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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume I

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Edward Gibbon's six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88) is among the most magnificent and ambitious narratives in European literature. Its subject is the fate of one of the world's greatest civilizations over thirteen centuries - its rulers, wars, and society, and the events that led to its disastrous collapse. Here, in book one and two, Gibbon charts the vast extent and constitution of the Empire from the reign of Augustus to 395 AD. And in a controversial critique, he examines the early Church, with fascinating accounts of the first Christian and last pagan emperors, Constantine and Julian.

This volume also includes updated further reading, a new chronology, appendices and notes.

1114 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1776

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About the author

Edward Gibbon

1,331 books483 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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 274 reviews
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews799 followers
June 9, 2014
Let's be very clear about one thing: if you write English prose, and if you read a lot and care about English prose, you should read Gibbon. His sentences are perfect. Each is carefully weighted, pulling the reader through like a kind of perpetual motion machine; the syntax and the content are perfectly matched. Certainly some constructions seem a little dated, but generally that makes me think that contemporary prose is impoverished, rather than that Gibbon's is overly difficult. Just as all Western intellectual life feeds into Dante, so all Western prose feeds into Gibbon: Tacitus' compression, Swift's clarity, Voltaire's irony, and doubtless plenty of people I've never read, too.

Here's a sentence more or less chosen at random: "The general respect with which these deputies were received, and the zeal of Italy and the provinces in favour of the senate, sufficiently prove that the subjects of Maximin were reduced to that uncommon distress in which the body of the people has more to fear from oppression than from resistance." This single thought--that the conditions of the early clauses prove that the people were so oppressed that revolution became inevitable--would take a paragraph of clauseless, muddy Hemingwayed nouns.

Add to this Gibbon's possession of most seventeenth century virtues--clarity, unwillingness to hide his contradictory thoughts, judgments made according to morality rather than form--and his work becomes all the more remarkable. Of course, he also has the greatest seventeenth century vices, which he has to have if he's going to display his contradictory thoughts. He's a supreme enlightenment thinker, obsessed with natural laws (hence, he should be universalist) who's also strangely bigoted. The barbarians are uncultured, the Romans effeminate, the Byzantines weak and so on. The Jews, who bizarrely insist on worshiping only their own national God, are villains, as are the Christians who take over this insistence on the unity of the deity.

David Womersley's introduction is excellent, too; it makes very clear the contradictions between Gibbon's overarching argument (supposedly, that Christianity is the 'cause' of the D&F) and what he actually writes. He's fascinated by the accidents of history ("Cleopatra's nose"), and he lays out in great detail the many, many social trends that would eventually lead to the fall of the West. Although the book is organized as if Christianity is the primary cause (the first volume ends with two chapters on the new religion; the second begins with Constantine), Gibbon himself must have recognized that his book had become something much more than another philosophe-like attack on early modern religion. Of course, he also gets in some great jabs at ancient Christianity.

Also tied to his general plan: every section ends with a lament for the continuing decline of the empire, even as the empire stubbornly continues to exist. This has surely shaped Western attitudes to Rome for the worse. Constantinople stood into the fifteenth century; Constantinople was Roman. But too many writers, particularly conservatives, like to say that Rome fell due to x, which is exactly what Obama is giving us. That's fatuous. Rome lasted for two thousand years: would you say the United States fell because the capital was moved from D. C. to Portland, and then D.C. was taken by Mexico? No, you would not.

But if there's a real flaw to the work, it's simply that Gibbon couldn't help attacking ancient historians, particularly ecclesiastical historians. They deserve attack, and if I'd spent dozens of years reading about so and so's miracles and the genius of such and such, I'd be on the offensive as well. But only rarely does this make for good reading.

He also tends towards moralizing generalities: outside of the major figures (Julian, Constantine etc...), he too often writes that this usurper was bad, without explaining how or why. That might be a problem with his sources, of course, but again, a little boring.

I don't imagine many people will get through the six volumes of this work. There's too much of everything, so whatever you dislike, you'll find it here. Personally, I was rarely riveted by his explanations of battles and wars. So and so set up by the mountains; so and so in the valley... I'm asleep. Others will be tortured by his discussions of early Christian heresies. On the other hand, if you can get into Game of Thrones, you can get into this. It's the original fantasy novel.

So, in sum, it's not perfect. What a damning indictment.
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
385 reviews325 followers
March 5, 2021
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (Volume One) is a classic, definitive, heavy, credible account of this period of antiquity. Initially, I was wary of embarking on this six-volume epic as Gibbon was strutting his stuff all the way back in the 1700’s. For this reason, I expected his writing to be inaccessible, stuffy even. But what a mistake on my part – his writing is so very understandable, and in fact, adds plenty to this wonderful subject matter. It really does – I found myself even reading some passages and then sitting there thinking – Wow, that was beautifully explained. Really!!

”The caprice of Hadrian influenced his choice of a successor. After revolving in his mind several men of distinguished merit, whom he esteemed and hated, he adopted Verus, a gay and voluptuous nobleman, recommended by uncommon beauty to the lover of Antinous”

That is so delicately, and perfectly put.

Also, this, regarding my favourite Emperor, Trajan:

”……above two hundred and fifty years after the death of Trajan, the senate, in pouring out customary acclamations on the accession of a new emperor, wished that he might surpass the felicity of Augustus, and the virtue of Trajan”

How brilliant is that? Couldn’t you read that all night long?

Interestingly, this first volume commences with a fifty-page summary of the life of Gibbon. This is a great way to start this book, understanding the man himself lends the reader an insight into why he chose Roman History as an important subject for him, his work on other periods of history and his personal life. It helps us understand the way this book is written.

Following the introduction Gibbon describes how the military is structured and how it functions, he also identifies the provinces (there’s a great map at the back of the book) and he spends some time describing certain aspects of the empire, such as the roads, trade, slaves, agriculture and much more – to provide the reader with a very, very brief snapshot of the place.

Then we get stuck into the interesting bits – starting from the first emperor, Augustus in 27 BCE, we systematically go through each emperor all the way to the death of emperor Licinius in 324 CE, that’s almost SIXTY EMPERORS!! A veritable feast of fun. But the way Gibbon presents this isn’t by way of 57 neatly titled chapters – it just rolls on like one continuous story. Yes, there are sections/chapters, but they’re not divided by rulers, more so by topics of interest – which also flows in chronological order.

Gibbon completes this first volume with a wonderful introduction of the Progress of the Christian Religion, this sets us up nicely for the commencement of Volume Two – where we go to The conduct of the Roman Government towards the Christians, from Nero to Constantine.

So, everything flows wonderfully. It is difficult to knock off a hundred pages in a sitting because there is so much information. I chose to read ten to fifteen pages just before I slept, after spending a few hours on my other (main) read – and it sets me off for a good night’s sleep, reflecting on the dramas of around eighteen hundred years ago.

