Sunday, April 11, 2010

It didn't fall in a day, either.

I'm on the home stretch in Adrian Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower, which is quite good thus far.

He touches on a lot of the more recent theories, including the "Rome never fell, it was just transformed into Medieval Europe," and "Rome didn't fall; it stayed strong to the end but got its butt kicked fair and square by the super barbarians who were just teh awesome and plus more virile and Aryan and stuff" ones, and offers good rebuttals where he disagrees.

I'm interested to read his conclusions, but we've just deposed Augustulus and the corpse of the Western Empire hasn't been kicked to shreds by the Gothic Wars yet, so I've got a few pages to go.


Alan said...

Once upon a time you weren't considered educated unless you had read all of Gibbon. (among other things)

My, how times have changed.

These days the closest people get to Roman History is on an HBO series.

Ken said...

I'll put Goldsworthy on my reading list; I'm going to read Gibbon in ePub format.

I would like to take this opportunity to recommend Bryan Ward-Perkins's The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization, which I read over Christmas. Ward-Perkins has what appears (from Tam's description) to be a somewhat similar take to Goldsworthy's. Also worth reading (though it's a novel) is Wallace Breem's Eagle in the Snow, about the defense of the Rhine in 405-6 AD. Just finished that one a week or so ago.

Tam said...



Or read an older English military history text which throws out passages in Greek, Latin, and often French without offering a translation, since any gentleman reading the book was expected to have a passing grasp of all three...

Ken said...

PS--One of the one-star reviews of Ward-Perkins (accusing it of, basically, pomo revisionism) seems to have it exactly backwards, in my view.

Of course, I Could Be Wrong.

Tam said...

I read Ward-Perkins; I was planning on re-reading it soon.

After Goldsworthy, I have a book entitled Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome that is up next.

Don said...

When I played Scholastic Bowl* in high school, we once had a question that said "When did the Roman Empire fall?"
The correct answer given was "Never; the Roman Empire has never fallen and technically still exists."

*Like Jeopardy, but nerdier and with teams.

Anonymous said...

Rome collapsed from the inside.

High taxes, destruction of the middle classes, infantilisation of the lower classes, exploitation of barbarian incomers.

The Goth's, germans and other miscelleanous barbarians were *welcomed* by all but the bureaucracy & army and very ipper classes. Eventhe church got along with time and eventually converted them via the distaff side.

Billy Beck said...

After about sixteen months now, I'm about halfway through volume II of Gibbon's "Rise And Fall". This is the Modern Library edition by Oliphant Smeaton in 1923. Just wrapped ch. XXXIX, which renders Theodoric and the essential distillation of Italy from the Empire by conquest. It was good to have a couple of feet of ancient and modern Greco-Roman histories on me shelves before I finally got to it, and I think it's worth the effort.

Greg Tag said...

Had to read Goldsworthy for a Military Strategy class at Bush School of Government at Texas A&M.

Excellent read.

What stuck with me, most, though was his discussion of the ossified, non-productive, expensive,incompetent and impenetrable bureaucracy of the late Empire. Seeking to provide a modern-day example that is easily related to by his audience, most of whom are Britons ( he is an Englishman, after all), Goldsworthy chose an agency that every British subject knows well, the British National Health Service. His scary NHS stories no doubt helped his UK audience understand about Roman red-tape.

For those of us in my class in Texas, Goldsworthy's example served as a cautionary tale and totally neutral warning about socialized medicine in general, and Obamacare in particular.

The recounting made my hair stand on end.

Learned some national strategy calculus as well.

Bram said...

I'm going to add to my reading queue.

I liked Bruce Bartlett thesis. By the 4th century, the Romans had become liberals:

1. Too sissy to serve in their own military.

2. The middle-class was taxed out of existence and into serfdom. By the end, the farmers who built Rome didn't care as it fell.

Joanna said...

we've just deposed Augustulus and the corpse of the Western Empire hasn't been kicked to shreds by the Gothic Wars yet, so I've got a few pages to go.

It took me a second to realize you were still talking about the book. Blech. *shudders&

Anonymous said...

Read the book "For Those About to Die".
It gives historical account of how the Roman Gubmit KNEW that the only way to keep population in check was to stage fancy games in coliseums with lots of people getting eaten by crocs and hippos.
Even had dead slaves tarred on poles set fire to provide illumination.
Games got bigger Rome imported everything and finally, it all came crashing down.
You will find the documentation gathered by the author to be stunning!