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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (sometimes shortened to Fall of the Roman Empire) is a book of history written by the English historian Edward Gibbon. It traces the trajectory of Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium.

The work covers the history of the Roman Empire, Europe, and the Catholic Church from 98 to 1590 and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West. Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first "modern historian of ancient Rome"

This version includes working footnotes unobtrusively placed at the back of the book with active links for easy navigation, maps from the original book, modern maps, and links to audiobook of all volumes.

1312 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 1776

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About the author

Edward Gibbon

1,720 books492 followers
Edward Gibbon (8 May 1737 – 16 January 1794) was an English historian and Member of Parliament. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. The Decline and Fall is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organised religion.

Gibbon returned to England in June 1765. His father died in 1770, and after tending to the estate, which was by no means in good condition, there remained quite enough for Gibbon to settle fashionably in London at 7 Bentinck Street, independent of financial concerns. By February 1773, he was writing in earnest, but not without the occasional self-imposed distraction. He took to London society quite easily, and joined the better social clubs, including Dr. Johnson's Literary Club, and looked in from time to time on his friend Holroyd in Sussex. He succeeded Oliver Goldsmith at the Royal Academy as 'professor in ancient history' (honorary but prestigious). In late 1774, he was initiated a freemason of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. And, perhaps least productively in that same year, he was returned to the House of Commons for Liskeard, Cornwall through the intervention of his relative and patron, Edward Eliot. He became the archetypal back-bencher, benignly "mute" and "indifferent," his support of the Whig ministry invariably automatic. Gibbon's indolence in that position, perhaps fully intentional, subtracted little from the progress of his writing.

After several rewrites, with Gibbon "often tempted to throw away the labours of seven years," the first volume of what would become his life's major achievement, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published on 17 February 1776. Through 1777, the reading public eagerly consumed three editions for which Gibbon was rewarded handsomely: two-thirds of the profits amounting to approximately £1,000. Biographer Leslie Stephen wrote that thereafter, "His fame was as rapid as it has been lasting." And as regards this first volume, "Some warm praise from David Hume overpaid the labour of ten years."

Volumes II and III appeared on 1 March 1781, eventually rising "to a level with the previous volume in general esteem." Volume IV was finished in June 1784; the final two were completed during a second Lausanne sojourn (September 1783 to August 1787) where Gibbon reunited with his friend Deyverdun in leisurely comfort. By early 1787, he was "straining for the goal" and with great relief the project was finished in June. Gibbon later wrote:

It was on the day, or rather the night, of 27 June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. ... I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.

Volumes IV, V, and VI finally reached the press in May 1788, their publication having been delayed since March so it could coincide with a dinner party celebrating Gibbon's 51st birthday (the 8th). Mounting a bandwagon of praise for the later volumes were such contemporary luminaries as Adam Smith, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, Lord Camden, and Horace Walpole. Smith remarked that Gibbon's triumph had positioned him "at the very head of [Europe's] literary tribe."

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Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews45 followers
April 19, 2022
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon. It traces Western civilization from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium.

Volume I was published in 1776 and went through six printings.

Volumes II and III were published in 1781.

Volumes IV, V, and VI in 1788–1789.

The six volumes cover the history, from 98 to 1590, of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity and then of the Roman State Church, and the history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire among other things.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و ششم ماه می سال1975میلادی

عنوان: ان‍ح‍طاط و س‍ق‍وط ام‍پ‍رات‍وری روم؛ اثر: ادوارد گ‍ی‍ب‍ون؛ مترج‍م: اب‍وال‍ق‍اس‍م‌ طاه‍ری؛ چ‍اپ‌ نخست سال1347؛ ک‍ت‍اب‍ه‍ای‌ جی‍ب‍ی‌؛ نشر ف‍ران‍ک‍ل‍ی‍ن‌؛ چاپ دیگر ت‍ه‍ران، س‍ازم‍ان‌ ان‍ت‍ش‍ارات‌ و آم‍وزش‌ ان‍ق‍لاب‌ اس‍لام‍ی‌، سال1370، در623ص‌؛ ن‍ق‍ش‍ه‌؛ چاپ سوم انتشارات علمی فرهنگی؛ سال1373؛ در623ص‌؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده18م

ای‍ن‌ ک‍ت‍اب‌ را ب‍ا ت‍رج‍م‍ه‌ بانو «ف‍رن‍گ‍ی‍س‌ ش‍ادم‍ان‌ (ن‍م‍ازی‌)» ب‍ن‍گ‍اه‌ ت‍رج‍م‍ه‌ و ن‍ش‍ر ک‍ت‍اب‌ نیز در س‍ه‌ ج‍ل‍د، و در س‍ال‌های1351؛ تا سال1353هجری خورشیدی م‍ن‍ت‍ش‍ر کرده‌ اند

نویسنده ی «بریتانیایی» کتاب «تاریخ انحطاط و سقوط امپراتوری روم»، یا «انحطاط و سقوط امپراتوری روم»، «ادوارد گ‍ی‍ب‍ون»، در این کتاب خویش به «امپراتوری روم»، از سالهای پایانی سده ی نخست میلادی، تا فروپاشی «امپراتوری روم شرقی» می‌پردازند؛ نسخه اصلی کتاب در شش جلد منتشر شده‌ است، که جلد نخست آن: در سال1776میلادی، جلدهای دوم و سوم در سال1781میلادی، و جلدهای چهارم، پنجم و ششم: در سالهای1788میلادی تا سال1789میلادی، منتشر شده اند

این اثر به «امپراتوری روم»، «اروپا»، و «کلیسای کاتولیک» از سال98میلادی تا سال1590میلادی میپردازد، و درباره ی فروپاشی «امپراتوری روم، در شرق و غرب»، گفتگو می‌کند؛ به سبب هویت اثر، و استفاده ی بسیار از منابع نخستین، روش‌شناسی به کار گرفته شده در این اثر، در آن زمان، مدلی برای تاریخ‌دانان پس از ایشان شد، و «ادوارد گیبون» به «نخستین تاریخ نگار مدرن روم باستان» نامدار شدند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 02/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 29/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Ted.
191 reviews91 followers
May 28, 2008
The history of human civilization and society is basically a continuum of idiots, sociopaths, murderers and bores, punctuated by the occasional rational individual whose life is cut short by those very sociopaths that succeed him. Gibbon's classic documents a tiny cross-section of some of the most lamentably pathetic mistakes and awful personalities this doomed species has ever suffered. Oh, how times have changed.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
February 18, 2016
“the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave.”
― Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire


Volumes 1 - 6 = 3589 pages, and I can't think of more than 200 that I would have preferred to have skipped.

