Empires and Barbarians presents a fresh, provocative look at how a recognizable Europe came into being in the first millennium AD. With sharp analytic insight, Peter Heather explores the dynamics of migration and social and economic interaction that changed two vastly different worlds - the undeveloped barbarian world and the sophisticated Roman Empire - into remarkably similar societies and states.
The book's vivid narrative begins at the time of Christ, when the Mediterranean circle, newly united under the Romans, hosted a politically sophisticated, economically advanced, and culturally developed civilization - one with philosophy, banking, professional armies, literature, stunning architecture, even garbage collection. The rest of Europe, meanwhile, was home to subsistence farmers living in small groups, dominated largely by Germanic speakers. Although having some iron tools and weapons, these mostly illiterate peoples worked mainly in wood and never built in stone. The farther east one went, the simpler it became: fewer iron tools and ever less productive economies. And yet 10 centuries later, from the Atlantic to the Urals, the European world had turned. Slavic speakers had largely superseded Germanic speakers in central and Eastern Europe, literacy was growing, Christianity had spread, and most fundamentally, Mediterranean supremacy was broken.
Bringing the whole of first millennium European history together, and challenging current arguments that migration played but a tiny role in this unfolding narrative, Empires and Barbarians views the destruction of the ancient world order in light of modern migration and globalization patterns.
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Enjoying the book, but the performance....
I am fascinated by the topic of the millennium which started during the Roman Empire and after its collapse, seemed to be a confused mess of Huns, Goths and Vandals. This author sheds light on what has been called the Dark Ages and brings to life the people and the ebb and flow of the societies which lived in Europe during the period. There is some repetition - my attention span is not so short that I needed to be reminded of the parallels with some 20th century events, which seemed to me to happen fairly frequently. However the attention to detail and scholarship of the author is amazing.
The performance needed a really good editor and some instruction for the narrator, however. I doubt if too many English peasants set sail for America in the 7th(sic) century. The first syllable in Pyrenees rhymes with fir, not fire, at least every time I have heard it said. I presume the word the author meant was 'denuded' not 'denunded' which I have not found in any dictionary. If such frequent errors could be corrected, it would certainly improve the experience, from which they currently detract. I am not a particularly pedantic or critical listener but the errors grate.
The sections which mention areas of northern France (Loire etc) as I am about to visit the area and will look at it this time with an enhanced awareness of its history and see the chateaux and their surroundings in the context of a much longer time span than previously. This book is helping me fill in the gaps in my knowledge of european society between Roman times and approximately 1000AD.
Please let me know when the errors have been corrected - I think the author is owed this attention.
The Perils of Pronunciation
It is terribly sad when a good book is ruined due to insufficient preparations on the part of the reader and/or audiobook producer. Peter Heather's "Empires and Barbarians" is positively brimming with names of people, places, cultures etc. most of which are not familiar to the average listener. The recording would have been so much better if the reader and producer had spent a couple of hours figuring out how to pronounce things. Asking the author, e.g., might have been a good idea. As it stands, the recording is a complete failure. Some of the worst cases are almost unidentifiable without access to the printed text.