The best books on Barbarian Europe

The Books I Picked & Why

Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe

By Peter Heather

Book cover of Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe

Why this book?

Peter Heather’s work is one of the broadest in scope on the topic of the European ‘Barbarians’, while still retaining enough detail to keep the reader’s attention pinned. A great starter for this period of history, encompassing the entire first millennium AD, the time when the heart of European civilization gradually moved from the Mediterranean South to the cold Barbarian North. It reads like a novel – but is supported by years of painstaking research. If you can only read one book on Barbarian Europe, this is the book.


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The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

By Herwig Wolfram, Thomas Dunlap

Book cover of The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

Why this book?

Herwig Wolfram is the Grand Master of Germanic history. His mighty History of the Goths is a work cited perhaps more than any other by any author writing about this period, and its influence of study of Early Middle Ages is unparalleled. But History of the Goths is a heavy, dense, scholarly work, and not easy to find these days. The Roman Empire is a more popular synthesis, focusing not just on Goths, but on all Late Antiquity Germanic tribes – Franks, Burgundians, Saxons, and others – providing a rich view of the barbarians from the perspective of their Roman neighbours. 


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The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

By Chris Wickham

Book cover of The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

Why this book?

Another synthesis of the ‘Dark Ages’ Europe, this one from the Penguin History series. An easy, but thorough read, painting a broad canvas from Ireland to Byzantium, and from the last days of Rome to the last days of Anglo-Saxon England, shines the light on the centuries that, while still seen as shrouded in the darkness of violence and barbarism, are in fact the true cradle of the European civilization as we know it today.


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The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751

By Ian Wood

Book cover of The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751

Why this book?

The Merovingians – the Frankish royal family – were the closest, and most powerful, neighbour to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages. They influenced trade, culture, and religion of early England, at times as partners, at times as hegemons of the island. At the same time, they built the foundation on which the Carolingians built their empire, the New Rome that would control the great swathes of Europe for centuries to come. Ian Wood’s excellent book is possibly the most detailed account of their rule ever written. 


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The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

By Catherine Nixey

Book cover of The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

Why this book?

You can’t overstate the impact of religion on this tumultuous period. The transition from paganism to Christianity not only coincided with, but greatly impacted everything that happened in early medieval Europe. Catherine Nixey’s controversial book focuses on that transition and shows it in full, gory detail – the violence it spurned, and the destruction it caused to the ancient culture that preceded the onset of Christianity. A necessary read for understanding the full picture of the 4th and 5th centuries in Europe.


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