Bicentennial Essay: The Score: Rome 1,500, U.S. 200

Americans have been so busy celebrating their anniversary that a historic event of equal significance has gone unmarked. This summer commemorates the birth of one great state and the death of another. Fifteen hundred years ago, on Aug. 28, A.D. 476, Romulus Augustulus, the last Emperor of the West, abandoned his throne to Odoacer, a leader of Germanic tribes. Thus did the Roman Empire fall.

Or did it? Observing the self-congratulatory excesses of Bicentennial America, some pop historians have found the empire's obituary a bit premature. Edward Gibbon's celebrated attribution of Rome's fall to...

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