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Revue de presse

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)

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)

Gibbon's 'awful revolution' (the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West)

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)

Masterful, lucid.... Always rewarding. (ForeWord Magazine) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Présentation de l'éditeur

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. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .



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  • Broché: 592 pages
  • Editeur : Pan Books; Édition : Unabridged (5 mai 2006)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0330491369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330491365
  • Dimensions du produit: 13 x 4,1 x 19,7 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Nicolas Gaidot le 1 décembre 2013
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Ayant vu ce livre cité dans un dossier du SPIEGEL (allemand) consacré à l'empire romain je me suis procuré sa version originale (le livre n'est, je crois, pas traduit en français mais il l'est en allemand) et je ne le regrette pas!
Moi qui ne connaissait que fort peu de choses sur cette période historique (les 4ème et 5ème siècles de notre ère en Europe), souvent considérée comme très compliquée et illisible, je ressors de cette lecture exigeante ravi car j'ai le sentiment d'avoir compris l'essentiel sur le Chute de l'Empire Romain et d'avoir, en bonus, appris une foule d’anecdotes passionnantes.
Heather s'appuie sur les sources de l’époque qu'il sait rendre attrayantes, ce qui, il faut bien l'avouer, n'est pas évident: quiconque s'est essayé à lire la Guerre des Gaules par exemple sait ce que je veux dire.
Et pourtant, c'est avec un extrait de la Guerre des Gaules que l'auteur commence son livre de façon passionnante, comme dans un film, un peu à la façon du long métrage Gladiateur de Ridley Scott.
J'ai particulièrement apprécié, entre autres, sa narration, appuyée sur un texte sauvé de l'oubli par l'empereur byzantin Constantin VII Porphyrogénète au Xème siècle, d'une ambassade romaine auprès d'Attila : on s'y croirait!
Heather propose une explication somme toute simple de l’effondrement de l'empire romain d'occident qui ne repose pas sur une supposée "décadence" comme on le croit encore souvent.
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The scope of this subject has been dealt with very thoroughly, drawing from many sources and is a very up to date account. The book remains highly readable and the author puts his personal sense of humour within the book and shares his passion for all things Roman with the reader. This is an accessible book for non-literary and literary historians alike.
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369 internautes sur 378 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An Outstanding Study of the Last Days of the Western Roman Empire 28 décembre 2005
Par Curt Emanuel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
In this volume Peter Heather attempts to explain that ultimately, the cause of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire was not due to tax inequities, a failure of the economy, internal discord, etc., but rather because of the simply overwhelming level of barbarian invasions which began in the late 4th century. This he proceeds to do very well.

This work is divided into three main parts; "Pax Romana" for chapters 1-3, "Crisis" for chapters 4-7 and "Fall of Empires" for chapters 8-10. I will discuss each of these briefly.

In "Pax Romana" Heather discusses the Barbarians, the Romans, and the Roman Empire briefly. For each of these groups he gives an overview of their development to the latter part of the 4th century, in order to provide us with a starting point for the period of the barbarian invasions. He discusses what it meant to be "Roman" and how even cities far removed from Rome, such as Trier, were fully involved in Roman life and, rather than being rustic frontier outposts, were as fully a part of the Empire as cities of the Italian peninsula. He discusses the increased autonomy of the Emperor and how the Empire changed and adapted to the rise of Sassanid Persia as a threat to the East, including changes in the taxation system to support an increased military presence in that area. He also discusses the evolution of Germanic tribes and their coalescence from small, isolated people into larger, more unified kingdoms, capable of truly threatening Rome rather than just gaining an occasional, ultimately meaningless victory, as had previously been the case.

All of this is to set the stage - to explain the status of the Empire and people within and outside it, and to show that in the late 4th century the Empire had recovered from the tumultous 3rd century and the Persian threat to once again reach a point of balance, able to maintain its prosperity as well as defend its borders.

It is impossible to do justice to section 2, "Crisis," with a summary. Here Heather provides what is simply the most detailed account of the military actions of the late Roman Empire that I have ever read. This section is outstanding. Heather provides a great deal of information, beginning with the Gothic campaign which resulted in the huge Roman loss at Hadrianople and ending with Aetius repulsing the Hunnic invasion at the Catalaunian fields. He discusses various battles, their effect on the Empire, and how the Empire responded to meet these threats. From the initial Gothic Invasion to Alaric, from the Hunnish threat to the Vandal invasion of North Africa, he covers these events and their impacts in great detail.