Love Gibbon's sense of humor, his methodology, his hard bigotry towards the Huns, his soft bigotry towards the Christians, and his ability to find interesting nouns to link with rapine: "idleness, poverty, and rapine"; "rapine and oppression"; "violence and rapine"; "rapine and cruelty"; "rapine and torture"; "rapine and corruption"; "rapine and disregard"; "War, rapine, and freewill offerings" AND that is all just volume one. An important and interesting work, that moves with a quicker pace than its size or age would suggest.

There was some drudgery with the minor, post Constantine emperors. I was also not as excited by the HRE sections as I was by the sections on the Rise of Islam, the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and the Crusades. Those sections alone are why I rated the second half 5 stars and not 4. Anyway, a fantastic read. Ironic to finish it right after S&P lowers our national credit rating and our senators again fail to do anything productive.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,925 followers
May 27, 2013
Well, it's not actually the last word on the Empire. Gibbon hated the Byzantines, thought they were appallingly religious and ineluctably corrupt. So he didn't have a good word to say on the Eastern Empire which lasted 1000 years after the fall of the Western Empire. Modern historians have rehabilitated the Byzantines to a great extent.

You have to give it up for Mr Gibbon and his grossly distended testicles - he smuggled into the universities and libraries of the west a most refreshingly undermined version of Christianity. I hold him partially responsible for the inside-out version of religion you see in the modern Church of England (aka Anglicans, aka Episcopalians). All the supernatural has been bled right out of the thing. They are not Byzantines any more.

I only read vols 1-3 but intend to finish the whole thing one day. Hey, half of Gibbon is still twice as long as anyone else!
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
419 reviews364 followers
February 16, 2023
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – by Edward Gibbon, VOL III

Reviewed 16th Feb 2023

Volume III takes us from about 365 CE to around 490 CE. This period covers the first time the Eternal City was sacked for around eight hundred years, a momentous event indeed. The Empire was split in two at this time (East and West), the capitol of the West was either Milan or Ravenna and the capital of the East was the wondrous city of Constantinople (Istanbul). In my mind, Rome was still a significant city, full of old-fogies (Senators etc), a significant population of (maybe around 800,000) and had considerable symbolic and historical importance.

A significant aspect of this volume concerns the affairs of the so-called barbarians. Gibbon persists in this moniker for the Huns, Goths, Vandals and Visigoths, but from my other reading and listening (to some excellent podcasts) these people were far from ‘barbarians’. They had structure and ambition, many or most were Christian by this time. Importantly, they were also embedded firmly into both the Western and Eastern Roman Empire – a number were even ‘Roman’ Generals. One man in particular, a General called Stilicho was the most powerful man in the Western Empire for a time.

Much of this came about after the death of Theodosius I (who was Emperor of both halves) in 395 CE – when his two very young sons took over the East (Arcadius age seventeen) and the West (Honorius age ten*). These lads were ‘supervised/controlled/ by the likes of Stilicho (a Vandal), Alaric (a Visigoth) and Rufinus – it was these guys who did the real bidding.

*This is amazing really. When I was ten I spent most of my time kicking a football and picking my nose. Imagine being an Emperor? Either way both of these boys were considered inept and were under the total control of their wives, advisors and others as previously mentioned

Keeping in mind, Constantine the Great was running around earlier in the 4th century - Christianity and the Churches (East and West), played a massive part in this period, there were civil wars, wars against outside forces and usurpers raising their ambitious heads. In fact, I enjoyed learning about significant religious figures such as Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan and also John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople.

My verdict: This review only tangentially touches on a few events discussed in this volume. To be honest, out of the three volumes I have now read, this one was really heavy going. The characters were numerous – overly so and the events just stumbled into each other one after the other. I think my ‘happy place’ is the first three centuries of the Roman Empire. I don’t have the energy or mental capacity to absorb all of the details of this period, and I doubt very much I will be able to do so all the way to the eventual final fall in 1453 CE (as fascinating as that may be).

Time to go back and snuggle into the familiar bosom of Trajan, the high jinks of Nero, and the familiar limp of Claudius - I will dip into the later Empire now and again.

4 stars for Vol III

Ps. Happy to take comments about any errors or disagreements regarding my commentary here - or any discussion, I don’t profess to be an expert 😊


The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume II, by Edward Gibbon was as enjoyable and interesting as the first volume. Volume I presented a wonderful summary of the Empire’s first 66 Emperors – ending with Licinius in the early 4th century. Gibbon then touched on Christianity and Licinius’ nemesis – Constantine I (or The Great), he set up Volume II very nicely indeed.

Gibbon commences Volume II with Christian persecution from the reigns of Nero to Constantine. That’s a long time, and the history is so dense and described so vividly. We then learn about Constantinople (used to be called Byzantium, now called Istanbul). Gibbons describes, in incredible detail the city, how it functioned, the politics, the people – the lot!!

Beautiful Constantinople, on the majestic Bosporus

Then it’s onto the man himself – Constantine the Great. The consequences of this man are still felt today. For a start, when he eventually disposed of Licinius (and it took a while) – he moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and named it Constantinople. That’s no small decision, he was also instrumental in legitimising Christianity. The Edict of Milan which legislated toleration of Christianity was a seismic shift in the way the Romans saw themselves and each other. Constantine’s conversion from a polytheist is a hot topic of debate, when and how it happened, did he dream of the cross before the battle at the Milvian Bridge? Even his baptism on his deathbed – is that when it happened? It is fascinating. Constantine however was continually frustrated by the constant internal bickering within the church. Persistent arguments about theology, heresy, what to do with various sects of the church. Some of these splits still endure. But Constantine was right in the thick of it. This man was also a great general, and perhaps one of the 4 or 5 most successful and impactful Emperors of all-time. Naturally, he was also a cruel bastard – and totally Machiavellian. Scholars still argue about his possible use of Christianity for political purposes.

Gibbons’ writing is outstanding and continues to be totally enjoyable. Regarding his conversion he says:

It was an arduous task to eradicate the habits and prejudices of his education, to acknowledge the divine power of Christ, and to understand that the truth of his revelation was incompatible with the worship of the Roman gods

My favourite statue of a Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great - you can just see him, pondering his next move during a rare moment of quiet solitude. Along with Trajan, Augustus and Hadrian - one of the greatest Emperors (in my humble opinion). I need to see this statue in York before I shuffle off this mortal coil

Constantine obviously had to tread on a few toes (putting it mildly) to become the sole Emperor (remembering the Empire was emerging from a Tetrarchy) and promote this new religion……..

By the grateful zeal of the Christians, the deliverer of the church has been decorated with every attribute of a hero, and even of a saint; while the vanquished party has compared Constantine to the most abhorred of those tyrants who, by their vice and weakness, dishonoured the Imperial purple”……..ahhhhh that is just so majestically explained. This volume has around 600 pages of this wonderful writing. Happy days.