One other thing, there are no diagrams – perhaps his wonderful way of words means they’re not necessary, and each page contains numerous footnotes – detailing more information and the references used. All of the references are what you’d expect including Dio, Tacitus, Livy, Suetonius, Historia Augusta (for what that is worth), Herodian and many, many more – these footnotes are there for the serious historian. The fundamentalist, the extremist – not for us hobby enthusiasts.

I must stop this review now as I’ll bang on merrily for five hundred pages – this is so, so, so GOOD!

5 Stars

Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,180 followers
August 17, 2015
It speaks to the genius of Gibbon, and the grandeur of this work, that there are no historians or social scientists who call themselves ‘Gibbonians’. There are Marxists, Freudians, Foucaultians; there are postcolonial theorists, gender theorists, post-structuralist theorists; there are positivists, anti-positivists, materialists, anti-materialists. But not a Gibbonian in the bunch.

This is because Gibbon’s extraordinary mind cannot be reduced to a simple formula. Many have tried—he was a militant atheist, a spokesperson for the Enlightenment, a historical fatalist—but no label does him justice. Gibbon’s mind was too vast and deep to be encompassed by some nifty academic catchword.

Instead of trying to reduce all of the complexity of history down to one parameter, Gibbon lets it all hang out—religion, economics, culture, psychology, sociology. He incorporates all the data available into his work; and, although he does offer some of his own opinions regarding the causes of the Empire’s fall, they remain just that—opinions. Gibbon has no dogmatic bone in his body. The vessel of his genius is not animated by a cocksure sense of right and wrong, but by a gentle sense of curiosity and wonder. He wants to know for the sake of knowing, and tell for the sake of telling.

Added to this unbelievable inquisitiveness is an equally unbelievable eloquence. Gibbon’s prose is to all subsequent English prose as Greek sculpture is to all subsequent sculpture: a model of classical perfection. There are writers more engaging, more witty, more entertaining, more gripping—but no writer can take such heterogenous elements and reduce them to such homogenous beauty. What makes his writing even more amazing is how effortless it seems to him—how his sentences seem to just roll off his tongue and onto the page. In short, if you are looking for the finest English prose this side of Shakespeare, look no further, my friend.

Now that I consider it, I think I have to retract my first point. It’s true that there is no group of scholars who call themselves ‘Gibbonians’—how could there be? But this is not because Gibbon didn’t exert a massive influence; precisely the reverse: it is because Gibbon’s influence is inescapable. Gibbon’s insistence on using only primary sources—on questioning all information and playing documents against one another—was a quantum leap ahead of the historical research of his day. And we’ve only gone further in that direction.

His influence on the art of writing can be easily grasped by reading him alongside some of his contemporaries. Gibbon sounds dated in isolation, sure. But in comparison with the other writers of his day, he sounds like he could've been writing fifty years ago. In fact, he seems to speak to us in our own language. And that, my friend, is why Gibbon can’t be made into a catchword: he speaks to all ages, in equal beauty, with equal force, and with equal relevance.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,328 followers
May 20, 2017
As to Volume II of The History and Decline of the Roman Empire as provided us by Eduard Gibbon

Comments short for this volume. The sweep of the narrative I will represent below via Gibbon’s own chapter headers ; a story themselves.

First, a very turgid beginning to the volume. Foundation of Constantinople and other administrative necessities ; taxation, etc. Imagine that you were bored by the cetology chapters of Moby-Dick and then lengthen those chapters by a factor of six or seven. On with the story.

Second, for a reader with a rudimentary knowledge of early Church history, here is where the shit hits the fan and everything goes to pot as Church and State are mutually conquered by the other. There’s a hell of a lot more going on than a mere presence and absence of an iota in homoousian and homoiousian.

Third, Julian the Apostate is a fascinating guy. I’ll have my antennae up for more on him. And those satires which he wrote ; Loeb’s got them.

Fourth, things really get moving in the final chapter of this volume as we discover the origin of the Huns and they begin to press upon the Goths who in turn begin to press upon the Empire -- and the Fall is written in the stars by now.

Fifth, I’m increasingly convinced that Gibbon belongs more to the history of history than to historiography ; more for the reader of novels and fans of 18th century thought than for today’s working historian. He belongs properly on my encyclopedic shelf.

And finally, Sixthly, for the hell of it ; if you love commas and semicolons, Gibbon is your man.

Table of Contents of the Second Volume -- chapter headers; or, they don’t make them like this anymore

Chap. XVII. -- Foundation of Constantinople. -- Political System of Constantine, and his Successes. -- Military Discipline. -- The Palace. -- The Finances.

Chap. XVIII. -- Character of Constantine. --Gothic War. -- Death of Constantine. -- Division of the Empire among his three Sons. -- Persian War. -- Tragic Death of Constantine the Younger, and Constans. -- Usurpation of Magnentius. -- Civil War. -- Victory of Constantius.

Chap. XIX. -- Constantius sole Emperor. -- Elevation and Death of Gallus. -- Danger and Elevation of Julian. -- Sarmatian and Persian Wars. -- Victories of Julian in Gaul.

Chap. XX. -- The Motives, Progress, and Effects of the Conversion of Constantine. -- Legal Establishment of the Christian, or Catholic, Church.

Chap. XXI. -- Persecution of Heresy. -- The Schism of the Donatists. -- The Arian Controversy. -- Athanasius. -- Distracted State of the Church and Empire under Constantine and his Sons. -- Toleration of Paganism.

Chap. XXII. -- Julian is declared Emperor by the Legions of Gaul. -- His March and Success. -- The Death of Constantius. -- Civil Administration of Julian.

Chap XXIII. -- The Religion of Julian. -- Universal Toleration. -- He attempts to restore and reform the Pagan Worship -- to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. -- His artful Persecution of the Christians. -- Mutual Zeal and Injustice.

Chap XXIV. -- Residence of Julian at Antioch. -- His Successful Expedition against the Persians. -- Passage of the Tigris. -- The Retreat and Death of Julian. -- Election of Jovian. -- He saves the Roman Army by a disgraceful Treaty.

Chap XXV. -- The Government and Death of Jovian. -- Election of Valentinian, who associates his Brother Valens, and makes his final Division of the Eastern and Western Empires. -- Revolt of Procopius. -- Civil and Ecclesiastical Administration. -- Germany. -- Britain. -- Africa. -- The East. -- The Danube. -- Death of Valentinian. -- His two Sons, Gratian and Valentinian II. succeed to the Western Empire.

Chap XXVI. -- Manners of the pastoral Nations. -- Progress of the Huns, from China to Europe. -- Flight of the Goths. -- They pass the Danube. -- Gothic War. -- Defeat and Death of Valens. -- Gratian invests Theodosius with the Eastern Empire. -- His character and Success. -- Peace and Settlement of the Goths.

On to volume the third.....

