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The Ruin of the Roman Empire
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The Ruin of the Roman Empire

3.55  ·  Rating Details  ·  212 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews

The dream Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar shared of uniting Europe, the Medi-terranean, and the Middle East in a single community shuddered and then collapsed in the wars and disasters of the sixth century. Historian and classicist James J. O'Donnell—who last brought readers his masterful, disturbing, and revelatory biography of Saint Augustine—revisits this old stor

Kindle Edition, 450 pages
Published (first published 2008)
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M. D.  Hudson
This is not exactly a Fall of the Roman Empire book in the usual sense - it actually is concerned with the hundred years or so after the traditional date of 476 A.D. (and the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, traditionally seen as the "last" Roman emperor). In particular, the book examines and criticizes the efforts of the Byzantine Empire to re-establish its hold on the western "barbarian" half of the empire. The Emperor Justinian and his general Belisarius are seen as agents of mayhem and dest ...more
Nov 08, 2008 Terence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of late Antiquity/early Medieval history
Shelves: history-general
I'm not an overly generous dispenser of four- and five-star reviews but when a book moves me emotionally or intellectually (the latter, in this case) it must be acknowledged. James O'Donnell's The Ruin of the Roman Empire is a brilliant (if flawed) look at a critical moment in the evolution of Western civilization that moves the reader to reassess their understanding of the period.

The primary thrust of O'Donnell's arguments is that what we call "the Roman Empire" didn't fall to barbarians but wa
Mar 09, 2009 Sean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ancient
Erudite and well-written. O'Donnell seems to take great pleasure in being contrarian, at least against the wave of recent histories recounting the collapse of the western empire at the end of the fifth century or thereabouts. O'Donnell argues that the empire wasn't destroyed from without by "barbarians"; rather, he argues that the various peoples who inhabited and milled about the imperial periphery were themselves roman, in a sense anyway. one by-product of the roman process of creating a mater ...more
Daniel Kukwa
A book that had the potential of being a five-star work of scholarship is mitigated by (1) the author working out some personal historical issues on the page, and (2) the same author forgetting that, once in a while, one should quit before concise & entertaining becomes drawn out & irritating. A very strange book, with swaths of greatness butting heads with obtuseness.
Jan 12, 2010 Nathan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A popular history far too popular for its own good. If more attention had been paid to the coherence of the narrative and chronology, and less to the constant attempts at amusing phrases and witty asides, this book would have been infinitely better. As it was, I was alternately bored and irritated at the condescension of the author.
Apr 29, 2012 Hildegart rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I started reading this book with little knowledge of the Roman Empire. I felt like I was at the end of a yo-yo with his going back and forth between centuries. And then, he'd say he would discuss more fully a subject- for example Theodosia- and then later have maybe one paragraph on it. It was very difficult to get through this book.
Michael O'shaughnessy
A reasonable account of so-called sub-Roman Europe - made better by the fact that accounts of the period between 476 and 800, and the transformation of the Latin West from an that Empire Diocletian would recognize to the set of kingdoms that became the Empire of Charles, are astonishingly rare. I guess once Romulus Augustulus leaves the scene, modern readers tune out, even though Theoderic was eight times the Emperor he ever was.

Major caveats, though. While a little comparison is good - good to
Tom Corddry
I enjoyed his approach -- the view (shared by some others) that Rome didn't "fall" all at once in 476 AD or so, but in fact the world was still a very Roman place for several hundred more years. He argues that it didn't have to fall so completely in the west, and lays into Justinian for trying to reunite the empire from Constantinople, with tragic consequences. He also places considerable emphasis on the interplay between the emerging power of Christianity and the fate of the empire. If you like ...more
Sep 10, 2010 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Great read! Especially for people who are unaware of just how many aspects of current poltics have appeared in the past, often serving us cautionary lessons about what to do-or what NOT to do in our own time.

For those of you familiar with late Roman history this should be familiar ground, focusing as it does on the reign of Justinian, and the years just preceding. It's a recent and more extreme extension of the recent trend to reexamine the reputation of the last "Great" emperor, Juatinian, in t
Apr 25, 2009 bkwurm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is titled ruin, not fall, of the Roman Empire. The author's premise is that although popular history records that the Western Roman Empire disappeared with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in 476, that was propanganda written by one of Justinian's senior courtiers for the purpose of justifying Justinian's campaign of conquest.

The author shows that the so-called barbarian generals who held and ruled Rome were essentially Roman generals and that the so called Vandals and Goths who rul
This is my favorite period of history: the Roman world after empire in the west, and the Byzantine empire. It is an understudied, little known, underrated period that is given far less credit for the evolution of today's society than it deserves.

Justinian codified the Corpus Juris that forms the basis of the law in the vast majority of the world's countries (only a few common law and sharia jurisdictions are the exceptions). Because it was apparently not made clear in 1918, or in 1948, or in 196
The author's personal politics and opinions intrude far too often and his criticism of differing academic opinion borders on the petulant and insulting, but the story is an interesting one and gave me a decent vision of this little know era of the Roman Empire.

