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The Day of the Barbarians by Alessandro Barbero

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 29, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 28/07/2012

Publisher – Grove Atlantic; Year of Publication – 2005; Pages – 180; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 399

The day was 9th August 378 AD (Presumably the Julian calendar). The barbarians in question were the vast hordes of German refugees who were fleeing the oncoming Hunnic invasion. It was on this day that the vast civilization of Rome finally began its decline. It took nearly a century for the barbarians to overthrow the Roman apparatus in Western Europe, but overthrow they did. Even now it is the descendants of these Germanic tribes that live and rule over Western Europe.

The Germans were not a new foe for Romans, unlike the Huns who would come later. In the last decade of 2nd century BC, the Roman Republic elected Marius an unprecedented six times as consul (Roman head of state) to expel the German menace. In 9 AD, the still nascent Roman Empire had suffered a mighty defeat at the hands of Germans before being avenged by Germanicus (whose son would later become Emperor Caligula) in 16 AD. There would be minor incursions on and off but for most part Germans stayed out of the Roman Empire till 378 AD. To put this battle of 378 in perspective, by 500 AD various Germanic tribes had seized control of present day France (Franks & Burgundians), England (Angles & Saxons), Iberian Peninsula (Visigoths), Italy (Ostrogoths and later Lombards) and North Africa (Vandals).

Ironically enough, Western Europe had no role to play on that day. The battle occurred in the east, in present day Turkey near the city of Edirne (Then known as Adrianople or Hadrianopolis after Emperor Hadrian). The Romans were led by the Emperor of the East, Valens, who had initially allowed safe passage to the German barbarians into the Empire.

Alessandro Barbero, an Italian historian, sketches a vivid portrait of the Battle of Adrianople of 378. He explains the events that led to the battle and the consequences it had on Europe. The time before the battle had seen large economic cooperation between Germans and Romans. Bereft of people after a century of civil war, cheaper labour was welcomed in the form of German immigrants. The Germans in return had reaped the economic benefits of the Roman civilization, then the greatest and most advanced nation in the world.

While the author been able to pull out the context of the battle with significant details, he has failed to provide diagrams and maps to describe the battle. Perhaps it was not done with cost in mind since the military history books that I have come across tend to be priced much higher.

It is difficult to encapsulate the relevance and details of such a battle in such a short book, but the author has done that job with ease. It is an entertaining and quick read and can help reflect on one of the battles whose reverberations can still be felt today.

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One Response to “The Day of the Barbarians by Alessandro Barbero”

  1. […] on 14/07/2012 19) The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy – Published on 21/07/2012 20) The Day of the Barbarians by Alessandro Barbero – Published on […]

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