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

A book released December 1, 2005 by Peter Heather

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Great study on the fall of the Western Roman Empire

  • Feb 2, 2010
The decline and the fall of the western Roman empire has always been one of the great mystery in world history, Rome had dominated the western Eurasian continent for over half a millenium.  The popular opinion on how the empire declined and ultimated fell in the late 5th century has been the endless civil war during the crisis in the third century broke the back of the empire in which it never recovered, and the great migration and the Hunnic threat were the last straw that finally did the western empire in.  In "The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians", Peter Heather held a contrarian view on this matter, he divided the book in three parts, "Pax Romana", "Crisis", and "The Fall of the Empire". 

In "Pax Romana", Peter Heather detailed the rise of the Sasanid Persia as the cause of the crisis of the third century.  Before the rise of Persia, Rome has been the undisputed super power in the western Eurasia, but when the Sasanid Persia defeated Rome in early 3rd century, the empire must change and focus its attention to its eastern front, and that requires the emperor to be on the eastern half of the empire in order to run things properly, this caused the uneven distribution of favors within the empire, thus causing usurpers after usurpers trying to take the throne.  However, Rome eventually was able to overcome the Persian threat by reforming the taxation system and vastly increased its military might, and the partitioning of the empire was also a necessity, so that each emperor can focus on its domain and prevent the endless civil wars.   Peter Heather invoked various historial records as well as archeological evidences supporting that by the middle of the 4th century, Rome is once again prosperous and able to defend its border against the Persian and Barbarian threats around its periphery.  Peter Heather also went into detail on how the Barbarians by interacting with the Empire for several centuries have become much more sophisticated, the agricultural revolutions in the Germanic world vastly increased population and caused the rise of the elite class, and the splintered Germanic groups gradually formed larger kingdoms, so the Barbarians in the 4th century were vastly different creatures than their counterpart in the first century where Rome was able to contain with ease.

In "Crisis", it started with the arrival of the Tervingi and Greuthungi Goths at the doorsteps of the eastern Roman empire in 376AD, they were driven from their homeland by the Huns, and they seek safely within the border of the empire, and the Emperor Valens allowed them in, however, their settlement was mishandled and these groups rebelled and caused havoc on the Balkans, and ultimately annihilated the Eastern army in Hadrianople and killed the Emperor Valens, the rebellion was finally put down, but the Gothic groups at this point was too large and the empire lacked the necessry resources to completely wipe them out, and they were permanently settled within the empire, and this is different from the previous immigration groups, as they were concentrated in one place and was never assimilated into the Roman world, and in early 5th century, the various gothic groups within the empire eventually joined forces to form the supergoup (the Visigoths), led by Alaric, they sacked Rome in 410, but Rome eventually was able to deal with these barbarian threat, and resettle the Visigoths in southern Gaul.  But a second wave of the great migration also hit the western empire in the early 5th century, the Vandals, Alans, and Suevi entered the empire through Gaul and wreaked havoc all the way to Hispania, and basically partitioned the Iberia pennisula among them.  But the fatal blow to the empire came in 439, when the Vandals conquered the Roman North Africa, the richest provinces of the Empire, the loss the revenue was an enormous blow, and the west was never able to raise enough troops from this point on, and must rely on the various barbarian groups in order to fend off the coming Hunnic threat.  The Huns ravaged the eastern empire in the 440s, and finally turned its attention to the west in late 440s, but they were defeated in the early 450s, and the death of Attila the Hun caused the Hunnic empire to quickly crumble, the unraveling of the Hunnic empire proved to be disastrous for Rome, as all the barbarian groups within Roman borders no longer had a common enemy, and was scrambling to carve out more influence and territory within the empire.

In "The Fall of the Empire", the eastern Roman empire was trying to save the west by a last ditch attack on the Vandal North Africa in 468, however, the combined fleet of east and west were soundly defeated and that pretty much spelled doom for the western empire, and the last emperor Romulus was deposed 8 years later, thus ending over half a millenium of Roman dominance in western Europe.

The book was well written and cites extensive sources from temporary historians and letters, and each battle was described in detail and the cause and effect for each of these events were well reasoned, I believe Peter Heather provided a compelling argument for the external cause of the fall of the Roman Empire.

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February 02, 2010
James, nice review. As a big history fan, I think i'll order this if the have it for Kindle. How long is it? I'm imagining 1,000+ pages.
February 03, 2010
It's not nearly as long as 1000 pages, more like 500 pages.
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Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
Good analysis of the Huns and their history.
About the reviewer
James Liu ()
Ranked #140
I was originally from Taipei, Taiwan, and I moved to the united states when I was 16 years old. I lived in Champaign, Illinois for 6 years before moving to California and have been here since.   … more
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About this book



Books, History, Rome, Ancient Rome, Peter Heather


ISBN-10: 0195159543
ISBN-13: 978-0195159547
Author: Peter Heather
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Date Published: December 1, 2005
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