Monday, September 11, 2006

History as fable

Rome never fell and the barbarians were really nice people who just got bad press. This view, advanced by fashionable historians, motivated Bryan Ward-Perkins to write "The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization". The Amazon editorial review introduces the book in this way:

Was the fall of Rome a great catastrophe that cast the West into darkness for centuries to come? Or, as scholars argue today, was there no crisis at all, but simply a peaceful blending of barbarians into Roman culture, an essentially positive transformation? In The Fall of Rome, eminent historian Bryan Ward-Perkins argues that the "peaceful" theory of Rome's "transformation" is badly in error. Indeed, he sees the fall of Rome as a time of horror and dislocation that destroyed a great civilization, throwing the inhabitants of the West back to a standard of living typical of prehistoric times. Attacking contemporary theories with relish and making use of modern archaeological evidence, he looks at both the wider explanations for the disintegration of the Roman world and also the consequences for the lives of everyday Romans, who were caught in a world of economic collapse, marauding barbarians, and the rise of a new religious orthodoxy. The book recaptures the drama and violence of the last days of the Roman world, and reminds us of the very real terrors of barbarian occupation. Equally important, Ward-Perkins contends that a key problem with the new way of looking at the end of the ancient world is that all difficulty and awkwardness is smoothed out into a steady and positive transformation of society. Nothing ever goes badly wrong in this vision of the past. The evidence shows otherwise.


One day fifteen hundred years from today, historians may sit down and ask themselves whether America was truly attacked by radical Islamists on September 11, 2001 or whether the event was part of the multicultural blending which had been long awaited; an essentially positive transformation. Scholars in that distant future once believed the "al-Qaeda" to be a band of murderous brigands, but after the discovery and decontamination of archives from something called the New York Times, revised their assessment to regard them as merely a group of individuals seeking redress for accumulated grievances inflicted by the Great Right Wing Conspiracy, whose exact nature will still not have been determined.

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