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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Shock To The System

The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians - Peter Heather

There were undoubtedly huge internal problems in the Roman empire by the time of the fifth century, not the least of which was the logistical problem of actually knowing what was going on several hundred miles away in a world without any of the apparatus of modern communication. Equally, there were  ongoing military pressures such as those created by the Sassanian Persians which tied up huge resources of manpower on a permanent basis. Finally, there was the insoluble problem of succession and the periods of instability that resulted from the death of an emperor.

 

However, these and numerous other imperial stress-factors might have been managed. What ultimately caused the empire to collapse, in Peter Heather's opinion, was the exogenous shock dealt by Attila the Hun driving huge numbers of Gothic immigrants across the borders of the empire.

 

These groups, which had existed in a long-standing symbiotic relationship with the Roman empire, were transformed by the process of interaction into coherent and formidable power blocs. That transformational process was accelerated by the process of migration. As a result, Rome allowed into its borders powerful, military and cultural elements whose competing demands it was unable to meet.

 

As the invaders began to take control of the situation and seize territories for themselves, Rome became increasingly starved of revenues until its generals no longer possessed the necessary resources to meet the military challenges.

 

The control of detail in this account is formidable but the narrative never gets bogged down  Authoritative, entertaining and comprehensive, of all the recent accounts of the fall of the Roman empire, Peter Heather's is the most meticulously assembled.