A New History of the Roman Empire


I’m about 100 pages into Peter Heather’s really gripping book, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History. It’s a great read. I wish I had more time just to sit down and get through to the end. (We kind of know how the story ends….but Heather offers important explanations for why it ended that way.)

3 Responses to “A New History of the Roman Empire”

  1. Adam Allouba

    Hi Tom, hope you’re doing well. I’m curious as to which you think is more relevant as a cautionary tale for us, the history of the Roman Republic or that of the Empire. I’ve read a couple of histories of the fall of the Republic (Sword Against the Senate and Tom’s Holland’s Rubicon, which I found by far the better of the two) and just bought a broader history of that period from the founding of the city of Rome until Augustus.

    I’ve read lots of pieces comparing the US to the Roman Empire and drawing parallels between America today and the later years of that ancient era. The Republic seems more relevant to me, since it was a period of (relative) liberty ended by ambition and war. The Empire just doesn’t seem as interesting as a lesson for today. I’m wondering what you think and what other periods in history are examples for today (Weimar Germany springs to mind).

    – Adam

  2. Tom G. Palmer

    Hello, Adam! I hope you’re well, too. (We need to catch up by phone sometime.)

    What an interesting set of questions. Unlike the empire, we do still have seriously republican institutions, but we have acquired some of the trappings of an empire, in the form of foreign dependencies. (Unlike the Roman provinces, however, the foreign dependencies of the US do not provide booty to the U.S., but are net drains on the American taxpayer.)

    I’m also more interested in the history of the republic and its demise. The Roman Constitution was a remarkably complex set of rules and practices that had as their main intent making it very difficult for any person or group of persons to gather supreme authority and power to themselves. It did work rather well for a time. Notably, the first Emperor, Augustus, maintained the forms of the republic, but destroyed its substance. That, by itself, is an important lesson.

  3. William H. Stoddard

    Robinson Jeffers was certainly aware of the parallels; they show up very strongly in his World War II volume of verse, “Be Angry at the Sun” (now almost forgotten because of its antiwar and antistate message). Give it a look sometime if you can find it.

    “It is war, and no man can see an end of it. We must put freedom away and stiffen into bitter empire.
    All Europe was hardly worth the precarious freedom of one of our states; what will her ashes fetch?”

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