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

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  1,864 ratings  ·  130 reviews
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 overtuned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers to force the Goths and ot ...more
Paperback, 572 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2005)
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Best Books About Ancient Rome
80th out of 511 books — 714 voters
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Books on the Later Roman Empire
3rd out of 118 books — 24 voters


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Community Reviews

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Matt
Admittedly, I have very little knowledge about the Roman Empire. This has not stopped me from creating a construct in my mind about how Rome fell. The image I’ve created is actually very simple, subtle, and elegant.

First, picture a room the Coliseum. Now imagine the Coliseum filled with men, women, and goats. Everyone is naked, including the goats. Men are having sex with women. Men are having sex with men. Women are having sex with women. The goats are having sex with everyone. There is an ele
...more
Szplug
I'm trashing the majority of what I have previously written here, along with opting to round up my three-and-a-half rating to a fulsome and fully merited four; scrubbing the slate clean and making an effort to do this book some justice. Prior allusions to the Mighty Gibbon and his masterpiece are inherently unfair to Heather—he's certainly no Gibbon, but then again, who is? The fact of the matter is that the British author is a pleasant and engaging writer who suffers from spells of dryness—but ...more
Bookwraiths
This is hands down one of the best written, most entertaining and easily digested books I have ever read regarding the fall of the Roman Empire. Mr. Heather gives a reader enough back story regarding Rome and its neighbors to understand the strategic situation before he then outlines his theory of just what happened to destroy the Western Roman Empire and how it was more a gradual process than we have been led to believe. His reasoning for each point is well-thought-out and explained with just e ...more
Bryan Alexander
A fine history of the Roman empire during the 300s and 400s. Heather offers a clear, engaging narrative account of the western empire's defeat and the east's success.

Arguing about the fall of (western!) Rome is an old historical chestnut, and Heather makes a passionate case for one school of thought. You see, there are two broad interpretations. Either Rome died a natural death, due to internal problems and decay, or it was murdered by outside forces, notably barbarians from central Europe and t
...more
Mal Warwick
Roman generals, barbarians, and a compulsive historian to tell the tale

Remember having to memorize all those dates when you were back in school? 1066, 1776, and all that? Right? So, what epochal events do you associate with the years 376, 405, 410, and 476? Give up? No, I’m not going to give you the answers. If you really want them, you can immerse yourself in the pages of Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire. By the time you’re finished — assuming you have the stomach to get through the
...more
Steve
Heather covers Gibbon's old stomping grounds, but backed up w/ recent archeological finds. Heather is an expert when it comes to the various “barbarian” groups that hammered the Roman Empire. He’s probably one of best when it comes to the mysterious Huns (historians still don’t know where they came from – just educated guesses). However, Heather parts with Gibbon on the cause of Rome’s fall, seeing not so much decadence (he feels that Rome, as an Empire, was running probably as well as ever, mak ...more
Paul
The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, by Peter Heather

This new book by a professor at Worcester College, University of Oxford is a true gem among books covering historical subject matter. The past when covered by most books attempting to educate the reader on historical subject matter covering several hundred years often results in text book like reading without the inspirational individual efforts of the everyday citizen being included or explained.
In this cas
...more
Louise
Heather tells the complex story of the Fall of the Roman Empire in a writing style so accessible that you feel like he is talking to you.

He clearly presents his thesis (oversimplification: there was no "decline". There was a loss in revenue when North Africa was lost. Barbarians eroded the western empire and a disastrous armada to get Africa back nailed the coffin) so that lay people can understand it. When he presents evidence he also notes what is missing from the evidence, or how reliable/unr
...more
Jan
A true paragon among history books. Lively and engaging, Peter Heather takes into account the whole picture of life in the Later Roman Empire to support all of his reasoning (much in contrast to Gibbons, say). He balances an extraordinary feel for the sweeping trends of history and the importance of the actions of particular leaders.

