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April 01st 2010 print

Philippa Martyr

Still Thinking about the Fall of Rome

The Fall of the West: The Death of the Roman Superpower, by Adrian Goldsworthy; Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2009, 544 pages, £25. The story behind a book title is often interesting in itself, and the competing titles of Adrian Goldsworthy’s latest book are a case in point. In the USA, it was published by Yale University Press as How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower. Yet in the rest of the English-speaking world, the same book was published as The Fall of the West: The Death of the Roman Superpower. Why? Goldsworthy provides some hints about this in his preface. In the United States, Roman history is taken seriously by public figures of all kinds, and also academics. The USA has always been conscious of Rome as a prototype republic, a king-rejecting society which went on to great and glorious things. It’s not for nothing that Washington DC bristles with pseudo-Roman public buildings, has a house of parliament known as the Senate, and why George Washington himself appears (in marble) clad in a toga. Americans, says Goldsworthy, are quick to see links between ancient Rome and their own present-day superpower status, and the more unsympathetic fellow travellers among them are also quick to hint at the impending collapse of the “evil republic”.

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