August 15, 2009
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How Rome Fell

by Adrian Goldsworthy

Recent years have seen fresh controversy over the nature of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Did Rome actually fall, or did it merely transform itself by degrees into Medieval Europe? Did the Germanic Barbarians cause the destruction of a civilization, or simply join it? Goldsworthy concludes that there can no longer be serious disagreement that the end of the empire in the West was, for almost everyone, a disaster, and turns to the pressing question of mechanism and blame: how did the disaster occur, and who was at fault?

In the end, Goldsworthy concludes that great institutions of Rome – the bureaucracy and the army – forgot their business. Distracted by centuries of incessant civil war (itself the product of technological failure, since communications delays made it impossible to know what was happening or who to trust), the short-term goal of preserving the life of the current emperor overrode everything else – including sound government and prudent defense. In the end, the barbarians won because no one was doing their proper work.