Another one of the attractions that only sweetens the deal is the author's ability to engage in (restrained) counterfactuals. He has a great enough grasp of the mate
...more
Simon
I thought this was excellent. The author's view is that the Western empire fell because the Germanic tribes had had gained greater and greater cohesion and sophistication through three hundred years of interaction with the Romans. So when they were pushed west, and into the empire itself, by the movement of the Huns towards the end of the 4th century, they were able to profit at the expense of the central Roman tax base to such a degree that the empire could no longer contain them effectively.
Fortunr
Outstanding and detailed book created by an expert and a real authority in this field. I have been following this author for the last few years - not just his books, but also his articles in various specialist publications clearly demonstrate a mastery of this historical period. His well balanced and detailed analysis make this book a pleasure to read.
Travis
An excellent book, Heather does a good job reaffirming and further proving that the Roman empire collapsed due to large scale barbarian invasions, led primarily by Germanic tribes (pushed across the Rhine by the Huns) who united and reformed into cohesive, advanced groups over the centuries. Their cohesion, of course, being driven by Rome's aggressive imperial expansion and policies towards them; thus they created their own destroyers.

It's a nice contradiction to the peaceful assimilation theori
...more
Christopher
This is a thoroughly exciting narrative and analysis of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Throughout, Heather displays a firm grasp of the complex relationship between the Romans and the barbarian hordes that would ultimately destroy the empire. He also analyzes the arguments of other historians on this era and systematically shoots down their arguments with firm evidence and convincing conjecture. An added plus to this narrative is that he attempts to leave nothing out. On an era that is so ...more
John
Initially, I used this book as a sleep aide. Gradually, however the author's down to earth turn of phrase won me over. Although an academic tome by almost any standard, he brings life to this civilization that managed to survive as a nation state for half a millenium. Any question about Heather's depth of preparation is quickly put to rest when the citations compose more than 10% of the 570 pages.

From high school, my impression was that decadence of the society led to its eventual downfall. This
...more
Denerick
Heather does a good job at putting order to the significant chaos that is the last 150 years of western Roman history. Illuminating in places, providing some excellent analysis and is a worthy exemplar of historical scholarship that can be both engaging and informative.

I'm not informed enough to debate the historiography present, but for someone who knew nothing about the collapse of the (western) Roman Empire, this book is a godsend.

Bloody immigrants. Nick Griffin would love the idea that weste
...more
Andrew Tollemache
The Romans always make for fascinating reading even if there names all start to sound alike. Heather has done a great job of providing a narrative and explanation of Rome's fall that is at odds with the typical or famous explanations.....at least the ones I always heard.
Most explanations of Rome's fall center on internal flaws or short comings of the Roman Empire. Gibbon blames Christianity for sapping Rome of the personal qualities that made it great, others have blamed excess taxation during
...more
Anjan
This was a pleasure to read. I read it one sitting and left the experience as if I'd watched a movie on the death of Rome.