We also learn about other impactful characters such as Emperors Julian the Apostate and Jovian and so many more. The number and brutality of the civil wars make Game of Thrones look like a Sunday picnic - and it all ACTUALLY HAPPENED!!!! The story of Emperor Julian’s apostasy was fascinating, his refusal to yield to the passive obedience required to be a Christian was in my mind totally understandable. But it again illustrates the tumultuous period of the 4th century – the wars, the changes in edicts and religion, the re-emergence of paganism, more persecutions. It all sounds a bit dreadful really – something to be viewed from the safe distance of 2 millennia in one’s bed at night.

Gibbons ends this volume at around 375 CE, at the time of Emperors Gratian and Valentinian II. The author spends the last 50 pages summarising the various wars in the Empire – Germany, Britain, Africa, Persia and the Goths.

Now for a breather before starting Volume III. The Roman Empire is so fascinating and to think, when I started this journey (obsession) a few years ago, I thought it all started and ended with the Julio-Claudians and the city of Rome. There is so much more to know, understand and love about this subject.

Thank you, Mr Gibbon.

5 Stars

This review is a bit long, sorry
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,286 followers
August 17, 2015
I have a question that I think you might be able to help me with: should we send this book into space? You know, download it into a golden thumb drive—or perhaps seal a nice leather-bound set in a container—strap it to a rocket, and let it float like the Voyager space probe for all of time. There are weighty reasons for answering in either the positive or the negative. Let us examine them.

On the one hand, we have every abominable act, every imaginable vice, every imprudent lunacy able to be committed by man here recorded. After all, this was written by a man who considered history “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” Imagine an alien race picking up the capsule and deciphering our language. Imagine the looks on their faces (if they have faces) when they hear of the grotesque bunch of bipeds on the other side of the galaxy who do nothing but rape, pillage, and kill each other. Imagine this happens after our sun explodes or we blow ourselves up; this is the last utterance of an extinguished species. Would we want it to be this? Why not Don Quixote or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

On the other hand, intimately connected with this narrative of wickedness and stupidity, inextricably intertwined in the fabric of this book, is the genius of its author. Who could read a single page of this great book and not be humbled by the quality of his thought, the care of his method, the power of his prose? If ever there was a document that singlehandedly redeems all of the idiocy our race insistently indulges in, it’s this book. At least the aliens would know that one of us had a good head on our shoulders.

It is impossible to discuss this work without its author. In perusing The Decline and Fall we find innumerable facets of Gibbon: the philosopher, the poet, the politician, the theologian, the strategist, the humanist, the public servant, the lawyer, the yellow journalist, the sage, (and the historian). But what we find, most of all, is Gibbon the lover of life. No man has ever loved more the variegated tapestry of human affairs—from the daily ritual of a serf to the greatest battles ever waged, from the planning of a palace to the marital squabbles of a prince. He will cast a glance at events large and small, weigh the facts with a disinterested hand, and with a knowing nod and amiable wink he will describe them in his inimitable prose. Gibbon views life like well-aged wine; he will take it in sips and draughts, savoring every strain in the flavor—from the musky, rotten odor to the sweet, honeyed tinge—and then discuss it with you at length. He is a connoisseur of life. Won’t you join him for a drink?
Profile Image for Loring Wirbel.
296 reviews83 followers
November 27, 2016
The obvious issue to address in reviewing the 3,500-page unabridged edition of Gibbon's masterpiece, is whether the maniacal effort to attack such a work could ever justify preferring it over a single-volume abridged edition. That is an easy call. This work is occasionally tough, often exciting, but in every sense a necessity over any attempts to edit down Gibbon. I tried the 1200-page Modern Library edition and found it fragmented and hard to follow, simply because Gibbon is telling a story that defies attempts to hone it down.

Is the language stilted and occasionally hard to follow? Sure. The first three volumes were released in 1776, and the last three in 1787. Not only are the sentences convoluted and overextended in a manner far greater than 19th-century writers like Dickens, but Gibbon is inclined to use quaint, silly, and occasionally racist terms that were common in his era. Notions that racial characteristics could be determined by the latitudinal source of an indigenous people's homeland, or that a national culture could be described as "effeminate," have to be taken with an understanding of the limited intelligence of Western philosophers 250 years ago.

But let's remind ourselves of what Gibbon really accomplished. Without the benefits of online inquiries or Wikipedia, without the easy ability to travel that some historians take for granted, Gibbon did far more than compile a history of the Western Roman empire from the time of Commodius to the collapse of Rome in the 470s, as well as the companion history of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire from 325 AD to 1453 AD. On the way, he compiles histories of Christianity (heresies as well as Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxies), Islam (Sunni and Shia), and a host of "barbarian" and tribal cultures such as Franks, Goths, Suevi, Huns, Vandals, Persian (Sassanid and beyond), khanates, Timurid, and every imaginable iteration thereof. Gibbon tells history as it should be told - as a flow of peoples across a landscape, not as a collection of static dates and personages to be memorized in history class (though, truth be told, it would be useful for him to include a few more dates than the years placed in the margins of each page).

It deserves mention that the Catholic Church proscribed this book for more than 200 years, and not only or primarily because of how cruel Gibbon was to the Catholic Church (I for one would call him "cruel but fair," and he often bent over backward to make the case for orthodox interpretations of Christianity). Instead, the main reason the Catholic Church attacked Gibbon is because he described events that really happened. At several points in the last 1700 years, the Catholic Church has tried to claim that certain events in its attacks on heresy, and certain fights between popes and anti-popes, never happened. Gibbon will have none of that, nor will be accept the events in the lives of the saints as being wholly truthful. When he demanded fact-checking on claims of the Catholic Church, it is no wonder the church hierarchy wanted him banned.

Many suggest that Gibbon worked with more care on the first three volumes covering the Western Empire than he did on the final three volumes. It's true that after the attempt by Emperor Justinian to re-take the Mediterranean, the narrative falters a bit. Some critics say that this is because Gibbon found the Greek Orthodox Byzantines to be less palatable than the traditional Romans. It's understandable he would have these feelings, because the Byzantine government and culture did not give rise to any great philosophers and historians, only treacherous rulers who would torture each other in odd lines of succession. After the ridiculous wars of iconoclasm in the eighth and ninth centuries, the rest of Byzantine history was just a slow ride down to the day in the mid-15th century when Constantinople was finally conquered by Ottoman Muslims.

