The Fall of the Roman Empire - A New History
by Peter Heather
Pan Books, $150
Little survives from the fourth and fifth centuries AD about the end of Rome, so any attempt to work out what exactly happened to the Roman empire - did it decline, fall, or simply turn into something else? - is generally a matter of clever deduction. In 1984, Alexander Demandt found 210 theories about the end of Rome. In The Fall of the Roman Empire - A New History, Peter Heather plays detective and puts his case that successive barbarian assaults had a 'ripple effect' - as Rome lost territory, it lost revenue and in the end couldn't pay its soldiers or feed its citizenry. Heather, who teaches at Oxford, is a leading authority on barbarians of the Roman era. He takes the 'late antiquity' view of gradual if bloody transformation, with central Roman power passing to Romanised 'barbarian' kingdoms. There's a timeline and glossary to tell the Gepids from Goths, and Heather doesn't stint on the gory detail, but with so much to cover (Edward Gibbon took six volumes) it gets a bit confusing. This is a fresh spin on 'the strange death of Roman Europe'.