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The Fall of the Roman Empire

Peter Heather. New York: Oxford University Press, Reviewed by Joseph Frechette U.


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Neatly divided into four sections of two chapters apiece, Heather examines each case in sequence. This was belied by the temporary incorporation of the Visigothic kingdom following their defeat by Clovis in AD , as well as the clear subordination of the Vandals and Burgundians.

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The theme which Heather follows here is twofold. First, he argues that Justinian was not a visionary grand strategist harboring a plan of western reconquest, waiting to put it into action upon his accession to the throne, but rather a gambling opportunist. Second, and following from this first premise, Heather describes the initiation of the Vandal and Ostrogothic expeditions as highly contingent affairs, dependent on a confluence of events coming together at just the right times to provide Justinian the opportunities to move west.

Accepting that it is high-quality political satire to which the appropriate response is to laugh, represents something of a third way between the reigning studies of Averil Cameron and Anthony Kaldellis, and a return to the view of A.

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While the discussion of Theoderic leads relatively organically to the coverage of Justinian, the following section on the Carolingians is a bit more of a leap forward in time, and might have been a bit disconcerting. Thus, there is a continuous narrative thread as well as much useful context.


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Once Charlemagne ruled over multiple kingdoms, recognition by Pope Leo, in exchange for restoration to the papal throne, added a gloss of legitimacy to what was already true in practice. Ultimately, Heather presents the expansionism of the Merovingians, Carolingians, and their Ottonian successors as something of an existential necessity for their regimes.

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The conquering barbarians, responding to Rome's continuing psychological dominance and the practical value of many of its institutions, were ready to reignite the imperial flame and enjoy the benefits. As Peter Heather shows in dazzling biographical portraits, each of the three greatest immediate contenders for imperial power--Theoderic, Justinian, and Charlemagne--operated with a different power base but was astonishingly successful in his own way.

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Though each in turn managed to put back together enough of the old Roman West to stake a plausible claim to the Western imperial title, none of their empires long outlived their founders' deaths. Not until the reinvention of the papacy in the eleventh century would Europe's barbarians find the means to establish a new kind of Roman Empire, one that has lasted a thousand years. Compare all 3 new copies.

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The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders Book Reviews

Fine and unread. Seller Inventory C More information about this seller Contact this seller. Book Description Macmillan, Never used!. Seller Inventory P Seller Inventory M Peter Heather. Publisher: Macmillan , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.