As to Volume I of The History and Decline of the Roman Empire as provided us by Eduard Gibbon

Gibbon’s monumental work which we are endeavoring to read this year of our lord 2013, has a select and sparse readership. Indeed, why would anyone read a moldy history book about a moldy empire, a moldy book written in the later part of the 18th century? Casual readers will find it dull. Modern readers of casual fiction will find it intolerably gehoben and pompous. Readers of history will find it antiquated and outdated. It occurs to me that there is but a single readership of Gibbon’s Great Work. That readership consists of Readers of Great Works. And Gibbon’s Decline and Fall is a Great Work. And a pleasure to read.

Immediately, we should correct that audience count. There is a second Reading Party, of which I count myself a member, and that is the Party of the Encyclopedic and Mega-Novel. History, well written, is narratively structured if only because our Understanding is narratively structured. And Gibbon’s work is packed with narrative and with character. Indeed, it is Gibbon’s focus upon the characters of his leading characters, the Emperors and other actors upon history’s stage, their virtues and their vices, which causes his historical analyses to have fallen out of favor with today’s writing of history.

To illustrate the degree to which Gibbon’s History is surpassed by more recent classical scholarship, I off a visual aid included in the wikipedia article on Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, the standard reference work of Classical studies, a work whose volumes I cannot count, which was published between 1893 and 1978. Please, feast upon these magnificent volumes: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauly-Wi...

For my purposes, as one who aspires and has the audacity and pretense to read Great Works, The Decline and Fall enters into the ranks of historical eruditional works which, no matter their status today in regard to having kept up with science, will forever be read for their literary edification; such ranks include The Father of History, Herodotus, Thucydides, and The Anatomy of Melancholy, whatever kind of work of erudition Burton has executed in that Monument. One might say that books of this sort are read for the execution of their prose. But it is a great deal more. Yes, the prose is of that quality which causes one to incessantly praise the King James Version as a great work in the English language regardless of the stance one takes toward its content. But just as the Bible is read not only for the prose, but also for the mind and experience reflected within the text, so too with Gibbon, we read for his mind; we witness his mind at work upon his materials, shaping them and containing them when his massive undertaking threatens to overthrow him in its sheer magnitude, its centuries and centuries of history and its hundreds and hundreds of actors, not to mention the enormity and near numberlessness of his sources. Which is to say, read Gibbon not for his results but for his process and method.

Volume I begins with the ascension of Commodus to the Purple in AD 180. Chapters I through III function as a prelude to the beginning of the Fall, even as the Fall is already intimated at the beginning of the Empire under the reign of Augustus. This prelude sketches a broad outline of the Empire as it was under the reign of the Antonines between the years AD 138 and 192, of which dynasty we all know Marcus Aurelius as portrayed by Alec Guiness in the film of the same title as Gibbon’s History. The first volume carries us through to the beginning of the reign of Constantine in 323. We’ve only begun the Fall. Decline is well ensconced.

Perhaps the most recognized portion of The Decline and Fall are the two Christianity chapters one finds at the end of the first volume, chapters XV and XVI. These are fascinating chapters. For my purposes and interests, they are still relevant as such things tend to be. It’s a history I did not know as well as I might have, given that I was raised within the Anabaptist tradition, that portion of the Reformation movement which was known as Radical, which tradition attempted to restore the Church to the model represented in the Early Church, before it was conquered by Constantine and turned into the State itself, rather than as a locus of resistance to the violent powers of the State. It is the pacifist tradition. Whatever my relation is to that tradition today, I have recently also returned to thinking on the early church as certain Left political thinkers such as Zizek, et al, have also returned to this period for rethinking resistance to the domination of the State, and the origin of a Universalist political project. As such, I found myself reading against Gibbon, not in regard to his scholarship, but in terms of the relation to his hero, The Roman Empire itself; that with Walter Benjamin, one understands history as written by the victors, whether the victor be the declining Empire or the Church Triumphant, and attempts within one’s reading, to allow a disclosure of foreshortened possibilities. I only indicate here the nature of interest I took in these two chapters. I would owe them a rereading before I would feel competent to engage in all the Anstoss which they have provided to my thinking.

The Vindication, Gibbon’s response to complainers who would indict his scholarship as an historian, and which is reproduced at the end of Womersley’s volume 3, should be read immediately after chapters XV and XVI. If one reads it at all. Aside from its status as polemic in the highest style, most of its content is rather obscure for those of us not involved with the state of 18th century scholarship.

On to Volume II, shortly.
Profile Image for Bob Mayer.
Author 181 books47.9k followers
February 17, 2016
Every Empire eventually falls. Given the largest modern Empire is the United States, it might behoove Americans to read this.

The epic series is a must read for historical buffs. The premise that Christianity played a large role in the collapse of the Roman Empire might not go over well, but the lack of religious tolerance definitely hurt the Romans. Religious tolerance had been a staple and helped greatly in both the expansion and maintenance of the Empire. You can take a lot of things from people, but taking their religion doesn't go over well.

Another big problem was the extensive use of mercenaries in the Roman Army. This is an issue for the United States as we rely more and more (much more than most people know) on contractors for our dirty work.

I had to peruse the entire series once more for my next book, Time Patrol: The Ides of March, as I cover the day Caesar was assassinated. One thing to consider is that despite the legendary warning about the Ides, perhaps Caesar didn't really care at that point? While most thought he had epilepsy, I just read a report from two doctors who've studied all the historical writings about his affliction and they feel he was actually having mini-strokes. But, until we invent time travel, we'll never know. And it we invent time travel . . . Of course, if we do invent time travel, then it exists now. My brain is starting to hurt. Back to writing about time travel.

Profile Image for Alan.
Author 6 books296 followers
March 5, 2022
I first read Gibbon over thirty years ago, and made it through the three Modern Library volumes. My Amherst College Shakespeare prof (38 plays, whole sophomore year), who also invented the daily writings in Eng 1-2, and had the only FL Wright house in New England (Baird house), said Gibbon was his favorite. Baird had also read half of the 250K books in the Library, renamed the Frost Library when JFK laid the foundation stone my sophomore year, a month before Dallas. I played trombone in the college band, Hail to the Chief, and the National Anthem, our trombone soli at "rockets red glare." My poetry teacher Archibald MacLeish was on stage next to the Pres. Baird lived to 96, writing me in his last years, "I have read too much"--and indeed, all the books in the English collection had his initials, TB--and most in French, since his wife Bertie had taught French at Smith College. (See my review of Baird's "English at Amherst," edited by William Pritchard , whose latest I just reviewed, "Dinosaur Reflections.")

