HNet Review | Heather, ‘Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe’

Peter Heather. Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the
Birth of Europe. New York Oxford University Press, USA, 2012. 752
pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-19-989226-6.

Reviewed by Christopher Gennari (Camden County College)
Published on H-Diplo (April, 2013)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Peter Heather’s compendium _Empires and Barbarians_ is an impressive
work in its scope, ambition, and sheer size. At 734 pages, this is a
serious academic work, yet its tone and language remain admirably
accessible and engaging for the interested, if uninitiated, general
audience. _Empires and Barbarians_’_ _subject is the events occurring
in Europe after the third-century crisis in the Roman Empire. This is
not an easy subject to cover. There are fewer primary sources than
for the imperial period and there are a lot of different and
not-well-understood characters and nations entering the narrative.
The Huns, Vandals, and Visigoths are well known by reputation but
Heather deals with the Suevi and the Taifali as well. Likewise,
Attila the Hun is notorious for his exploits but fewer people will
know the deeds of Radagaisus and Fritigern. Heather’s ability to tell
an engaging story of the famous and the forgotten is admirable.
Heather also deserves credit for wading into a subject matter already
covered by the likes of Edward Gibbon. In _Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire_’s_ _six volumes (1776-88) Gibbon discusses Rome from
Marcus Aurilius to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Heather’s
work is less ambitious, nesting within that period, and adding modern
additions, such an archeology, genetics, and linguistics, for the
modern audience. This will make a good reference book for people
interested in the after-Rome-not-quite-the-Middle-Ages period of
European history.

Heather’s work will also fit nicely next to Gibbon’s masterwork. The
academic audience will find it a well-written and thoroughly
documented reference book. It modernizes Gibbon by having less
flourish but more science and modern theory. Medieval historians will
find it a useful addition as a general text of the period. It covers
all the parts of Europe, all the major migrations, and Heather has a
special focus on the future Russian areas of Europe. It gives the
literature a fresh perspective by concentrating on the Slavic world
though, without, denying the successes of the future West. As a
reference book it is hampered by a poor index which leaves out major
figures and events that are mentioned in the text. There’s no mention
of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who brought Orthodoxy and an alphabet
to the Slavic world; nor any mention of Princess Olga, who converted
the Kievan Rus to Orthodoxy after witnessing mass in the Hagia
Sophia. Yet all are mentioned in the text. A book this large and with
such a sweeping scope requires an overly detailed index–and
unfortunately this version does not contain one.

Heather’s update to the mountainous literature concerning the fall of
Rome is to turn the tables on the narrative. Most works, like
Gibbon’s, deal with the fall of Rome from the Roman perspective and
try to explain the melancholy tale of greatness turned to rust and
ash. It is the sad history of the losers and the defeated; one of the
few places in historiography where the defeated perspective dominates
the narrative. It makes sense since the Romans were the literate
peoples and the barbarians were illiterate, unable to tell the tale
of their success to future generations. The survival of the Christian
church as a literate institution also assured that barbarian success
was portrayed in apocalyptic terms by the likes of St. Ambrose and

Heather, on the other hand, takes the perspective of the winners–the
illiterate, reputedly uncivilized, pagans who overwhelmed the Roman
defenses, squatted on the Roman land, and absorbed Mediterranean
culture while imparting their own Germanic, Slavic, and Scandinavian
customs to Europe–creating, Heather argues, the Middle Ages and
modern Europe along the way.

Heather divides the book roughly into three parts. In the first part
(approximately the first three chapters) he sets up the situation
concerning the late Roman world by describing the various tribes,
their situations, and their motivations before the migrations into
the Roman Empire. He also describes the larger economic and political
unit he calls “barbarian” Europe–stating that the word is meant to
describe the Europe separate from Mediterranean Europe (the
Greco-Roman world) and is not a statement of moral value and
inferiority (p. xiv). He also uses “barbarian” Europe as a way of
describing a world encompassing more than just the Germanic-speaking
peoples of Europe who had connections to the Roman world (including
the Goths and, most importantly for Heather, the Slavs). Heather’s
argument is that this was a well-connected and civilized world simply
outside of, but not apart from, Mediterranean culture. He also shows
that far from being unsophisticated the tribes were able to raise
professional retinues, collect taxes, and create laws. Heather uses
the modern concept of globalization to describe the
interconnectedness of the barbarian and Mediterranean worlds.

