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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by…

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1781)

by Edward Gibbon

Other authors: Betty Radice (Editor), H. R. Trevor-Roper (Introduction)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,391292,608 (4.23)1 / 161
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    On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (themulhern)
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    An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC - AD 409 by David Mattingly (John_Vaughan)
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    The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire {abridged by Lentin and Norman} by Edward Gibbon (Waldstein)
    Waldstein: Excellent abridged edition to start with before tackling the real thing. Reprints 28 complete chapters (out of 71, the rest are supplied with short summaries). Gibbon's footnotes are complete, the numerous Latin phrases in them are translated. Very nice introduction (plus occasional footnotes) by the editors, Antony Lentin and Brian Norman. On the downside, the volume is not especially handy in paperback and the font is rather smallish.… (more)

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Die reichste, raffinierteste Zivilisation der Welt geht an ihrer eigenen Unzulänglichkeit zugrunde, die Metropole versinkt im Chaos, die letzt Stunde des Imperiums hat geschlagen. Die europäische Phantasie kreist bis auf den heutigen Tag um diesen Geschichtsmythos. Ob es um den Untergang des Abendlandes geht oder um den allerletzten Science-Fiction-Film aus Hollywood - immer ist es die römische Geschichte, die als Modell und Folie dient.
  stezueger | Aug 4, 2017 |
A truly monumental work, covering nearly a millennium and a half of European history, from the Antonine emperors through the rise of Christianity and the conversion of Constantine, Diocletian's attempts to restore the empire to its pagan roots and the final collapse of paganism, ending the first half with the fall of Rome and the end of empire in the west. The second half mainly deals with the eastern Byzantine empire and includes many interesting historical episodes, from Justinian's attempt to reconquer the west, to Mohammed and the rise of the Arabs, Charlemagne, the Crusades, Zingis (Genghis) Khan and the Mogul (Mongol) conquests, through the final capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks and the end of the empire in the east.

Gibbon was also so far ahead of his time that many historians to this day still haven't caught up to him in some respects, offering insightful interpretations of many of the events he covers. For example, discussing the Mogul conquests and many other destructive wars, he argues that, contrary to the opinions of other historians who find all kinds of positive consequences resulting from such conquest, "If some partial disorders, some local oppressions, were healed by the sword...the remedy was far more pernicious than the disease." Similarly, commenting on the invention of gunpowder, he writes: "If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind."

All this shows the influence on Gibbon of Voltaire, who held that history should properly focus on those who have actually contributed to the advance of civilization, rather than on kings and warriors who more often hold it back. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is mostly focused on the kings and warriors, but Gibbon clearly shares Voltaire's evaluation of them. This is apparent from the opening pages, where Gibbon writes, "as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters."

Gibbon also shares Voltaire's evaluation of Christianity, and again is insightful ahead of his time. For instance, he demolishes the idea that the early Christians were brutally and systematically persecuted by the pagan emperors, thoroughly demonstrating that such persecution as did take place was usually local, half-hearted if not reluctant, and short-lived. But he doesn't stop there. He shows how the Christians persecuted each other far more severely than the pagans ever did, ruthlessly stamping out any sect deemed heretical down through the centuries. Further, he asks, if the Christians were so persecuted by the pagans, how come it's the Christians who ultimately won out and it's the pagans who were finally extinguished? The outcome speaks for itself, but Gibbon writes movingly about the final triumph of Christianity and what that meant for pagans like Hypatia of Alexandria.

Gibbon's writing is full of such insight and is often quite witty, and his subjects are often very interesting. My only complaint is that the material occasionally gets bogged down with page after page about the same city being taken and retaken by opposing sides in a conflict, and this can start to seem painfully redundant after a while (though if that's how it feels to read about it, just imagine what it must have been like to live through it!). But just keep reading and it will soon again be worth it. And even if at times I wish Gibbon would in some ways adjust his focus or his organization, I can forgive him all that for all the value his great work provides!

