By Sir Charles Petrie
XN HIS ADMIRABLE book The End of the Roman World (Hodder and Stoughton, 35s.), Stewart Perowne both points a moral and adorns a tale, with the result that wherever it is read it is likely to provoke controversy. The period which he covers, particularly the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era, was extremely confused, but he conducts the reader through it with unerring skill, and in his narrative the outstanding figures come to life. above all, he resists every temptation to read history backwards.
The fact is rightly stressed that the fall of the Roman Empire had long been foreseen. and the author rejects Gibbon's view that it was due to the rise of the Christian faith: on the other hand, he shares the recently expressed opinion of Miss Freya Stark that a powerful contributory factor was the mistaken Roman frontier policy in the East, which caused a drain on resources which could ill be spared from the West, and he says that Traian carried Roman arms as far as the Persian Gulf "quite uselessly".
Amid so much that is both instructive and interesting it is difficult to make a choice, but many readers are likely to award the palm to the descrip tion of the relations between the Romans and the barbarian invaders, and it may well come as a surprise to some to learn that Attila himself served for a time in the Roman army.
Comparisons with more recent times abound. We are told, for instance„ that at the last moment the threatened dissolution Was postponed by the drastic reforms of Diocletian, and admirers of Mr. Harold Wilson may wonder if there will prove to be a parallel between him and the Dalmatian emperor. On the whole, the author is optimistic, for he says that "the fifth century was an age of despair: the twentieth may well be one of over-confidence", but surely not in England today.