Trevor Bloom – Author

website of Trevor Bloom, author of The Half-Slave

Q & A

What inspired you to write The Half-Slave?

herewardThe story evolved by weaving together three distinct ideas. While researching the period, I had stumbled upon Clovis of the Franks and was enormously impressed. Here was a Germanic ruler who lived at the same time as the semi-mythical King Arthur, but whose exploits are well-documented and arguably far greater. When he died in 511, Clovis had overthrown Romans, other Germanic tribes and rivals within his own family to take control of Gaul. Secondly, I wondered what it would have been like to be born of both Roman and barbarian stock? Where would your allegiances lie? That thought gave birth to Ascha, the son of a Roman slave and a Saxon warlord. And thirdly, I was fascinated to learn that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ had settled in Gaul and might have colonized that province if the Franks had not been unified and, unlike the British rulers of the time, able to resist their incursions. There are still place-names in northern France which could pass as English villages.

Why did the Roman Empire fall?

The fall of RomeThere are more theories as to why the Empire failed than you can shake a stick at. They fall into two schools of thought: 1) the empire failed for internal reasons (falling population and productivity, class conflict, political strife, the impact of Christianity, disease and famine) and 2) failure for external reasons (barbarian incursions, increasing size and co-ordination of Germanic confederations, falling taxes and reduced manpower as provinces were lost). Bear in mind that the empire only fell in the West; in the East the empire survived until 1453. In recent years, the weight of opinion has swung back to the external factors and the dominant view is that the empire fell because it could not resist the violent irruption of the Goths and other tribes, who were themselves under pressure from the Huns.

Was the fall of the West inevitable?

All empires fall eventually, but I think it likely that Roman inefficiency and a strong dose of bad luck increased the likelihood that the Roman empire fell when it did. If Emperor Valens had defeated the Goths at Adrianople in 378 AD, for example, instead of allowing himself to be killed in battle, the Romans might have stopped the Goth migration and Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410 AD would not have happened. The eastern empire survived because it was easier to defend and because the population and tax revenues remained high, which meant the east was less reliant on recruiting non-Roman manpower for the army.

Who were the barbarians?

‘Barbarians’ was a disparaging term used by Romans (and Greeks before them) to describe people outside the empire, ie those who did not speak Latin or Greek as a first language and were not considered civilized. The Goths were the first barbarians to enter the empire in force, and were themselves in flight from the Huns. Non-Romans were unable to match Rome’s complex and highly sophisticated level of economic development, but their cultures were well-developed and in some areas, eg timber-working, were superior to Rome. While barbarians fought brutally, sacked cities and took slaves and loot, they did not regard the slaughter of men and women in the arena as entertainment; and were less prone to the enslavement of whole nations as were the Romans.

Was there a barbarian Invasion?

The view that the Roman empire was invaded by massed waves of germanic tribes who exterminated the native population has now largely been discarded, but historians still cannot agree on the number of barbarians or the process by which they took control. At one extreme is the idea of ‘cultural assimilation’, in which the native population adopts germanic culture in preference to Roman and eventually ‘becomes’ Anglo-Saxon or Frank. Next is the idea of ‘elite transfer’ which assumes that small but powerful groups of germanics assumed control of Roman provinces, subjugating the numerically superior natives. For example, it is argued that no more than 35,000 Anglo-Saxons may have come to Britain to take control of a Romano-British population of 4-7 million. Another argument assumes a substantial migration of men and women, although not ‘waves.’ Proponents of this scenario point out that for the Romano-British population to switch from Latin and Celtic to English within a few hundred years could only have happened if there were large numbers of settlers, including women, to pass on their language to their children.

Was the fall of Rome the end of the world?

Few historians now believe the fall of Rome was the catastrophe it was once thought to be. Instead, they use terms like ‘transformation’ and ‘continuity’ and see the fall as one step in the transition from empire to early nation state. The Romans, they say, adapted to changing circumstances; Roman culture survived but in different, often Christianized, forms. I don’t agree entirely: the fall was not the end of the world but it did create massive military and political dislocation and would have had a major impact on everyday life.  The Romanized populations – landowners and peasants – adjusted to rule by barbarians, but they faced dramatic economic decline, a fall in prosperity and widespread fear and uncertainty. In many areas, coinage, good roads, stone buildings and writing disappeared and did not reappear for generations.

Did the barbarians succeed by conflict or by peaceful accommodation?

Some argue that Rome had little to gain by fighting wars against ‘economic migrants’ and so Romans and Barbarians came to an ‘accommodation’: barbarian tribes were permitted to settle inside the imperial frontier, offering military support for Rome’s wars in exchange for a proportion of tax revenues.  I think that while many Romano-Gauls, landowners and peasants, may have come to amicable arrangements with their Frankish or Visigothic neighbours, it is unrealistic to assume that this always happened. The German occupation of France in WW2, the American post-war occupation of Japan, the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank demonstrate that occupation by an alien power may be benign or brutal, the result of invasion or ‘invitation’, but ultimately it is always backed by force.

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