The Ruin of the Roman Empire by James J. O'Donnell is a "vigorous" (Kirkus Reviews) and "richly layered" (Publishers Weekly) history of Rome's fall. Renowned historian and author of Augustine, O'Donnell revisits this ancient tale in a fresh way, bringing home its sometimes painful relevance to today's political issues.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Part I||Theoderic's World|
|1||Rome in 500: Looking Backward||p. 47|
|2||The World That Might Have Been||p. 107|
|Part II||Justinian's World|
|3||Being Justinian||p. 177|
|4||Opportunities Lost||p. 229|
|5||Wars Worse Than Civil||p. 247|
|Part III||Gregory's World|
|6||Learning to Live Again||p. 303|
|7||Constantinople Deflated: The Debris of Empire||p. 342|
|8||The Last Consul||p. 364|
|List of Roman Emperors||p. 395|
|Further Reading||p. 409|
|Credits and Permissions||p. 411|
Even before Edward Gibbon, the fall of the Roman Empire inspired historians to produce a remarkable ragbag of decline theories. The latest is this lively, well-written, and opinionated book by the provost of Georgetown University. It is a stimulating rearrangement of the reference points. O'Donnell begins after the conventional date of 476 CE for Rome's fall. The Empire, under the rule of a "barbarian" Ostrogoth, Theodoric, still flourished. This happy state was terminated by an antecedent of George W. Bush, Justinian, who launched a war to recover Italy that resembles Bush's Iraq war. Theodoric's Italy represented a world that might have been, and Justinian brought the final curtain down on classical civilization and culture. O'Donnell's hero is Khusro, the shah of Persia, which seems perverse, for he also contributed to Rome's ruin. The final actor in this drama is Pope Gregory the Great, the last of the Romans, whom fate placed in a cheerless epoch. This book will interest everyone who has reflected upon the rise and fall of cultural eras, commonly called empires. The implicit comparisons with the Bush years will make readers think. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. J. A. S. Evans emeritus, University of British Columbia
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Traditional histories of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the west portray a centuries-long decline, ending in that final overthrow of the last western emperor in AD 476. The Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, endured until the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks, in 1453. Historian O'Donnell presents a more nuanced and probably more accurate view in an engrossing and wonderfully descriptive portrait of late antiquity. O'Donnell's focus is the sixth century, when the reimposition of imperial control over lost territory in Italy and the west was still feasible. As O'Donnell illustrates, the city of Rome had long ceased to be the center of the empire; commercial hubs such as Alexandria and other prosperous eastern cities were more influential. It was the failure of the elites of this civilization, particularly the emperor Justinian, that made the loss of western territories irrevocable. As he explores his thesis, O'Donnell provides a sweeping panorama that includes diverse Christian sects, surprisingly civilized barbarians, and ordinary humans striving to survive in an unstable world.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2008 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review
The Roman empire was not invaded by barbarians in the fifth century, says classical historian O'Donnell. Rather, these tribes--Visigoths, Vandals and others--were refugees who crossed into the empire in search of a place to settle. These migrants were turned into enemies by Rome. O'Donnell (Augustine), former provost of Georgetown, supports this controversial thesis by drawing on primary sources to analyze the geopolitical errors that led to Rome's fall. Emperor Theodoric, he says, had preserved social order and prosperity among the various peoples of the vast empire. But seven years later, Justinian squandered that good order. He failed to make peace with Persia in the east by not emphasizing a common interest of trade; he failed to establish good relations with the kings of the western Mediterranean and to develop his own homeland, the Balkans; finally, by banning certain Christian sects, he alienated some border regions and sowed the seeds of rebellion. These failures not only divided the empire, they made it vulnerable to attack from peoples that had once been friends. O'Donnell's richly layered book provides significant glimpses into the many factors that leveled a mighty empire. 20 illus. and maps. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal Review
O'Donnell (Provost, Georgetown Univ.; Augustine: A New Biography) argues that the Roman emperors seated in fifth-century Constantinople eventually toppled their empire, while the barbarians--the Vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, etc.--traditionally held responsible for the fall, could have helped create a coherent Mediterranean identity had different strategic choices been made by Rome. This refreshing historian admits that the view he presents is controversial and can and should be debated. The book opens with an introduction to the Roman world through the eyes of the merchant Cosmas. Readers begin to understand the far-flung nature of the Roman Empire, the infrastructure that supported trade, and the cracks appearing in the empire's foundation. The rest of the work is divided into three parts, following Theodoric, a Romanized Ostrogothic king who ruled in the now backwater city of Rome and did much to unify and bring a short-lived peace to the region; Justinian, an emperor who sat on the throne in the imperial capital of Constantinople and tried to enforce theological homogeny in all his subjects; and Pope Gregory, who saw the events of his time unfolding and understood they spelled an end to the world as he knew it. O'Donnell's vivid prose describes the empire's various regions, making it easy for readers to imagine the world as it was at the empire's close. Highly recommended for academic libraries and all libraries with collections in ancient history, Roman history, or classical studies.--Crystal Goldman, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.