But Gibbon's problems in the final three volumes were really ones of organization. Perhaps because he didn't want to confuse the readers with the strange succession of emperors, Gibbon groups capsule histories of the emperors early on, then goes back to talk about Islam's spread, the schisms between Orthodox and Catholic churches, the meaning of the steppe-warrior invasions (both Zingis Khan and Timur), and even some odd chapters on Roman civil uprisings. There are times in the last two volumes of the history that the reader has to focus to keep the narrative train on the tracks. And the modern reader always must keep access to Wikipedia handy, because Gibbon rattles off some names tangentially that must be looked up and appraised merely to understand the point he is trying to make.

But as challenging as Gibbon's own idiosyncracies are, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire deserves its reputation as the most significant work of history ever accomplished by a single author in the last 500 years. The personality that comes through in the writing shows us that this multi-volume study was not written by committee. Yet the scope of what Gibbon did, writing in 1776, seems far beyond what most modern historians could accomplish with the aid of electronic tools. Maybe Will and Ariel Durant's Civilization series deserves to be placed ahead of Gibbon's for that series' massive size and the equally exquisite writing. Yet the Durants were trying to describe global cultures and their histories in an open and free-flowing way. Gibbon was on a mission to tell a story that had no happy ending, and the reader morbidly follows as though this was the real-world Game of Thrones: the story inevitably will end badly for all concerned, yet we can't put the book(s) down.
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,259 followers
November 13, 2010
I borrowed the first two volumes—amongst my Dad's all-time favourites—from his study when I was around fourteen; and my enduring fascination with the Roman Empire, and ancient history in general, most likely stems from a combination of the heady brews of Gibbon's and Tolkien's masterworks, which ignited within me a terrific thirst for mythology, legend, and history that has yet to be slaked. As far as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is concerned, I believe that Gibbon is the greatest prose stylist in the English language after Shakespeare: even today, decades after that always-so-important first read, I still bear the scars—and leave lingering traces—of my hapless efforts to simulate the effortless erudition, sinuous sublimity, poetic polish, and mellifluous majesty of the supremely gifted Gibbon in my own comparatively shabby scribbling.

If you read no other history of the Roman Empire besides this, you would still be impressively knowledgeable, especially about its (frequently deposed and/or murdered) ruler's fortunes, favorites, forays, fratricides, and follies, as well as the general impact on it of Christianity, both in its embryonic, defiant stages and after imperial mass-conversion—though it should be kept in mind that modern scholarship (see, for instance, Peter Heather's recent effort of propinquitous theme and rubric) challenges Gibbon's assignation of primacy to it in undermining the imperial structure. I always recommend reading the unabridged version—how dare they slice up Gibbon's beautiful prose painting!—as the Englishman's musings on the empire's Byzantine stepchild—and its melancholy, lingering efforts to clutch and hold the eastern provinces in seesaw struggle against Slav, Arab, Crusader, and Turk—is well worth the extra pound or two of paper and potential ligament damage.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews17 followers
March 17, 2015
Description: Edward Gibbon’s masterpiece, which narrates the history of the Roman Empire from the second century A.D. to its collapse in the west in the fifth century and in the east in the fifteenth century, is widely considered the greatest work of history ever written. This abridgment retains the full scope of the original, but in a breadth comparable to a novel. Casual readers now have access to the full sweep of Gibbon’s narrative, while instructors and students have a volume that can be read in a single term. This unique edition emphasizes elements ignored in all other abridgments—in particular the role of religion in the empire and the rise of Islam.

audio 6 volumes g drive

Will I ever get around to this? In the meantime I have found a film (which beats the faeces out of Gladiator) to entertain whilst I paint a yellow streak down my back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWEzp... 03:04:20 -

- This film is called 'The Fall of the Roman Empire' deals with Marcus Aurelius 26 April 121 – 17 March 180 AD (from wiki): He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers.

ETA: there is a TV documentary series, not as classy by any means but beggars and choosers and all that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61g4B...
Profile Image for Markus.
476 reviews1,565 followers
March 5, 2019
Reading parts of this again for work, and realised I never reviewed this absolutely massive book.

One of the most fascinating (and distorted) works of history ever written, created by one of the most famous (and biased and opinionated) historians of all time.

Full review to come.
Profile Image for Bradley.
67 reviews6 followers
February 16, 2010
The most astounding work of history ever written. The irony is great, the footnotes are hilarious. He never gets old. His greatest detractors are usually those who never could stomach 2,400 pages or more nor the healthy dose of footnotes. Those who have made the journey realize subtle differences creeping into their existence -- they begin slipping words like 'indolent' and 'flagitious' into memos and conversations or they construct sentences with a newfound reliance on the semicolon. I can picture the little man now, rapping his snuffbox and discoursing on Julian or the folly of Honorius. Only, don't buy the fancy edition pictured here as it is entirely bereft of footnotes. I have an older edition edited by J.B. Bury that includes them all. Gibbon without footnotes is not Gibbon at all.
Profile Image for Theo Logos.
708 reviews113 followers
February 10, 2023
History, as a discipline, is more art than science. And Edward Gibbon stands tall as one of its greatest artist. His sweep covered fifteen centuries, from the glories of Augustus to the final fall of Constantinople, from classical antiquity through Europe’s Middle Ages. His prose was clear, often clever, and infused liberally with dry humor; two hundred and fifty years later it is still eminently readable. He made no pretense of being a neutral recorder, but boldly shaped his history with his own, definitive prejudices.

History, of course, is not written for the past, but in the present, for the future. Many modern historians claim that Gibbon exaggerated the role of the Christian Church in Rome’s decline. Yet Gibbon, as a man of the Enlightenment, chose this emphasis as a warning to the future, writing:
”so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.”
The moderns may be narrowly correct. But Gibbon wasn’t just writing history — he was shaping it. That is why history is an art, and Gibbon is a giant among historians.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 6 books302 followers
November 12, 2020
Gibbon's great, repeated subject: magnificent, superior ideas reduced by human motives to narrow self-aggrandising brutality. Not all historians are ironists, and few can summarize (albeit in compound paragraphs) complex Christian beliefs in stark contrast to un-Christian behavior (need a Gibbon for current US politics--don't see one): “but as the angels who protected the catholic cause were only visible to the eyes of faith, Theodosius prudently reinforced those heavenly legions with the more effectual aid of temporal and carnal weapons, and the church of St Sophia was occupied by a large body of the Imperial guards”(II.12) His balanced, Tacitean grammar adds irony.

Every paragraph may be read as a comment on our contemporary politics, because Gibbon writes of character and social structure. Take hypocrisy. Might we not find current U.S. equivalents for Augustus’s “tender respect for a free constitution which he had destroyed.” Gibbon sums up Augustus: “His virtues, and even his vices, were artificial” (Bk I, p.63), I‘ve often quoted.
With a cool head and cowardly disposition, Augustus preserved the names and forms of the ancient administration: “But such was the propensity of the Romans to servitude, that the [military] oath was voluntarily taken by the magistrates, the senators, and the equestrian order, till the homage of flattery was insensibly converted into an annual and solemn protestation of fidelity”(57).
“The corruption of Roman manners would always supply flatterers eager to applaud” and this, our White House in 2017 may equal. Augustus was sensible that “mankind is governed by names,” that Rustan’s Persian offered no words for any form of government except absolute monarchy, while “king” had alarmed even Caesar’s adherents.

