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Saturday, 21 April 2012

This book analyses the last century of the Western Roman empire. The fundamental thesis is that it was not the direct influence of the Huns or internal divisions in the Roman empire that lead to the collapse of the empire.

Instead the impact of Rome on the border regions lead to those societies becoming more sophisticated and politically unified. In the first and second century the Roman empire was vastly richer than the less civilised Germanic world. Indeed the beyond the edge of the empire was territory it was not economically viable to conquer(being far removed from the Mediterranean trade routes). The Germanic tribes were politically divided into many small groups. This individual small groups were unable to trouble the Roman empire, except by low level raiding. The Germanic armies were not professional soldier and lacked iron weapons, armour and training. This allowed the Romans to often win battles even when outnumbered by more than five to one.

The centuries that followed saw the gap between the Roman world and Germanic world narrowing. Trade and warfare between the two saw the Germanic world becoming more advance. The Germans gradually acquired more weapons and armour through trade and acting as mercenaries within the Roman empire. Meanwhile the various tribes fought to get closer to the Roman border which was a source of wealth. This saw a gradual consolidation into larger political groups.

The Romans were unable to simply address the threat presented by the Germanic tribes as they faced a rising empire to the East(Persia). They struggled throughout the period to defend their borders and to raise their tax rates to a high enough level to pay for an enlarged military. However they did manage to contain the Persian threat, although they were not able to defeat Persia decisively.

Germanic tribes from the start of the fifth century crossed the border and settled in Roman territory, initially some were accepted to assist in battling other groups. War with Persia distracted Rome from the issue. Eventually the sheer number of non-Roman within the empire lead to revolts and breakaway kingdoms that reduced the Roman tax base and so size of the professional army. This made it harder and harder to fight back and reunite the empire. The empire unravelled surprisingly quickly as North Africa, Spain and France fell became separate kingdoms.

The role of the Huns was indirect in that there rise forced the Germanic tribes into the Roman empire to escape their advance. But the Huns were numerically too small to destroy the Roman empire, and ultimately lacked the political organisation to survive and so did not establish a successor state to the Roman empire. Instead the Western world of the dark ages was then dominated by the political confederations of Goths, Alans, etc that began to cross the border in the 5th century.