Analistas

The fall of Rome: setting the record straight

GUARDAR

According to Mr. Potter: “The ‘barbarians’ who were ‘responsible’ for the ‘fall’ of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. were not a wave of desperate migrants. They were a collection of disgruntled employees.”

It’s true. Many of the groups who ended up invading the Roman Empire were originally clients that had been hired, subsidized or bribed (it’s hard to tell the difference) to serve the empire at a time when its own military capacity was waning. And this isn’t just a story about the western empire, or about Rome.

I’m currently reading “In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire” by Robert G. Hoyland; I read Tom Holland’s “In the Shadow of the Sword” a while back. Both books portray the rise of Islam as something very different from the image that I and, I suspect, many other people had.

It turns out that when it comes to the Roman Empire, we are not talking about Bedouin peoples, inspired by faith, suddenly swooping out of the desert on unsuspecting lands. The soldiers and generals who conquered Persia and much of the Byzantine Empire were, most likely, mainly drawn from long-established client states on the Persian and Byzantine borders – men who learned the art of war and much else from the people who hired them. They turned first into raiders, drawn by the Roman Empire’s weakness, then into conquerors when that weakness – exacerbated by an exhaustingly destructive war between Persia and Byzantium – proved so great that resistance to their raids collapsed. In other words, the Arab conquests were quite a lot like the Visigoth conquests in the west, at least at first.

And as Mr. Hoyland points out, the Arabs weren’t the only peripheral powers making big inroads at the time. The Avars, for example, swept up to the walls of Constantinople a few years before the Arab conquest, and various Turkic groups wreaked havoc on Persia.

What was different about the Arabs was the way that they achieved political and religious unity. But while that was a momentous accomplishment with huge consequences, it was probably a much messier and slower process than we tend to imagine, mainly taking place after, not before, the initial conquests. This notion of a great holy war is probably a story that was invented centuries later.

So how much light does any of this shed on current events? Little, if any.

GUARDAR
MÁS LR

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MÁS LR

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