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Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  527 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews

Here is a fresh, provocative look at how a recognizable Europe came into being in the first millennium AD. With sharp analytic insight, Peter Heather explores the dynamics of migration and social and economic interaction that changed two vastly different worldsthe undeveloped barbarian world and the sophisticated Roman Empireinto remarkably similar societies and states.

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Published March 4th 2010 by Oxford University Press (first published 2009)
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Mar 23, 2010 Terence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: late Antiquity/early Medieval history buffs
Once again Peter Heath has written an extraordinarily complex and nuanced account of Europe in the first millennium AD, a period when the modern foundations of European society were established. He focuses on migration and its role in transforming the Mediterranean-centered world of Late Antiquity into the Atlantic-centered one of the Medieval and Modern eras. Toward that end, the author looks at the drift of Germanic tribes ever westward into the Roman Empire (to c. AD 600); their replacement b ...more
Feb 08, 2013 Fortunr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history_general
Heather is outstanding, and his knowledge of the period is impressive. He is probably the best scholar when it comes to the knowledge of this specific historical period.
Peter Heather has produced again a work of amazing depth and erudition. Highly recommended to anybody who is seriously interested in this subject.
Aug 31, 2015 Rindis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, dark-ages, kindle
I picked up Peter Heather's 2009 book simply because it was cheap on Kindle at one point. I'm now thinking I want to get a proper hard copy book. This is mostly a measure of how much I liked the book, but there are a number of good maps that I'd like a better look at too.

The primary purpose of this book is to re-examine Europe from the Roman to Dark/Early Middle Ages, and argue against the cultural continuity/no migration stance that has gained popularity from the 70s onward. The main new thing
Oct 31, 2012 Milo rated it it was amazing
NOTA BENE: The introduction of my edition of this book gets its own title wrong, calling itself, "Emperors and Barbarians." That made me roar with laughter because here's this absolutely fabulous book and some lazybones in the Macmillan offices couldn't be bothered to copyedit it with care.

Just finished it and although I'd like to say I enjoyed it as much as Heather's "The Fall of the Roman Empire," I can't say that without a caveat: this was denser and more academic in tone. One had the feeling
This book explores barbarian migrations into the Roman Empire and the development of stable polities beyond it's traditional boarders.

Draws nicely on the archeology, DNA evidence and modern migration studies as well as written sources. Good read.
Jun 06, 2014 Martin rated it really liked it
The author believes that even without invading Huns, the Roman Empire’s borders would have become more diffuse and eventually collapsed merely by the process of civilizing the peoples on its borders and bridging the gap in technological development. By the end of the 1st Century AD the Romans were mostly maintaining an area they had already won and which was profitable. The barbarians on the periphery of empire will naturally be aware of the empire’s prosperity and migrate towards it, although i ...more
Apr 18, 2010 jordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Combining a fluency in archeology, sociology, linguistics, history, and economics with a command of data that can only be described as breathtaking, Peter Heather had produced a work of astonishing depth and erudition with Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe. He tackles an audacious question: what dynamics led to the formation and distribution of peoples that gave rise to post-Roman Europe. ||Heather brings together an extraordinary array of data: distributions of Ro ...more
Bas Kreuger
Feb 11, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it liked it
Not an easy book to read, even for an historian ;-)
A hefty volume, cluttered with facts and figures. Interesting? Yes, certainly to see why the Roman empire was pulled under by barbarian tribes flowing in from all directions, both because the barbarians got themselves better organised, because of the way the Romans used money and subsidies to keep the tribes calm (but only luring other tribes in who also want part of this wealth) and the declining strength of the Roman army.
The second part of th
Jan 21, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, rome, europe
This book has a different focus than Heather's previous book The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians; its focus is after and outside of Rome. It's also a more technical book, I feel, so general readers might find it a bit hard to digest.
A pretty good examination of the "migrations" that made modern Europe during and after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Not as well-written or as interesting, in my humble opinion, as Heather's previous volume, "The Fall of the Roman Empire." Also, for such a scholarly book, Heather adopts a somewhat playful and irreverent tone at times, right up to the concluding section, "Newton's Third Law of Empires?" . . .
Alex Telander
Mar 24, 2010 Alex Telander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As time passes, more research is done, more artifacts and items are discovered, and more is known about the beginning of the Middle Ages, often know as the so-called “Dark Ages.” The simple explanation that is spouted in most simple history books is the idea that when the Roman Empire fell, all of Western Europe regressed to barbarian savages and everything was lost, and it was not until around a thousand years later that this continent achieved a civilized status once more. But as more study, a ...more
John Pinegar
Confession, any problems that I have with this book stem from me not knowing what I was getting into when I purchased it and began to read it. I was expecting a history of the 1st millennium, with some migration and development thrown in for good measure. What I got was a book of human migration, economic development, and state creation with precious little history included. I'm not sure that I personally would even say that this is a history book (though strictly speaking it of course is) but w ...more
Dec 29, 2012 Will rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"When this story opens at the birth of Christ, the European landscape was marked by extraordinary contrasts. The circle of the Mediterranean, newly united under Roman imperial domination, hosted a politically sophisticated, economically advanced and culturally developed civilization. This world had philosophy, banking, professional armies, literature, stunning architecture and rubbish collection. Otherwise, apart from some bits west of the Rhine and south of the Danube which were already beginni ...more
Luka Novak
Nov 03, 2011 Luka Novak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: antiquity
Heather is one of those scientists (or historians) who discovered "The Truth" (or think they did) and then apply conclusions over broad area. Heather's "The Truth" is this: after Rome halted it's European expansion in early 1st century A.D. (post-Teutoborg forrest battle though battle itself is not cruicial factor, Rome simply ran out of profitable areas to conquer-except Dacia later) they engaged in trade and diplomacy with "barbarians" on the other side of the border. This allowed roman goods ...more
Nicolas Valin
En esta obra Peter Heather comienza con hacer un repaso de cómo se han ilustrado las invasiones bárbaras del siglo V en la Antigua Roma a lo largo de los años. El autor hace un claro análisis de las cosmovisiones de las cuales se han partido para tratar de entender estas invasiones haciendo una marcada acentuación en como el Nacionalismo y el Nazismo las han influenciado, por el hecho de que han recurrido a este período histórico con la intención de buscar, con fundamentos pseudo-científicos, el ...more
First, I really like Heather. He has ridiculous command of the material and is able to explain things clearly without dumbing them down. He is also able to construct a narrative even when relying on mostly or purely archaeological evidence without going into detail of which pot was found it which grave (see previous reviews for rants about archaeologists who have trouble with this).
This is a history of the various migrations that took place in the 1st millennium, focused primarily on the German
While it perhaps should prove the case that Heather's continuous bombardment of the reader with statistics and data regarding the maelstromic mélange of ethnic compositions, movements, and cultures from the final era of the (Western) Roman Empire and the Dark Age that ensued subsequent to its fall—items discovered through good old-fashioned spadework across the layered barrows of the North European Plain and its mountainous southern girdle—would become soporific in its pervasiveness, his nice tu ...more
I read this book over a long period, mainly because it is a long one. To be honest I'm not sure how to review this book. I had bought it thinking it was about something and it ended up being about something else entirely (or rather a different time period). Plus, if I'm going to compare it to his other book (The Fall of the Roman Empire) this book doesn't do so well. It was a bit on the boring side, not meant for the casual history buff, HOWEVER; the information in the book is invaluable if you ...more
Jan 25, 2011 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Heather wrote an excellent historical version of Empires and Barbarians. His clear style of writing allowed me to understand subject matter extremely well. He explains everything in detail and you can tell that the book was well researched. The book covers the Roman Empire, along with the Goths, Hans, etc, and it also goes into the fall of Roman Empire. There are also interesting stories based on actual accounts of the folks that lived during the period.

