The Roman Empire has been a source of inspiration and a model for imitation for Western empires practically since the moment Rome fell. Yet, as Julia Hell shows in The Conquest of Ruins, what has had the strongest grip on aspiring imperial imaginations isn’t that empire’s glory but its fall—and the haunting monuments left in its wake.
Hell examines centuries of European empire-building—from Charles V in the sixteenth century and Napoleon’s campaigns of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to the atrocities of Mussolini and the Third Reich in the 1930s and ’40s—and sees a similar fascination with recreating the Roman past in the contemporary image. In every case—particularly that of the Nazi regime—the ruins of Rome seem to represent a mystery to be solved: how could an empire so powerful be brought so low? Hell argues that this fascination with the ruins of greatness expresses a need on the part of would-be conquerors to find something to ward off a similar demise for their particular empire.
About the Author
Julia Hell is professor of German at the University of Michigan.
“Essential. . . A genuine intellectual tour de force. A complex and challenging read, The Conquest of Ruins will appeal to ruinologists, sociologists, and historians of both antiquity and modernity.”
“Hell’s dazzlingly ambitious book demonstrates the pervasive presence of Roman ruins—a haunting reminder of empire’s inevitable end—in the imagination of later empire builders, so often drawn to identification with Roman models. Fully alert to the complexity of ancient Roman reflections on ruin, Hell explores the political, aesthetic, and psychic resonance of recurrent scenes of ruin contemplation generated in the Holy Roman Empire of Charles V, revolutionary France, imperial Britain, and beyond. Above all she offers a compelling analysis of Nazi Germany’s deep-rooted and anxious obsession with the image of barbarians contemplating the monumental ruins of Rome.”
— Catharine Edwards, author of Death in Ancient Rome
“Was Rome the inescapable model of all imperial enterprises? From the fall of Carthage to the fall of the Third Reich and the end of the colonial empires, Hell develops a brilliant and innovative interrogation of the very concept of mimesis and its modern revivals. A long journey—well informed, full of insights, strongly convincing—through the imperial history of the West. The Conquest of Ruins is going to become a major landmark.”
— François Hartog, author of Regimes of Historicity
“One of the most original, learned, and thought-provoking books of the last decade. Encompassing thinkers and empire-builders from Polybios and Scipio to Heidegger and Hitler, Hell surveys the profoundly important topoi of the ruin gazer, the conqueror who recognizes that all empires must end, and the katechon, the delayer, who is able, at least for a time, to stave off the inevitable. The Conquest of Ruins is a landmark achievement, comparable in both scope and brilliance to J. G. A. Pocock’s epoch-making The Machiavellian Moment.”
— Suzanne Marchand, author of German Orientalism in the Age of Empire