The Bottom Line
- Nice fleshing out of the situation and battle of Adrianople.
- Pleasing prose -- a credit to translator (Cullen) as well as Alessandro Barbero.
- Lack of notes/maps.
- Premise is not particularly well supported.
- Written from the perspective of a medievalist.
- Dates the Fall of Rome to 378, the date of Valens' disaster at the Battle of Adrianople.
- Gives social background on serfs.
- Points out the impact of ordinary city-dwelling commoners.
- Shows corruption and wisdom of key individuals.
- Shows Valens' tension between fighting in the East, managing the barbarian at the border, and besting Gratian.
- Fleshes out the undercurrents of hostility between Arian and Catholic Christians.
- Very short, popular history.
- Good companion to Rome's Gothic Wars.
Guide Review - The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire
The main problem with 378 as a date for the Fall of Rome is a kind of logical twist. Valens and Adrianople were in the East, yet the Eastern "half" of the Roman Empire didn't fall for more than a millennium, when it fell to the Ottoman Turks. It was the Western Empire that "fell" possibly as a result of the aftermath of the 378 battle, but not as a result of the battle itself. After Adrianople, the Eastern emperors made sure their part of the Roman Empire survived. They encouraged the barbarians to migrate west, fobbing off their problems.
What I particularly like about The Day of the Barbarians:
- Despite being a translation it is easy to read, yet filled with detail.
- It doesn't make the barbarians or the Romans more sympathetic than the other. Individuals were wise or corrupt. Cities acted collectively with little thought to the greater good. This makes it seem realistic and relevant for today.
- It is written by a medievalist, so instead of showing the Roman soldier as a legionary, he is a medieval knight in mail, lacking little but stirrups. The peasant farmer is clearly the embryonic medieval serf.