The arrangement was also scattered to say the least, time jumping all over the place, but as an intro to this period it did its work. It was worth reading to the extent it will push me to read some of the other opinions on this period to c
Curtis Aguirre
Oct 19, 2011 Curtis Aguirre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James O'Donnel is trying to move beyond the 19th century narrative of "barbarian hordes (AKA Germanic tribes) invading and dismembering the noble Roman Empire. He shows how many of these "barbarian" leaders had the same military and cultural background as many of the generals and emperors of the time and often served under the aegis of the imperium. His arguments are compelling, though in the name of making his point I think he underplays the ethnic and linguistic aspects of these people (Goths, ...more
May 06, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
O'Donnell's thesis is that civilization does not automatically mean "Roman" (or European, white, western, etc.). He argues that the Gothic, Frankish, and other Germanic tribes who took over management of the Western Empire were essentially "Romanized" by the time they took power. Most Gothic names had faded by the time Odoacer and Theodoric were running Italy, and that there was no way to really distinguish the newcomers from the native Romans.

While I sympathized with his skewering of Justinian
Dec 28, 2015 Shane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roman-history
"The Ruin of the Roman Empire" was a new slant on, well, the ruin of the Roman Empire. O'Donnell rejects the "476 AD" thing and instead ascribes the fall to Justinian in the mid to late 500s.
O'Donnell writes with a bit of an arrogant, "I-know-best" tone, which, admittedly, is more interesting than very formal, academic historical writing.
O'Donnell's claims make sense, and his main protagonist, Theoderic the "Goth", does seem like a good ruler and not the "barbarian" as often claimed. However, wh
Jerry Mrizek
My knowledge of the later empire is spotty at best and this was an interesting twist but a bit of a stretch I think. To postulate that Rome didn't "fall" but would have evolved if not for the meddlings of the east is a stretch. While the trappings might have remained for awhile the empire in the west was gone.
I wouldn't recommend this book unless you have a very detailed knowledge of ancient rome. It jumps thousands of years in a paragraph and is very hard to follow the narrative. In the end you come away with very little. That might all be different if you have a lot of background knowledge on the subject.
Sep 22, 2008 Liviu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting history of the last doomed attempt to recreate the "whole" Roman Empire by Justinian.

Where I think the book fails is in forgetting the enormous perceived cultural differences between the *true romans* and *the barbarians*, by the former which doomed the attempts by very capable *barbarians* like Stilicho, Ricimer, Theodoric to "save" the western empire leading at best to assassinations and at worst to the final devastations of the Byzantine-Gothic war that almost turned Italy into
Bruce Macbain
Dec 28, 2013 Bruce Macbain rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot from it but I also think (as one who used to be a professor of this stuff) that in attempting to 'debarbarize' the history of Late Antiquity--i.e. trying to see the Germanic invaders as following closely in the footsteps of the Romans, he goes too far in the opposite direction. He writes as if no one either knew or cared who was German and who was Roman. I think this is certainly not the case. I also felt that his thesis kind of ran out of steam in the last 70 pages or so and I f ...more
John Kelley
Jul 31, 2009 John Kelley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James J O'Donnell's "New History" how the Eastern Roman Empire helped to destroy the Roman Civilization centered in Italy under Germanic Kings is a book to read and take seriously how Justinian shredded the infra-structure of Roman government that existed and functioned until the invasion of Belasarius in 536 A.D. This book is a must in understanding this critical period in the 6th century. What is so clearly evident is that leadership must never be ignorant of secular culture as it was under Ju ...more
Feb 26, 2016 Al rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: al-read
I found this book hard to read and follow and kind of logical sequence. It bounces all over in time. I quit half way thru the book.
Jun 03, 2014 Bernadette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Long book so only listened to 1/3 (ch 7) before it expired. I like that it goes to original sources and much deeper than accepted point of view.
Madison Meljac-lehmann
Enjoying a new view on the Roman empire.
Jun 21, 2009 Larrycarlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definately one of the best works of popular history I've read. I first knew of O'Donnell from his web pages on Boethius. Now this book arrives, and I found it informative and accessible. He does go a little overboard on the global history, tying everything throughout human history. New ideas about Boethius possibly making a reach for Emperor may stretch your imagination, but it gives you something to think about. And his history of Judaism based on culture of the post Babyonian Exile fits in wit ...more
Apr 03, 2016 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A different view of the end of the Roman Empire and the transfer of the Roman societal mores to the whole of Europe. Good book to read if you are interested in this sort of thing.
A splendid work updating some of the latest scholarship and the author's views on the final years of the Roman state - and notably beyond the "standard" date of 476 C.E. and the supposed "last emperor" Romulus Augustulus in the West (going on to list 9 others who claimed the throne of the West), up to 553 C.E., and somewhat beyond that point in the East. I had this on loan from Borders, but maybe someday I can add it to my library.
Jul 29, 2009 Jby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
James J. O'Donnell says the western barabarians (Goths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards etc. )of the late roman empire arent really barabarians from the wilds of the east, but de facto citizens of the larger roman culture zone. And if youre going to blame somebody on the fall of the roman empire, the Byzantines are definitely the bad guys. Thought provoking, maybe a bit overdone, but a must-read IMO. ...more
Tom Schulte
Jul 02, 2011 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this detailed look at the final throes of the Wesgtern and Eastern empires, focusing on Justinian's and Theodric's reigns. The following of the echoes of empire to the nascent Catholic empire and the Ottomans brought t the Roman Empire to today. I particularly enjoyed the revelation that there was only a subtle distinction between citizens of the Empire(s) and "barbarians"
Jul 07, 2014 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It seemed to lose focus in its last third, but that doesn't speak against it. It just took some adjustment. Well written, nuanced--a page turner.
Though not as good as his previous book, this one is also packed with interesting detail and the overarching thesis is provocative (though perhaps not quite as provocative as the author believes). A very good book overall, and deserving of a wide readership.
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