Gibbon's irony contrasts ideology and practicality. His sentence I had by heart (from "angels" on, infra) decades ago, about the Emperor: "Theodosius was still inexorable; but as the angels who protected the Catholic cause were only visible to the eyes of faith, he prudently reenforced 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." Ch. XXVII. (Vol II. p.11)

Over the years I have reread his conclusions, end of Vol III, and the first volume, a half dozen times, and his notorious Ch 15 on Judaism and Christianity maybe two dozen. I read it as contemporary news; for instance, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, leaving office, recently pardoned over 200 prisoners, including several convicted of murder. Doubtless Barbour's Christianity played into his pardoning, possibly of converts. Here's Gibbon on the first couple centuries AD.
"It is a very ancient reproach...that the Christians allured into their party the most atrocious criminals, who, 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, for which the temples of the gods refused to grant them any expiation"(I.411).
In his Ch 15 Gibbon asks how Christianity claimed such a victory over religions of the world, since "truth and reason seldom find so favourable a reception in the world"(I, 383). On Judaism, "The contemporaries of Moses and Joshua beheld with careless indifference the most amazing miracles..." but that singular people, in contradiction to every known principle of the human mind, "have yielded a stronger and more ready assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors than to the evidence of their own senses"(I.385). "The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews"(389).
Hadrian instituted the death penalty for false accusations of fellow Roman citizens of being Christian (I.464).
From Gibbon I have learned to distrust any historian who does not use compound-complex sentences. Without them history remains incomprehensible and usually, the historian, more partisan.
Profile Image for فهد الفهد.
Author 1 book4,766 followers
May 30, 2016
اضمحلال الإمبراطورية الرومانية وسقوطها

بحثت عن هذا الكتاب طويلاً، وقنعت أخيراً أن اقرأ الكترونياً هذه النسخة المختصرة منه، تقع النسخة التي كتبها إدوارد جيبون في ستة مجلدات، قام المؤرخ (دي. إم لو) باختصارها في ثلاثة مجلدات، حاذفاً الكثير من الفصول مشيراً في ملخص سريع إلى أهم ما تضمنته الفصول المحذوفة، وبقراءة الأجزاء الثلاثة لا أشعر بأي حسرة على المحذوف – ما خلا الفصول التي تتناول الفتوحات العربية -.

يتناول جيبون الفترة الإمبراطورية من التاريخ الروماني، فلذا كتابه يبدأ بعهد أوغسطس مع تمهيد عن العصر الذي سبقه ومن ثم ينطلق إلى الانهيار الأخير بسقوط القسطنطينية بيد العثمانيين، وهذا تاريخ طويل ممتد على خمسة عشر قرناً، تضمنت تحولات عالمية مهمة، ونهوض وسقوط قوى، وتغير الدين في الإمبراطورية من الوثنية إلى المسيحية، الكتاب بشكل ما للمتخصصين، ومن يرغب في القراءة حول الرومان عليه أن يبحث عن كتاب أبسط.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,545 followers
February 11, 2021
One of the monuments of the Enlightenment and one of the greatest works of history in English, Gibbon's iconic Decline and Fall is a pleasure to read and a treasure chest of information. While it is true that it was written before the end of the 18th century and there have been 1000s of archeological discoveries since then, the overall story and theory still captivates and convinces the reader. One is obliged to look past Gibbon's aristocratic bent for preferring enlightened autocracy and fearing rabble democracy as well as his very English (and truly white European) bias against Africans (whether the "brutish tribes" of North Africa or the "savages" south of the Sahara) and the various Gothic tribes, while remembering that he was a product of his times and also that, despite this unfortunate bias, he still has positive things to say about the more notable personalities that emerge from these populations as they merge with his story.

The most controversial aspect in this first third of his work are chapters 16 and 17 about Christianity. Gibbon himself wavered on the question of Christianity, having converted to Catholicism and back to Anglicism in his youth. He is rather judgmental, yet in my opinion justifiable, about the impact of the christianization of the Empire following the reign of Constantine which he attributes as one of the causes for the decline and fall. Personally, I found it enlightening how the stories of martyrs were exaggerated for political and religious currency during the 10th to 13th centuries because, in fact, the persecution of Christians was not as systematic or wide-spread as some would like us to believe. In fact, the empire was incredibly accepting of different belief systems because otherwise, it could never have absorbed such a massive and diverse empire from the Black Sea to the Atlantic. There were some particularly bad emperors, but the local governors could push back and often it was bad business to kill off Christian (and Jewish) merchants. Also, recent research has proven that Nero was not present in Rome when it burnt and never played the fiddle as popular legend would like us to believe. The subsequent burning of Christians as candles was not as much a systemic oppression as a scapegoat to hide his own culpability having been absent on vacation during the crisis; it was simply easier to blame Christians (and Jews), than to admit to his own negligence. But, it was short lived and in fact there were several Christians who continued to have high positions in his government and that of his many successors.

The first part of the Decline ends more or less with several chapters about the Empire at the time of Constantine and leads into part two with the successors of Constantine and the Gothic Wars. I HIGHLY recommend reading the unabridged version despite its length because it is just such a magnificent writing style with humor, sarcasm and wonderful turns of phrase. A true masterpiece.
Profile Image for Bar Shirtcliff.
37 reviews5 followers
August 31, 2009
This is a book that has grown on me. The first time I picked it up, I probably didn't make it past the tenth page. Now I'm halfway through volume 1 and totally hooked. I've found the section that I'm currently reading (about the early history of Christianity) a bit dull, but interesting: many of Nietzsche's complaints about Christianity seem to have been anticipated by Gibbon.

I'm amused by Gibbon's dry tone and his brevity: the effect of this and his wit together is altogether refreshing (perhaps especially for a failed historian). But really, the contrast between Gibbon's way of talking about the world, past and present, is instructive. Gibbon certainly lets the reader know about his judgements, as often as not in the footnotes, but unlike many (or most?) modern authors, he does not beat the reader over the head with one or several overwhelming points or arguments; there is no belaboured analysis, and there are no heavy technical terms or pretensions.

For all that seems to be missing, Gibbon's style has more: there is a sense that the book was written to be lost, just like many of the books that he mentions in the footnotes as having actually been lost. Masterfully written though it was, the Decline and Fall was just another perspective on ancient Rome, written in an era itself about to pass. Why is this more, you ask? The easy answer is "less is more." What Gibbon sacrificed in pretence and readily apparent complexity, he gained in elegance.
Profile Image for Caroline.
768 reviews220 followers
May 30, 2013
You hear people refer to Gibbon's magisterial style for a reason--it is. The sentences just roll on and on. He had read everything about the period and for the most part selects and organizes the material very well (by which I mean that the history flows and makes sense; I don't know enough to know whether he selected a balanced and coherent subset of facts and events). But this isn't an endless recitation of facts. Gibbon assesses the people and explains their actions; he shares his reflections so that it becomes the finest kind of history, one which illuminates and instructs with an artistry that is almost constantly engaging.

All the names and endless battles and assasinations could be overwhelming but Gibbon spends a good deal of time describing the characters of the successive emperors before explaining what happens during their various reigns, and it helps keep them distinct. He was a man of his time, so you have to accept misogyny, anti-semitism, elitism, and racism as part of the way he looks at the world. He was also an atheist, and was apparently criticised for his extensive sections on the early church, with all of its internal battles.

