In recent decades, some historians have challenged the conventional view that there was a decline and fall of Rome. These historians write instead of a period of late antiquity characterized by transition and transformation. Other scholars question whether it was barbarian invasions so much as a change in Roman military policy that led to Rome's changed status. In The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization, Oxford historian Bryan Ward-Perkins not only vigorously defends the conventional view, but explains the complex realities of the Roman empire and its neighbors in fascinating detail.
Ward-Perkins, who is particularly concerned with the impact of economic change throughout the empire, convincingly demonstrates that after the fall of Rome, there was a startling decline in western standards of living during the fifth to seventh centuries. Everyone, kings to peasants, was affected. The decline in the quality of pottery, the absence of tiled roofs and good tableware and the almost total lack of coinage in daily use in the post-Roman West are all part of the same phenomenon.
Ward-Perkins says evidence strongly indicates that political and military difficulties destroyed regional economies. As the Roman state began to fragment, the intricately structured economy suffered.
Although life was difficult for many, popular revolts against imperial rule did not bring down the empire. Ward-Perkins says that is not surprising because Roman rule, and above all, Roman peace, brought levels of comfort and sophistication to the West that had not been seen before and that were not to be seen again for many centuries. He points out that the Germanic aggressors did not mean to lose the sophisticated economy; they wanted a share of it. However, their invasions led to the dismemberment of the empire and the destruction of the potent, yet fragile economic structure. The author makes a compelling case for his point of view and thus helps readers restudy and rethink a major period in world history. Roger Bishop is a Nashville bookseller and a regular contributor to BookPage.