|Born||8 June 1960|
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
|Thesis||The Goths and the Balkans (1987)|
|School or tradition||Oxford School|
|Main interests||Late 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.
Heather was born in Northern Ireland on 8 June 1960. He was educated at Maidstone Grammar School, and received his M.A. and D.Phil. from New College, Oxford. Among his teachers at Oxford were John Matthews and James Howard-Johnston. 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.
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.
In his earliest works, Heather mostly rejected the Getica of Jordanes as a valuable source on early Gothic history. In later years, due to advances in archaeology, Heather has largely retreated from that position, and now considers the Getica to be partially based on Gothic traditions, and believes that the archaeological evidence confirms a Gothic origin the Baltic.
Heather disagrees with the core-tradition (German: Traditionskern) theory pioneered by the Vienna School of History, 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.
Heather has written several works on the fall of the Western Roman Empire. 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. 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. 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, whose members include Patrick Amory and Jean Durliat. The Shakers trace the collapse to internal developments within the empire, and contend that the barbarians were willfully and peacefully integrated into the empire by the Romans. The Movers and Shakers are largely divided like the Germanists and Romanists, respectively, were in the early 20th century. According to Heather, the idea that the invading barbarians were peacefully absorbed into Roman civilisation "smells more of wishful thinking than likely reality".
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. According to Andrew Gillet, Heather's works have been championed by (especially British) academics as a "new, definitive narrative" on the fall of Rome.
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". According to Kulikowski, Heather "comes perilously close to recreating the old, volkisch notion of an inherent "Germanic" belief in freedom." On the other hand, Kulikowski has praised Heather for his works on Gothic history, calling him "the most subtle modern interpreter of Gothic history."
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". 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. 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.