How Rome Fell (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

How Rome Fell, by Adrian Goldsworthy (Yale 2009). I thought Goldsworthy’s biography of Julius Caesar from a couple of years ago was excellent, so I was eager to read his new effort about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It is good, although not as good as Caesar: Life of a Colossus. The book sprawls across the period from about 200-500 A.D., and at times the blizzard of names of short-lived Roman emperors becomes a little too much to manage. And there seems to be a fair amount of repetition, although that may just be because history tended to repeat itself a lot. Barbarian tribes and the Persian Empire were forever pressing against the frontiers of the Roman Empire, so there was a lot of back and forth as Roman power waxed and waned. The book is most interesting and persuasive when Goldsworthy explains his theories about why the Roman Empire fell — and why it lasted so long. Predominately, it fell because the lack of a mechanism for peaceful imperial succession meant that civil wars between would-be emperors were commonplace; as the Romans fought each other, they eventually lost the ability to defend their empire. Moreover, the huge bureaucracy made it impossible for even reasonably competent emperors to govern the whole empire well–or even to know exactly what was going on in far-flung regions. On the other hand, the empire was simply so huge that for centuries there were no external powers capable of defeating it, and the many weaknesses and inefficiencies built into the government took a very long time to become fatal. In short, it’s a good book, but read Caesar: Life of a Colossus instead if you haven’t read it yet.

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