Though many argue that the fall of Rome had little effect on the rural poor of the western Mediterranean, Karen Eva Carr argues persuasively to the contrary. Vandals to Visigoths shows how the empire's collapse significantly transformed the lives of rural people. For many who lived through it, the fall of Rome was the end of the world, causing economic depression, as the Germanic invasions destroyed crops, barns, and homes throughout France and Spain. Even after the dust settled from these invasions, landscape archaeology shows the surviving rural population defending themselves in isolated hill-forts and cut off from the larger Mediterranean world. These changes, the direct result of the fall of Rome, lead Carr to the more general conclusion that imperial governments, even though seemingly remote, did have a significant impact on the lives of their subjects.
Carr uses archaeological survey data as a springboard to a theoretical discussion of rural survival strategies in the nonindustrial world and the ways in which these strategies are affected by government actions. She draws on historical, archaeological, and ethnographic comparanda to conclude that the larger, more powerful Roman government was more advantageous for the rural poor than the weaker Vandal and Visigothic regimes. Though Carr agrees that the lives of the rural people and the free slaves were miserable, she shows that they became even more wretched after the decline of the empire.
Results of Michel Ponsich's renowned survey of the Guadalquivir valley have been reanalyzed and reinterpreted in light of more recent ceramic seriation, allowing over four hundred sites to be more precisely dated to the fourth, fifth, or sixth centuries a.d. These sites have been mapped and analyzed using survey archaeology techniques. Carr utilizes these results to show that under Roman rule in Spain outside employment virtually disappeared and many family farms consequently failed. Under Visigothic rule, a more dispersed, self-sufficient settlement pattern emerged, but outside employment did not pick up, and without it the area could not return to the prosperity of the fourth century.
Vandals to Visigoths will appeal to historians of Rome as well as of early medieval Europe and Spain. Anthropologists, economists, and political scientists who study Late Antiquity and the medieval period will also be interested, as the book discusses the broader implications of the role of government in the lives of early medieval Spain's subjects.