August 13, 2011

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Tags: History, Podcasts

Available from iTunes or Oxford University Podcasts

This podcast is a single 41 minute (16.6MB) audio-only interview. In it Bryan Ward-Perkins of the Oxford University History Department answers questions about the fall of Rome. He has written a book on the same topic. The podcast is well produced.

Bryan Ward-Perkins contends that the Western Roman empire “fell” rather than declined, and that the transition was quite nasty for the previously Roman people. This is despite the newcomers (mainly Germanic tribes) often trying to imitate Roman culture. The fall occurred over different timespans in different parts of the empire. In Britain the collapse was very fast and deep, while in Italy it took a couple of centuries for complex society to fade away. After this time it is hard to tell what is happening in Western Europe (hence the name Dark Ages). This is not only because there is a paucity of literary works from this time, but also less archaeological evidence. People owned fewer things and new stone buildings were rarer. The use of small coins declined as trade diminished and anything other than the local market disappeared. For instance, in Britain producing pottery seems to have gone from a specialised profession to something done ad hoc by the people who needed it (rather than buy pottery from a market). Society became less connected and complex as the middle and lower classes dissolved into either the few extremely rich people or the vast poor peasants.