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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: AD 410 The Year that Shook Rome

AD 410: The Year That Shook RomeAD 410: The Year That Shook Rome by Sam Moorhead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The British Museum Press is famous for producing clear, well-illustrated books about archaeological subjects, and this volume is no exception. It focuses on Alaric the Visigoth's sacking of Rome in 410 AD, a momentous event that signaled the imminent collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

The authors go into detail about the politics that led to the sacking, especially Rome's mismanagement of the Visigoths. This Germanic tribe was fleeing the Huns from the east, and wanted only some land and food, offering loyalty and military help in return. The Romans in their arrogance spurned the Visigoths' offer and instead starved and massacred them. Alaric comes off as forgiving to a fault in this narrative and the Romans missed several opportunities to make good.

The book follows several other stories as well, including the clash between paganism and an emergent Christianity, rebellions in Africa and Britain, and relations with the Eastern Roman Empire, later to be called Byzantium.

Long quotes from several contemporary writers liven up the text, and there's a helpful Who's Who and annotated bibliography in the back. While any serious student of Late Antiquity will find little that is new, the educated lay reader for whom this book is targeted will find this an enjoyable, somewhat complex, and enlightening read.

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