Critical Book Review
Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire by
Walter Andre Goffart
The Byzantine Empire
March 21, 2012
Dr. Walter Goffart, a senior researcher and lecturer at Yale University specializes in the history of the later Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages; with a special focus on barbarian kingdoms. His writing of the Migration Age is a historiography of the people who migrated and the evidence that connects relations between the Roman Empire and its neighbors. The author makes subtle arguments throughout the book, one of which is more prominent and addressed first off in the preface. “I take issue with misapprehensions of barbarian history, in particular the anachronistic belief, ubiquitous outside as well as inside Germany, that Migration Age is a “Germanic” subject, in which “barbarians” are synonymous with “Germanic peoples.”’ In these couple sentences of the preface, he is arguing the German population didn’t influence the “Migration Age”, or put a burden on the Roman Empire. It has been widely debated that the Germanic people swamped through the Empire, unwanted of course, and depleted its resources and encumbered upon it leading to a major collapse. However, Goffart spends the end of the preface and eight chapters in the book (which is the source in entirety) challenging this idea. Instead, he identifies that there were no Germanic tribes in the Roman territory and they did not exist in parallel terms. It is evident that Goffart is perturbed with the idea and simply states that there were no Germans in late antiquity. While arguing this long, drawn out personal philosophy, he states on page 6 that he is not trying to go against what other authors and sources synthesize about the overall topic, but rather “reform thinking” about barbarians during the time period as well as drive out the terms “Germanic” and “German. It is also interesting that the author chose, midway through his book, to revisit his previous written book Barbarians and Romans: The Techniques of Accommodation. In this chapter he rewrites conclusions and ideas from the first book, after it had been reviewed by scholarly critics. He diverges into each of his critics’ ideas and then synthesizes his ideas on why he wrote what he wrote and if he still agrees with his own ideas or if his opinion was slightly swayed after reading the reviews. Other found interesting points the author made dealt with the importance of ethnicity that could possibly confuse the reader and the last one is his well-rounded knowledge of the barbarians from the northern regions. The confusion is the discussion of ethnicity. The author addresses that there was note of ethnicity and it was virtually unimportant to blend with the Roman aristocracy, but then he proceeds to list the different nomadic groups such as the Persians, Armenians, Goths, Huns, and so forth. All of which address the ethnic background of the people and then how they merge into the ranks of the set Roman Empire nobility. To an audience that was not already familiar with the Empire and Migrations of the Roman Empire this section could be quite perplex to the reader. After the discussion in chapter four about the origins and ethnic background of the people that is a bit foggy, Goffart clears up his knowledge with a great section in the conclusion about the barbarians from the northern regions. It is clearly stated throughout the conclusion “The Long Simplification of Late Antiquity”, that the barbarians historians think emerged from the North were there the whole time. Goffart states, “The northern barbarians were not newcomers arriving from afar to take the Roman Empire by surprise or storm. They were established parts of the landscape.” Goffart believes that these barbarians were previously settled in the empire and worked alongside the Roman residents and they did not take part in extricating mass Romans, or...
Cited: Gillett, Andrew. "Review: Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire." Oxford Journals: The English Historical Review 123, no. 503 (2008): 990-992. http://ehr.oxfordjournals.org/content/CXXIII/503/990.full (accessed March 10, 2010).
Goffart, Walter A.. Barbarian tides: the migration age and the later Roman Empire. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
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