In the final section, "End of Empires," Heather first discusses the fall of the Hunnic Empire and why this was not of as much benefit to the Empire as might be suspected as it allowed many other Barbarian invaders access to the Empire, as opposed to facing one single threat. He also discusses the Western Empire's last struggles to remain viable, including its efforts to regain North Africa, a region which might have provided the necessary wealth for Rome to restore its military strength. Heather discusses how the failure of the North African invasion fleet in 468 spelled doom for the Empire. Finally he details the last days of Rome and the successor kingdoms that formed to fill in the void in Western Europe.

This is an excellent work. Heather writes well, the narrative is interesting, he references source material extensively and he goes into great detail regarding the last century of the Western Empire. I will say that I believe he proves his thesis rather convincingly. He does not try to minimize internal problems, particularly that so much of the military was focussed on Persia, however it is hard to argue with him when he says that were it not for the sheer size and number of Barbarian invasions, particularly those driven by Hunnish pressure, the Roman Empire would not have fallen when it did. He details this by discussing the relative size of the two forces and showing that the Barbarian fighting men very likely enjoyed substantial numerical superiority over the Western Empire's field armies.

Even if you are not interested in the argument as to "why" Rome fell, this is an excellent, extremely in-depth account of the Barbarian invasions of the late 4th and 5th centuries and how Rome responded to this threat. I would recommend it on that basis alone.
136 internautes sur 143 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Mysterious Death of the Roman Empire 22 septembre 2006
Par Omer Belsky - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Notice the title of Peter Heather's fascinating study of the final centuries of the Roman Empire. It is a clear tribute to Gibbons, yet the "Decline" is intentionally missing. Because according to Dr. Heather the Roman Empire never declined; its fall was due to external, rather then internal, forces, and the perpetrators were two: the Huns and the Goths.

Heather rejects the theories that see the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire in internal maladies. Contra popular opinion, he argues that the division of the Empire to Western and Eastern parts was rational given the increased size of the Roman population. As the Roman way of life spread, and more and more conquered people became Roman citizens, the patronage that had to be distributed became too enormous for any single Imperial Court - hence, the need for two Courts.

Nor is the fault in the Christianization of the Empire; although he acknowledges that the rise of Christianity brought a Cultural Revolution (separation of the Living from the Dead; Equality of all before the Lord; diminished importance for the educated Romans in comparison with the simple true-believers, pp. 121-122), Heather doubts it effected the functioning of the empire much. The Roman Empire was still perceived as divinely blessed "only the nomenclature was different" (p. 123), Christian theology fitted neatly into Roman Chauvinism, and it was only as consequences of defeat that St. Augustine started to develop his anti-Nationalist theology (pp. 230-232).

The best evidence against the "internal decline" thesis is that the Roman Empire did not actually collapse - only it's western half did. In the East, the Roman Empire soldiered on, until another powerful foreign threat - Islam.

Therefore, Heather suggests, the answer is external: As a consequence of the exposure to the Roman world, the Germanic tribes confronted by the Romans have changed. An agricultural revolution took over the German world, increasing its population and changing its organization: along with surplus, there developed inequality, with powerful leaders and kings solidifying larger and larger groups of so-called "Barbarians" (pp. 87-94).

But the grows of the German population was not in itself, enough to shake and eventually to topple the Western Empire; the fuse for that was a new menace, coming from the East - the Huns.

Heather remains officially agnostic as to the origin of the horse riding people from the Great Eurasian Steppe, although he seems to support the theory that their origin related to the Hsiung-Nu - a Nomadic threat to the Chinese Empire several centuries before (pp. 147-149).

The Huns made their ways into the neighborhood of the Roman Empire in two stages - in the late 4th century, they have arrived at the Caucasus, and in the second quarter of the 5th century to East and Central Europe, culminating in the raids on the Western Empire, by their sole unifier and greatest leader, Attila.

