“An exotic and instructive tale, told with life, learning and just the right measure of laughter on every page. O’Donnell combines a historian’s mastery of substance with a born storyteller’s sense of style to create a magnificent work of art.” — Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
The dream Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar shared of uniting Europe, the Medi-terranean, and the Middle East in a single community shuddered and then collapsed in the wars and disasters of the sixth century. Historian and classicist James J. O'Donnell—who last brought readers his masterful, disturbing, and revelatory biography of Saint Augustine—revisits this old story in a fresh way, bringing home its sometimes painful relevance to today's issues.
With unexpected detail and in his hauntingly vivid style, O'Donnell begins at a time of apparent Roman revival and brings readers to the moment of imminent collapse that just preceded the rise of Islam. Illegal migrations of peoples, religious wars, global pandemics, and the temptations of empire: Rome's end foreshadows today's crises and offers hints how to navigate them—if present leaders will heed this story.
The Roman empire was not invaded by barbarians in the fifth century, says classical historian O Donnell. Rather, these tribes Visigoths, Vandals and others were refugees who crossed into the empire in search of a place to settle. These migrants were turned into enemies by Rome. O Donnell , former provost of Georgetown, supports this controversial thesis by drawing on primary sources to analyze the geopolitical errors that led to Rome s fall. Emperor Theodoric, he says, had preserved social order and prosperity among the various peoples of the vast empire. But seven years later, Justinian squandered that good order. He failed to make peace with Persia in the east by not emphasizing a common interest of trade; he failed to establish good relations with the kings of the western Mediterranean and to develop his own homeland, the Balkans; finally, by banning certain Christian sects, he alienated some border regions and sowed the seeds of rebellion. These failures not only divided the empire, they made it vulnerable to attack from peoples that had once been friends. O Donnell s richly layered book provides significant glimpses into the many factors that leveled a mighty empire. 20 illus. and maps.