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"It all starts with Greece"

Dave, this book would lose me right there.

Bill, I deleted your mistaken link. Here are links to a couple of other reviews of Osborne's book: a complimentary one at the International Herald; and a critical one at a website called Culture Wars.

You must read "From Dawn to Decadence" by Jacques Barzun

"When the 'barbarians' overran the Western Empire, crop yields went up."

Could you give source on this? Everything I've read says otherwise.

Adam, I just remember it from reading economic history. The "barbarians" were actually pretty good farmers. It's not like people starved when the Empire fell.

At least in western Europe, I've always read that there was a large, longterm decline in population.

There's other evidence out there, too. The Fall of Rome by Ward Perkins which presents quite a bit of evidence that the end of the Empire was not just the end of a particular military and administrative structure. Though, come to think of it, not much that he discusses actually goes to the comparative efficiency of farming methods, except for the comparison of cattle skeletons (Roman cattle appear to have been better fed, meatier animals than post-Roman cattle).

Around 643 the Slavic moldboard plow made its way into Europe. That was some time after the Roman Empire fell, so hard to attribute to the fall. I think agriculture did decline for that first century and a half after the empire fell, then improved with the new technology.


Exactly when did the empire fall? And did it all fall at once?

In 376 AD, the first large group of Goths crossed into the empire (with reluctant permission). In 378, a large force of Goths slaughtered a Roman army and emperor near Hadrianople. In 410, the Gothic king Alaric sacked Rome (a sign the end was near). In 476, the last Roman emperor in the West was deposed. All this from Peter Heather's The Goths (Blackwell, 1996), which I dug up for the following quote:

By the late Roman period, much more intensive agricultural regimes had evolved. ... [The Germanic] inhabitants had developed new techniques for maintaining the fertility of their fields. In particular, they were to some extent integrating arable and pastoral production, using manure from their animals, together, probably, with some kind of two-crop rotation to maintain yields. These changes represent a revolution in agricultural productivity. It is now broadly accepted that these changes were associated with a substantial and general increase in population. (p. 76-77.)

And it was that increase in population allowed the Germanic tribes to overwhelm the Roman frontiers and legions, then displace Roman rulers. By the time they displaced the Romans, of course, most of them were already Christians.

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