But it was not ultimately the Huns who destroyed the Empire. What the Huns did was trigger a chain reaction of migrating "Barbarians" the greater, richer and more unified Germanic people who fled into the Roman Empire. "As Germanic groups moved on to Roman territory to escape Hunnic aggression, this long standing process acquired new momentum. One of the most important ... phenomena of the fifth century narrative is that all of the major successor states to the west Roman Empire were created around the military power of new barbarian supergroups, generated on the march"(p. 451).

As the Roman Empire faced these threats, it suffered from a vicious circle of damages; the more the Goths invaded the worse the empire's capacity to raise taxes became, thus turning the Empire weaker and more tempting target. The Loss of Africa to the Vandals was a particularly hard stroke in that regard. And every time the empire seemed to be able to overcome one crises, the continued advanced of the Huns pressed new waves of invaders into its boarders, undoing the Roman effort. "[T]he various crises faced by the western Empire ... represented no more than the slow working-out of the political consequence of the earlier invasions" (p. 434)

This short synopsis does not come close to doing justice to Heather's sophisticated and fascinating account. Yet in blaming the fall on an "Exogenous Shock" (p. 450), I think Heather may be ignoring one major change in the Roman Empire - its relative lack of belligerency.

As Heather tells it "Roman expansion was driven by the internal power struggles of republican oligarchs... and by the early Emperor's desire for Glory." But eventually, the provinces that the empire started to conquer were just too poor to be worth conquering "The Roman advance ground to a halt... around a major fault line of European socio-economic organization"... it was not the military prowess of the Germani that kept them outside the Empire, but their poverty" (pp. 56-58).

But as the agriculture revolution took over the Germanic world, did not that arithmetic change? If the Roman Empire's border was initially determined on economic cost/benefit grounds, it seems to have been perpetuated by tradition. New threats lurked in the dark forests of Germania, but new opportunities were there, as well. Why didn't the late Empire move to take advantage of the opportunities? To me, it seems that an answer to that is essential for the discovery of the causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire.
173 internautes sur 185 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Unthinkable: a New way to Understand Very Old Facts 30 novembre 2005
Par Fernando Villegas - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Heather has accomplished kind of an academic miracle: he has given new light to a very old issue that has been explored, analyzed and written about almost to death: the causes of the demise of western roman empire.

I know all the big names that have ever written about this: Gibbons, Bury, the many italians and french XIX century scholars, T. Mommsem, Spengler, Toynbee and many many more. Heather is different to all of them. Clear, simple explanations grounded in common sense AND new archeological discoveries make the trick and Heather make it very well. With his approach we see less the monumental and unavoidable development of a macro-dramatic internal "decline and fall" as the simple, direct and at last unbearable action of very obvious facts...once they have been explained by Heather. We simply see an still prosperous empire being gradually overwheelmed by too many enemies that became less barbarian and enough civilized to gather and muster the military forces and pressures that at last, coming from every side, were too much to be resisted anymore by the imperial resources. How this came along centuries of accumulative evolution is the task that brillianty accomplish Mr Heather. At the very least, his book offers a new, refreshing, intriguing view of such a colossal development. So it is a must for any history geek.
268 internautes sur 294 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"A Pleasing Denouement" ...For the Barbarian Idiots who wrecked Western civilization 29 janvier 2006
Par R. A Forczyk - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Peter Heather, an Oxford history professor, offers a "new history" of one of the most controversial subjects in world history - discussing what caused the fall of the (west) Roman Empire. Although this book makes for interesting reading at points, the author's main hypothesis is neither particularly fresh nor well constructed. Heather's main focus is on external factors - Barbarian actions - rather than internal Roman factors such as political corruption or economic disintegration. The author's main thesis revolves around the contention that Germanic society changed rapidly between the 1st and 4th Centuries and allowed the heretofore-weak tribes to form confederations that could challenge Roman power. Once Hunnic aggression pushed these Germanic tribes into Roman territory he argues, the Romans could no longer assimilate or destroy these Germanic "super-groups" such as the Goths, and the resultant loss of territory gradually deprived the empire of revenues. A vicious cycle began with the arrival of the Goths on Roman territory in 378, and eventually resulted in a growing inability of the Empire to defeat the swarm of new foes, such as the Vandals, Franks and Huns. Heather tends to dismiss all other theories about the reasons for imperial collapse out of hand, claiming that internal factors were not essentially irrelevant. Hmmm...not exactly sound historical methodology. Essentially, the author subscribes to the "mono-causal" explanation for this very complex process of imperial collapse - his explanation. It is a telling indictment about the intellectual foundations of this book that the author never questions whether a "mono-causal" theory can even be applied to such a lengthy, complex process.