It is difficult to tell when Gibbon is using irony and sarcasm on his own behalf and when not, because he tends to write extensively in the voice of his characters so that sometmes you can't tell whether an opinion is his or theirs. But after a while I just let it go and enjoyed the truly stunning writing. The wit is used judiciously but to great effect.

Also the narrator does a very good job of reading long descriptions of intrigues and battles so that you stay interested for the most part through some very dense material.

Profile Image for David.
Author 12 books60 followers
August 22, 2013
I love this book because:
it's great value for money - there is so much reading
Gibbon is not just a sublime historian, he is also an prototype psychologist, sociologist, and anthropologist.
His history is of the human condition and not just of Romans
Once you get used to the peculiar writing style you will actually enjoy it. It takes only 20 pages to get into it.
It is impossible to believe that his insights are from so long ago because they are still so fresh.
I take a star off because he just goes on too much of a detour about the role of Christianity in corrupting Rome. OK. I get it and I agree but two full chapters. He was obviously very pleased with his own refreshing heresy. Top tip - just skip the two chapters on Christianity which are the only outdated sociological parts.

Otherwise, this is a highly addictive read. It's funny, insightful, intelligent and thankfully, very very long. A genuine classic and deserves to be read for another 1000 years.
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews332 followers
August 20, 2012
I feel decidedly ambivalent about this book. My rating reflects that ultimately I didn't want to stick with it; I didn't find its pleasures and degree of informativeness worth the slogging through. This is the slowest read I've ever encountered--slower reading than James Joyce's Ulysses. And yet it's not that the prose was difficult or rambling or the subject boring. In fact I found the prose rather elegant. Partly, it's that I felt as if it was going on forever. This is only the first volume of six covering from 180 to 395 AD--and it's 956 pages of very tiny print. Mind you, I've read history books about as dense with delight. And I did like the style and find much of what was related about the Romans fascinating. How could I not be fascinated by the real details about Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius and the subject of the film Gladiator? How could I not love reading about Emperor Severus, whose name lives on in Rowling's Severus Snape?

Except it was hard to let go and let myself absorb this, because it was so obviously dated. A friend of mine who is fascinated by the Romans, who studied the classics, knows Greek and Latin and teaches it for a living, begged me not to read this. Gibbon, she told me, is a "relic." Go read the real thing she told me--Tacitus and Suetonius are riveting and much closer to being primary sources. Or pick up a contemporary history of Rome that incorporates the latest scholarship. Still, I was determined at first to plow onward, given this is a tremendously influential book, one of the first modern histories to use and cite primary sources. And there is value in reading old non-fiction works such as Darwin's Origin of Species and Frazer's The Golden Bough, even if their biology and anthropology are dated. As another friend put it--it's not so much what Gibbon tells us about Ancient Rome, as what he tells us about 1776 Britain in its own post-Augustan Age. And there's certainly a window on his times to be found here--particularly in the views on women and Asians and race in general. Gibbon lost me in Chapter IX: "State of Germany Until the Barbarians" with its ode to misogyny:

The Germans treated their women with esteem and confidence, consulted them on every occasion of importance, and fondly believed, that in their breasts resided a sanctity and wisdom more than human.... The rest of the sex, without being adored as goddesses, were respected as the free and equal companions of soldiers; associated even by the marriage ceremony to a life of toil, of danger, and of glory.... Heroines of such a cast may claim our admiration; but they were most assuredly neither lovely, nor very susceptible of love. Whilst they affected to emulate the stern virtues of man, they must have resigned that attractive softness, in which principally consist the charm and weakness of woman. Conscious pride taught the German females to suppress every tender emotion that stood in competition with honor, and the first honor of the sex has ever been that of chastity. The sentiments and conduct of these high-spirited matrons may, at once, be considered as a cause, as an effect, and as a proof of the general character of the nation. Female courage, however it may be raised by fanaticism, or confirmed by habit, can be only a faint and imperfect imitation of the manly valor that distinguishes the age or country in which it may be found.

The above isn't incidental--it's practically the keynote to Gibbon's theory. The Emperor Alexander Severus, who Gibbon overall admires, according to him had two key flaws--he was born in the "effeminate" East--and he listened to his mother too much. At least one-fourth into the first volume, Gibbon's theory seems to be Rome's decline came because Romans lost the manly men virtues. And yes, I know; it's the times in which Gibbon wrote to blame, and I should make allowances for that and take out of his history what good I can. But added to how slow a read this was and feeling fidgety wondering just how much of the facts are just plain wrong... Well.

I may try an abridged edition someday. I noticed one shelved at Barnes and Noble that covers the material of the first volume in only 317 pages. I might find that more bearable. Or maybe just try a modern take on the late Western Roman empire such as Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire. Or just take my friend's advice and next time I'm in the mood to read about the Romans read Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, which my friend swears is awesome.
Profile Image for Alex Pler.
Author 6 books218 followers
February 26, 2022
Con estilo pomposo y rebosante de digresiones, Gibbon traza los últimos 400 años del Imperio romano de Occidente. 1.500 páginas que desgranan cómo una sociedad se descompuso paulatinamente debido a disputas internas, corrupción, guerras civiles, hambrunas y pestes, unos gobernantes más preocupados de dar poder a la religión en auge que de atender las preocupaciones del pueblo, la llegada de nuevos pueblos a los que no se quiso dar cabida, el abandono de la cultura tradicional, la pérdida de respeto al legado propio hasta el punto de que los habitantes de Roma expoliaban los antiguos monumentos a modo de canteras improvisadas... Mil y un motivos que acabaron por volver irreconocible una ciudad que había gobernado alrededor del Mediterráneo.

En definitiva una obra monumental, a ratos abrumadora por la ingente cantidad de datos, nombres, personajes y líneas temporales, pero por eso mismo fascinante. Hay paralelismos con la actualidad, como los movimientos migratorios provocados por las guerras y que se intentan contener en campos de refugiados. Hay episodios que parecen sacados de una saga épica, como cierta ceremonia de gala que acaba en asesinato y que se diría que inspiró cierta boda roja. Hay capítulos enteros dedicados a describir las costumbres de todos los pueblos que interactuaban con Roma: de los celtas a los hunos, pasando por los godos, vándalos, germanos, sajones..., un repaso a vista de águila de la Europa que se estaba formando mientras Roma se descomponía.

Dejo para el futuro el segundo volumen, dedicado a la historia de Bizancio y su Imperio romano de Oriente.
Profile Image for John Hughes.
27 reviews10 followers
April 6, 2019
It’s Gibbon. It’s definitive. It’s a titan of scholarship. As a reader I took a while to get into that baroque prose rhythm, but found the latter half of the volume very engaging.
He may Overly harsh on the role of Christianity, and has his major reasons for the decline scattered and tucked away in otherwise obscure passages, but this is part of the experience of reading Gibbon. Anyone who has wondered at the fall of Rome, that great majesty, simply must read this book.
Profile Image for David Huff.
153 reviews47 followers
November 15, 2016
Tackling this massive classic has been on my bucket list for some time, and after finishing Volume One, the first of Six (I know, I can hardly believe it either) volumes, here are some summary thoughts so far:

1. Took me a while to decide whether to read it, or listen on Audible. I've listened to quite a few books on Audible, so my comfort level (plus all the spare moments I can find in traffic or longer drives to listen) gave me the courage to go that route. I'm loving the Naxos AudioBooks version read by David Timson. Very easy to listen to, with a high British accent Gibbon might have had -- he sounds like a cross between Alec Guinness (old Obi-Wan) and John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield in "The Paper Chase").