For the next couple hundred years the military chose the emperor*; however, after the generals stabbed Aurelian, they felt guilty and declined the purple. So did the Senate, putative selector, decline because of the military tradition. The result: an eight month interregnum, without sedition (275).
During these centuries after Augustus, Christianity grew. “Our curiosity is prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth.” One possible answer, convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, “But as truth and reason seldom find so favorable a reception in the world…we may be permitted to ask…what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth.” 1 Inflexible zeal, 2 future life, 3 pure morals, 4 supernatural gifts, say with languages. (I.XV.383 & 409) This, from the famous chapter XV on Christianity and Judaism, boiled down from a full volume.
Continuing"On the Progress of Christianity," "It is a very ancient reproach, suggested by the ignorance or the malice of infidelity, that the Christians allured into their party the most atrocious criminals, who, as soon as they were touched by a sense of remorse, were easily persuaded to wash away, in the water of baptism, the guilt of their past conduct…" Sounds like the Evangelicals in U.S, Jimmy Swaggart, "I have sinned!" (1988).
He relegates to a footnote a Catholic detail, on miracles that Bernard of Clairvaux assigned to everybody but himself, "In the long series of ecclesiastical history, does there exist a single instance of a saint asserting that he himself possessed the gift of miracles?"
More generally, "The expulsion of demons from the bodies of those unhappy persons whom they had been permitted to torment was considered as a signal though ordinary triumph of religion…and the most convincing evidence of the truth of Christianity." As I learned in a seminar with Sander Gilman (then of Cornell Medical School), disease was conceived as entering from outside the body, and exiting--especially at night, in the case of madness (say, Malvolio's curative dark box in Twelfth Night).
As for Judaism, "The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews…(and their congregation) united the law of Moses and the doctrine of Christ (called Nazarenes)." But in his rationalist admonitory style, "When the tides of the ocean and the course of the planets were suspended for the convenience of the Israelites; and when temporal rewards and punishments were the immediate consequences of their piety or disobedience, they perpetually relapsed into rebellion..and placed the idols of the nations in the sanctuary of Jehovah…." "In contradiction to every known principle of the human mind, that singular people seems to have yielded a stronger and more ready assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors than to the evidence of their own senses."

Concluding his whole work, Gibbon lists, as he did with the attractions of Christianity, the causes of the Decline and Fall: Voila! Christianity is a principal cause. As for the increase of the public riches of the Church, members were urged to over-tithe “at the expense of their unfortunate children, who found themselves beggars because their parents had been saints”(425, noting Prudentius).
Tertullian recommended Christians flee to avoid murdering, in military service, and also in civil administration. Christianity valued chastity, that some Virgins in Africa disdained flight, "permitted deacons to share their bed and gloried...in their unsullied purity." As for the six Vestal Virgins (their small round temple survives by the Tiber), "It was with the utmost difficulty that Rome could support the institution”(I.415).
Emperors found imaginative ways to execute Christians (see my Lactantius rev); Nero, for example, besides crucifixion, sewed them in the skins of animals, had them devoured by dogs, or burnt as torches for a horse-race in Nero’s gardens (457).
Writing on Theodosius, who in Constantinople suppressed my favorite Arianism, his daughter Galla Placida in Ravenna—where some Arian chapels still exist, showing Christ with a penis. Of course, Theodosius’s basilica is also there. Perhaps my favorite sentence in all Gibbon, the emperor’s excluding Arians from Hagia Sophia, as I began. Gibbon continually contrasts idealism and force, religion and murder.
Toward the end, Gibbon assesses Mohammed, “an illiterate barbarian,” whose relative solitude attests his genius (Volume III, Ch L). Mohammed refused to perform miracles, but the Qu’ran itself, from an illiterate, has been seen as a miracle, though published posthumously. Gibbon makes the great point: “the most arduous conquests of Mohammed were those of his servant, his pupil, and his friend; since he presented himself as a prophet to those who were most conversant with his infirmities as a man”(III.93).

* Emperors from Augustus to the conversion of the Empire under Constantine: Augustus 27B.C.-14A.D., Tiberius 14-37, Caligula 37-41, Claudius 41-54, Nero 54-68, Galla 68-69, Otho 69, Vitellius 69, Vespasian 69-79, Titus 79-81, Domitian 81-96, Nerva 96-98, Trajan 98-117, Hadrian 117-138, Antoninus Pius 138-161, Marcus Aurelius 161-180, Lucius Verus Antoninus 161-169, Commodus 180-192, Pertinax 193 (Jan 1-Mar 28), Didius Julianus 193, Septimus Severus 193-211, Caracalla 211-217, Geta 211-212, Macrinus 217-218, Elagabalus 218-222 (d. age 18), Severus Alexander 222-235, Maximinus 235-238, Gordians I, II, III 238-244, Philip the Arab 244-249, Decius 249-251, Valerian 253-260, Gallianus 253-268, Claudius Gothicus 268-270, Aurelian 270-275, Tacitus 275-276, Florian 276, Probus 276-282, Carus 282-283, Carinus 283-285, Diocletian 284-305, Maximian 286-305, Constantine & Licinius 307-324, Constantine 324-337.
Profile Image for Traveller.
228 reviews719 followers
October 13, 2013
Classic treatment by the eminent historian Gibbon of not only the contributing factors to the fall of the Roman Empire, but a blow-by-blow account of the course of its decline.

For more pertinent thoughts, please see the comment box below.
Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
473 reviews202 followers
September 25, 2021
2021-07-29 I listened to the Audiovox.org NOT this Audible edition of the book - so take that into account in my review.

This book (volume 1 only) has been on my "To Read" list for almost as long as I have known about it - possibly my High School World History class, freshman year, since it had a very significant section on Rome. I am very glad it stayed on my To Read list and that I finally got around to it.

Fascinating book, for sure. And I believe there are some excellent "lessons" to be learned from this book about Rome, but which may also apply to United States of America, especially the America of recent times. Even though it is about 250 years old, it is still quite "readable" - the style being quite pleasurable to listen to and not archaic. This first volume is another of the great works published in 1776, along with the magnificent "Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith and of course the brilliant "Declaration of Independence." How many people have any idea that all three of these greats came from that auspicious year?

The number one lesson from this first volume of the full volume set - not sure when I will get to the other five, but doing long road trips sure makes it easy and pleasurable - is that having a powerful military accountable to an emperor (president?) and NOT to the civilian Senate/Congress, can literally be a killer. And by "killer" I mean literally of emperors, Senators, empires, civility/civilizations, etc.