So, if you want to get educated on the
Karl Georg
Feb 22, 2012 Karl Georg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heather taught me that (a) what I learned in school about Völkerwanderung was considered not true by the last generation of professional historians, but (b) was actually quite close to the most plausible interpretation of the available evidence. So the Völkerwanderung did happen, and more generally, large scale migration was an important influence in shaping the beginnings of what is now "Europe".
Pam Shelton-anderson
Apr 30, 2013 Pam Shelton-anderson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-britain
This book is a fascinating look at the ancient people that eventually formed the nations of Europe. It is written in a very scholarly fashion and is not an easy nor a fast read. The author has a very deep mastery of this subject and uses a vast array of information, including pollen charts to make his case for how these early millennial "barbarians" changed the face of Europe. I need to read a book with an overview of this era of history and then re-read this book.
Stephen Simpson
Feb 25, 2016 Stephen Simpson rated it did not like it
Virtually unreadable; I had to stop several times and re-read sections after realizing that, in my boredom, I'd started to skim. This book reads more like the authors collection of theories on population migration rather than anything truly about the fall of Rome or the birth of Europe and the "domestication" of the various barbarian tribes.
Dec 26, 2013 Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a long book, and it's rather a hard slog to get through it. Not that it's boring, it's just that it's full of a lot of sometimes rather dry facts. It's something academics would likely enjoy, but might be too much for the casual reader.
Jan 10, 2016 Oliver rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly written, this is one of the most entertaining history books I have read, yet Heather's jaunty style masks what is actually incredible subject knowledge and analysis. Not to mention...I've met and been lectured by the man, he's hilarious and good natured to a fault.
Aug 02, 2011 Filip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Impressive history of the major European migrations in the first millennium, from the last days of the Roman Empire to 1066. Enjoyed it a lot (in spite of minor things such as the author's insistence on "the Birth of Christ", or the occasional laborious repetitions).
Dec 16, 2010 Tom rated it it was ok
Long, rambling. confusing but with some interesting ideas. A book written for historians not students.
Sep 14, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit too scholarly form my liking so it took a bit of effort to finish but well worth it. Certainly puts the influence of the Roman Empire on the map ot modern europe
Mar 21, 2011 Jur marked it as to-read
Shelves: ancient, own
Mostly from the perspective of the migrant peoples: Germans, Slavs, Huns, Vikings etc
An interesting and detailed look at the barbarian migrations and empire building in Europe. More about barbarians than Romans.
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“To reach Greenland, turn left at the middle of Norway, keep so far north of Shetland that you can only see it if the visibility is very good, and far enough south of the Faroes that the sea appears half way up the mountain slopes. As for Iceland, stay so far to the south that you only see its flocks of birds and whales. So, ROUGHLY PARAPHRASED, run the navigational directions in an Icelandic manual of the Middle Ages,” 3 likes
“One answer to the transitory nature of imperial rule, in short, is that there is a Newtonian third law of empires. The exercise of imperial power generates an opposite and equal reaction among those affected by it, until they so reorganize themselves as to blunt the imperial edge.” 1 likes
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