Heather sees the loss of North Africa to the Vandals in 440 as the crucial blow that ultimately doomed the (west) Roman Empire, although the series of crises began with the Gothic victory at Adrianople in 378. He argues that the loss of Spain and Gaul, followed by the Vandal conquests, deprived the Empire of so much revenue that its ability to defend itself was compromised. However the key weakness in this hypothesis - of the "chicken or the egg" sort - is that it fails to identify whether Roman military weakness led to successful Barbarian invasions or whether successful invasions led to Roman military weakness. Stepping back a bit, Heather sees the growth of Persian "as a rival superpower" in the 3rd Century as diverting Roman military resources away from Western Europe and draining financial reserves. Although Heather tries to link the growth of Persian power to Barbarian successes in the West, this is a non-sequitor since the resources needed to contain the Persians came primarily from the Eastern Empire, which survived the Barbarian onslaughts. Furthermore, the author exaggerates the Persian threat, which did not threaten the heart of the Empire, only border zones.

The author's failure to tackle Roman military or economic issues in a serious manner seriously weakens his ability to support his thesis. First, the author displays a poor understanding of the Roman military, mixing terms like "regiment" and "cohort," claiming that the "testudo" was a common battlefield formation and stating that training in the 4th Century was the same as it was centuries before. The fact is that the Roman Army of the 4th Century was nothing like its forebears in either quantity or quality. In earlier times, the loss of 15,000 Roman troops as occurred at Adrianople would have been regarded as only a setback, but in 378 it was a catastrophe. Why? Simply put, the Empire was incredibly short of troops and could not afford significant losses. The author's claims that the massive influx of Barbarians into the late Roman army had no effect on training or discipline is flatly absurd. The fact is that the Roman Army had gotten quite rotten before Adrianople due to repeated civil wars, mutinies and rebellions that damaged the level of discipline and motivation among the rank and file. That the Romans were desperate to get Barbarian recruits for the army despite the fact that the Empire had a population of 70 million indicates that military recruiting was not inhibited merely by fiscal factors. By 378, the army was a job that very few citizens wanted.

The level of scholarship is surprisingly vulgar at times throughout this book - almost as if the author has chosen to write a juvenile and rather "dumbed-down" history. He describes Saint Augustines' City of God as "the straightforward yah-boo-sucks variety" and describes assassinations as "snuffing it." He also refers to Roman "five star generals" (no such rank), the "year zero" (no such year) and says that legionaries were "just like the Marines, but much nastier." The author also tends to over-use second-rate source material and to draw very broad conclusions from disparate archaeological finds.

It is in the conclusion that the author finally shows his true colors. He writes that, "the Roman Empire had sown the seeds of its own destruction, therefore, not because of internal weakness...but as a consequence of its relationship with the Germanic world...there is in all this a pleasing denouement. By virtue of its unbounded aggression, Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own destruction." Apparently, the author is unaware that Rome was viciously sacked by the Celts in 390 BC, which began cycle of Roman expansion to achieve defensible borders. "Unbounded aggression"? The Roman Empire stopped expanding 200 years before Adrianople. "Pleasing denouement?" Oh, so all the massacres, raping, looting and destruction by the Vandals, Goths, etc - which laid low Western civilization for darn near 1,000 years - was a good thing?? If what the author was saying about the Roman Empire were true, then that civilization would have made no more contribution to human development as the Mongols or the Third Reich. However, the Roman Empire was not just about conquest and this type of "history" - which appears to have some subtle axes to grind -adds little to our understanding of why the Empire fell.
33 internautes sur 34 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Inconvenient ommissions 23 décembre 2008
Par Cato - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Overall this book was very informative, educational, and presented very complex difficult material in a new light. I found the book enjoyable to read, even though I disagreed with much of it. My criticisms of this book--which is still worth reading--are as follows:

