Peter Heather
Born (1960-06-08) 8 June 1960 (age 63)
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Academic background
ThesisThe Goths and the Balkans (1987)
Academic advisors
Academic work
  • History
School or traditionOxford School
Main interestsLate Antiquity

Peter John Heather (born 8 June 1960) is a British historian of late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Heather is Chair of the Medieval History Department and Professor of Medieval History at King's College London. He specialises in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Goths, on which he for decades has been considered the world's leading authority.[1]


Heather was born in Northern Ireland on 8 June 1960. He was educated at Maidstone Grammar School,[2] and received his M.A. and D.Phil. from New College, Oxford.[3] Among his teachers at Oxford were John Matthews and James Howard-Johnston.[4] Heather subsequently lectured at Worcester College, Oxford, Yale University and University College London. In January 2008, Heather was appointed chair of the Medieval History Department and professor of medieval history at King's College London.[5]


As a historian, Heather specialises in late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, especially the relationships between the Roman Empire and "barbarian" peoples, and on the ethnicity of Germanic peoples. His extensive works on the Goths are considered as the best available on the subject.[1][2][3][6][7][8]

In his earliest works, Heather mostly rejected the Getica of Jordanes as a valuable source on early Gothic history. In later years, as a result of advances in archaeology, Heather has largely retreated from that position, and now considers the Getica to be partially based on Gothic traditions, and that the archaeological evidence confirms a Gothic origin on the Baltic.[9]

Heather disagrees with the core-tradition (German: Traditionskern) theory pioneered by the Vienna School of History,[10][11] which contends that Germanic tribes were constantly changing, multi-ethnic coalitions held together by a small warrior elite. Instead, Heather contends that it was the freemen who constituted the backbone of Germanic tribes, and that the ethnic identity of tribes such as the Goths was stable for centuries, being held together by the freemen[clarification needed].[12][13][14]

Heather has written several works on the fall of the Western Roman Empire.[15][16][17][18] Contrary to several historians of the late 20th century, Heather contends that it was the movements of "barbarians" in the Migration Period which led to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.[3] He accepts the traditional view that it was the arrival of the Huns on the Pontic steppe in the late 4th century which set these migrations in motion. Heather's approach differs from many of his predecessors in the late 20th century, who have tended to downplay the importance migration played in the fall of the Western Roman Empire.[12] Guy Halsall groups Heather together with Neil Christie and E. A. Thompson as being among the so-called Movers, who trace the collapse of the Western Roman Empire to external migration. These are contrasted with the Shakers, including Patrick Amory and Jean Durliat, who trace the collapse to internal developments within the empire, and contend that the barbarians were wilfully but peacefully integrated into the empire by the Romans. The Movers and Shakers are largely divided, as the Germanists and Romanists were in the early 20th century.[19] According to Heather, the idea that the invading barbarians were peacefully absorbed into Roman civilisation "smells more of wishful thinking than likely reality".[20]

Along with Bryan Ward-Perkins and others scholars affiliated with the University of Oxford, Heather belongs to a new generation of historians who beginning in the early 2000s started to challenge theories on Late Antiquity that had been prevalent since the 1970s. These older theories generally denied the importance of ethnic identity, barbarian migrations and Roman decline in the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.[21] According to Andrew Gillet, Heather's works have been championed by (especially British) academics as a "new, definitive narrative" on the fall of Rome.[22]


Peter Heather has been criticised by members of the Toronto School of History. Michael Kulikowski, who is sometimes associated with this group, has said Heather promotes a "neo-Romantic vision of mass migrations of free Germanic peoples" and wishes "to revive a biological approach to ethnicity".[6][11][23] According to Kulikowski, Heather "comes perilously close to recreating the old, volkisch notion of an inherent "Germanic" belief in freedom."[24] On the other hand, Kulikowski has praised Heather for his works on Gothic history, calling him "the most subtle modern interpreter of Gothic history."[25]

Guy Halsall has identified Peter Heather as the leader of a "counter-revisionist offensive against more subtle ways of thinking" about the Migration Period. Halsall accuses this group, which is associated with the University of Oxford, of "bizarre reasoning" and of purveying a "deeply irresponsible history".[26] Halsall writes that Heather and the Oxford historians have been responsible for "an academic counter-revolution" of wide importance, and that they deliberately provide "succour" to far-right extremists such as Anders Behring Breivik.[27] Similar criticism has been levelled by Andrew Gillett, another associate of the Toronto School, who laments Heather's "biological" approach and lists Heather's research as an "obstacle" to the advance of multicultural values.[21]