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3USX7XF5B8R7J ( )
1 vote AshRyan | Dec 6, 2014 |
"In the Afternoon. read History. / History. Antient ... Gibbon’s decline of the Rom. empire." - Thomas Jefferson to John Minor, 30 Aug.1814 [PTJ:RS 7:625-631]
  ThomasJefferson | Jul 8, 2014 |
An excellent edition, in slipcovers with profuse illustrations of Roman ruins by Piranesi, plus maps as end-covers.
  SteveJohnson | Nov 17, 2013 |
Magnificent edition. Full review at: http://ephemeralpursuits.com/blog/2013/06/lec-history-of-the-decline-fall-of-the...

7 volumes, produced by the Limited Editions Club in 1945 from Bury's edited text of 1896-1900. ( )
  nicklong | Jun 19, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edward Gibbonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Radice, BettyEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Trevor-Roper, H. R.Introductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bury, John BagnellIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bury, John BagnellEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guedalla, PhilipForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Low, D.M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Milman, Rev. Henry HartEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piranesi, Gian BattistaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Sir WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trevor-Roper, HughIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trevor-Roper, Hugh RedwaldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, RosemaryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Womersley, David P.Contributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Womersley, David, PhDEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the second century of the Christian Æra, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this, and of the two succeeding chapters, to describe the prosperous condition of their empire; and after wards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall; a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth.

It has been objected to Marcus, that he sacrificed the happiness of millions to a fond partiality for a worthless boy, and that he chose a successor in his own family, rather than in the republic. Nothing, however, was neglected by the anxious father, and by the men of virtue and learning whom he summoned to his assistance, to expand the narrow mind of young Commodus, to correct his growing vices, and to render him worthy of the throne, for which he was designed. But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous. [Chapter 4.]

There are two very natural propensities which we may distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal dispositions, the love of pleasure and the love of action. If the former is refined by art and learning, improved by the charms of social intercourse, and corrected by a just regard to economy, to health, and to reputation, it is productive of the greatest part of the happiness of private life. The love of action is a principle of a much stronger and more doubtful nature. It often leads to anger, to ambition, and to revenge; but when it is guided by the sense of propriety and benevolence, it becomes the parent of every virtue, and, if those virtues are accompanied with equal abilities, a family, a state, or an empire may be indebted for their safety and prosperity to the undaunted courage of a single man. To the love of pleasure we may therefore ascribe most of the agreeable, to the love of action we may attribute most of the useful and respectable, qualifications. The character in which both the one and the other should be united and harmonised would seem to constitute the most perfect idea of human nature. The insensible and inactive disposition, which should be supposed alike destitute of both, would be rejected, by the common consent of mankind, as utterly incapable of procuring any happiness to the individual, or any public benefit to the world. But it was not in this world that the primitive Christians were desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful. [Chapter 15.]

A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favoured the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition. Some deities of a more recent and fashionable cast might soon have occupied the deserted temples of Jupiter and Apollo, if, in the decisive moment, the wisdom of Providence had not interposed a genuine revelation fitted to inspire the most rational esteem and conviction, whilst, at the same time, it was adorned with all that could attract the curiosity, the wonder, and the veneration of the people. In their actual disposition, as many were almost disengaged from their artificial prejudices, but equally susceptible and desirous of a devout attachment, an object much less deserving would have been sufficient to fill the vacant place in their hearts, and to gratify the uncertain eagerness of their passions. Those who are inclined to pursue this reflection, instead of viewing with astonishment the rapid progress of Christianity, will perhaps be surprised that its success was not still more rapid and still more universal. [Chapter 15.]

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375758119, Paperback)

British parliamentarian and soldier Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) conceived of his plan for Decline and Fall while "musing amid the ruins of the Capitol" on a visit to Rome. For the next 10 years he worked away at his great history, which traces the decadence of the late empire from the time of the Antonines and the rise of Western Christianity. "The confusion of the times, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, pose equal difficulties to the historian, who attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration," he writes. Despite these obstacles, Decline and Fall remains a model of historical exposition, and required reading for students of European history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:47 -0400)

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Considered one of the finest historical works in the English language, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is lauded for its graceful, elegant prose style as much as for its epic scope. Remarkably accurate for its day, Gibbon's treatise holds a high place in the history of literature and remains an enduring subject of study. Gibbon's monumental work traces the history of more than thirteen centuries, covering the great events as well as the general historical progression. This first volume covers 180 AD to 395 AD, which includes the reign of Augustus, the establishment of Christianity, and the Crusades.… (more)

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