barbarians.

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Editorial Reviews

Review


"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


Review

‘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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (June 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195325419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195325416
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
335 of 343 people found the following review helpful
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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119 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mysterious Death of the Roman Empire 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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158 of 170 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unthinkable: a New way to Understand Very Old Facts 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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238 of 261 people found the following review helpful
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the way the Roman Empire fell: Not with a bang but a whimper
I can all but warn from reading this book because once you'll read it, you'll be hooked on history books for the rest of your life. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Marcel Dupasquier
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
Very in depth. An up to date account on the fall of the western Roman Empire. Excellent book I would recommend
Published 1 month ago by Scott Bonawitz
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gibbon of Modern Times
The fall of the Roman Empire has obsessed historians since Gibbon. Many theories have been offered, ranging from excessive taxation, civil wars, corruption and a weakened military... Read more
Published 1 month ago by JBL
5.0 out of 5 stars A prolix summary of a new take on the fall of the Empire
You'd better love Rome. Peter Heather certainly does, which means he goes into exhaustive detail when describing his current insights into the genuine causes of the fall of Rome. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Derek Grimmell
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear and documented explanation of the fall of the western part of...
There is no shortage of theories that pretend to explain the fall of the Roman Empire (the Western part of the Empire, to be precise) - from the rise of Christianity to lead... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Xtalfu
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful and deliberate narrative
Peter Heather takes us though a fascinating and well thought out narrative about the root causes of the fall of the Roman Empire. Read more
Published 2 months ago by JJS
1.0 out of 5 stars Partial book!!!!
2 missing pages after page 6! Do I need to keep flipping pages to find more! Nope! Shortest and worst read ever!!! I'm even deleting it from my library!
Published 3 months ago by Elmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh and readable look at a critical period in western history
Peter Heather's Fall of the Roman Empire is well-organized, nicely supported, and readable for anyone with basic knowledge of western history. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Wintermute
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book explaing the fall of the greatest empire in the history...
A well told history of the Roman Empire. For one interested in world history an important and well written account of the errors and successes of the Romans. Read more
Published 4 months ago by volney
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rise of the Barbarians
In this work, Heather forcefully argues that the fall of the western Roman Empire was a gradual, continuous process resulting from the immigration and subsequent political... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Samuel J. Sharp
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