Selected Works


  1. ^ a b Humphries 2007, p. 126. "For about twenty years now, the study of the Goths in English has been associated, above all, with the name of Peter Heather... for the formative period of Romano-Gothic relations from the third century to the fifth, Heather's remains the most concerted contribution..."
  2. ^ a b King's College.
  3. ^ a b c Contemporary Authors.
  4. ^ Humphries 2007, p. 126.
  5. ^ The Writer's Directory.
  6. ^ a b Kulikowski 2006, pp. 206, 208. "Peter Heather's Goths and Romans, 332–489 (Oxford, 1991) is the best treatment of its subject available in any language... Unfortunately, Heather's more recent works... [advocate a] neo-Romantic vision of mass migrations of free Germanic peoples... [Heather] lack[s] theoretical rigour in relating archaeological and historical evidence.
  7. ^ Murdoch 2004, p. 166. "The best modern general history in English is Peter Heather's The Goths (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), replacing the pioneering one by Henry Bradley, The Goths (London:Fisher-Unwin, 1888)."
  8. ^ Halsall 1999, p. 132. "Heather... is a counter-revisionist, attempting to reinstate traditional views of Barbarian Migrations on more sophisticated foundations, using recent developments in archaeology, anthropology and history. His important book, in size and content, represents the best overview of a particular barbarian group... It clearly replaces H. Wolfram's History of the Goths..."
  9. ^ Halsall 1999, p. 134. "In his excellent Goths and Romans, Peter Heather demolished the idea that the Getica's picture of Gothic history could be projected further back than about 376 for the later Visigoths, or beyond the break-up of the Hunnic Empire for the Ostrogoths... However, Heather seems to have retreated slightly from his earlier position. Partly this is because he wishes to show that archaeology might indeed prove than Jordanes was right to trace Gothic origins to the Baltic. Consequently, perhaps, he seems readier than before to see genuine Gothic traditions among those employed by Ablabius, Cassiodorus and then Jordanes... His analyses irreparably damaged the Getica's value for Gothic 'prehistory' yet, to reinstate the Gothic migration from the Baltic, he has to accept the value of at least a kernel of Jordanes' account; he accepts this on the basis of a reading of archaeological data which is itself driven by the uncritical 'pre-Heatherian' interpretation of Jordanes."
  10. ^ Humphries 2007, p. 129.
  11. ^ a b Kulikowski 2002, pp. 71–73.
  12. ^ a b Halsall 2007, pp. 19–20.
  13. ^ Halsall 2007, p. 472. "Peter Heather... sees the 'Germanic' ethnic units—the 'peoples'—of this period as largely constituted by a numerous and politically important stratum of freemen. The cohesion of this group acted as a check, he argues, on ethnic change, although it did not prevent it. This is an interesting and solidly argued case and not, in itself, implausible."
  14. ^ Halsall 1999, p. 139. "Heather refutes the idea of the Traditionskern, the core of tradition, 'borne' by a small, royal and aristocratic nucleus within the larger 'ethnic' group: myths which unified a greater body, composed of people of diverse origins... Heather deploys this refutation of the Traditionskern to argue that Gothic identity was not restricted to a small core but was widespread among a large body of freemen."
  15. ^ Mason, Ian Garrick (27 August 2005). "The barbarians move in". The Spectator. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  16. ^ Napier, William (3 July 2005). "The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather". The Independent. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  17. ^ Man, John (17 December 2005). "The barbarians move in". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  18. ^ Law, Sally (11 June 2010). "Ask an Academic: The Fall of Rome". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  19. ^ Wood 2013, p. 311.
  20. ^ Heather 2018, pp. 80–100.
  21. ^ a b Gillett 2017.
  22. ^ Gillett 2017. "Heather's book was quickly championed, by British academics in particular, as a new, definitive narrative of the Fall of Rome..." Mischa Meier 2019, p. 35, however, challenges Heather's authority.
  23. ^ Kulikowski 2002, p. 83.
  24. ^ Kulikowski 2011, p. 278.
  25. ^ Kulikowski 2006, p. 64.
  26. ^ Halsall, Guy (15 July 2011). "Why do we need the Barbarians?". Historian on the Edge. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  27. ^ Halsall 2014, p. 517.