Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Empires and Barbarians

Things have been real busy lately - work's picking up and the kids are burying me with extracurricular activities, so I haven't had much time to post...or paint...or game even.  I still can find a bit of time though before lights out to read, so I figured I would post a quick recommendation for the latest history book I'm just finishing up - "Empires and Barbarians - The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe", by Peter Heather.

I've read a bit of Heather's other books, including "The Fall of the Roman Empire" published several years ago, and when first starting "Empires and Barbarians" I feared that this new book would be simply a rehash of that one.  I couldn't have been more wrong!  Where "The Fall of the Roman Empire" concentrated on the Roman point of view, "Empires and Barbarians" tells the story from the barbarians' perspective.  And the scope of the work is absolutely breathtaking - starting in the 3rd Century and extending to the end of the 10th Century.  The book is not a narrative history, and is probably not for someone who doesn't already have a good working familiarity with the events of the period covered, but it is jam packed with theories (some of which are surely controversial) and the latest information on modern migration theory, state formation, ethnogenesis, and archaeological research - all covered in a easy to read, conversational manner that makes it much easier to grasp the very complex content of the book.

"Empires and Barbarians" is just way too full of material for me to take the time and space for a full review here, but for those interested in the Fall of Rome period, and the somewhat misnamed "Dark Ages" period that followed, let me just state that Heather comes down in between the mass migration theories of the Volkwanderung, and the more modern theories of assimilation and elite population transfers.  There probably isn't a lot of directly applicable wargaming information in here, but if you find this period as fascinating as I have, then this is a must read.  A soon to be classic even.  Of special unique interest is Heather's theories on Slavic origins, the transformation of a good deal of what was once German speaking populations to Slavic speaking ones in a wide expanse of Europe, the Viking diaspora, and the increase in barbarian military capacity due to the transfer of wealth from over the Empire's borders into the Barbarian lands beyond.  Although I have never been personally opposed to more open immigration policies into the USA (I'm not sure that my own grandparents got in with "official" papers after all), and although Heather never actually makes any direct comparisons himself, it was inescapable while reading not to reflect on the issues of mass "illegal" immigration presently taking place into the American border states.

All in all, in my opinion, "Empires and Barbarians" is probably the best and most scholarly history book that I have read in the last several years.

Now to find some time to get back to wargaming and painting.  I have several units of Corvus Belli Marian Romans waiting to get finished up soon.

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