Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Roman Empire and its Germanic people

This is an academic book, written by an Austrian Professor who spent most of his life studying the history of the Germanic people.

If you imagine an academic book, written by an Austrian to be extremely dry and conservative then you will not be disappointed. 

It has taken a long time to finish this book. One of my new years resolutions was to get through that pile of unfinished books,which this is one of many that takes up space on  my book shelves. Though the conservatism (is that a word?) style of this book has been the main reason for not finishing it, another reason has been that my interest in Rome stops at the fall of the Western Empire. This book goes up  to the dawn of the early medieval period. 

Whilst this book is tough going, there is  tons of interesting facts and gems of information. I particular found interesting the effect of Schisms on the early founding of Europe, the obsession with blood lines and the continuation of the idea of Rome.  

The author's thesis (I think!)  is that the Western Roman Empire never fell Per Se, more that the Germanic tribes on the borders, actually became more Roman than the Romans themselves at the time. The ideals were carried on through the various Germanic tribes and their Kings who carved up Europe in the sixth and seventh century. 

This is explained through a complex journey through the tribal structures, Papal Rome, Arianism , Constantinople & the barbarian migrations(which he is keen to stress the word migration and not invasion). Wolfram goes into great detail and cross referencing throughout this book which he backs up with time-lines and genealogy charts in that wonderfully conservative and efficient style of his. 

In a non conservative way, I'll attempt to get the gist across;

Let us say, I'm King of the Ostrogoth and one day  I decide I want to  go and sack Rome. Constantinople (Where the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire sits) lends me their support (they dream of a united empire again). I then get bit of an Ego and claim to trace my bloodline back to the great emperors of Rome. I am victorious and take Rome, and then Constantinople tells me that  God and Jesus are the same. I say how can that be ?

Constantinople doesn't like the fact that I am questioning them, so they  then sends troops to get me out of Rome, so I runaway to a city called  Ravenna and declare that this is now the capital. 

Whilst this has been going on my second cousin who married my sisters mother and has been sunning up in Spain with the Visigoths and his web feet. Decides that he would like to have a go at Rome. 

Constantinople hearing this,  says sorry and asks can we defend the eternal city, if we agree to differ whether God and Jesus can be the same person. So I move my armies to the walls of Rome in defence.

When meeting my cousin, we agree a truce (after all, we have the bloodline of true Romans) as long as I marry his daughter who is also my aunt.  We  then decide to sack Rome and then head off to sack Constantinople.  After a long siege, they manage to hold out and chase mine and my cousins army back to Northern Italy.  Getting a bit fed up about the whole Rome and Constantinople business, we continue to rule form Ravenna and start introducing true Roman laws and customs. Which are in fact very similar to the existing laws - but ours are purer

We then have a bit of a falling out as my cousin asks if Jesus is in  fact God.  This is the cue for Papal Rome to say that actually, There is God, Jesus AND the holy spirit. One of my slaves laps this up and kills me in the middle of night and marries my widow. He has the full support of Papal Rome and the cheeky buggy steals all my hard work in laying down the pure roman idea, and we are now at the start of paving our way to the Holy Roman Empire... 

Whilst this is all happening, the Arabs are beginning to creep up on the borders, The Frankish kingdom is building up and out of no where the Slavs have begun to appear.  My cousin by the way has accepted a large about of money from the usurper and is now enjoying a nice Duchy somewhere near the Alps - with dancing girls.

I have heard this is a book is a good counter read to Gibbon's Decline and Fall, which I have not yet read, mainly because I want an old version that has hand scribbled notes in the margins. I always keep an eye out in junk shops and second hand books for such a copy, and there have been a few almost s. My copy is out there somewhere. 

There were quite a few (lots in fact) times when reading this, I had to reach for the dictionary or a quick google search, but a couple of things I do want to read further about is 

Theodoric the Great who had a roman education as a child hostage in Constantinople who then went onto become King of The Ostrogoths, ruler of Italy and regent of the Visigoths. 

The Avars who were an organised Nomadic people who were around a lot longer than the Huns, but we know far more about the Huns that we do them. 

One final thing to mention, I am no position to say whether Wolfram's theses is right or not, but one point that he makes clear all throughout, which I agree with is the Hun's weren't wiped out, the Romans weren't wiped out, the vandals weren't wiped out, etc etc. Immigration and migration played a far bigger part and this power struggle to divide Europe involved a very small elite group of people 

Its not quite this black and white but If me and you were living at that time, the only thing we might have noticed about this huge period of transgression in our history was; Some months we would be paying our tax to someone else and bloody hell someone has bought up the subject of  is Jesus God again. 

Certainly not a book for the beach, but I am glad I did get around to finish it.

The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples - Amazon Link

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