Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire Essay (Book Review)


Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire is a classic work written by E.A Thompson. The book investigates the fall of the Roman Empire from a barbarian point of view and experience. Many interpretations forwarded on the decline of the Roman Empire in the West look at the barbarians invaders as slayers.

However, the author is of the opinion that the correlation between those invaded and the raiders was more complex than many people believe. He is of the view that we fail to understand the barbarian ways and attitudes and therefore, fail to understand them. The information in the book is thoroughly researched and the author gives the reader an insight into one of the most misinterpreted period of the Roman Empire.

E.A. Thompson has been praised by many scholars for his book Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire for his thorough research and detailed account of events that took place in during the Dark Ages.

Edward Arthur Thompson was born on 22 May 1914 and died on 1 January 1994. He was a British classicist and a professor at the University of Nottingham where he taught from 1948 to 1979. Most of the works he wrote from a Marxist perspective and he maintained the argument that the Visigoths were settled in the Aquantine in an attempt to counter internal threat faced by the peasant bagaudae.

Although he left the communist Party of Great Britain that was seen to be pro-Soviet in 1956, in his academic work he continued demonstrating a Marxist oriented outlook on historical events. His interest in the class structure of the societies and the material needs is seen to structure his studies.


Before the past decade, before the book was published there had been a remarkable increase in publications in Late Antiquity. Unlike other scholars, Thompson concentrated his research on the Germanic people who lived in the Dark Ages during the Age of Migrations. The book contains twelve essays that deal with the fate of the Western provinces of the then Roman Empire.

It focuses on the last days of the Roman Empire and experiences the inhabitants had before the Northerners began their rule. The Romans referred to the Northerners as barbarians and did not believe their empire could fall.

The authors historical reconstruction are based on the research he carried out on all available ancient sources and he is successful in displaying the transition that saw the change from Roman rule to the Northerners. The traits of the essays give the book a quality that is both timely and priceless.

Analysis of the book

The book begins by addressing The Settlement of Barbarians in Southern Gaul’ in the first chapter. They are said to have settled in the year AD 418, and the author continues to explore the Germanic and Samaritaian groups that were travelling through Gaul and Spain during those times. From this chapter the author is able to show the reader how the fall of the Roman Empire began with these migrations.

In the following chapter, the author tries to summarize the history of the earlier Visigoths and this he does up to when they permanently settle in Spain. The third chapter of the book looks at the nominal date that saw the fall of the Roman Western Empire in 476. These chapters are instrumental in laying a foundation for the chapters that follow and gives some of the important dates in the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

From the fourth chapter to the final twelfth chapter, the author concentrates on giving the reader accounts of the numerous wars that were seen between the Easterner Roman Empire and the Goths. He also gives a detailed account of the Spanish events that occurred during the 5th and 6th centuries.

The author takes three chapters of the book to narrate on t conquer of Spain by the barbarians. He goes further and talks on the fall of the Suevic kingdom of Galicia at the hands of the hands of the barbarians.

In another chapter, he dedicates on narrating about the fall of Noricum, which was one of the last holdings of the Romans in the West at the end of the 5th century. It is in this chapter that we see the last epigraphic evidence of the Roman Soldiers coming. The most interesting part of the book is when the author recounts the stay of the barbarians in Spain as well as the lives of the Vandals and Ostrogoths during the 6th century.

Unlike other books written on the Western Roman Empire such as Roman Britain by Malcolm Todd that give detailed accounts of the barbarian settlement in Britain, there is little information in the book about the settlement.

However, the book talks on the Italian outlook on the Byzantine’ conquest that happened in the 6th century in detail. The author talks of the collaboration between the barbarians and the Romans as well as how they accepted Christianity.

He supports his arguments by giving examples of how the barbarians adopted the way of life of the Romans and he gives bizarre cases of the Romans adopting the barbarian’s ways in the last chapters. At the end of the book the author gives the story of Bacaudaue and this is followed by a comprehensive list of the ancient sources he used while writing the book.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Through his book, Thompson is successful in giving his readers an insight in to the last days of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of the Northerners rule. Through his research, he gives accounts of the major happening during the Dark Ages and gives exact dates.

This is useful for students learning about the late Roman Empire and the rise of the Northern rule. The book may be used as a source of much information on the history of the Germanic people and their way of life.

Anyone researching on the medieval history of Europe and the Mediterranean region will also find this book very useful. Thompson is able to state his arguments and offer evidence through his extensive research and the numerous examples he gives in his book.

This is a very informative book and I would recommend to anyone seeking for an erudite examination of Western Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empires and how they relate.

It is also good if you are looking for information on the history of the Goths, Sueves and Vandals during the AD 418-700. However, if you are looking for a book expecting to be entertained by the barbarian stories then this is not the right book for you to buy.

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