2. It's true that Gibbon had quite the vocabulary, and his prose can be dense. But once you get used to the experience, it becomes very rich and beautifully elegant. The man was a master stylist, with a good dose of wit, and very much opinionated.

3. The knowledge and research that went into this work are just overwhelming. A nice bonus is that the Audible version has a good PDF reference guide for each volume. Very helpful!

4. So far, I have found this to be a unique, challenging and very well written work of history. Volume One covers the beginning of the Roman Empire (after centuries as a Republic) with Augustus in 27 BC, and ends with the reunion of the Empire under Constantine in around 324 AD. Gibbon takes a departure from chronology at the very end to present a substantial (and sometimes controversial) discussion of the Christian Religion, and its founding, advance and impact during those years.

There's a LOT of info, and I have often required some short rewinds to help myself keep up. But it's been well worth the adventure so far, and I'm looking forward to Volume 2!
Profile Image for Mohammed omran.
1,565 reviews145 followers
May 8, 2018
في هذا الكتاب أنجز جيبون تاريخه الذي اكتمل في الأجزاء الستة التي نعرفها اليوم، ليدرس المرحلة التي تمتد من العام 180 م. حتى السقوط النهائي للإمبراطورية البيزنطية، لا سيما مع احتلال العثمانيين القسطنطينية، ما يعني أنه يتناول القرون الثلاثة عشر الأكثر أهمية في تاريخ البشرية. ولقد قسم الكتاب، في أجزائه الستة الى قسمين، يتوقف أولهما عند العام 641، ويتابع الثاني حتى خسارة المسيحية لعاصمة بيزنطية. ويرى الباحثون عادة أن القسم الأول هو الأكثر أهمية، والذي يبدو أن جيبون وضع فيه القسط الأكبر من جهوده ومعارفه وقدرته على التحليل. أما القسم الثاني، فإنه أتى -ودائماً بحسب اولئك الباحثين- أقل أهمية وأكثر اختصاراً، حيث إن الكثير من فصوله يبدو وكأنه ألصق لصقاً بالفصول الأخرى. ومع هذا، لا يفوت الباحثين أن يروا، حتى في هذا القسم الثاني، مقداراً هائلاً من المعلومات التي يمكن الوثوق بمعظمها والاستناد إليها. ولعل أهم ما في كتاب جيبون، في قسميه معاً، هو أن المؤلف لم يكتف كما كان يفعل المؤرخون الذين سبقوه بدراسة الأحداث السياسية الكبيرة التي عرفتها وعاشتها الإمبراطورية في مرحلتيها: الرومانية والبيزنطية، بل إنه أسهب، خصوصاً، في دراسة تواريخ وأحوال الشعوب التي عاشت من حول الإمبراطورية وفي تماس وتفاعل معها، من دون أن ينسى في خضم ذلك الحركات الروحية والدينية والاجتماعية، التي رأى جيبون أهميتها. من هنا مثلاً نراه، حين يدرس الإسلام وتاريخه، باعتبار أن توسع إمبراطوريته كان فيه القضاء الأول على الإمبراطورية الرومانية، يدرس تاريخه الروحي والفكري وحركته الثقافية وتنقلات الشعوب ولا سيما الانشقاقات الدينية والمذهبية المرافقة لذلك كله. وإذ يشتغل جيبون على هذا نراه متدخلاً في التفسير في شكل جدي، بالاستناد إلى حسه النقدي الرهيف وبالاستناد إلى ملكة أدبية حقيقية جعلت الأشخاص، كما الشعوب، تتخذ تحت يراعه سمات حقيقية، وتبدو على صفحات الكتاب من لحم ودم. وفي هذا الإطار توقف الباحثون طويلاً عند البورتريهات التي رسمها جيبون لأشخاص مثل ماركوس أوريليوس وجوستنيانوس، كما توقفوا عند الفصول الثرية التي تحدث فيها عن التشريع الروماني، وعن ولادة الإسلام وعن الحملات الصليبية... منقول للامانه
Profile Image for Xavier.
157 reviews58 followers
September 23, 2022
As I turned the last page of Volume I, I began to wonder how I would review this work. My reading experience was an undulating one – I enjoyed the work but at times I found it repetitious and a slog to get through. I was conflicted. What did keep me from placing the book into my DNF shelf was Gibbons’ prose. He is a gifted writer, and my vocabulary grew exponentially (such words as ignominious and pusillanimous are some fun ones!)

This was my first leap into the history of the Roman Empire. I have little knowledge of the foundational history other than what I’ve read in other books, although I am working on that! Gibbon begins with the rule of the Antonines, the time period that began around 98 CE with the rule of Antoninus Pius and his succeeding heir Marcus Aurelius. After the death of Marcus, his son Commodus took the throne, and this is regarded by Gibbon as the beginning of the end of the Empire.

Thereafter, the reader is introduced to a multitude of emperors, many being introduced to the sword shortly after having the diadem placed on their heads, their ephemeral reign being cut short by treachery or by the anger of the populace. This I found very interesting in the beginning but after about 300 pages I began to grow weary. As historian Arnold Toynbee (supposedly) once said, “History is one damn thing after another.” His witticisms breathed life into the history, and that’s what kept me on life support.

I find the Roman Empire fascinating so I will continue to look for other books on the subject. What will work best for me might be learning about it in chunks rather than in sweeping works such as Gibbon’s voluminous oeuvre. I haven't given up on him yet; I plan on starting Volume II at some point. If you enjoy great writing, then you will appreciate Gibbon.

