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Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development, and the Birth of Europe Hardcover – Apr 3 2010

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"An awesomely ambitious work: an attempt, in the heroic tradition of Pirenne, to make sense of nothing less than the reshaping of antiquity, and the origins of modern Europe.... Heather is a wonderfully fluent writer, with a consistent ability to grab hold of his readers attention. The result is a book which richly merits reading by those interested in the future of Europe as well as its past." --Tom Holland, BBC History Magazine

About the Author

Peter Heather is Professor of Medieval History at King's College London. He is the author of The Fall of the Roman Empire, Goths and Romans, 332-489, The Goths, and The Visigoths in the Migration Period.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 31 reviews
112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
A deeply intelligent volume March 12 2010
By Bruce Trinque - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I thought Peter Heather's "The Fall of the Roman Empire", published a few years ago, was excellent, but his "Empires and Barbarians: The Fal of Rome and the Birth of Europe" is even better. In this new volume, Heather shifts his focus to concentrate on the barbarians (he simply uses the term to designate peoples outside the Empire) and also extends his time frame through the Year 1000 by which time powerful states were emerging across northern and western Europe. Heather rejects the old simplistic picture of hordes of barbarians crossing into the Roman Empire to pillage and plunder, but he nonetheless defends the reality of "mass migrations" playing a major role in what happened (although the label of "mass migration" might sometimes be more because of the impact of the event rather than because of sheer numbers of barbarians involved). Heather provides a supremely intelligent look at a very complex subject, and he carefully lays out his arguements with detail, requiring the reader pay careful attention. At the same time, however, Heather does employ a witty style to engage the reader's interest and to make his points.

If I might be so bold as to summarize what I see to be the author's central theme: Heather believes that the wealth of the Roman Empire quite naturally flowed into the lands beyond the Empire's border (through trade, if nothing else), that increase in wealth inevitably resulting in social inequalities and complexities in those neighboring cultures. This new wealth permitted some individuals to assemble small bands of elite warriors that permitted those individuals to amass even more wealth and gain additional stature (and possibly raid within the Empire to seize even more wealth). Over time, these warrior bands grew and combined in pursuit of greater ambitions towards more wealth, until the Empire itself was overwhelmed. These coalitions in turn provided a basis for the rise of powerful post-Roman states. A similar, but later process led to Slavic dominance in Central and Eastern Europe. Of course, Heather's anaysis is far more complex and subtle that this brief summary and deserves to be closely studied.
55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Great New Insights to The "Transformation" of Late Antiquity March 8 2010
By Kevin White - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book last year before the publishers made it available in the United States. I will admit that it was some pretty heavy reading but it shed new light on an old topic: how migration affects nation building and specifically the creation of "modern" Europe. Professor Heather aptly applies modern migration theories to the late fourth, fifth and sixth century migrations that brought the Roman empire to its knees as well as laid the foundation states that would evolve during the Middle Ages into the modern nation-states we see today. Heathers discusses the "Germanic" migration and destroys the old historigraphical theory that the Germans moved as a "people" in massive population movements. He also dicusses the role of the Slavic tribes of Eastern Europe and the Viking diaspora in relation to the economic affects these population movements had on the making of modern Europe.
I have my Master's Degree in ancient history and studying the Fall of the Roman Empire is one of my favorite topics to study within Classical Europe. I must say this is a powerful book and would recommend it to anyone who ponders the "fall" of the Roman Empire. It is antithetical to the rather popular theory that the Roman Empire "transformed" (i.e., Professor Peter Brown) rather than fell eventhough that theory has some very powerful insights as well. I would also recommend this book in conjunction with Brian Ward-Perkins, "The Fall of the Roman Empire and the Death of a Civilization" as well as any other of Peter Heather's books!!
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Just one question for the other reviewers May 22 2010
By Stephen P. Nycz - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I recently purchased, and am enjoying reading, Peter Heather's excellent book Empires and Barbarians.

There is one problem with the book, however.
There are several references in the book to Plates for illustrations accompanying the text.
There is even a page with picture acknowledgements.
BUT, except for the the addended maps, there is not a single illustration in the entire book!

