The Fall of the Roman Empire (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
The British scholar Peter Heather boldly tackles an endlessly disputed question in his simply but aptly titled The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. Since the last Western Roman emperor was deposed in 476 c.e., people have wondered how so powerful and magnificent an edifice as the Roman Empire could collapse before the attacks of barbarian warriors. This debate was given fresh impetus with the publication of the first volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776. Gibbon’s magisterial work is a literary classic, and its intellectual influence persists to this day. Gibbon provided a sophisticated, multifaceted analysis of Roman failure. He followed traditional lines of explanation, however, by emphasizing internal weaknesses that left the Romans vulnerable to invasions by virile barbarian nations. A true son of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, he advanced a famously bold and controversial critique of Christianity, arguing that Christian otherworldliness and pacifism fatally weakened Roman martial resolve.
For the following two centuries, historians worked in Gibbon’s shadow. Operating within his conceptual framework, many contented themselves with advancing novel variations on his theme of decline and fall. Lead poisoning from Roman plumbing, overheated public baths, and “race suicide” all at various times were...
(The entire section is 1927 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
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The Times Higher Education Supplement, January 6, 2006, pp. 26-27.
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