The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History
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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.
were greater than Odoacer’s, his reign lasted twice as long, and (most important and most mis- 106 s the ruin of the roman empire leading for history) he appears in abundant documents of many kinds. He made sure we had the wherewithal to tell his story, as I have already been telling it, and in this he was very shrewd and very Roman. We have returned now to the year 500, a midpoint in a rare and privileged moment of history, when two strong, successful rulers, neither of them a saint but
Anastasius extended an olive branch from Constantinople to Clovis over Theoderic’s head, sending him the papers making him an honorary consul. Theoderic The World That Might Have Been s 113 was right to sense conspiracy in the air, but strong enough to stand his ground without provoking or being provoked. He succeeded in deferring real risk until beyond the end of his own life, when Clovis’s successors more than once allied themselves with Constantinople against Italian regimes. Theoderic
exclusivity allowed Christians to make themselves satisfyingly unpopular. Persecution became their badge of success. Popular imagination probably still thinks of a long period of time in which hard-nosed Roman governors regularly pulled brave, dewy-eyed, idealistic Christians off the streets, tortured them, and then fed them to the lions. The facts are less glamorous, but the influential church historian Eusebius, a fourth-century contemporary and supporter of Constantine, imbued this idea with
colleagues were in correspondence with leading figures in Constantinople and if they were known to have supported reconciliation with Constantinople going back to the years of the Laurentian schism and then the years of bringing the Acacian schism to a halt, and if they had relatives and colleagues at court—then anything might be possible. To be fair, there is no direct evidence that either Theoderic or Boethius saw things this way, but we do have every reason to believe that this idea must have
Anastasius— Hypatius and Pompey—to the circus to acclaim them as emperors. Justinian had to respond to such overt provocation and sent troops into the circus to do their worst. One modern reader suspects (for suspicion is always the order of the day in Justinian’s Constantinople) collusion between the emperor and one of the apparent pretenders. Justinian intended to crack down on him and then take public credit for showing mercy. In the end, General Belisarius took things in hand, restoring peace