The second part discusses the migration of peoples into new
zones–the Germans and Goths enter into western Europe, the Huns
carve out a piece of central Europe for a time, and eastern Europe is
taken over by the Slavic peoples who began to displace several older
peoples from the lands between the Dneiper and the Oder Rivers.
Heather charts how the act of migration created these larger units
that protected their inhabitants from and enabled them to negotiate
with Rome. Heather shows a period of Europe in flux; the passing of
one age but not yet the formation of the next. He describes a Europe
in the act of becoming, a story that is often overlooked, as Heather
points out, in favor of the national origin myths which emphasize,
mistakenly, ancient continuity and unity.

Heather also discusses the coalescence and expansion of Frankish and
Anglo-Saxon civilizations–a brief respite before the smashing hammer
of the Viking invasions and migrations. He seems to have an affinity
for the rise of Slavic Europe, which is a topic not normally detailed
in the usual West-centric historiography. His affinity for Slavic
Europe, and his detail work on its rise and importance, is impressive
but makes the lack of a Byzantine narrative puzzling. Saints Cyril
and Methodius are passed over with barely a mention, Princess Olga’s
conversion is treated as a minor event, and I did not read any
mention of the Battle of Kliedon or the conversion of the Bulgars. It
is surprising that the Slavic achievements are treated as separate
from the larger Christian-Roman-Greek world. In fairness, Heather
does deal with the decline of East Rome after Justinian to explain
why a Roman imperial recovery (political, cultural, and economic)
turned out to be quixotic, yet never relates the Byzantine cultural
importance during the Macedonian dynastic period (867-1056 CE). The
Byzantine impact on the Slavic world is a surprising omission for
such a detailed work.

The final section is the settling of European culture after the
migrations. In this section Heather deals with the cultural and
political connections of the new hybrid societies, which are both
barbarian and Mediterranean. For Heather these connections are
exemplified in the Viking trade networks which Heather describes as
the “first European Union” for their depth, breadth, and importance
(p. 515). Labor and goods flowed from northern Europe and
manufactured and luxury goods came in from the Byzantine and Arab
world. In this section, Heather discusses the beginnings of state
formation, national kings, imperial pretensions, and the spread of a
core European culture to periphery areas. This is the “Birth of
Europe” section of the subtitle. This is the chapter where the reader
begins to see references to the Carolingians, the Ottonians, Hungary,
Poland, Cnut, and other states and persons with long, well-known
futures ahead of them. This section had the feeling of an astronomy
metaphor, the creation of planets from the coalescing of dust and
rock and debris; out of the movement of many separate parts comes the
union of something larger and more enduring. In fact, Heather’s last
chapter is an allusion to Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. Heather
argues that imperial action has an opposite reaction among periphery
states–thus creating the forces of future imperial demise and giving
warning to all present and future empires who believe they are
designed to last forever.

Heather tells a complicated story well and in a way that a general
audience will be able to understand and enjoy. He makes allusions to
famous historical events in other centuries in order to help present
his position to the audience–which people will find helpful. There
is a large section of detailed maps in the back and chapters are
broken down into subchapters so that the reader will not worry about
advancing through the 700-page tome. Heather makes an important
addition to the literature of the late Roman world/early Middle Ages.
This work emphasizes depth and accessibility instead of cutting-edge
theoretical arguments. I have come across some of the positions
before in other venues and works (for instance, that the Romans
created their own enemies by forcing the Germanic tribes to organize)
but not in so complete and detailed a manner. This work will be a
welcome addition to any early medieval collection.

Citation: Christopher Gennari. Review of Heather, Peter, _Empires and
Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe_. H-Diplo, H-Net
Reviews. April, 2013.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

CJ Online Review | Kaster, Macrobii Saturnalia

Posted with permission:

Macrobii Ambrosii Theodosii Saturnalia. Recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit Robert A. Kaster. Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. lvi + 540. Hardcover, £50.00/$99.00. ISBN 978-0-19-957119-2.