The only thing stopping me from giving it 5 stars is the book's shaky foundation. The book reads so well because the author doesn't spend any time countering other interpretations or citing his sources. He tells you an engaging story, there are some further reading options at the end. Consequently, read the book with a grain of salt, otherwise there is the chance of mis-learn
...more
Jason Ross
A solid premise and narrative, which still manages to stand out among an enormous cache of research on that long-recited story. Successful in that Heather manages to construct a few feelers of comparison into our own time, if the reader is willing to constructively interpret the material. Some dry humor to boot.
Ray Krebs
The Fall of the Western Empire is a lot more complex than is presented in histories of the Romans. It's also a lot more interesting. Most people don't know that the barbarian invasion started in 376 CE, continued until it really got bad in 407. This forced the Western Empire to remove the Legions from Britain in 410. Unknown to them, this was the start of the loss of Roman culture and the actual fall. Oh, and the sack of Rome occurred in 410. What I hadn't known before I read this was that Alari ...more
Juan
Thoroughly enjoyable read! If you have any interest at all in ancient European history, this is a must read.
Ross
This is a very big book which told me a lot of interesting things I had not known about concerning the Roman Empire during the 1st to 5th centuries leading to the end of the Western portion of the Empire, including Italy, around 500 CE. It also told me much more than I ever wanted to know about the scores of barbarian tribes and war lords, so I can only give it 3 stars. The author puts forth his ideas for the fall which are somewhat different from previous historians, and they seem very sensible ...more
Je lis donc je suis
While studying Rome with my children it became fascinating to me how politicized the fall of Romes Western Empire had become. Partizans made arguments that the Empire fell due to poorly managed immigration, small wars designed to boost the popularity of emperors, over taxation, a legal structure calculated to keep the rich on the top of society, currency manipulation, poorly conceived diplomacy and foreign aid, and large trade deficits with China. I am guessing these all sound familiar to us tod ...more
Makomai
Uno studio seriamente innovativo, che si pone come terza via dopo la scuola classica del Gibbon (al quale - pur se superato - mi lega peraltro una particolare affinita') e la romanistica germanica. Quindi, non una causa interna (ne' la decadenza dei costumi e l'influenza del cristianesimo di Gibbon ne' la crisi di sistema della scuola tedesca) ma una causa esterna. Questa nuova storiografia, seria e convincente, sottolinea la persistente vitalita' economica dell'impero degli ultimi decenni, cui ...more
E. Kahn
The fall of the (Western) Roman Empire is a Rorschach test for historians. They project their concerns with the current state of society (the more so if they live in a country that can make a claim to empire itself) back in time and turn the fall of Rome into a morality tale, offering us an Awful Warning about our own future. If the historian is anticlerical, the rise of the Church caused the fall. If she's a moralist, it's the decadence of Roman mores. If she's any kind of progressive, the conc ...more
Ryan
Edward Gibbon’s "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," written in six volumes between 1776 and 1789, is considered the definitive account of the fall of the western Roman Empire. I’ve never read it, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical of its premise. Gibbon argues that the Empire’s prosperity and conversion to Christianity (particularly the influence of Christianity’s supposed pacifism and its focus on spiritual rather than societal concerns) led to weakness and a decline in ...more
Maitrey
Peter Heather's Fall of the Roman Empire was easily one of the most engaging history books I've ever read. Although it may appear that the Roman Empire's Fall has been flogged about as many times a dead horse can be flogged, Heather's history is genuinely new in the sense that it looks at very new archaeological and historical evidences and re-looks at this pivotal moment for the Western world.

Peter Heather specializes in Late Antiquity and is now a Professor of Medieval History at King's Colleg
...more
Alex
This is drier than other histories I've given five stars to, but I still want to give it the highest rating because of the comprehensive nature of its vision. The author, Peter Heather, takes to task the idea that the Roman Empire collapsed because of internal weaknesses brought on by decadence and corruption (i.e. the Edward Gibbons line of thought). Instead he paints a canvas of the late Empire as having very effectively reformed itself in the 3rd and 4th Centuries in response to the rise of t ...more
Jonathan Sarrow
Peter Heather takes us though a fascinating and well thought out narrative about the root causes of the fall of the Roman Empire. His general thesis is that the Empire was generally in a healthy state (such as it was) during the last part of the fourth century; however, aggregate external pressures from migration of the Huns into Central Europe and Germanic tribes moving into Western Europe and North Africa a) led to an erosion of the Empire's revenue generating lands and tax base b) in turn dim ...more
Lego Ergo Sum
While studying Rome with my children it became fascinating to me how politicized the fall of Rome’s Western Empire had become. Partizans made arguments that the Empire fell due to poorly managed immigration, small wars designed to boost the popularity of emperors, over taxation, a legal structure calculated to keep the rich on the top of society, currency manipulation, poorly conceived diplomacy and foreign aid, and large trade deficits with China. I am guessing these all sound familiar to us to ...more
Jim Pfluecke
Heather ambitiously attempts to revisit the Fall of the Roman Empire and debunk the idea that the Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of of its own decedent morality and the softening effect of Christianity.

Instead, he makes a strong, richly researched argument that changes in the economic and political life of the "barbarians" led to the decline of the western half of the Roman Empire.

First, he ascertains that the division of East and West Empires was not a sign of growing weakness but a s
...more
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“By virtue of its unbounded aggression, Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own destruction.” 6 likes
“An emphasis on reading individual texts with a view to understanding the ideological visions of the world that underlie them has also had a dramatic impact. This type of interpretation requires historians to treat ancient authors, not as sources of fact, but rather like second-hand-car salesmen whom they would do well to approach with a healthy caution.” 0 likes
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