The dream Alexander the Great and Juluis Caesar shared of uniting Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East in a single cimmunity shuddered and then collapsed in the wars and disasters of the sixth century. It was a looking-glass world, where some Romans idealized the Persian emperor while barbarian kinds in Italy and France worked tirelessly to save the pieces of the Roman dream they had inherited. At the center of the old Roman Empire, in his vast and pompous Constantinople palace, the emeperor Justinian, with too little educationa nd too much religion, set out to restore his empire to its glories. Step by step, the things he did to bring back the past sealed the doom of his entire civilization.
Historian and classicist James J. O'Donnell – who last brought us his masterful, disturbing, and revelatory biographyof Saint Augustine – revisits this old story in a fresh way, bringing home its sometimes painful relevance to issues of our own time.
With unexpected detail and in his hauntingly vivid style, O'Donnell beings at a time of apparent Roman revival and brings us 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 foreshadow our own crises and offers hints how to navigate them – if we 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 (Augustine), 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.Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.