Fall of the Roman Empire

While I'm getting through a strong cold, or flu, or whatever, I keep trying to learn more and more, and to plan my writing...

(To make myself more clear: I am already writing, but I have second thoughts about some of it, and I'm following a parallel line of thought to see where it takes me)

I am reading, and enjoying, Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire. It reads easily, has tons of info, so far, and it's being an inspiring source of ideas as well... The Spanish edition, by Crítica, is excellent, and 700+ pages by €28.03 are really a good buy...

Just to let you know what I'm into...

now time for bed!



Gabriele C. said...

Ouch, get better soon.

Hm, let's see if our Univeristy library has that book among the 5 million they shelve.

Pacal said...

I've read Peter Heather's book and I didn't like it. It made the fallo of the Roman Empire more inexplicable and incomprehensible along with a whole batterry of assumptions that I didn't buy. His handling of the Archaeological evidence didn't inspire confidence either.

Although it is a really good narative of the fall, its explainations were pathetic.


Excalibor said...

Pierre, your comments are somewhat shocking, as I have read the book through and found it very clear and right to the point.

However, I didn't put much attention to how it compared with other books, which I'm still reading.

Would you like to elaborate a bit on what you disliked? Specifically, what in his handling of the events between 376 and 410 did you not like? I ask because that's just the time period I'm focusing and while I have a good deal of books which analyse it from many POVs I was thinking on using Heather's as the "directive" book...


Pacal said...

Sorry I was in a bad mood when I read your comment about Heather's book. I had read it last year and it had been touted to me as some brillant synthesis of current research on the fall of Rome. Now I agree that the narrative is very accurate and quite well done so I have no objections to it has narrative but I found his explaination for the fall as convincing has a wet noodle.

In fact his book is not terribly new in that respect it is simply a update on the late nineteenth century idea that the Roman Empire didn't die but was assasinated, (by Germanic tribesmen). Basically Heather's idea is that the empire simply couuld not deal with or survive the Barbarian attacks (at least the west). Well so far so good, because that is obviously what happened. But why could it not deal with the barbarians? Here we get into a serious problem. Heather rejects struuctural explainations for Roman weakness, and asserts that there was no real structural problems. The empire was wealthy, prosperous, basically stable, it simply couldn't take the barbarian attacks because they overtaxed it resources and it was not built to take such seriouus attacks.


The Roman Empire nuumbered c. 50-70 million, was incombarably more wealthy than the barbarian "hordes", had at least in theory the ability to mobilize 100's of thousands of men. The barbarians (invaders) number at most alltogether likely under a million. (which includes everyone) The most accurate numerical figure is the one given for the Vandals crossing into Africa and it gives the total figure (men, women, children, slaves etc.) as 80,000!! And if anything the disbarity in wealth was even greater.

The Roman Empire had survived the Hannibalic war (when it governed only penisular Italy) a far more serious and grueling military threat than the barbarian hordes. To say nothing of civil wars and continual wars of conquest that in my opinion were far more taxing on Roman resources than the Barbarian invasions.

If the Roman Empire was fundementaly, socially, economically healthy why it it sucuumb to this threat? This is what I meant by my comment he made the fall more inexplicable.

Further why was barbarian rule characterized by a rapid decline in civilized ways and structures. Certainly the economic and Social decline under the Barbarian rulers in much of Europe is incontestable, (trade, population etc.) Why the Barbarian rulers would want to wreak it is questionable (aside from abundant evidence they wanted it to continue only under their rule). So basically this sound economic and social structure rather strangly just falls apart for no readily discernable reason under barbarian rule. I'm frankly puzzled.

The decay of Greco-Roman cuulture is in my opinion rather evident, from the decline in art to the decline in learning, (Christian writings being the big exception and the Talmud and related writings)

Sorry I prefer deep causes to explain such weakness. I don't buy the barbarians were a insumountable threat. I frankly think the difficulty Sthillo (not sure of spelling) had in raising a feild force of even moderate size (say 20,000 men) is symptomatic of a state in severe crisis and not just by a small number of Barbarians. (I doubt Alaric ever had more than 30,000 men under his command and likely usually far less)

As for Heather's handeling of the archaeological evidence, aside from the fact that interpretating such evidence is a good deal more problematic than he indicates. For example it appears very likely that city life had largely ceased in Britain by shortly before 400 C.E., according to a least one analysis of the archaeological evidence.

The explaination that the Roman Empire simply wasn't built to fight off that degree of pressure by Barbarians flys in the face of the facts of the population, wealth, resources of the Empire. That such a comparatively small nuumber of invaders destroyed it in the west is incomprehensible given the huge disparity of power unless something was weakening the power to resist.

Further his explaination left inexplicable the collary to the fall of the Roman State in the West, the collapse of Greco-Roman civlization.

The best modern synthesis of the "reasons" for the fall of Rome is Michael Grant's The Fall of Rome a Reapraisal. (originally 1976, a revised edition from 1991 is available)

Has I said before the narrative is excellent, I just found his assumptions and "explanation" very unsatisfactory.


Pacal said...

Some books for you to look for.

Corruption and the Decline of Rome:
Ramsay Macmullen, Yale University Press, London, 1988.

The Later Roman Empire:
Averil Cameron, Fontana Press, London, 1993.

The Later Roman Empire, 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative History 2 volumes:
A. H. M. Jones, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1964.
(Indisputably the best book(s) in English on the fall)

History of the Later Roman Empire volumes 1 and 2:
J. B. Bury, Dover Publications, 1958.

Available on the web at at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/BURLAT/home.html

The Fall of the Roman Empire, A Reappraisal:
Michael Grant, The Annenberg School Press, London, 1976.

Roman Society in the last Century of the Western Empire:
Samuel Dill, Meridian Books, New York, 1958 (Originally 1899 2nd edition) (dated but excellent)

The Decline of Rome:
Joseph Vogt, Weidenfield, London, 1965.

The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World:
G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 1981.
(Yes its Marxist, but ignore the jargon the chapter on the decline is fasinating)

The End of the Ancient World and the Beginnings of the Middle Ages:
Ferdinand Lot, Harper Torchbooks, New York,1961.
(A classic by one of the great French ploymaths!)

I hope this helps.