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Review - Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard's 'AD 410 The Year That Shook Rome'


AD410 The Year That Shook Rome

AD410 The Year That Shook Rome

The British Museum

AD 410 The Year That Shook Rome, by Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard, was published in the U.S., by the J. Paul Getty Museum, and in the UK, by the British Museum Press, in 2010 -- exactly 1600 years after the events.

Like other museum books, AD 410 is lavishly illustrated, with 78 colored photos of sites, coins, mosaics, bas relief sculptures, and other artifacts. The 184-page book is a visual delight, but that hardly gets at the reasons AD 410 The Year That Shook Rome should make a fine addition to the book collections of the general reader interested in the period of the late Empire and the Fall of Rome.

410 A Significant Year

Unlike the similarly titled 428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire, which is about a year that was not momentous, AD 410 The Year That Shook Rome is about an extraordinary year. It is about the year 410, when Alaric sacked Rome -- a year that is arguably a better choice than 476 for the date of the Fall of Rome. But AD 410 doesn't begin and end in that year. It tells the story of the Rome's fall beginning roughly with Diocletian's tetrarchy, and going through the aftermath of the Goth's sack of Rome to the death of Galla Placidia, mother/sister/daughter/wife of Roman emperors, and erstwhile sister-in-law of the Visigoth king Alaric.

Works on the Fall of Rome

AD 410 The Year That Shook Rome comes a few years after a spate of re-examinations of the Fall of Rome. It incorporates the old standards, like Gibbon, but also cites many insightful modern works, like Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell. AD 410 includes a thorough cast of characters, timeline, 3 maps, list of original sources, index, and an appropriately concise collection of footnotes.

Good Story-Telling

My favorite feature of AD 410 is the writing. Picking a chapter at random, you can get a sense for the clear style of a story-teller. The authors, who have delivered cruise ship lectures to the general public (in addition to more standard Classics-related work), are particularly skilled at breathing life back into a cast of long-dead characters. Introducing Constantine, they write:

"Although later in life he liked to cut a dash, with his long hair, jewelled robes and gem-encrusted helmet, Constantine was an army man to his bones."

There is a subtle, underlying sense of humor. On the topic of religion, they write as though the gods were campaigning:

"[T]here had still been a multitude of gods all jostling for attention from potential worshippers."

The authors don't hesitate to criticize the sources, as when they explain why it was important to show the Goths being respectful of the Christian institutions:

"Orosius was a Christian with an agenda -- to show how merciful Christians can be, even while sacking a city."
AD 410 The Year That Shook Rome
By Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard
Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2010
184 Pages
ISBN 978-1-60606-024-7

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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