Since the power of the Roman Empire rested on its military, Heather starts with a look at the Roman legions, the ambush of one of Caesar's legions by the Germanic Eburones, and the establishment of an imperial border at the Rhine/Danube, leaving those east of it beyond the Empire.
Heather introduces a recurring character in his book, Symmachus, a Roman aristocrat whose prolific letter-writing provides insight into 4th century Rome. By then, Rome had ceded status to Trier, Milan, Constantinople, and Antioch, and barbarians were surpassing old senatorial families.
2. Chapter 2 BarbariansGermanic tribes destroyed 3 Roman legions under Varus in A.D. 9. The Romans did not stop their expansion into German land because of this temporary set back. The profitability of expansion had diminished. Decent revenue could be generated from the materialistic peoples in the Celtic-German area, those of the La Tene culture, but not in the less settled Jastorf region. Rome also faced a costly "barbarian" threat was from the East, from the Persians, who after the Arsacid dynasty killed Crassus, had not caused trouble for the Empire until the Arsacids were replaced by the militarily capable Sassanian Dynasty.
3. Chapter 3 The Limits of EmpireStarting with a scandal on a par with the 2 military disasters, Lepcisgate shows how bureaucracy-dependent and extended the empire had become. The no longer divine, but still sacred emperor had to depend on the word of his subordinates and couldn't always ferret out lies (treason). By the fourth century law was protecting landowners, about 5% of the population, owning more than 80% of the land. Landowners were also eager for the bureaucratic positions that paid little, but enabled them to use their initiative to supplement their income.
4. Chapter 4 War on the DanubePerhaps as many as 200,000 Tervingi and Greuthingi Goths seeking homes in the Empire appear on the Danube in 376, at the start of the first chapter of the second section (Crisis). The Huns -- lightly equipped horse archers, seeking plunder or by accident, had precipitated the Goths' migration. The Romans under Valens may have seen the Goths as an opportunity for army recruits. However, the Goths were unhappy with their settlement and revolted. War between Rome and the Goths went on from 376 until a settlement on October 3, 382. During this was the disastrous Battle of Hadrianople in which Valens was killed.
5. Chapter 5 The City of GodIn August 410 A.D. Goths sacked Rome, spared the religious structures and took Galla Placidia, sister of the reigning emperor Honorius. Between 405-408 there were 4 major barbarian incursions into the Empire. Radagaisus, a Gothic king, led a force across the Alps; originally from west of the Carpathian Mountains, Vandals, Alans, and Suevi crossed the Rhine into Gaul, Uldin, a Hunnic leader, crossed the Danube; and the Burgundians who had been just beyond a Roman frontier line between the Upper Rhine and Upper Danube, moved to the province of Lower Germania. Stilicho and Flavius Constantius handled the barbarians.
6. Chapter 6 Out of AfricaConstantius died suddenly in 421, leaving his wife Galla Placidia with a daughter Iusta Grata Honorius who would some day write to Attila the Hun, and a son Valentinian born in 419, who was proclaimed Caesar (Valentinian III) on October 23, 424. There were 3 main men trying to gain control while Valentinian was young, Felix, the magister militum in Italy, Aetius (the last great Roman) in Gaul, and Boniface, who was loyal to Galla Placidia, in Africa. Aetius won the 3-way power struggle.
The barbarians were encroaching further into Roman territory, with the Vandals taking over Rome's African bread basket.
7. Chapter 7 Attila the HunHeather explains why he believes the Huns, under Attila, were able to create so much trouble for the Romans. He believes that they had increased the people in their domain to the point that they had become a rival superpower -- like Persia. As a superpower, the Huns were able to command bank-breaking yearly tributes and force many Roman cities to surrender. By 452, Rome had lost to the barbarians Britain, most of Spain (Suevi), the richest parts of North Africa (Vandals and Alans), and parts of southern Gaul (Visigoths and Burgundians).
8. Chapter 8 The Fall of the Hunnic EmpireThe start of the third section (Fall of Empires) discusses the aftermath of the death of Attila. His sons could not hold the empire together.
"Politically dependent upon military victory and the flow of gold, it was bound to make war to the point of its own defeat, then be pushed by that defeat into internal crisis."Among the Romans, the western emperor Valentinian killed Aetius and then was killed by Maximus who had hoped to assume Aetius' position. Maximus sent the Gallic Avitus, father-in-law of the poet Sidonius, as ambassador to Visigoths to seek a military alliance.