There are other lessons and great parts to the book, but I need to find my brief notes taken from the long car ride that made listening possible.

A note on the Librivox edition (NOT Audible) I listened to: The book was narrated by a funky tag-team of volunteers, each reading 2-4 chapters or so, before yielding to the next. Most were not too hot, but there was one truly outstanding British fella who read about 10 chapters or so, just before the ending chapter, read by I believe, an American, who was not bad, but too halting and pedestrian for my taste. A few of the readers tried really hard to do well, but their accents just made it too tough for this listener to follow, understand and enjoy. The various Indian, British and Finnish accents kept me wondering about the spelling of certain emperor's/generals/wives/Senators/etc. names and some other key parts of the book too often. But the Librivox.org price of the audiobook was hard to resist - FREE.

Hopefully I will append this review in the not-too-distant future, when I find my notes, or think of additional comments worthy of adding.

Sampling this classic is highly recommended for any history buff, interested person in Rome, or someone concerned about the stunning loss of liberties in the US these days and threats to their own freedoms.
Profile Image for Steve.
821 reviews237 followers
July 20, 2013
Volume 1. Many years ago, I read a 800 or 900 page abridgment, and assumed I had "read" Gibbon. Not so. After reading the first volume, it's clear, you can't cram 6 books into 1 book. Just not the same thing. The author and his achievement are lost in such packaging. Oh, you'll get some good nuggets (Gibbon is great on those), but what you're losing is a true sense of the vastness of Rome, and its history.

And what of that history? The first volume. I'm not even going to try to describe in any detailed way such a crowded book of cruelty, slaughter and personalities. The cycle seems at times endless, as one emperor is replaced (murdered) by another, with revolting legions usually being the cause. Gibbon does put a bright The-Decline-Begins-Here circle around Commodus (chapter IV (180 AD). Commodus is the bad guy in the movie, Gladiator. The movie gets that right. Not the history, but the character.

What follows are wars and power grabs. Gibbon himself, a few times, takes a step back and wonders What all of this actually means? But the wheel of history does turn. At some point a series of reformist emperors (before getting killed) institute changes within the army that once again make it an instrument of terror (things had slipped, with barbarian invasions ripping the Empire). Which gets us to Diocletian, and his (confusingly named) group of co-emperors. Diocletian's reforms are smart (the Empire had simply become too big to manage), but also burdensome, since the Roman world now gets to support four courts. The added taxes, along with a loss of half the population due to a mysterious years long plague, really put some strain on the system.

Volume 1 concludes with the ascendancy of Constantine. Oh, and then there's a long (and somewhat boring) discussion of Christianity, Jews, etc. At one time, I believe this section was considered controversial. Outside of a some occasional snark, I found (considering the personalities and events which preceded it), dull and abstract.

Don't know when I'll get to Volume 2.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,532 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2019
From the perspective of the 21st century, this book is quite preposterous. Beginning in 98 AD with the consulship of Trajan in Rome, it finishes in 1493 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. Thus it starts in the Italian peninsula and finishes in the Middle East. The narrative runs from classical antiquity, passes through the middle ages and concludes in the Renaissance. The scope is too wide and the time frame is absurdly long.

It is of course a remarkable work of scholarship. At the time Gibbon was writing in the 18th century none of the classical works had been translated into modern languages so Gibbon read everything in the original Greek or Latin versions. This is an exploit that has never and will never be repeated.

Reading "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" is a hellish and a pointless slog.
Profile Image for Terese.
8 reviews3 followers
July 17, 2008
I read this one summer while working as a temp during college, I found the set at a garage sale. My assignment, answering the phones (in a small closet made mostly of glass) at an advertising agency, was making me feel low and stupid so these books were my antidote. Who could make fun of a temp reading Gibbon?

As I recall I wound up with a little notebook full of lists of characters and family trees so that as I read along and forgot what had happened earlier I could refresh my memory. At times, bored witless, I wanted to end the madness and read some lovely summertime garbage but I forced myself to finish. Of the books I remember nothing, of the process, everything.
Profile Image for grllopez ~ with freedom and books.
281 reviews93 followers
May 7, 2019
This history was impressive. Gibbon has a beautiful writing style. He makes reading history (one of the most important histories of the world) so pleasant to read. I will have to reread this someday, and much more slowly.

Here's a blurb from my review (on my blog):

You have heard it said, "History repeats itself," and "One thing we learn from history is that no one learns from history." Well, we have no excuse for this, and that is why everyone should read it. Do not be intimidated because it is history. This is essential history, well written. It is one of those works that makes you rethink the way you think about the history you have been taught. It forces you to put aside your own preconceived ideas, if only for a moment. And I cannot stress enough how beautifully well written it is. It is too bad that not all history is written this well.

For the full review:

Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,553 reviews818 followers
November 25, 2011
Hard to know where to begin with this.

His much praised style? Sure, it's better than most historians, but it still bears the scars of the eighteenth century in general, and eighteenth century self-importance in particular. Yes, there's the odd ironic gotcha, but I got the distinct impression that he was shooting fish in a barrel. With a shotgun. An automatic shotgun, like in a video game. Compare, for instance, Swift- he was hunting big game.

The ideology? Only one kind of person could read this and think 'oh, it's refreshing how fair and balanced he is.' Basically, if you're the kind of person who thinks there are two (and only two) sides to every story, who also reads revisionist histories without understanding why the authors of said histories feel the need to 'revise,' and who thinks that anything that's been said more than twice deserves to be revised... you'll find this fair and balanced. If, on the other hand, you think that someone who comes to history with an absolute determination to read it through their own highly idiosyncratic beliefs (here- and I say this without knowing what Gibbon actually believed, so I might be wrong- classical republicanism, classical liberalism, and Voltaire-induced anti-clericalism) is likely to write from a skewed perspective... well, you might disagree with the idea that he's anything other than an extraordinarily, perhaps uniquely intelligent, well-read eighteenth century liberal.

I should, though, have started with the breadth of the thing, which is fabulous. Even in abridgment, it's more wide-ranging than almost any history I've ever read. And I was particularly thankful for the editor's work: he included chapters from all the volumes, including a great chapter on the origins of Islam, and a speculative chapter linking 'Paulicianism' to the Cathars (no idea if this is at all accurate). On this basis, I'd far rather read the final volumes in full and skip the first one. I know most people would rather read about Rome than about medieval Europe, or the Eastern Empire, and so on. But I still can't work out why.

