[lit-ideas] Re: Rome and the Barbarians

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:37:36 -0700 (PDT)

Odoacre had to apply to the Eastern empire in order to obtain some form of 
legitimacy, and he was granted the title of patrician. One reason he could not 
apply for the title of emperor was that Julius Nepos, who had been previously 
named an emperor in the West by Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I (and was married to 
Leo's niece) was still alive at the time.

On Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:22 PM, "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx> 
Yes, the Barbarians, not the Barberinis!

In a message dated 4/10/2014 2:52:28 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx writes:
"What an interesting piece, at least for  someone whose period is not 
Roman.  I particularly liked the suggestion at  the end that one reason there 
so many theories is that there is so little  evidence.  I began work right 
away on Ritchie's Law, an equation  demonstrating the relationship between 
volume of evidence V and number of  theories N, when I realized that escaping 
this law's embrace would be Theory  (with a big T), that wadge of 
scholarship which exists with its own particular  relationship to evidence.  
Theory have to have its own equation or  equations, possibly in some manner 
akin to the relationship between Newtonian  and Quantum equations?  And then I 
remembered Elizabeth Potter's recent  book suggesting links among Boyle's 
law and class and gender relations in the  era in which it was created.  What 
might I be demonstrating about my own  humble existence if I went through 
with the project?  Discouraged, I cast  about for a more manageable task, 
making for example small changes in the design  of the Brompton bike, which was 
invented by an un-related Ritchie who, it seems  to me, may have folded a 

For the record, below, extracts  from the Italian HISTORIOGRAPHY (of the 
so-called or alleged 'fall' of the Roman  Empire -- I follow Brown in using 
scare quotes). 

Next: the Barberinis  and the second sack of Rome, as per Pasquino?  (*)




(*) The famous pasquinata:  "Non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini" -- 
quello che non hanno fatto i  barbari, hanno fatto i Barberini.

Heather's book was translated to the  Italian, but I don't think complete 
with subtitle -- with the PROVOCATIVE  subtitle by Heather, I mean, which 
explicitly makes a mention to the barbarians  ("Aren't we all?").

I'll try to paraphrase each paragraph of  Heather's complex theory as 
historiographically examined by the It. Wikipedia  at


"HEATHER, in contrasto con sostenitori della teoria della caduta  
dell'Impero come una "trasformazione" senza rotture brusche, afferma in "La  
dell'Impero romano: una nuova storia"  che la causa prima della  "caduta" 
dell'Impero fu l'evento devastante delle invasioni  barbariche."

--- which is what L. Helm was emphasizing. Indeed,  the very phrase, ‘
barbarian invasion’ seems theory-laden. I would prefer to  speak of migration 
due, who knows, to over-population (those Germanics kept  reproducing!)

The Italian wiki goes on:

“Heather afferma che Roma,  per affrontare la minaccia sasanide, dovette 
concentrare buona parte delle sue  forze (il 40% dell'esercito romano 
d'Oriente) sul limes orientale.”

I  think the idea of ‘pars occidentalis’ and ‘pars orientalis’ is a good 
cause. I  mean, what’s the good of an empire which is going to have two 
parts. Imagine if  Victoria (the Queen) had allowed for Australasia to be part 
of the Eastern  British Empire! “Stuff and nonsense!” – she would typically 
NOT be  amused.

The Wikipedia goes on:

“Secondo la storiografia più  diffusa tale riorganizzazione dello stato, 
operata da Diocleziano e Costantino I  nel tentativo di risolvere la crisi 
persiana, portò a un declino generalizzato  dell'economia”.

I.e. imperial bureaucracy meant economic decline. I can  identify with that!

--- and this brought an increase in  taxation.

“Heather smentisce queste tesi di un declino generalizzato  dell'economia 
rurale nel tardo impero sulla base di recenti studi  archeologici”

This is interesting in that it mentions the EVIDENCE. For  indeed, here, 
for the historian, the issue is between THEORY and  EVIDENCE.

For the philosopher of history (alla Montesquieu, or Hegel, or  – Grice!) 
it may be different!

Heather speaks of a “fiscalismo oppressivo  del Tardo Impero” – an 
oppressive fiscalism. Which reminds me of a Tea Party at  Boston (I never say 

Of course one has to distinguish of the  once and future Italy (and Roma, 
the eternal city) and the Roman empire proper.  The evidence Heather gathers 
is extra-Italian, it seems. What is a fact, though  is what the Wikipedia 
refers to as 

“a partire dal IV secolo, un declino  nelle città” – of the cities, 
including Rome.

A decline in the city of  Rome – which I think is in the end, unless you 
are a proud Roman, a good thing,  since there is more to Italy than the 

What happened, and this  I think is retained in the passage Ritchie was 
referring to:

"i literati  proprietari terrieri provinciali ora volsero la loro 
attenzione a dov'era il  denaro … passato dalle politiche provinciali e locali 
burocrazie  imperiali."

So what about the ‘bararians’ that count, i.e. the Germans?  (or 
Germanic)? – since it was the Germanic people who held military office as  more 
less mercenary – fighting ‘for the glory of Rome’, yet holding an  underlying 
different idea of ‘nationality’ (or kinship).