3 stars for the content and 4 stars for the prose.
31 reviews3 followers
July 22, 2010
I've just finished Volume I, and II is up next. I would recommend against getting the version edited by H.H. Milman if at all possible, unless you like books that are edited by someone who thinks it's okay to mutilate someone else's work by adding a LOT more Christian nonsense to it. He even criticizes the author for attempting to be reasonably objective. This is NOT okay, and it is detrimental to a book that is rightly considered to be a masterpiece of historical writing. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a finely written, unabridged version of Gibbon that isn't edited by a chimp, and enjoy yourself. :)
Profile Image for Debbie.
301 reviews35 followers
Currently reading
May 4, 2009
This book is amazingly readable. Unfortunately, no matter how easy the reading, 1000 pages are still 1000 pages (with footnotes but no pictures or white-spacey dialogue). I don't think I'm going to finish this before book club on Thursday. ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, and my other quibble, aside from the large bulk, is the sad lack of maps and a chronology. This book is 1000 pages, people! I don't have time to pull out my atlas and look up dates on Wikipedia!
Profile Image for Meem Arafat Manab.
371 reviews154 followers
August 12, 2018
না আছে পর্যাপ্ত ফুটনোট, না আছে নির্ঘণ্ট, না আছে কোনো চরিত্র পরিচিতি। কোত্থেকে চলে আসে মিথ্রিদাতীস না কে যেনো, সে কোন্‌ জায়গা থেকে আসলো তাও পড়ে বোঝার উপায় নাই।
গদ্য অসাধারণ, খোঁচা দেয়ার ক্ষমতার প্রকাশ লাইনে লাইনে, ভদ্রলোকের তথ্যের সংগ্রহও বেড়ে। এই বঙ্গে নাকী কোনো এক "জামালপুর"-এ হীরার খনি ছিলো, তাও সেই রোমান আমলেই। পারতে কি এই দেশ বারবার হীরক রাজার দেশ হয়ে ওঠে?

এই সংস্করণ শুধু সংক্ষেপিত নয় বইলা একটা প্রশংসা পাইতে পারে। নাইলে অন্য কোনো কপি পড়াটাই বেহতর।
Profile Image for Nic Rowan.
42 reviews3 followers
February 19, 2023
I haven’t been this addicted to any book for a long time. He really is that good. My wife and I have been reading the funniest passages aloud to each other for the better part of the last month.
Profile Image for Yair Zumaeta Acero.
96 reviews19 followers
May 4, 2019
Resulta complicado atribuir la esquiva inmortalidad a las obras literarias, y lo es más aún, si el texto es de índole histórico y fue redactado siglos después de los acontecimientos que recoge. Sin embargo, "Decadencia y caída del impero Romano" de Edward Gibbon ha acumulado desde su publicación en 1776, elogios y alabanzas por la maestría y belleza con la que fue escrita y narrada por el historiador inglés, elevándola al título de "clásico" y adquiriendo de a pocos, ese casi imposible adjetivo de inmortal.

Casi 250 años después de ser escrita, la "Decadencia..." sigue siendo leída por placer como por instrucción y ninguna crítica ha sido capaz de hundirla o amilanar su belleza. A pesar de los nuevos hallazgos arqueológicos, históricos y geográficos, el contenido general de esta titánica obra, continúa imperecedero, gracias a la magistral prosa con la que Gibbon logra transmitir el grandioso y trágico destino del imperio que dominó el mundo; una materia que de por sí es capaz de despertar la más profunda pasión del lector, condimentada con ese arte literario tan excelso que despliega el autor, con un estilo impecable, brillantes ironías y agudeza de juicio. Tal como escribió Borges cuando redactó un prólogo para una de sus obras favoritas: "Gibbon parece abandonarse a los hechos que narra y los refleja con una divina inconsciencia que lo asemeja al ciego destino, al propio curso de la historia. Como quien sueña y sabe que sueña, como quien condesciende a los azares y a las trivialidades de un sueño, Gibbon, en su siglo XVIII, volvió a soñar lo que vivieron o soñaron los hombres de ciclos anteriores, en las murallas de Bizancio o en los desiertos árabes."

Para construir el primer volumen de este majestuoso libro, Gibbon tuvo que dedicar siete años de su vida a compilar y resumir centenares de obras, textos históricos y crónicas, siempre acudiendo, en la medida de lo posible, a las fuentes primarias. El flujo del tiempo nos llevará en esta primera parte, desde los gloriosos, prósperos y pacíficos años del emperador Adriano y los Atoninos hasta la caída del último emperador romano de Occidente, Rómulo Augústulo y el reinado del bárbaro Odoacro, con un impero sumido en la miseria, la desesperanza y la ruina. 1500 páginas convierten su lectura en una tarea ciclópea que requiere atención y diciplina. Pero gracias a una narración vivaz, párrafos largos, elegantes y eruditos y muchos signos de puntuación, lo que sería un tema denso y con demasiada información, se convierte inmediatamente en una de las mejores novelas de la historia humana, llena de intriga, traición, batallas, asesinatos, envidias, avaricia, maldad, poder y decadencia; novela cuyos protagonistas no fueron seres imaginarios, sino, personas de carne y hueso que reunieron en sí mismos lo mejor y peor del espíritu humano. Tal como lo describió Borges, "Recorrer el Decline and Fall es internarse y venturosamente perderse en una populosa novela, cuyos protagonistas son las generaciones humanas, cuyo teatro es el mundo, y cuyo enorme tiempo se mide por dinastías, por conquistas, por descubrimientos y por la mutación de lenguas y de ídolos.

Por todo esto y por la extraordinaria manera como es narrado uno de los episodios más importantes y definitivos de la historia humana, "Decadencia y caída del imperio romano" se eleva en el trono de los inmortales, como uno de los textos sempiternos de la literatura universal.
Profile Image for Noah Goats.
Author 8 books20 followers
February 16, 2022
I just finished reading this book a second time, about 20 years after I read it the first time. I still love it. This was a groundbreaking work of history in its day. With its combination of exhaustive research and sound judgement it was simply better than almost all of the history books that came before it. And while we have learned a lot about the Romans since Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (in the past 250 years or so, archeologists have added a lot to what we know about ancient Rome), this book is still very much worth reading. It still stands on its merits as a work of history, but in addition it is a beautiful work of literature. I remember that I needed to warm up to Gibbon's 18th century style the first time I read this book, but the second time around the power of the prose got ahold of me from the moment I cracked it open.

Gibbon is also a good storyteller, and he has many interesting stories to tell here. He does a fantastic job of packing a lot of history into a few pages without losing the sense of drama or character. I found my mouth hanging open in amazement, again, as I read the story of Didius Julianus, who literally purchased the Roman Empire from the Praetorian Guard. In short, this is fascinating history, beautifully written and wisely interpreted.
Profile Image for Brian Eshleman.
830 reviews103 followers
February 20, 2017
The particulars of a given place and time are incidental to why this work and its author have had a lasting impact. At least for me, curiosity about Rome subsided as I was more and more drawn in to the spell of the author. This was Edward Gibbon's space within which to expound on the sweeping currents of history and the trickling eddies of individual flawed lives that feed into them. How does the discipline of a common goal strengthen individual men and the broader culture? How does the irony of reaching that goal and being sapped by prosperity undermine the very positive attributes which brought prosperity in the first place? This is why anyone who wants to understand his or her own age should read Gibbon.
Profile Image for Daniel Ligon.
174 reviews32 followers
January 1, 2023
Reading this tome is definitely an investment, but I found it worth the time. The first volume took me two months; I plan to start on Volume 2 soon. Since this was published almost a quarter of a millennium ago, there are definitely some archaisms in vocabulary and style to work through. That said, Gibbon was uniquely talented both as a historian and a literary composer. Interspersed among multitudes of historic datum and trivia are some true gems of style! Gibbon also does not shy away from inserting his own opinions and judgments regarding the characters he chronicles. Chapter to chapter, you may find him discussing pros and cons of hereditary monarchy considering the depravity of man, or reasons for the explosive growth of early Christianity, or the contrasts between public virtue and private morality. Gibbon's commentary, though dated and perhaps not always historically accurate, is nonetheless insightful. If you are a history lover and are willing to invest some time and patience, this classic may be worth your while.
Profile Image for Jacob Stelling.
362 reviews5 followers
August 19, 2021
On Gibbon - upon a second reading of this text, in full, in a non-academic setting, I both find myself enjoying and critiquing Gibbon more. On the one hand, his analysis and overarching argument is woven together with a fluency which I find enviable, as well as proving to be incisive at times. However, on the other hand, I do see more questionable parts of his narrative, and the overstating and understating of various parts of the history, particularly in terms of the fall of the West.

