The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire

Author(s) : Kyle Harper

The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire

Book Details

  • Publisher : Princeton University Press
  • Published : March 2019
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 440
  • Category :
    Climate Politics
  • Category 2 :
    Environmental Studies
  • Catalogue No : 96500
  • ISBN 13 : 9780691192062
  • ISBN 10 : 0691192065
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How devastating viruses, pandemics, and other natural catastrophes swept through the far-flung Roman Empire and helped to bring down one of the mightiest civilizations of the ancient world. Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome's power-a story of nature's triumph over human ambition. Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. The Fate of Rome is a sweeping account of how one of history's greatest civilizations encountered and endured, yet ultimately succumbed to, the cumulative burden of nature's violence.

Reviews and Endorsements

"This is the story of a great civilization's long struggle with invisible enemies. In the empire's heyday, in 160 CE, splendid cities, linked by famous roads and bustling harbours, stand waiting for the lethal pathogens of Central Africa and the highlands of Tibet. Yet, under the flickering light of a variable sun, beneath skies alternately veiled in volcanic dust or cruelly rainless, this remarkable agglomeration of human beings held firm. Harper's account of how the inhabitants of the empire and their neighbours adjusted to these disasters is as humane as his account of the risks they faced is chilling. Brilliantly written, at once majestic and compassionate, this is truly great history" - Peter Brown, author of Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

"In this riveting history, Kyle Harper shows that disease and environmental conditions were not just instrumental in the final collapse of the Roman Empire but were serious problems for centuries before the fall. Harper's compelling and cautionary tale documents the deadly plagues, fevers, and other pestilences that ravaged the population time and again, resulting in far more deaths than ever caused by enemy forces. One wonders how the empire managed to last as long as it did" - Eric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

"This brilliant, original, and stimulating book puts nature at the centre of a topic of major importance - the fall of the Roman Empire - for the first time. Harper's argument is compelling and thoroughly documented, his presentation lively and robust" - Peter Garnsey, co-author of The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture

"Kyle Harper's extraordinary new account of the fall of Rome is a gripping and terrifying story of the interaction between human behaviour and systems, pathogens and climate change. The Roman Empire was a remarkable connector of people and things - in towns and cities, through voluntary and enforced migration, and through networks of trade across oceans and continents - but this very connectedness fostered infectious diseases that debilitated its population. Though the protagonists of Harper's book are nonhuman, their effects on human lives and societies are nonetheless devastating" - Emma Dench, author of Romulus' Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian

"Kyle Harper is a Gibbon for the twenty-first century. In this very important book, he reveals the great lesson that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire can teach our own age: that humanity can manipulate nature, but never defeat it. Sic transit gloria mundi" - Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules - for Now
"The Fate of Rome is a breakthrough in the study of the Roman world - intrepid, innovative, even revolutionary" - Walter Scheidel, author of The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century

"Kyle Harper's The Fate of Rome illuminates with a strong new light the entirety of Roman history, by focusing relentlessly on the ups and downs of the Roman coexistence with the microorganisms that influenced every aspect of their lives in powerful ways, while themselves being conditioned by what the Romans did, and failed to do. Others, including myself, have devoted pages to the impact of the greatest epidemics in our books. We missed what happened in between. Harper does not, and the result is a book that is fascinating as well as instructive" - Edward N. Luttwak, author of The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire

"Learned, lively, and up-to-date, this is far and away the best account of the ecological and environmental dimensions of the history of the Roman Empire" - J. R. McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

About the Author(s)

Kyle Harper is professor of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma. His books include Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275–425.

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