You are on page 1of 2



G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376568, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, xviii+594 pp., 28 maps. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-521-43543-7 Guy Halsall ranks among the most prolific early mediaevalists of our time, with a penchant for, as well as deep understanding of archaeology. It all began, more than ten years ago, with the publication of Settlement and Social Organization: The Merovingian Region of Metz (Cambridge 1995). His latest book, part of a longstanding Cambridge University Press series of introductions to important topics in medieval history, provides readers with an especially well-developed set of timely perspectives on the circumstances of the Roman West from the Gothic crisis (AD 376) to the Lombard invasion of Italy (AD 568). In a series of 15 chapters the author guides readers through a succession of skilfully constructed explorations, with the middle section (A world renegotiated: Western Europe, 376550) organised in chronological progression. H. stakes his claim by noting that if pressure increased on the 3rd- and early 4th-century frontiers of the empire, then that was not a novel development, but the result of the symbiosis between empire and barbarians. The 4th-century developments in the West created a vacuum of power allowing the rulers on the frontiers (p. 411) to move into fringes of the Roman territory. What H. regards, most aptly, as vital changes (p. 497) entails transformations having to do with categories of sex and ethnic identity that would have defied description and even less explanation if used to describe the process as one of Fall (of the Roman empire) and Rise (of the barbarians). A hallmark of H.s scholarship is his renown as an historian capable of understanding and using the archaeological evidence. There can be no doubt that his latest book is no exception. H. delves into a succession of historical issues either ignored or completely misunderstood by his peers. Chapter 2, Defining identities, provides one example. One of the topics that H. plumbs in this chapter is ethnicity. He is not the first historian to assay ethnicity, but it remains rather uncommon to see that topic so effectively integrated in considerable detail (as in the discussion of ethnogenesis and ethnic change) within a broader synthesis. Readers will find refreshing H.s emphasis on the performative nature of ethnic identities, away from both radically agnostic and extremely instrumentalist approaches to ethnicity. Chapter 12, Beyond the old frontier, explores the transformations spurred in considerable part by the dramatic changes taking place within the empire during the late 3rd and 4th centuries. This chapter too studies the topic in depth. H.s inclusion of Ireland, Scandinavia and the Elbe region (the latter in connection with the ethnogenesis of the Thuringians) is a case in point: the creation of the Thuringian kingdom and the emergence of the Bavarians are explained as by-products of the turmoil that the crisis in the empire had produced in the middle band of barbarian territories (p. 399). H. arrives at such a conclusion by means of a nuanced interpretation of the archaeological data, primarily from cemeteries. There are some lapses in this book worth identifying. The geography of the West surely merited some elaboration. This reader cannot decide where H.s East ends and his West begins. On the other hand, the Lombards are given special attention in Chapter 12, but only for the pre-Pannonian phase of their history. Does that mean, therefore, that the West stops at the Danube, either on its middle or on its lower course? The Sntana de MureChernyakhov culture is said to have spread from Romania through Moldavia to the Ukraine as far as Kharkov (p. 132). In fact, the spread took place in the opposite direction (given



that the latest assemblages of the Sntana de Mure-Chernyakhov culture are those of Romania, and not those of the Ukraine as far as Kharkov). Moreover, while Moldavia is a part of present-day Romania, the country between Romania and Ukraine is called Moldova, not Moldavia. There is no evidence of a Sarmatian take-over after the abandonment of the province of Dacia in the AD 270s (p. 139). The first intruders seem to have been Carpi, not Sarmatians. The Przeworsk culture never expanded to the Carpathian basin, for the simple reason that that culture never reached the course of the Middle Danube, a region which at that time was still occupied by the Romans. Similarly, it is simply not true that the 381 Council of Constantinople recognized the Popes superiority over the patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria (p. 100). In fact, far from recognising the Popes superiority over the patriarch of Constantinople, canon 3 of the 381 Council made the position of the patriarch equal to that of the pope within the church hierarchy. Sometimes, H.s passionate plea for the use of archaeology goes a bit too far. This reader was left wondering what, after all, is the archaeological evidence for the existence of religious kingship within the pre-migration society east of the Rhine (p. 124). There is a somewhat annoying practice of employing German words in lieu of, or along with, their English translations. Sometimes the translations are simply wrong. For example, a Herrenhof is definitely not a large long-house (p. 126). Setting aside the issues raised in the preceding paragraph, this book combines H.s own scholarship with a synthesis of a massive amount of literature. H. writes with clarity and verve; the books organisation is crystal clear. He has constructed an argument that enables readers to comprehend better the circumstances surrounding the end of the Western empire, and the ever-so-popular barbarian migrations. Students and scholars whose interests take them well beyond the blurry chronological boundary separating late antiquity from the early Middle Ages will find much to reflect on in this work. University of Florida Florin Curta

W.V. Harris (ed.), The Spread of Christianity in the First Four Centuries: Essays in Explanation, Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition 27, Brill, Leiden/Boston 2005, xiv+176 pp. Cased. ISBN 90-04-14717-9 / ISSN 0166-1302 Edward Gibbons The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (177688), is a compelling account, written closely from primary sources, of the fall of Rome in the west, in which replacement of the martial spirit of the Romans by Christianity and attack by barbarian invaders are advanced as central explanations for historical change: the triumph of barbarism and religion. Gibbon has long had his critics, ranging from clergy uneasy with his celebration of the pagan world, which cast the Christian world in a negative light, to an Academy sceptical of Enlightenment philosophes and their grand narratives, which holds decline and fall to be one among a number of competing claims. Nevertheless, Gibbon continues to be read for his historical and literary value, and he is available in the excellent 1994 edition, edited by David Womersley. Eight essays, collected in the present volume, address the spread of Christianity in the first four centuries. Early Christianity is a large topic. From its emergence in Jewish Palestine