Monday, August 11, 2014

If Rome Hadn't Fallen by Timothy Venning

This book's subtitle is:  How the Survival of Rome Might Have Changed World History.  When the author writes "Rome" he is referring to Rome's Western Empire, which collapsed circa the year 500, not Rome's Eastern Empire which survived until 1453.

This is a "what if" book.  Speculation upon speculation for connoisseurs of Roman history to read, ponder, and play with.  Rome didn't actually fall, to be precise.  It splintered and adapted and evolved. 

Roman General Flavius Stilicho Confronts Radagaisus, Ostrogoth Leader, at Fiesole


The Eastern Emperor took authority now and again over the Western Empire, and he periodically appointed men to rule the West.  Large areas of the Empire were left to their own devices when armies could no longer be raised, or paid and fed. 

The Empire continued despite pieces being eaten away by Arabs, Generals, Vandals, and Normans.  The last lands owned by the Vatican, the last vestige of the Western Empire, were taken by the Italian State in the late 1800s.

But what if Ancient Rome didn't splinter? 

What if the Germans were conquered? 

What if the immigrants were embraced rather than repulsed?

What if the Germans became Rome's trusted allies?

This is a popular subject for writers of speculative historical fiction.  There are various historical fiction series that work from a premise that Rome never fell, or that a sliver of Ancient Rome survives into the present day.

There are those who rightfully claim that Rome did survive to today, run by the Pontifus Maximus, headquartered in the Vatican within the city of Rome, with Latin still the official language, the administration still run along Ancient Roman lines, and the dress still a variation of Ancient Roman styles.

Visigoths in Greece Led by their King, Alaric, 4th Century AD

The author poses that there were 9 key turning points in Ancient Roman history, and 19 speculated consequences of those turning points.  He goes into each in great detail.  You really need to know your Roman history to appreciate this book.  The author clearly knows his, and he is especially knowledgeable about Roman warfare.

The main premise of speculative history is expressed by the author thus:
"One person's actions can alter the course of history, and a political or military mischance can touch off a catastrophic reaction that has repercussions over centuries."

Odoacer Compels the Abdication of Romulus, the Last Roman Emperor of the West, 476 Ad

He stresses that this is especially the case in an era run by dynastic kingdoms, Princes in city-states, and nomadic peoples, when:
...warfare and conquest were the norm before the rise of a relatively stable international system of determining relations.
Rome's experiment with a Republic, with leaders who changed at the will of the people, did not last long.  It moved very quickly to being dominated by politicians and political families who behaved either as oligarchic or demagogic leaders.  Then the generals took control with the backing of the armies under their command.

If your Roman history is up to it, then this is a rollicking ride through what-if land.  Hold on and go for it!

From the book's description:
This is a fascinating exploration of how the history of Europe, and indeed the world, might have been different if the Western Roman Empire had survived the crises that pulled it apart in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Dr. Timothy Venning starts by showing how that survival and recovery might plausibly have happened if several relatively minor things had been different.  He then moves on to discuss a series of scenarios which might have altered the course of subsequent history dramatically.
Would the survival of a strong Western Empire have assisted the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire in halting the expansion of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa?  How would the Western Roman Empire have handled the Viking threat?  Could they even have exploited the Viking discovery of America and established successful colonies there?
While necessarily speculative, all the scenarios are discussed within the framework of a deep understanding of the major driving forces, tensions and trends that shaped European history and help to shed light upon them.  In so doing they help the reader to understand why things panned out as they did, as well as what might have been.

St. Peter's Basilica and Forum in the Vatican City

Published by Pen & Sword Military, an imprint of Pen &Sword Books Ltd.

Here is a direct link to the book at

Please visit the author via his Facebook page.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

No comments:

Post a Comment