Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
Bryan Ward-Perkins: The material consequences of the fall of Rome
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Bryan Ward-Perkins: The material consequences of the fall of Rome

An archaeologist reflects on the collapse of the Western Roman Empire
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On this episode of Unsupervised Learning Razib talks to archeologist and historian Bryan Ward-Perkins about his 2005 book The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. Ward-Perkins was born and grew up in Rome, a son of architectural historian and archaeologist, John Bryan Ward-Perkins. Educated at Oxford University, Ward-Perkins eventually became a fellow of Trinity College at the same university, from which he has since retired. An archaeologist with a deep interest in economic history, Ward-Perkins’ standout book The Fall of Rome was to a great extent a restatement of traditional understandings of the Roman fall in the wake of academic revisions stimulated by Peter Brown’s 1989 World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750. Ward-Perkins scholarship focuses on the outputs of economic production: fine pottery, grand public buildings and copious coinage. In contrast, Brown and his fellow travelers tended to focus on religious innovation and creativity in the centuries coincident with Rome's fall. The Fall of Rome documents in crisp, dense prose the material collapse attendant with the dissolution of the Western Empire in the late 5th and 6th centuries, from the vanishing of pottery in Britain to the cessation of the construction of massive buildings across  the Italian peninsula.

Razib also asks Ward-Perkins his opinions on his colleague Pete Heather’s book The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.  Ward-Perkins sees Heather’s work as complementary; while Ward-Perkins is interested in the material aspects of everyday Roman life, Heather documents and narrates the diplomatic and military affairs of the Roman elite. Ward-Perkins also comments on Chris Wickham’s work in books like The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000, which outlines how the Roman and post-Roman states differed, in particular, the disappearance in Europe of professional soldiers paid in currency, rather than feudal levies. They also discuss  Walter Scheidel’s Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity, and whether Roman citizens were actually materially better  off than their medieval successors. Ward-Perkins also gives his estimation of the time measured in centuries until Western Europe reattained Roman levels of social, technological and political complexity.

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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
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