Jay Bhattacharya's Reviews > How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower

How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy
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Oct 02, 09

Read in October, 2009

Goldsworthy wrote this book to counter two popular theories on the why Rome fell. The first theory is that Rome didn't actually fall, but transformed over time from late antiquity to the early middle ages. Peter Heather, in his book on the fall of Rome, demolishes this argument, and Goldsworthy largely agrees. The second theory, espoused by Heather, is that barbarian invasions in the fourth and fifth centuries led to Western Rome's collapse. According to Goldworthy, these invasions were no worse than foreign threats earlier in Rome's history. The main problem was that very frequent civil wars incapacitated Rome's ability to handle the threats. The main cause of the civil wars was the expansion of the set of legitimate emperors to the equestrian class in the fourth century (previously, only people of senatorial class were eligible). Emperors in late Rome had a much larger set of rivals to worry about, and hence much more in military and civic resources to protect themselves from their rivals, leaving less to fend off the barbarian hordes. I wonder, though, if this story is right, why did the eastern empire not fall for a thousand years? The east faced similar internal dynamics as the west. I think Goldsworthy's argument is clever, but I think Heather is closer to right.
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message 1: by William (new)

William B The West had no equivalent of the Theodosian Walls. Attila saw them, turned around, and attacked the West some more. The strong barbarians largely came at Roman civilization from north of the Black Sea through the Balkans. So, their access to the Eastern Empire was choked by the walls. When strong barbarians did appear in the East (the Seljuk Turks), the same sort of internal divisions caused the Byzantines to lose at Manzikert --- Manzikert featured Turkish mercenaries switching sides, and betrayal by an imperial rival during the battle.


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