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The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (The Princeton History of the Ancient World Book 2) Kindle Edition
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- Book 2 of 2 in The Princeton History of the Ancient World
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From the Back Cover
"This is the story of a great civilization's long struggle with invisible enemies. In the empire's heyday, in 160 CE, splendid cities, linked by famous roads and bustling harbors, stand waiting for the lethal pathogens of Central Africa and the highlands of Tibet. Yet, under the flickering light of a variable sun, beneath skies alternately veiled in volcanic dust or cruelly rainless, this remarkable agglomeration of human beings held firm. Harper's account of how the inhabitants of the empire and their neighbors adjusted to these disasters is as humane as his account of the risks they faced is chilling. Brilliantly written, at once majestic and compassionate, this is truly great history."--Peter Brown, author of Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
"In this riveting history, Kyle Harper shows that disease and environmental conditions were not just instrumental in the final collapse of the Roman Empire but were serious problems for centuries before the fall. Harper's compelling and cautionary tale documents the deadly plagues, fevers, and other pestilences that ravaged the population time and again, resulting in far more deaths than ever caused by enemy forces. One wonders how the empire managed to last as long as it did."--Eric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
"This brilliant, original, and stimulating book puts nature at the center of a topic of major importance--the fall of the Roman Empire--for the first time. Harper's argument is compelling and thoroughly documented, his presentation lively and robust."--Peter Garnsey, coauthor of The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture
"Kyle Harper's extraordinary new account of the fall of Rome is a gripping and terrifying story of the interaction between human behavior and systems, pathogens and climate change. The Roman Empire was a remarkable connector of people and things--in towns and cities, through voluntary and enforced migration, and through networks of trade across oceans and continents--but this very connectedness fostered infectious diseases that debilitated its population. Though the protagonists of Harper's book are nonhuman, their effects on human lives and societies are nonetheless devastating."--Emma Dench, author of Romulus' Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian
"Kyle Harper is a Gibbon for the twenty-first century. In this very important book, he reveals the great lesson that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire can teach our own age: that humanity can manipulate nature, but never defeat it. Sic transit gloria mundi."--Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules--for Now
"The Fate of Rome is a breakthrough in the study of the Roman world--intrepid, innovative, even revolutionary."--Walter Scheidel, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century
"Kyle Harper's The Fate of Rome illuminates with a strong new light the entirety of Roman history, by focusing relentlessly on the ups and downs of the Roman coexistence with the microorganisms that influenced every aspect of their lives in powerful ways, while themselves being conditioned by what the Romans did, and failed to do. Others, including myself, have devoted pages to the impact of the greatest epidemics in our books. We missed what happened in between. Harper does not, and the result is a book that is fascinating as well as instructive."--Edward N. Luttwak, author of The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire
"Kyle Harper's The Fate of Rome illuminates with a strong new light the entirety of Roman history by focusing relentlessly on what the Romans did and failed to do about the microorganisms that influenced every aspect of their lives in powerful ways. Others, including myself, have devoted pages in our books to the impact of the greatest epidemics. We missed what happened in between. Harper does not, and the result is a book that is fascinating as well as very instructive."--Edward N. Luttwak, author of The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire
"Learned, lively, and up-to-date, this is far and away the best account of the ecological and environmental dimensions of the history of the Roman Empire."--J. R. McNeill, author of Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World--This text refers to the paperback edition.
- File Size : 26272 KB
- Publication Date : October 2, 2017
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Publisher : Princeton University Press; Illustrated Edition (October 2, 2017)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B071SLPWVL
- Print Length : 440 pages
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #112,890 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Harper does a good job of telling you what is known and what is speculation. For example, the plague during Marcus Aurelius's reign (the Antonine Plague) is very likely smallpox. But the Plague of Cyprian from the 250's AD still is a mystery. Might be smallpox. But more likely either an early severe influenza (think Spanish Flu of 1918) or a filovirus (which includes Marburg and Ebola in the family). It is possible we might know some day.
The Readers Digest 3 sentences version of the book: Harper thinks the cooling and droughts brought on by the end of the Roman Climate Optimum (during which it rained in Alexandria 11 months of the year!) and the influx of diseases enabled by the trading routes of Pax Romana) so weakened the Roman Empire it could not defend its borders. He also throws in state development along the borders as another cause. But mainly he points to disease and drought and cooling as the forces that brought down the empire.
While I find Harper's case compelling I think Harper is leaving out one cause of collapse that Peter Turchin emphasizes: waning of ability of a state to harness a collective will. Look at the Roman Republic during the first 2 Punic wars by contrast. Italy had Carthaginian armies rampaging around for years. But the Romans refused to consider themselves defeated no matter how many battles they lost. They just kept coming back and fighting. Their willingness to take very heavy losses and not really feel defeated was essential for the survival of the Roman Republic. But centuries of rule by Emperors left the Romans feeling not so personally responsible for the survival of the state.
I'm not disputing that absent the diseases and climate change that the Roman Empire would have lasted much longer. But I suspect earlier generations of Romans would not have been so easily defeated by climate change, mass killer epidemics, and big tribal invasions.
This work is concerned with climate change and what the author feels are its positive (yes, climate change can be positive) and negative effects in the Late Holocene. The author identifies 6 causes of climate change: 1) Variations in the tilt of the earth’s axis - 41,000 year cycle. 2) Precession (wobbly spin) of the axis- 26,000 year cycle. 3) Slight variable eccentricity in the earth’s orbit 4) Volcanism 5) Significant variations in the earth’s orbit around the sun, and 6) Anthropogenic change; the least influential.
Much of the author’s conclusions are based on teeth and bone analysis which he admits are still in its early stages. I do believe he over-emphasized the ‘plague of Cyprian’, and in general he too readily accepts the force of 4th century urbanization and the positive influence of the Church. He speaks of ‘obscure turmoil’ on the steppes (P.190) but does not seem able to show a definitive linkage with the effects of climate change. He gives a significant role to the force of the barbarian invasions, which overwhelmed the tremendous organic strength of a renewed and reformed Roman Empire.
The best chapter was the discussion of the bubonic plague in the age of Justinian. The author feels that the combination of war, plague and climate change (LALIA- Late Antique Little Ice Age) was devastating. Yet, the author has no firm explanation of the ‘years with no summer’ of this period. He suggests volcanism or a meteor impact, but cannot name any suspect volcano or evidence of a meteor strike. The end of the book is overly verbose, philosophical and wanders into the apocalyptic.
The Fate of Rome is superbly researched with outstanding notes and bibliography. The maps unfortunately are often unreadable in the print version, but are fine in the kindle edition (where the footnotes are not as convenient.
Top reviews from other countries
Naturally a degree of sacrifice of small scale detail has had to be made to suit the small number of pages, but this is really only noticeable in the discussion of the ‘barbarian’ cultures of eastern and central Europe. For non-specialists, moreover, more grounding in the history of the northern hemisphere’s weather since the last Ice Age might also have been helpful.