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

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  2,559 Ratings  ·  166 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 ...more
Paperback, 572 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2005)
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I, Claudius by Robert GravesThe First Man in Rome by Colleen McCulloughClaudius the God and His Wife Messalina by Robert GravesThe Twelve Caesars by SuetoniusThe Agricola and The Germania by Tacitus
Best Books About Ancient Rome
66th out of 559 books — 900 voters
The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter HeatherThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward GibbonThe Later Roman Empire by Ammianus MarcellinusEmpires and Barbarians by Peter HeatherThe History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours
Books on the Later Roman Empire
1st out of 118 books — 29 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
Shelves: ancient-history
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

Narrated by: Allan Robertson
Length: 21 hrs and 42 mins

Description: 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 o
Jun 25, 2013 Bookwraiths rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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 ...more
Jun 30, 2011 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Daniel Threlfall
Jun 29, 2015 Daniel Threlfall rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Unless you're some sort of history nerd, the title sounds absolutely boring. I'm not a history nerd, so that's what I thought — boring! — when a friend let me borrow this book.

The book was not boring. Not in the least.

The book is, obviously, about how the Roman Empire "fell." The thing that makes it interesting, however, is the fact that the author, Peter Heather, takes issue with the near unanimity of historians on the causes and contributing factors of the Empire's decline.

Sorry, Gibbon, bu
Jul 23, 2016 Andy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
So its been a decade since ive read this & though a re-read was in order.....

In a nutshell.... as the title is fairly self-explanatory.....

You get an overview of the main players, the Romans themselves (of course), the barbarians which is basically anyone on their frontiers be it the Germanic tribes or the Persians, the Empires expansion & the impact that had on maintaining it’s borders & effective communications/orders over such vast distances (they estimated that in modern terms it
Aug 22, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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, ...more
Jan 18, 2013 Fortunr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history_general
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.
May 19, 2008 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Bryan Alexander
Feb 16, 2014 Bryan Alexander rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Mal Warwick
Jan 28, 2013 Mal Warwick rated it liked it
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
Justin Evans
Jan 23, 2016 Justin Evans rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
My rating is unfair: this is a very good book, that will appeal to all kinds of readers. Heather's sentences are very readable, he tells a good story, he takes into account pretty much every factor you possibly could to explain the "fall" of the Empire (including the possibility that it wasn't a fall etc...), and he addresses major scholarly debates. His case is well laid out and convincing: the fall of Rome in the west can only be understood in the context of profound changes in other parts of ...more
Sep 03, 2008 Jan rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2016 Louise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: roman-history
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
Jun 11, 2012 Simon rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 05, 2012 John rated it really liked it
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
Aug 11, 2015 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Professor Heather has given us a detailed, well-researched, and well-argued history of the late Western Roman Empire and the various influences that led to its decline and fall. Like many readers, I entered this history with relatively little knowledge of this era in European history (apart from the broad strokes I was taught in school). "Barbarian invasion" always meant "rampaging army" and I had no idea of the economic impact these various "invasions" had on the Western empire.

Heather lays al
Ranjeev Dubey
Aug 21, 2015 Ranjeev Dubey rated it liked it
Since I hadn’t visited Toynbee’s work since college, I went into this book with a very narrow agenda. I wanted to brush up on why empires fail? What I got out of the book was orders of magnitude more.

For sure the book answered my narrow question. Very briefly (with the inevitably distortion of oversimplification), the Roman Empire failed because:

1. The rise of the Huns put too much pressure on Roman military and financial resources.

2. The rise of the Huns pushed armed groups of refugees into R
Jul 06, 2011 Travis rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, europe
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 ...more
Jul 12, 2014 Ross rated it liked it
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
Oct 11, 2012 Denerick rated it really liked it
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
Jason Ross
Dec 10, 2009 Jason Ross rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 03, 2009 Juan rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyable read! If you have any interest at all in ancient European history, this is a must read.
Jan 07, 2016 Chris rated it it was amazing
A magisterial history of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Part detective story, part scientific investigation, and part narrative history——all rolled into one. It must be unimaginably difficult to distill such a shocking complex series of events into a coherent understanding of “what went wrong,” yet the author, Peter Heather, has managed to distill the past half-century of scholarship on Rome’s downfall into one 500-page book. And, it should be noted, in his own academic work the author ...more
Jun 28, 2014 Ryan rated it really liked it
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
Mar 22, 2015 port22 rated it it was amazing
Historic orthodoxy dismisses barbarians and puts forward reasons like corruption, decline in agriculture, over-taxation, and religion in the center of what brought the empire down. To Peter Heather it was the barbarians who destroyed it.

Historians, while attributing fault to the barbarian forces, felt a power as great as Rome couldn't have been brought down by disparate hordes of illiterates. Rome had established a civilization -- it had central administration, weapons factories, schools of phil
John Pyrce
Oct 30, 2016 John Pyrce rated it liked it
"By means of its unbounded aggression, Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own destruction."

Heather does not see the fall of the Western Roman Empire as being inevitable; it might have been delayed if some events had worked differently. The direct cause was the invasion by the Huns, which displaced other Germanic groups into Roman territory. Intimate contact with the Empire increased the sophistication and size of these groups until they were a significant force. The Empire was
Jason King
Nov 20, 2016 Jason King rated it really liked it
A great beginning, a boring middle, and a fun end. Kind of like the Roman Empire itself!

This is the second Roman history book written recently I've read recently that focuses a lot on historiography - reading between the lines of Roman writers - and on archaeological discoveries. I think this is neat, but I could see how many readers might be distracted by it, wishing instead for more focus on the discussions of history itself. That being said, I think I learned more about 5th century Roman pol
Nate Smith
Dec 02, 2016 Nate Smith rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing! Heather does a great job of weaving an intelligible narrative out of thousands of sources. He breaks up dense chapters of information with stories from specific individuals, which gives this history a necessary human touch, and makes what could be a dry, boring book entertaining as well as informative. I also really appreciated his expertise on the "barbarians." Heather describes each tribe's motivations and actions, rather than painting them as a monolithic whole. I would ...more
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“By virtue of its unbounded aggression, Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own destruction.” 6 likes
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