So this has all the strengths and all the weaknesses of non-scholarly history, but is stronger and less weak than most of it. In the absence of statistical or archaeological research, the best thing you could do was read everything and try to weed out the facts from the legend, and Gibbon did that better than anyone. This is history as a moral discipline, in which you pick your heroes and your villains and then write (about individuals- groups are ipso facto villainous, except for heretics, merchants and intellectuals) accordingly; it's closer to Dante than historiography. That said, you will learn something; and if you're anything like me, you'll learn the most from the closing chapters.
Profile Image for Aloke.
198 reviews52 followers
Want to read
September 8, 2017
I'm sure a whole book could be written just about the history of this book! From the introduction of my abridged edition, edited by Mueller:

"The present abridgment is hardly the first and will likely not remain the last. Each age and each reader will find his or her own Gibbon. We must first ask then why Gibbon's words should be abridged at all. The short answer: because there are so many of them."

For (my own) reference, Mueller's aim was to "preserve the thread" of the "spectacle of the decline and fall of a civilization across a thousand years". He also comments that he "has included as much religious history as possible, and certainly more than enough to offend." Cheeky.
Profile Image for Titi Coolda.
181 reviews83 followers
February 13, 2023
O antologie a celebrei istorii ( au fost eliminate toate capitolele care nu fac strictă referire la subiect, cam jumătate din carte) , cu toate astea cartea este o lectură pasionantă a gloriei și mai apoi a declinului ultimului mare imperiu antic. Talentul de povestitor al lui Gibbon este doar un atu în plus pentru ca pasionații de istorie să citească această carte.
Profile Image for Bob Simon.
31 reviews1 follower
May 17, 2012
Momsen was a better historian, but Gibbon a better writer. Forget about historical accuracy and just enjoy the writing. I purchased the three volume Heritage Press edition, with Piranesi illustrations, when I was a young paratrooper. I carried at least one of the volumes in my field pack...a labor of intense love, as they are not light. The middle volume has dried blood on it from when I was injured and wouldn't part with it. I read and re-read...and then re-re-read. Open it to any volume.. to any page and begin. Never, in my mind, have I ever seen such balance of sentences and thought..such delight in words. When I returned to college, I did a Gibbon speciality in 18th Century English lit. Read his autobiography countless times as well. To this day, decades later, I still pull any of the three volumes from my shelf and lose time and place in the joy of reading him. I cannot recommend it too highly.

A delight for anyone. The good stuff just gets better with time

I first read it in 1961, and many times since. The last was December of 2011
Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews361 followers
April 10, 2012
Avoid this abridged edition of Gibbon’s classic. It is a huge disappointment to be being fully absorbed in the text and then groan as a cross is marked where a significant portion has been cut. This is depressing and makes for a disjointed unsatisfying read. But, that is not the worst crime of this edition. Every single one of Gibbon’s footnotes has been removed. Some of his footnotes just give his sources (which are important in themselves), but others comment on the text and continue it, and others provide an ironic commentary. This edition is beyond awful, dig up the full editions and avoid at all costs. Who allowed this butchery to exist?
Profile Image for Shyam.
226 reviews160 followers
November 4, 2017
I'll review this thoroughly the next time around, but for now, I would just like to direct anyone reading this to three excellent, long, epic works of truly Gibbonian proportions covering Roman History that they may wish to read both before, and after, Gibbon, as I did.

Before Gibbon

I. Theodor Mommsen's A History of Rome is a magisterial 5-volume work published 1854-1856, which begins with the founding of Rome in 753 BC and goes down to the reign of Julius Caesar. This work helped Mommsen win the Nobel Prize for Literature; this being the only work of History to receive such an honour. (The edition linked is abridged, and although I strongly agree with Montaigne's view that "every abridgement of a good book is a foolish abridgement.", I would still recommend it; it is intelligently abridged, and beautifully produced. There are unabridged, multi-volume editions available.)

To fill the gap between the reign of Julius Caesar, where Mommsen ends, and the reign of Marcus Aurelius, where Gibbon begins, you could read Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, and part of the Lives of the Later Caesars. (If you would prefer to go more in-depth, add Appian and Tacitus after Suetonius. See below for more . . .)

After Gibbon

II.Thomas Hodgkin's The Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire. Originally titled "Italy and her Invaders", and published 1880-1899 in 8 volumes. Beginning with the history of the Goths and Alaric's siege of Rome, it continues on with the Huns and Vandals, the Ostrogoths, Lombards, finally ending with the Franks and the crowning and death of Charlemagne down to 814 AD. It's very thoroughly researched (for it's time of course, just like Gibbon), and made even more impressive by the fact that he worked on it during his spare time as a Banker, working at a house that would eventually become Lloyds, which still exists to this day. (The edition linked is beautifully produced, illustrated throughout, and can be had for cheaper than regular hardback editions of the work, if, like me, you're lucky.)

III. John Julius Norwich's Byzantium: The Early Centuries/The Apogee/The Decline And Fall. An excellent, accessible work opening with Constantine in 274 AD, and going down to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. Great if you enjoyed reading about the Eastern Empire in Gibbon, and would like to learn more.
If, like me, you want to read primary sources of Roman History in a chronological fashion, before moving on to secondary sources (something I can recommend), here's a list of works that I can recommend. It's not exhaustive, but it contains all the major works providing a continuous, almost unbroken narrative, from the foundation of Rome in 753BC, down to the third-century AD, in primary sources. (Editions linked are translations I have read and can recommend; dates bracketed below are periods the works cover, not publication dates)

Livy's Ab Urbe Condita or From the Foundation of the City (753-9 BC (!)) Books 1-10 & 21-45 are fully extant, with epitomes surviving of books 46-142
• Books I-V: The Early History of Rome (753-390BC)
• Books VI-X: Rome's Italian Wars: Books 6-10 (389-293 BC)
• Books XXI-XXX: The War with Hannibal: Books XXI-XXX of the History of Rome from its Foundation (218-202 BC)
• Books: XXXI-XL: The Dawn of the Roman Empire: Books Thirty-One to Forty (201-179 BC)
• V. Books XLI-XLV & the Epitomies of Books XLVI-CXLVII: Rome's Mediterranean Empire: Books 41-45 and the Periochae (178-9 BC)

Polybius' The Histories (264-146 BC)

Caesar's The Gallic War (58-51 BC)

Caesar's The Civil War (49-48 BC)

Appian's The Civil Wars (133-35 BC)

Sallust's Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories (86-35 BC)

Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars (100BC-96 AD)

Tacitus' The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius and Nero (14-68 AD)

Tacitus' The Histories (69-96 AD)

Historia Augusta/Augustan History/ Lives of the Later Caesars: Lives of the Later Caesars
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,587 reviews285 followers
July 22, 2020
Gibbon, Edward. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Abridged. Introduction by Daniel Boorstin.

