The Ruin of the Roman Empire
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Ruin of the Roman Empire

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  113 ratings  ·  20 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 September 1st 2008)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 346)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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.
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.
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.
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...more
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...more
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...more
Curtis Aguirre
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
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...more
Bruce MacBain
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
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
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
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.
James J. O'Donnell says the western barabarians (Goths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards etc. )of the late roman empire aren´t really barabarians from the wilds of the east, but de facto citizens of the larger roman culture zone. And if you´re 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.
Tom Schulte
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 25, 2012 AmblingBooks marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, history
The heart of the puzzle of Rome's end is presented in a definitive and vivid history by James O'Donnell, renowned historian and the author of Augustine.

Listen to The Ruin of the Roman Empire on your smartphone, notebook or desktop computer.
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.
I couldn't finish it, it needed more attention than I could give it at this time. Maybe later.
Betsy Dudley
Slow methodical but interesting enough to keep me there.
Mike Motts
Feb 08, 2009 Mike Motts is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Just Started
Walter Calaza
Walter Calaza marked it as to-read
Apr 19, 2014
Adriana marked it as to-read
Apr 15, 2014
Manuel J.
Manuel J. marked it as to-read
Apr 14, 2014
John marked it as to-read
Apr 12, 2014
happy marked it as to-read
Apr 08, 2014
Chris F
Chris F marked it as to-read
Apr 08, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000
  • The Fall of Rome And the End of Civilization
  • Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome
  • Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
  • How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower
  • Marcus Aurelius: A Life
  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome
  • The Assassination Of Julius Caesar: A People's History Of Ancient Rome
  • Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
  • The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine
  • The World of Late Antiquity 150-750 (Library of World Civilization)
  • Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World
  • A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire
  • Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity
  • Rome: An Empire's Story
  • As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History
  • Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations
Augustine: A New Biography Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace Cassiodorus St Augustine   Sinner And Saint Statistics: Elementary Study Units

Share This Book