The Fall of Rome Review
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History is in a state of decadence. To make political points, historians simply ignore all the facts that donít fit their posture. In the 1930s, history served the will of race. In the Ď60s, it was Marxism all the way. Now Rome never fell; it just evolved. There really werenít any Dark Ages of ignorance, poverty, violence, and the suppression of knowledge. Or, if Rome did fall, the Germanic invaders were nice people who signed treaties and unleashed creativity.

Author Bryan Ward-Perkins takes this latest fad to task. He reminds us that the Roman Empire did not dream up treaties with the Barbarians just because they were such nice people. He provides maps that show what was ceded in treaties after years of raids and threats of raids. And he gives maps of what the Barbarians seized for themselves, which was much more territory.

It has also been argued of late that, after Rome evolved, people werenít worse off; they just wanted to live differently. So they built houses of wood and thatch, which are much more work in upkeep than Roman brick and tile.

But as Ward-Perkins points out, in those Ages, which were ďnever Dark,Ē churches were still brick and tile, and they were much smaller than the ones built before and after that un-Dark Age. Piece by piece, he tears apart the latest political needs that people impose on history. And he does so in an entertaining way.

One of the things I like about this book is that it brings to the fore the importance of Roman pottery. For decades, books mentioned that there was a lot of pottery at one site or another. Hooray. But there was never any analysis of the (literally) tons of shards at individual sites. Ward-Perkins finally takes a look at the stuff, and though most of his conclusions are confirmations, a few open up some possibilities.

The book has heaps of information, but it is not turgid. Ward-Perkins grounds what he says in the history, and he lets the history shine. What he attacks is seriously flawed, and he shows that, covering everything from economics to architecture to human atrocities.

And he goes into some detail on the question of why Rome fell. This is the crux of why we care, and he adds a factor that Iíve not seen used this way before. Sure, itís been used in a special case, the city of Constantinople itself, but Ward-Perkins finds two other cases where the same case applies and with similar results: Gibraltar and Sicily. Check the book to find the details.

These are exciting times that he writes about, and Ward-Perkins insists that they be allowed to speak for themselves rather than we speak on their behalf. That is a trap that historians often fall into. Instead, he takes the evidence in its own terms and weighs events not as special cases but as part of a pattern. He has written an uncommon history in no small part by avoiding all too common mistakes.

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