Falling Man: Roman (German Edition)

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The empire, though divided, was doing fine. A hundred years later, it was all over. Here, in this magisterial new history, Peter Heather explains what went wrong. Yes, of course it was the barbarians, Germanic tribes from across the Rhine and Danube. But these tribes had long been troublesome and had been managed, by trade, intermarriage, bribery, brute force and employment in Roman armies. Something happened to upset the precarious balance. The first adumbration of disaster came in the spring of , when the empire suddenly faced a problem with a modern resonance.

Asylum-seeking Goths by the ten thousand gathered on the northern banks of the Danube, begging for entry. Hoping the refugees would make good soldiers and slaves, Rome let the Goths in. Lacking land and food, they went on a rampage through the Balkans which culminated two years later in the Battle of Hadrianople, in which the Romans suffered one of their most disastrous defeats. But this was not the real problem. In the words of the historian Ammianus, the Goths were fleeing "an unknown race of men [who] had appeared from some remote corner of the earth, uprooting and destroying everything in its path".

The Huns were coming.

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Sweeping in from the Russian steppes, they scattered others westward - first the Goths, then Alans, Franks, Vandals, Suebi and Alemanni to name a few. This was the tipping point. It wasn't sheer weight of numbers that did it: Heather estimates that the Germanic tribes could muster only about , fighting men - much divided by rivalries - against perhaps half a million disciplined imperial soldiers.

Its structures were probably unspeakable vile to pretty much everyone else. As late as AD, captive barbarians were being fed to wild animals in the Colosseum, and its criminal law dealt ruthlessly with anyone seeking to remedy the highly unequal distribution of property.

In AD, as in AD, peasants were still labouring away in the much the same way to feed themselves and to produce the surplus which funded everything else. On every other level, however, 'transformation' understates, in my view, the nature and importance of Rome's passing.


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A two-stage process occurred between the battle of Hadrianople in AD, when the emperor Valens and two-thirds of his army upwards of 10, men fell in a single afternoon at the hands of an army of Gothic migrants, to the deposition of Romulus Augustulus nearly a century later. This process created the successor kingdoms.

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Stage one consisted of immigration onto Roman soil, followed by a second stage of aggressive expansion of the territory under the migrants' control. All of it was carried forward at the point of the sword. The central Roman state collapsed because the migrants forcibly stripped it of the tax base which it had used to fund its armies, not because of long-term 'organic' transformations. In this violent process of collapse, some local Roman societies immediately went under.

In Britain and north eastern Gaul particularly, Roman landowners lost their estates and Roman culture disappeared with them.

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In southern Gaul, Spain, and Italy, Roman landowners survived by coming to terms with the migrants. But to suppose that this was a voluntary process - as some of the revisionary work done since the s has supposed - is to miss the point that these landowners faced the starkest of choices. As the central Roman state ceased to exert power in their localities, they either had to do such deals, or lose the lands that were the basis of their entire wealth. And even where Roman landowners survived, the effects of Rome's fall were nonetheless revolutionary. In judging these effects, it is important to recognise two separate dimensions of 'Roman-ness' - 'Roman' in the sense of the central state, and 'Roman' in the sense of characteristic patterns of life prevailing within its borders.

At the state level, the empire was not just replaced by mini versions of itself, even where Roman landowners survived. Within two generations of AD, a new and weaker type of state structure had emerged right across the former Roman west.


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The old empire had employed two key levers of central power - large-scale taxation, two-thirds of which was then spent on maintaining the second lever, a large professional army. Learning Latin was now a waste of time - advanced literacy was confined to churchmen for years.

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The barbarians move in

This high-tax, high-spend structure meant that the Roman state both intruded itself bureaucratically into localities to raise taxation, and was also able, if necessary, to compel obedience to its demands by employing the army, which the taxation supported. The new states of post-Roman Europe were much weaker affairs.


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  • Even where other less important Roman institutions survived, the new kings had only much-diminished revenue rights and their armies were composed of semi-professional contingents of local landowners. On the level of local 'Roman-ness' too, the revolution could not have been more profound. The characteristic patterns of local Roman life were in fact intimately linked to the existence of the central Roman state, and, as the nature of state structures changed in the post-Roman world, so too did local life.

    The Roman city, for instance, was the basic unit of local administration through which taxation was raised. As central tax raising powers disappeared, so too did the need to keep the city, and by AD it was history. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Falling Man Cover to the first edition. The New York Times. Don DeLillo's Falling Man".

    Review: The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather | Books | The Guardian

    World Socialist Web Site. Works by Don DeLillo. Retrieved from " https: