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Publisher's Summary

Empires and Barbarians presents a fresh, provocative look at how a recognizable Europe came into being in the first millennium AD. With sharp analytic insight, Peter Heather explores the dynamics of migration and social and economic interaction that changed two vastly different worlds - the undeveloped barbarian world and the sophisticated Roman Empire - into remarkably similar societies and states.

The book's vivid narrative begins at the time of Christ, when the Mediterranean circle, newly united under the Romans, hosted a politically sophisticated, economically advanced, and culturally developed civilization - one with philosophy, banking, professional armies, literature, stunning architecture, even garbage collection. The rest of Europe, meanwhile, was home to subsistence farmers living in small groups, dominated largely by Germanic speakers. Although having some iron tools and weapons, these mostly illiterate peoples worked mainly in wood and never built in stone. The farther east one went, the simpler it became: fewer iron tools and ever less productive economies. And yet 10 centuries later, from the Atlantic to the Urals, the European world had turned. Slavic speakers had largely superseded Germanic speakers in central and Eastern Europe, literacy was growing, Christianity had spread, and most fundamentally, Mediterranean supremacy was broken.

Bringing the whole of first millennium European history together, and challenging current arguments that migration played but a tiny role in this unfolding narrative, Empires and Barbarians views the destruction of the ancient world order in light of modern migration and globalization patterns.

©2009 Peter Heather (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.6 out of 5.0
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Performance

  • 2.8 out of 5.0
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Story

  • 3.9 out of 5.0
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  • Overall
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Enjoying the book, but the performance....

What did you like best about Empires and Barbarians ? What did you like least?

I am fascinated by the topic of the millennium which started during the Roman Empire and after its collapse, seemed to be a confused mess of Huns, Goths and Vandals. This author sheds light on what has been called the Dark Ages and brings to life the people and the ebb and flow of the societies which lived in Europe during the period. There is some repetition - my attention span is not so short that I needed to be reminded of the parallels with some 20th century events, which seemed to me to happen fairly frequently. However the attention to detail and scholarship of the author is amazing.<br/><br/>The performance needed a really good editor and some instruction for the narrator, however. I doubt if too many English peasants set sail for America in the 7th(sic) century. The first syllable in Pyrenees rhymes with fir, not fire, at least every time I have heard it said. I presume the word the author meant was 'denuded' not 'denunded' which I have not found in any dictionary. If such frequent errors could be corrected, it would certainly improve the experience, from which they currently detract. I am not a particularly pedantic or critical listener but the errors grate.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empires and Barbarians ?

The sections which mention areas of northern France (Loire etc) as I am about to visit the area and will look at it this time with an enhanced awareness of its history and see the chateaux and their surroundings in the context of a much longer time span than previously. This book is helping me fill in the gaps in my knowledge of european society between Roman times and approximately 1000AD.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

See above

Was Empires and Barbarians  worth the listening time?

Yes

Any additional comments?

Please let me know when the errors have been corrected - I think the author is owed this attention.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

The Perils of Pronunciation

What didn’t you like about Sean Schemmel’s performance?

It is terribly sad when a good book is ruined due to insufficient preparations on the part of the reader and/or audiobook producer. Peter Heather's "Empires and Barbarians" is positively brimming with names of people, places, cultures etc. most of which are not familiar to the average listener. The recording would have been so much better if the reader and producer had spent a couple of hours figuring out how to pronounce things. Asking the author, e.g., might have been a good idea. As it stands, the recording is a complete failure. Some of the worst cases are almost unidentifiable without access to the printed text.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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As dry as chips

This is a treatise, or maybe it was a PhD dissertation, whatever it was it was ever so learned and made my eyes rotate with pain into the back of my head. Most of that pain was at the murderous narration by Sean Schemmel - if you are going to have a learned text narrated at least get some one who can read long words and gets geographical names correct. The other pain was the names of the tribes and leaders listed ad nauseam and the fact that a pertinent point was repeated several times just so that in the stream of learned stuff you didn't miss the salient point.

I persisted and listened to all 3 volumes as I am interested in the topic but I shall not need to delve any further into the migration of the germanic hords in the first millenium AD any more - I have heard the definitive history now and can relax in the knowledge that my history of the fall of the roman empire is complete.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Couldn't finish--sounded like text to speech.

Would you try another book from Peter Heather and/or Sean Schemmel?

Yes, great ideas!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empires and Barbarians ?

He does a good job contextualizing the arguements.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Fingernails on a chalkboard bad.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Yes! the ideas were great.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Elizabeth
  • Windham, NH, United States
  • 12-20-14

Peter Heather deserved better

Would you listen to Empires and Barbarians  again? Why?

Enjoyed the book, and the humor. There is a lot of content there, and I'd go back again and listen, now that I know where it's going

What did you like best about this story?

The tour of Europe -- taking each section in turn

How could the performance have been better?

The narrator was horrible. Peter Heather is a very witty man, and I don't think the narrator got most of his jokes. Mr. Heather deserves a narrator erudite enough to know when he is being funny! There is a lot of warmth and humanity in this book, too, which is also obscured by the delivery.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Patrick
  • Denver, Colorado USA
  • 03-28-14

Great book, terrible reading

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The book itself is great, an important and likely enduring work of scholarship. The reading, unfortunately is terrible. I feel for the narrator because many of the names of both people and places are quite difficult to pronounce correctly. Unfortunately though the narrator consistently mispronounces well-known names such as "Constantius", "Dacia", "Nicomedia" and even "Nicea." Both he and the producers of this book should have done their homework before-hand. I stuck through the audiobook, but the reading often left me either shaking my head or grinding my teeth. Sorry to be so critical but it is what it is.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Good book,bad narration

This book has great detail about the peopling of Europe in the first millennium. I'd listen to it again if it had a different narrator. He often puts the accent on the wrong words, interrupting your train of thought. But worse, his mispronunciations--too many to list. But saying "sign" for "Seine"? That's too much.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Poor Choice for Audio

What disappointed you about Empires and Barbarians ?

This book covers roughly the first millennium of European History. The author is a scholar of European History and it is obvious that his primary audience is fellow scholars to discuss and promote various theories concerning the migration of various peoples and cultures through that time period. If you are not a part of this audience, it can be a very difficult book to follow in an audio format.

What was most disappointing about Peter Heather’s story?

In doing an audio book that depends so much on the changing political geography of Europe over the first millennium, the very least the author could have done is made available a PDF detailing the changing map of Europe over that time and the movements of the various ethnic groups that are central the narrative of this book. Further, an appendix detailing the various ethnic groups who are the central characters of this book would be extremely helpful. Rick Atkinson has a website for his three book series on WWII that is extremely helpful in understanding the troop movements and battles of that period. The author of this book would do well to try to develop a similar site for this book.<br/>

How could the performance have been better?

Anyone trying to read this book to those who do not already have a good background in this subject area would have a difficult time keeping their attention. If you don't have a good background in European geography, it is very difficult to follow and keep track of the various ethnic groups that the author describes as they make their way across Europe.

Any additional comments?

If you do purchase this book, I strongly advise that do a search on You Tube for Barbarians. There are numerous free videos that do a wonderful job of putting some flesh and warmth into this topic.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Book is Great, Performance Shameful

Peter Heather's work provides a detailed history of people and factors which drove the relationship between Rome and its neighbors. His review of the evidence for and against the notion of mass migration was new information for me.

Unfortunately, the audio version requires the listener to to endure a reading totally without nuance or comprehension of the text itself.

The mispronunciation of proper names, geographic locations, and common words makes me wonder where the producer/editor was for this reading.

For example, before reading further, pronounce the name of the dead language spoken in Italy during late antiquity. Many people took the class in high school.

Right, the answer is LATIN. Last syllable rhymes with "sin"

It took me a while to fully understand what the reader was talking about as he kept referring to the "LATINE West". Last syllable pronounced to rhyme with "fine"

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Oakland, CA, United States
  • 12-19-13

Inaudible

What would have made Empires and Barbarians  better?

The dry academic treatise spends altogether too much time on details such as the evolution of kingship in Germania, and far too little on the drama of the period. It is further marred by a halting, monotone narration and gratuitous political point scoring. I gave up after Chapter 4. If you're interested in this topic try Bury's "Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians".

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • 10-29-13

Terrible narration

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Sadly the narration lets the audiobook down. I really wanted to listen to it as it is a subject I am interested in and seemed to be an interesting take on it but it became unbearable.

What didn’t you like about Sean Schemmel’s performance?

Sean Schemmel didn't appear to understand much of the text he was reading or at least didn't go back for another take when he botched lines. As a result sentences run into each other or are cut off in the wrong place making it hard to discern the meaning. Worse still the whole thing is read with little or no variation of emphasis, in a flat monotone which meant that I would realise I had stopped listening and missed whole chunks.

Was Empires and Barbarians  worth the listening time?

The book probably was but the narration ruined it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim
  • 07-25-13

A Hun's eye view of the fall of the Roman Empire

This started off slowly with what felt like quite a dry explanation of why Heather wrote a book about the "Barbarian" migrations that occured from the fall of the Roman empire and into the dark ages. But it built up momentum to become a completely fascinating account of what all this tribes were up to as they moved across Eurasia; the extent to which they would have recognized the tribal labels we're taught to apply to them and the legacy they have left us in terms of modern European politics. The author avoids this becoming dull by offering an amazing range of everyday details about the lives our nomadic ancestors lived and the drive they had to travel enormous distances in search of peace & plenty or conquest & pillage; sometimes both.

The fifth star is for the narrator who does a tough job well. I started off thinking that he could maybe of pronounced some French names differently but it quickly became clear that he was required to get his tongue around Slavic names; German terms and finally gaelic. So fair play to him.

If you want a history book that has the potential to alter the way you think about a period of history which many of us feel pretty familiar with then this is it

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeroen
  • 03-20-14

Great book but very poor delivery by narrator

What made the experience of listening to Empires and Barbarians  the most enjoyable?

Acquiring a better understanding of the turbulent times in first mIllenium.

Who was your favorite character and why?

n/a

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Sean Schemmel?

This book should be recast by another narrator. Can't wait to listen to it again,

Any additional comments?

I am surprised that Audible and the author allowed mr Sean Schemmel to read this book. His computersised voice totally spoilt the book for me<br/>

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  • Neil S Morrison
  • 11-28-13

Lots of information

Did Sean Schemmel do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?

Not a character book

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

Any additional comments?

Sean's let his other wise good read of a solid text down by his weird way he pronounced some of the place names. It was not just accent as I have asked Americans about it as well.