This is an abridged edition. It is 1300 pages long. If you feel like you would get bogged down from the whole work, this is a welcome addition. If you are the type where you want to soak in Gibbon’s magnificent prose, then get the Penguin edition of the full text, which are edited by David Womersley.

Before we begin we need to spend time on Gibbon’s prose style. Like Samuel Johnson he was a master of the “periodic style.” His use of compound and subordinate clauses bring us to a sharp conclusion. Also note the parallelism:

“With regard to Spain, that country flourished as a province and has declined as a kingdom” (ch. 2). Do you see the point (flourished) and counterpoint (declined)?

Gibbon describes the prosperous condition of the Roman Empire at the end of the 2nd century and deduces the causes of its decline (ch. 1). On a sub-level he is showing England the superiority of a life of virtue, which leads to public liberty.

Rome’s problems are caused by her success, and especially as that success brings luxury. As Gibbon notes later on, “[T]he simplicity of Roman manners was insensibly corrupted by the stately affectation of the courts in Asia. The distinctions of personal merit and influence, so conspicuous in a republic, so feeble and obscure under a monarchy, were abolished by the despotism of the emperors” (ch. 17).

Look for the historian’s assertions. Gibbon asserts that the Church grew because of (1) intolerant zeal; (2) doctrine of a future life, (3) testimony of miracles; (4) pure morals; and (5) union of the Christian republic (ch. 15).

Gibbon asserts an implicit return to the morals and virtues of a free Republic. Obviously, this cannot be of Rome, so is he asking what would it look like of England?[

As a classical liberal, Gibbon prizes liberty above all else.

Gibbon doesn’t say Christianity caused the Roman Empire to fall. Rather, it hastened its demise. This is correct. A more immediate answer is that success brings decadence and few men are virtuous enough to resist degeneration. He notes of the Byzantine emperors’ fall from the original ideal that “the form of government was a pure and simple monarchy; the name of the Roman Republic, which so long preserved a faint tradition of freedom, was confined to the Latin provinces; and the princes of Constantinople measured their greatness by the servile obedience of their people. They were ignorant how much this passive disposition enervates and degrades every faculty of mind….They were equally incapable of guarding their lives and fortunes from the assaults of the Barbarians” (ch. 32).

What of Gibbon’s skeptical remarks and his notorious comments on homoousion? Take them for what they are worth. You aren’t going to Gibbon for conciliar theology--but even regarding the church he isn’t always wrong. His comments on monasticism are quite funny.

This is a book you read off and on for about 10 years. Let his prose penetrate your entire being. It’s no accident that all of the theologians of the 19th century, almost all of them fair rhetoricians, schooled themselves on Gibbon.

Profile Image for Cassandra Kay Silva.
704 reviews278 followers
June 20, 2011
I read the abridged version, 800 pages plus notes, so I can't comment on the full extent of Gibbons work here, but I must say that I was very impressed with his breadth and scope even in the abridged form, so I am sure that the full version would be amazing. I have to admit I was (stupidly) surprised by the amount of early Christian history that went into the making of this work (and the fall of the Roman Empire and descent into the dark ages). I was also surprised at the number of interesting pagan stories that were preserved in this work as well as his thoughts and feelings on the life of Mohammed, although I am unsure if some of his personal commentary is necessary. The notes were vastly helpful, although I may not have made full use of them. I wanted to read the abridged before diving into the full version, which may have been a mistake because now I feel slightly burned out and I think the full version would have been a better way to start. I feel like I already "accomplished" this one, which is a mildly ridiculous conclusion and therefore I think my approach to Gibbon was poor and I regret my actions. If this is a genre you enjoy (as I myself should have known) just jump into the full scope, reading the abridged is great if your interest is only partial but really I think I missed out and would warn you against doing the same.
Profile Image for Rob Roy.
1,323 reviews23 followers
July 22, 2010
For those who hated to learn dates in history, read this, it will change your mind. It covers 1200 years, and five volumes yet, only has two dates. A masterpiece without doubt, but his subjectivity, and preference for western European history is evident. He covers 300 years history of the Eastern Empire in one chapter.

This book is like an elephant. You eat it one bite at a time. I read two sections between each book I read. Took me a year and a half, but I ate the elephant!
Profile Image for AB.
175 reviews5 followers
November 15, 2021
Monumental. What other word can aptly describe Decline and Fall? I feel completely amazed by the breadth of Gibbons work. Every aspect, secular and religious, is included in this. Can I compare it with what I imagine Livy’s entire History to be like? I often felt myself confronted by the fact that I was reading a seminal work of Roman history. Sure, hes not as famous in the field as a Mommsen or a Rostovtzeff, but there are ideas and facts which felt like they just came off a lecture slide. I put off reading this abridged edition for years and wow am I happy that I finally picked it up.
Whether on purpose or not, Gibbon gave me this vibe of a Pliny or Tacitus. He (rightly) admires the Antonine’s and has a sharp wit that barely contains his contempt of emperors and the church. His style made this highly enjoyable to read. I found myself struggling to put it down in places. I really cared to find out his snarky opinions on some of the more destitute and despotic figures. His treatment of monks and monastic life was particularly amazing.

I guess you cannot talk about Decline and Fall without saying whether or not you agree with his causes. I found myself agreeing with a lot of his ideas. I don’t think that Christianity was such a primary driving force, but I do agree that the religious disputes were quite disruptive.
Profile Image for Yann.
1,409 reviews349 followers
July 23, 2011
Ce livre rate les cinq étoiles du fait de l'usage détestablement répandu consistant à commercialiser des extraits d'un ouvrage sous le titre de l'intégral. Gibbon, anglais du 18ème siècle, se mesure à l'histoire de la chute de l'empire romain d'occident, mais là où son prédécesseur Montesquieu cherchait par des considérations générales à fustiger la vanité de la gloire militaire et à faire l'éloge du commerce et du libéralisme, Gibbon rédige un véritable livre d'histoire dans la lignée des ceux de l'antiquité. J'adore ce style, l'abondance des superlatifs, le fait que chaque phrase ressemble à une maxime. Du haut de la gloire de son pays et de son siècle, Gibbon prodigue son indignation et son mépris aux extravagances et aux turpitudes d'une Rome trahissant l'héritage de ses ancêtres, où la mollesse, la superstition et la sensualité on pris le pas sur la vertu, l'industrie et l'étude. La subjectivité de l'auteur ne gâche en rien le plaisir du lecteur, et son érudition le plonge au cœur de cet époque, rendue vivantes par la peinture de scènes quotidiennes. Le caractères des hommes est étudié avec attention, de même que le rôle de la religion catholique romaine, dont les caractéristiques se dessinent en ces temps. Gibbon mérite les plus vifs éloges pour ce travail de Romain. J'ai hâte de mettre la main sur une édition complète.
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