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Peter Heather convincingly argues that the Roman Empire was not on the brink of social or moral collapse. What brought it to an end were the barbarians.
572 pages, Paperback
First published December 1, 2005
Every temporary, as well as permanent, loss of territory brought a decline in imperial revenues, the lifeblood of the state, and reduced the western Empire’s capacity to maintain its armed forces…As the Roman state lost power, and was perceived to be doing so, provincial Roman landowning elites, at different times in different places, faced an uncomfortable new reality. The sapping of the state’s vitality threatened everything that made them what they were. Defined by the land they stood on, even the dimmest, or most loyal, could not help but realize eventually that their interests would be best served by making an accommodation with the new dominant force in their locality.
[T]he western empire broke up because too many outside groups established themselves n its territories and expanded themselves by warfare (436).
So, what is this book about? It is a detailed history of the last 200 years of the Roman Empire. And why did Rome fell after all? Unfortunately professor Heather does not give us a direct answer. But he does give us a number of reasons that did NOT cause its fall: The Roman Empire did not fall because it was militarily weak. Its fall was not a result of moral decline either. Neither were the Christians responsible for its downfall. Do we have a "transformation" of the "Late Roman Empire" as Peter Brown and the "revisionist school" suggests? No, Heather does not share this view. But since he does not state his own view clearly, the reader is left alone to make his own guess. After having read 560 pages of a detailed History I concluded that according to Heather the Fall of Rome was rather coincidental and might have been avoided. Too many barbarian invasions at the same time absorbed the vital forces of the Empire. Most terrible was the challenge by the Huns. Rome responded successfully; she formed coalitions with the Germanic tribes and finally she prevailed. Unfortunately the Germanic tribes became too powerful and finally subdued the empire. To quote Heather: "the west Roman state fell not because of the weight of its own "stupendous fabric" but because its Germanic neighbours had responded to its power in ways that the Romans could never have foreseen".Do I share this view? Well, not really. Nor do I like the conclusive sentence of the book where the author expresses-out of the blue- his satisfaction on the fall of the Roman Empire... So (no more than) 3 stars for a very interesting and thorough essay that I did enjoy reading.