Finally, a note on the author of the abridgement - although at the end Womersley outlines his reasoning for choosing the passages he did, I would personally have preferred more passages from the first 2 volumes of Gibbon’s work. I felt at times that large chunks of the history were simply skipped out which removed some of the necessary background for Gibbon’s later theses.
Profile Image for Stephen.
200 reviews6 followers
March 15, 2013
Most readers, including myself, are discouraged from ever attempting to read Decline and Fall because of its length. I can confirm, having reached the end of the first volume, that our fears of boredom or exhaustion are exaggerated. In truth, Gibbon needs an editor, not an abridgement. A small number of dull and superfluous passages, often dealing with trifles remote from our own concerns (such as the internecine squabbles over Trinitarianism, or the unspectacular lives of quickly-forgotten pretenders to the imperial throne), are unhappy exceptions in what is otherwise a beautifully rendered history, full of eloquence and wit. To echo Churchill, I read it with pleasure from cover to cover.

Its literary virtues have not lost any of their lustre with time. Disguised beneath the idiom of the 18th century is an intimate tone that renders the work not only accessible but positively lively. Gibbon wrote Decline and Fall as an amateur historian, not as an ideologue or a doctrinaire. His approach is human rather than scientific; his aphorisms generalized from experience rather than deduction. He was a master of the ironic mode of narration, and is often quite funny. The rise of Christianity, in particular, provided fertile soil for his sly humour:

"At such a period, when faith could boast of so many wonderful victories over death, it seems difficult to account for the scepticism of those philosophers who still rejected and derided the doctrine of the resurrection. A noble Grecian had rested on this important ground the whole controversy, and promised Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, that, if he could be gratified with the sight of a single person who had actually been raised from the dead, he would immediately embrace the Christian religion. It is somewhat remarkable that the prelate of the first eastern church, however anxious for the conversion of a friend, thought proper to decline this fair and reasonable challenge."

Historians may find more to criticize in Gibbon. His reliance on dubious sources is problematic for obvious reasons, but he is more likely to be reproached for the sin of omission. His version of the Roman Empire concerns only emperors and generals, war and the sweep of religion. Culture, society, learning, ideas, and everyday life do not figure in his definition of history:

"In great monarchies millions of obedient subjects pursue their useful occupations in peace and obscurity. The attention of the writer, as well as of the reader, is solely confined to a court, a capital, a regular army, and the districts which happen to be the occasional scene of military operations."

This reproach is admittedly unfair, as it supposes two centuries of evolution of historical theory which occurred after Gibbon's death, but is nevertheless worth pointing out. Those seeking histories organized thematically, or written from the bottom-up, should look elsewhere.

In any case, it is rarely profitable or interesting to judge a work according to goals it never set for itself. Gibbon's lasting fame is deserved not because—as is often the case with so many masters whose works are today unreadable—he was influential or innovative, but because his writing still solicits our interest and our attention. I never felt I had gone backwards in time when reading Gibbon, as I do when reading Montesquieu, Hume or Voltaire. Despite the distance separating us, his voice is remarkably familiar to modern ears.

Highly recommended (if you have six weeks to spare).
Profile Image for Matt.
628 reviews
December 21, 2016
The first volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers the first 26 chapters of the author’s epic historical work. Beginning with the death of Domitian and ending with Theodosius I’s treaty with the Goths and early reign, Gibbon’s spans nearly 300 years of political, social, and religious history on how the great empire of antiquity slowly began to fade from the its greatest heights.

The history of the decline of Rome actually begins by showing the nearly century long period of rule of the “Five Good Emperors” as Gibbon shows the growth of absolute power of the Principate was governed by able and intelligent men. With succession of Commodus Gibbon illustrated what the power of the Principate would do for an individual who was a corrupt and tyrannical ruler. Gibbon’s then examines the political and military fallout of the death of Commodus with the declaration of five emperors in less than a year and rise of the Severan dynasty by conquest. Gibbon reveals underlining causes of era of the ‘Barracks Emperors’ and what historians call, “the Crisis of the Third Century”.

With the ascension of Diocletian and through him the rise of the House of Constantine, Gibbon explores the political and bureaucratic reforms began and developed that would eventually divide the empire in his view. After Constantine’s rise to sole emperor, Gibbon then delves into the early history of Christianity before its adoption by the founder of Constantinople. Beginning with Constantine, the last half of this particular volume as the history and theological developments of Christianity as a central narrative as one of the contributing factors of the decline of the Roman Empire.

Although the description above might make one pause at starting the heavy work, Gibbon’s style and prose make history come alive with every word and gives the reader a sense of the grand scale of historical forces while not overwhelming them. While every reader will have their own verdict on if Gibbon’s arguments and interruptions of history are correct, each avid history lover will find this opening volume of Gibbon’s magnum opus an engaging beginning in examining how one of the foundation stones of Western Civilization came to its political end while passing on its laws and culture to Europe.
1,092 reviews9 followers
January 30, 2021
Detta är en intensiv bok, som är lika rafflande och karaktärsdriven som en roman; när man väl trängt igenom de första 5o sidorna, som snarare är författarens sätt att skriva av sig besvikelsen på hur Rom föll, än en beskrivning av det. För mig var det en glad överraskning, eftersom jag har hört mycket negativt och väldigt lite positivt om Gibbons sätt att skriva.

Fokus i boken ligger snarare på kejserliga hovintriger och tal till Pretoriangardet, än på stora slag. Detta gör det till en annorlunda läsning. Det rent militära står tillbaka för de ekonomiska aspekterna, som hur roms beskattningssystem i princip krossade dess provinsbefolking, och hur slaveriet urholkade deras innovationsduglighet, och de kulturella d:o, såsom vad som rädsla för offentlig förföljelse gör för ett folks psyke. I mitt tycke är det en förbättring. Genier som Trajanus ges fortfarande utrymme att glänsa i militära frågor, men mellannivån, som Tiberius eller Maximinus Thrax analyseras snare som mediokra statsmän än som goda generaler, även om även den aspekten noteras.

Jag rekommenderar den varmt för alla former av samhällsvetare och historienördar.
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