Reviewed by Andrea Balbo, Università di Torino

This new critical edition of Saturnalia is the last milestone of a long research itinerary that Robert Kaster has devoted to Macrobius. The OCT text has been prepared for by his Studies on the Text of Macrobius’ Saturnalia (Oxford, 2010; hereafter STMS), an important book containing a new survey of the manuscripts with some improvements of the results obtained by Marinone (second UTET edition of 1977) and Willis (third Teubner edition of 1994); moreover, Kaster has also published an edition with English translation of the Macrobian major work in 2011 for the Loeb Classical Library. This OCT book aims to become a reference work and surely shows the great competence and cleverness of the editor. The Preface (v–xlvi), written in English instead of Latin according to the new (but lamentable) tradition of Oxford Classical Texts, gives a short summary of Kaster’s studies concerning Macrobian manuscripts, building a stemma codicum for each family (α and β) and integrating them into a general stemma at page xxvi [[1]]. In the preface I would call attention to the importance of the rich repository of Greek errors in manuscripts (xxxi–xlv), a very useful dossier for the comprehension of scribal culture and of diffusion of Greek knowledge in Western Europe.

After the preface and the list of quoted editions, we find a Bibliography; although useful, Kaster should nonetheless have maintained some references already included in Marinone’s rich bibliography [[2]].

Let us pass to the text. Kaster shows a decisive improvement in comparison with Willis: his edition is based on a better evaluation of manuscripts and on a more careful consideration both of the former editions and of the loci similes; in particular, this apparatus—very valuable if we consider the typology of Macrobian work—achieves the goal of combining rich information with simplicity, and gives information that could greatly help future Macrobian commentators: see, for instance, 3.9.4 on Servius’ reference on the name Luam, where Kaster notes that he accepts the conjecture Luae of Preller instead of Lunae given by the manuscripts; or at 3.14.12, where Kaster underlines a misunderstanding in Macrobius, who confuses Quintus Roscius with Roscius Otho; or at 3.16.13, where the Macrobian duos pontes are explained as “Aemilium et Fabricium, LTUR iii. 106-7, iuxta os Cloacae Maximae.”

To understand Kaster’s ideas of editing Macrobius, it is necessary to read the OCT edition side by side with his STMS, where he explains in a convincing way the results of his research. From a methodological point of view he chooses correctly to preserve Macrobian quotations of former authors, even if corrupted, avoiding the mistake of standardizing the text. In the critical apparatus Kaster offers about 290 differences from Willis and many agreements with Marinone (exactly as listed in STMS 29 n. 1), but continues to re-evaluate the text of Saturnalia: Mario De Nonno has carefully discussed many loci in a review that appeared in BMCR 2012.11.05 and, in general, I agree with him on their correctness and validity; here I briefly discuss only some other examples. At 1.11.7 Kaster accepts Madvig’s quos ius tuos vocat instead of quos ius tuum vocas, but I think that it is difficult to connect the verb vocare with ius because vocare is more suitable to a person, and so I prefer Marinone 1977’s quos iure tuos vocas (in Nota critica); at 2.2.17 Kaster and Marinone show an appreciable difference in dealing with iambic verses, attested both by Gellian and Macrobian manuscripts: Kaster prefers Gellian readings against Marinone, but, at least in one situation, I think that vi transilire nititur of Havet (Manuel de critique verbale appliquée aux texts latins (Paris, 1911) 140), accepted by Marinone, is syntactically better than ut transiliret nititur. At 2.4.12, Marinone’s solution with ellipsis, carbunculum … habeas, is better than carbunculum †habeas† printed by Kaster and surely preferable to Hadriae given by Willis, a trace of the attempts to find a geographical location of every name in the sequence of this Augustan epistolary fragment; at 5.15.12, I think with Marinone that it is not necessary to integrate as Jan did, because the text is coherent without any quotation; at the same time, the form rursus of the manuscripts is weaker than the correction Nisus of editors.

Nonetheless, in spite of my different evaluations of many points of the text, Kaster’s edition makes a great contribution to the exegesis of the Macrobian text. The only real drawback of this work—already highlighted by De Nonno—consists in the copious misprints, that require the book to be used with care. If the publisher were to bring out a corrected edition, it would allow the effective use of this rich and important tool of research that Kaster’s deep competence has put at the disposal of the scholarly community [[3]].


[[1]] In the stemma there are some minor mistakes: in the section concerning family β1 the subarchetype ς printed at page xviii disappears; a π that should be placed over V has been inserted in the wrong position; in family β2 there is no more trace of a subarchetype δ; clearly, the choice to do a one page layout of the stemma was not the best, in view of its complex architecture.