I searched for the title on the OUP website and found the following:

Empires and Barbarians
The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe
Peter Heather
ISBN13: 9780199735600
ISBN10: 0199735603
Hardback, 752 pages
Feb 2010,

The volume in my posession has only 734 pages!
Does everyone else who has read the book have the same problem? Or do I somehow have the British edition dressed in American clothing? Still, why reference illustrations if there aren't any?
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Not for the casual reader May 29 2010
By Gary R. Wilkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to agree with a number of the reviewers that this is not a book for individuals not already very familiar with Roman history. The details can at times be mind numbing and I found myself unable to keep my attention span on the book. If you are a professional scholar or dedicated layman of Roman history, this is your book. For the remainder of the reading public it will provide new insights but be prepared to struggle through the text.

Of particular note is the analysis of the veracity of Roman source materials and the melding of archaeological evidence with these sources. This is a marriage of source materials not often seen conducted with such effect. They significantly enhance the credibility of Mr. Heather's analysis.

I also noticed the same issue concerning references to plates that another reviewer found. Although plates are mentioned, they do not exist in the book.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Strong Analysis April 20 2010
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This fine book is something of a sequel to Heather's excellent book on the fall of the western Roman Empire. It continues a major theme of that book, the growth and development of "barbarian" societies to a level capable of challenging Rome. In this book, Heather covers major developments from the end of the western Roman Empire to about 1000 AD. As he points out, some of the major features of modern Europe, specifically the eclipse of the Mediterrenean basin as the most important center of European civilization, the development of important Germanic speaking groups in western and central Europe, and the the domination of eastern Europe by Slavic speaking groups, emerge clearly by about 1000 AD. Heather is concerned not only with description of these changes but also with reconstructing the mechanisms of change.

Heather draws on a wide variety of data for his reconstructions. These include not only traditional historical materials but also a large body of archaeological data, and some modern social science literature, particularly that dealing with migrations. Heather plots a relatively sophisticated middle course between traditonal views of "barbarian" tribes overwhelming the inhabitants of the western Roman Empire with wholesale replacement of the previous inhabitants. He also argues strongly against more recent models of elite replacement and cultural transformation by a small conquering elite. Rather, he argues well that some of the barbarian invasions involved substantial but not enormous population movements.

Heather develops a sophisticated model of imperial-barbarian interactions. The Roman Empire acted as a transforming agent on surrounding, mainly Germanic speaking, cultures. Particularly adjacent to the Empire, these societies became increasingly developed economically, socially stratified, and developed polities capable of organizing challenges to the Roman state. These relationships were often violent and the potential rewards of being adjacent to the Empire incented more peripheral cultures to push into the zone adjacent to the Empire. Rome could and did deal successfully with a series of such challenges until the end of 4th century when a train of such challenges overwhelmed the capacities of the western Emprie. Heather argues well that this series of challenges was precipitated by the movement of the Huns across the steppes, initially pushing some Germanic and other groups off the Pontic steppe, and then directly pushing into contact with Rome by moving across the Carpathians. The knockon effects of Hun movements, the challenge of the Huns themselves, and the chaos that followed the collapse of the Hunnish state, produced a series of population movements that overwhelmed the western Roman state.

Heather presents a model in which these substantial but not enormous population movements resulted in a large scale replacement of landowning classes, fragmentation of the prior economy, and loss of continuity of classical culture. Because of development over the course of the Roman period and subsequent centuries, when larger states began to emerge during the Carolingian period, western Europe is developed enough to become the most advanced region in Europe. Similarly, Germanic speakers are now established as relatively sophisticated cultures in parts of Europe.

Heather provides some similarly sophisticated analyses of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain and the Viking expansions into the North Atlantic and Russia. Again, this is a story of poorer cultures aggressively attempting to enrich themselves by raiding and later attempting to dominant richer areas with the resulting economic development increasing the complexity of the barbarian regions. Heather's analysis of the emergence of Slavic dominated states is similar, in this case with the Slavic speakers moving into regions partially evacuated by migrations of Germanic speakers.

This is a generally well organized and well written book. Heather has a very accessible, at times joky (one of his chapter headings is "Huns on the Run") style, and presents his interpretation of the often scanty data quite well. In some ways, however, this book tends to fall a bit between two stools. It is relatively light on strict narrative and some prior knowledge of this period is necessary to get the most of this book. Heather spends a good deal of time on scholarly controversies within the field but while his analysis is convincing, there is often not a lot of detail presented. Given the important he attacnes to population movements, I would like to have seen more discussion of demography and more discussion of economic history and land holding patterns.

Finally, Heather has some interesting discussion of state formation. Some of Heather's model may be generally applicable. He also makes some shrewd observations about the nature of the successor states to Rome, the role of Christianity in state formation, and the importance of social stratification.

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