I'll start with the worst: Heather's inconvenient omissions. What disturbed me most about this book is Heather's deliberate attempt to downplay any evidence that conflicts with his thesis. While I appreciated the many moments when he acknowledges gaps in the historical record and when he theorizes, he simply omits so many relevant historical facts that this book is frustrating. For instance, according to Heather over 100 years of constant civil wars, "usurpations," foreign invasions, and the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a powerful few had little, if any, effect on Rome. Heather begins his account by boldly stating that after Diocletian "restored" the empire after the 3rd century crisis, Rome was back to its former glory. According to him, the Roman economy was plugging along fine. Heather fails to take into account the economic impact of the loss of a stable monetary system, edicts trying roman farmers to their lands and their father's profession. Heather is also guilty of extrapolation at too many points. He discusses archeological finds of a few large Roman villas from the time period in a particular region and then assumes this wealth is indicative of a good economy throughout Europa.

Also, he makes the bold assertion that Diocletian and Theodosius' legions and comitatenses were just as disciplined and effective as Caesar's Legio X. While I admit I do not have Heather's credentials, I am very well read in this area, and I have never seen anyone else make such bold, unfounded assertions. While Diocletian may have "restored" the empire by re-conquering it--one has to acknowledge the effects of 100 years of constant warfare, sieges, invasions, etc. Heather does not take into account the destruction of infrastructure, loss of human manpower or loss of effectiveness of the army that surely must have resulted after 100 years of constant infighting, civil wars, and foreign invasions. This pattern continued during the 5th century. Every generation involved a major campaign of east vs west or the west fighting off a so-called usurper. I cannot even begin to comprehend the loss of resources accompanied by this. Yet, Heather sees no fallout from Theodosius' "victory" over the west or the numerous other civil wars at the time.

A perfect example of this is the Battle of Adrianople. The roman legions in Caesar's time were renowned for their discipline and ability to follow orders. The mere fact that a portion of the army at Adrianople was "goaded" into attacking the goth's left flank before being ordered to do so and before the remainder of the army was fully formed speaks volumes as to the effectiveness and discipline of the army during this time.

Also, Heather has little discussion of the change in military equipment in this period--the change from the rectangular scutum to the oval shield, the change to cheaper, easier to produce armor and helmets, the gradual adoption of the spatha, etc. He also fails to mention or take into account the effect of Diocletian's military reforms on the micro level. I just cannot believe that troops garrisoned in watchtowers along the Danube that had wives and families in the nearby city and were responsible for growing their own food were anywhere near as effective as Caesar's hardened legions who slept in camp and drilled constantly.

Further, Heather seems to believe that anytime barbarian foederati were incorporated in a legion that they were just as effective as Rome's former troops. Again, he fails to even discuss whether battlefield tactics changed. The strength in Caesars legions was that the Romans fought as a unit with a solid shield wall that slowly and meticulously advanced while the front line used short "stabbing" thrusts to kill the enemy. Legions were disciplined enough to "substitute" and rotate out front line troops during a battle. This took an incredible amount of training. While Rome's legions always relied heavily on "barbarian" conscripts--in the past they were dispersed into small groups, assimilated into the legion and took part in the training, etc. The notion that the barbarians that were "incorporated" wholesale into the roman legions in the 5th century could perform these tasks and act as a unit with the same effectiveness as the legions of Caesar's time is quite absurd.

As mentioned by other reviewers, Heather's prose often degenerates into plebian clichés. At times you get the impression he could not decide on his intended audience.

In the end, I enjoyed this book as a great education on late empire Roman-barbarian relations and the structure and societies of the Germanic peoples who invaded the empire. No doubt Heather is the foremost expert in this field. However, as is all too often the case with books on this topic, the author tends to see everything through the prism of his or her specialty. It is no surprise that a study by an economist of the fall of the Roman Empire will attribute it solely to the economy. A specialist in early Byzantine history will attribute the fall solely to the acts of Justinian. Therefore it is no surprise that Heather, a specialist in the "barbarian" tribes finds them to be the primary cause of Rome's fall.

Despite my criticisms, this still is a good book and I found it very educational. However, you need to be well-read enough to separate fact from theory, and see through the bias. As such, I would not recommend this book to someone new to this area of scholarship. While I agree with Heather that Rome's demise was ultimately the result of "exogenous shock" from the multiple barbarian invasions--Heather never attempts explain WHY this occurred. I simply cannot believe that the change from a free market to a state-run economy, change in military structure and organization, constant civil warfare, loss of population, etc. had no role to play in this drama.
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