“La crescita  della prosperità dovuta ai contatti con l'Impero aveva 
condotto a disparità di  ricchezza sufficienti a creare una classe dominante in 
grado di mantenere il  controllo su molti più gruppi rispetto che in 
precedenza, con il risultato che i  "barbari" erano diventati una minaccia più 

The Germanic  borderline tribes then were becoming ‘rich’ and developing a 
royal  elite.

If Ritchie mentions his law, so does Heather. He uses what he  calls the 
third principle of dynamics:

“L'estrema aggressività dello  stato romano nei confronti dei "Germani" 
abbia portato a una reazione uguale e  opposta che abbia permesso ai Germani di 
reagire alla supremazia romana  riorganizzando la propria società in modo 
da riuscire a liberarsi dalla  dominazione romana, giungendo infine a 
provocarne la caduta.”

The alleged  ‘fall’ of the Romans then was a logical even physical effect 
of their aggression  towards the Germans which was soon enough reciprocated.

At this point  Heather introduces the Huns and the "effetto domino".

It was the Huns who  got the “Visigoti, Vandali, Alani, Svevi, Burgundi a 
entrare all'interno dei  confini dell'Impero.”

---- and recall that while the Romans cared to  build a few walls in 
Northern Britain, the Continent was less  protected?

At this point Heather mentions the co-alition, if that’s the  word, of 
different Germanic tribes, which looked puzzling to me – In what used  to be 
Roman Britannia, after all, the Angles were fighting against the Saxons  and 
the Jutes. So, it was not in their blood to co-operate, as they did,  however, 
to join forces against the Romans.

numerica rispetto agli  invasori del V secolo, stimati intorno a 
110.000-120.000 guerrieri.[30] 
But  it would be simplistic on Heather’s part to JUST blame the Barbarian 
or Germanic  movements.

“Inoltre le lotte all'interno dello stato romano per la  conquista del 
potere imperiale tra i generali.”

I.e. there was an  internal (or what I would call intestine or civil, even) 
war, as it were, within  the corridors of power within the “Roman state” 
(whatever that was at the time),  with one goal, according to Heather: the 
conquest of Imperial power, and this  was pursued among the warlords – where I 
would read it to mean “Roman” generals,  proper.

For Heather, the Barbarians, or Germans, were what Aristotle  would call 
the ‘efficient cause’, even alla Leibniz. Quoting from Heather, the  
Wikipedia has:

“Senza i barbari, non ci sono prove del fatto che nel V  secolo l'Impero 
avrebbe comunque cessato di esistere.”

I.e. you can speak  of the bureaucracy, and the rest of it, but “without 
the Barbarians,” there are  no proofs (again, note Heather’s emphasis on 
matters of evidence rather than  free theorising) of the ‘fact’ that the Empire 
‘fell’, when the last emperor  ‘abdicated’ – even if his life was spared, 
he was giving a princely pension, and  his ‘successor’ showed all the 
respect he could, calling himself ‘rex Italiae’,  king of Italy, all the Roman 
institutions like the Senate – and stuff. He even  learned proper Italian!

The local Roman (ethnically Roman, as it were)  army could not, according 
to Heather, cope with “dei foederati germanici”, the  Germanic foederati – 
there is no strict translation for this, but ‘federal’  comes to mind.

“provocando”, according to Heather, “la “caduta” finale  dell'Impero e la 
formazione dei regni romano-barbarici”, i.e. the formation of  the kingdoms 
(such as the kingdom of Italy, under Odoacre) which Heather labels  ‘
Roman-barbarian’, but some prefer to label ‘Latin-German’ or Roman-Germanic’  
(to avoid the hateful implicature of ‘barbarian’ especially vis-à-vis 
theories  that are built on the base of the VIRTUES these peoples brought to 
the  s

“Tuttavia Heather non ritiene che la "caduta" di Roma fosse per  questi 
rapporti di forze inevitabile ma, a suo parere, fu dovuta anche alla  casualità 
di vari avvenimenti che se avessero avuto esito diverso avrebbero  potuto 
ritardarla anche di molto.”

This point above I found of interest,  and a cross-reference of 
meta-history and philosophy of history. Surely there is  no HISTORICAL 
and I wonder what readership Heather is having in  mind (not philosophers!). 
On top of that, Heather enages in counter-factual  reasoning that HAS been 
criticized by philosophers of history (such as  Danto?).

At this point, there is a mention of a battle loss. And this can  be 
generalized. In the standard historiography which is political, rather than  
social, it is all about who wins what battle. And surely Heather can occupy a  
few passages expanding on what battles the Romans could have won that would 
NOT  have led to the alleged ‘fall’ of the Empire.

(I prefer another trend in  historiography: Odoacre could NOT have used the 
title of ‘emperor’, because he  was just a ‘patrician’ of the ‘pars 
orientalis’ of the Empire. Hence he chose to  call himself ‘rex’, king. Had he 
maintained the title of emperor, the ‘fall’  would not have happened, and 
Humpty Dumpty would still be sitting up on the  wall!

At this point, Heather mentions the “fallimento della spedizione,  dovuto 
anche a sfortuna meteorological”, which reminds me of Cleopatra’s nose. I  
mean, how are we to interpret historical change? My ultimate take is  
INTENTIONAL, alla Grice, and Von Wright – history proceeds via the intentions 
historical agents!

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