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The Fall of the Roman Empire

A New History of Rome and the Barbarians

Peter Heather

Publication Date - 11 June 2007

ISBN: 9780195325416

592 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

An intriguing new answer to one of the great puzzles of world history--why did the Roman Empire collapse?


The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors Rome called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling an Empire that had dominated their lives for so long.
A leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians, Heather relates the extraordinary story of how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled the empire apart. He shows first how the Huns overturned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers, to force the Goths and others to seek refuge inside the Empire. This prompted two generations of struggle, during which new barbarian coalitions, formed in response to Roman hostility, brought the Roman west to its knees. The Goths first destroyed a Roman army at the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and went on to sack Rome in 410. The Vandals spread devastation in Gaul and Spain, before conquering North Africa, the breadbasket of the Western Empire, in 439. We then meet Attila the Hun, whose reign of terror swept from Constantinople to Paris, but whose death in 453 ironically precipitated a final desperate phase of Roman collapse, culminating in the Vandals' defeat of the massive Byzantine Armada: the west's last chance for survival.

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.


  • Talented young scholar, one of the leading scholars of late Rome, pens a new synthesis of the fall of Rome
  • Author is a specialist in both the history of the barbarians and late Roman history

About the Author(s)

Peter Heather teaches at King's College, London. A leading authority on the barbarians, he is the author of The Goths, Goths and Romans, and The Huns.


"A rich and dramatic synthesis of the latest research on Gibbon's old story....The drama of Mr. Heather's book lies not just in the world-changing story he has to tell, but in his behind-the-scenes view of how historians work. Like a master detective, Mr. Heather employs the most various techniques--everything from pollen sampling to archaeology to literary criticism--to wring the truth from the reticent past....What Mr. Heather offers is not easy analogies but a realization of the complex strangeness of the past--the achievement of a great historian."--Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"Like a late Roman emperor, Heather is determined to impose order on a fabric that is always threatening to fragment and collapse into confusion; unlike most late Roman emperors, he succeeds triumphantly."--The Times of London

"Gibbon's 'awful revolution'--the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West--still casts a pall. Yet, as Peter Heather's brilliant mixture of rapid flowing narrative and deeply thought analysis fully brings out, it still exerts a pull too. 'Lepcisgate', Alaric's Goths, and Attila's Huns are all thrown into Heather's melting pot along with Roman imperial aims and mismanagement. The outcome is a conclusion Heather finds pleasing--and Gibbon would not have despised--that Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own demise."--Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

"To a period that has often appeared as impenetrable as it is momentous, Peter Heather brings a rare combination of scholarship and flair for narrative. With this book, a powerful searchlight has been shone upon the shadow-dimmed end of Rome's western empire."--Tom Holland, author of Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

"Deftly covering the necessary economic and political realities of decline and fall, Heather also presents the stories and the characters of this tumultuous epoch, in a colorful and enthralling narrative."--The Independent

"Masterful, lucid....Always rewarding."--ForeWord Magazine

Table of Contents

    PART I
    Chapter 1: Romans
    Chapter 2: Barbarians
    Chapter 3: The Limits of Empire
    Chapter 4: War on the Danube
    Chapter 5: The City of God
    Chapter 6: Out of Africa
    Chapter 7: Attila the Hun
    Chapter 8: The Fall of the Hunnic Empire
    Chapter 9: End of Empire
    Chapter 10: The Fall of Rome
    Notes / Bibliography
    Dramatis Personae
    Timeline / Glossary