[[2]]The bibliography lacks both some textual (e.g., G. Lögdberg, In Macrobii Saturnalia adnotationes (diss. Uppsala, 1936)) and exegetical (e.g. all Marinone’s articles and books excepting the UTET edition) contributions.

[[3]] To the list of mistakes I would add Mallium instead of L. Mallium in 2.2.10; Cassium instead of C. Cassium in 2.3.13.

From the Italian Press: Seeking Remains from Trasimene?

Interesting item from Fresco di Web. The quickie version is thus: Back in 2004/5 they found anomalies associated with a high metal concentration in a certain area along  Lake Trasimeno. In terms of depth, apparently, it corresponds roughly with two millennia ago and so is thought to perhaps be remains of the Roman debacle there in 217 or so, but the article seems to be spinning the ‘phoenician tourism’ side of things. Whatever the case, it seems to be an ongoing project, but I don’t see any mention of archaeologists being involved (?!) …

Comincia oggi fino al 18 maggio un rilievo geofisico ad altissima risoluzione sul lago Trasimeno lungo il tratto di costa del Comune di Tuoro. Un progetto di ricerca geologico-storico-archeologica che vedrà al lavoro gli esperti del centro di ricerca Ismar (l’Istituto di Scienze marine) del Cnr di Bologna e che nasce a seguito di “un’anomalia” emersa durante la serie di studi, condotti nel 2004 e nel 2005 per conto della Regione Umbria all’interno del Progetto Carg-Cartografia geologica e geotematica del lago Trasimeno.
L’anomalia è dovuta a una concentrazione di metalli con punte massime essenzialmente localizzate nell’area compresa tra Tuoro, Passignano e Isola Maggiore. Secondo la stima del tasso medio di sedimentazione, la profondità indiziata corrisponderebbe a circa due millenni fa. Queste anomalie metalliche potrebbero riferirsi alla battaglia del Trasimeno, nel giugno del 217 a.C. (II Guerra Punica), il cui teatro di svolgimento in base alla più recente ricostruzione scientifica dei luoghi della battaglia (Gambini-Brizzi, 2008) sembra essere la piana di Tuoro. Polibio dice infatti che alcuni legionari tentarono di salvarsi gettandosi in acqua, ma il peso delle armature li trascinò a fondo. Di questi reperti non si son mai cercate le tracce.
È dunque possibile che siano custodite sotto metri di sabbie in questo tratto del lago di Tuoro, importanti testimonianze dello storico episodio. I rilievi fatti indicano la presenza di oggetti sepolti a profondità di qualche metro al di sotto del manto sedimentario.
Per tutta la durata delle indagini La Rotta dei Fenici e il Comune di Tuoro hanno previsto e richiesto l’assistenza archeologica sul campo, in accordo con la Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Umbria. Inoltre, il sistema Sonar che sarà utilizzato è assolutamente silenzioso e totalmente innocuo per la flora e per la fauna locale, nell’ottica di rispetto del paesaggio inteso come patrimonio da tutelare e custodire.
L’iniziativa in corso segue il lavoro svolto nel corso degli ultimi anni dal piccolo centro lacustre in collaborazione con la “Rotta dei Fenici”, itinerario culturale riconosciuto dal Consiglio d’Europa, che si propone come un sistema di sinergie tra diversi Paesi (ben 18, e oltre ottocento città di origine e cultura fenicio-punica), che pone le basi dell’interculturalità come fondamento di un Itinerario Culturale Mediterraneo. E che ha visto il Comune di Tuoro inaugurare prima i percorsi annibalici, itinerari turistico-archeologici della Battaglia del Trasimeno, e poi il Centro di Documentazione a Palazzo del Capra, che sta registrando un buon successo di visite da parte di turisti e gite organizzate.
«Con questi rilievi – spiega Lorenzo Borgia, assessore alla Cultura del Comune di Tuoro – intendiamo apportare il nostro contributo alla ricerca di un nuovo rapporto tra l’uomo e il patrimonio culturale e naturale che lo circonda, confidando nei migliori risultati».

More on Alice Kober

Tip o’ the pileus to Ron Janoff (of New York Latin Leaflet fame) for alerting us to the existence online of Alice Kober’s papers … there are a pile of (mostly handwritten) letters in there which are definitely a fascinating read and give a glimpse into how Classical research was done before email, twitter, etc.:

… it might be worthwhile compiling online ‘papers collections’ of Classicists … hmmm