The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III Info

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Some 250 years after its first publication, Gibbon's Decline and
Fall is still regarded as one of the greatest histories in Western
literature. He reports on more than 1,000 years of an empire which
extended from the most northern and western parts of Europe to deep into
Asia and Africa and covers not only events but also the cultural and
religious developments that effected change during that time. In Volume
III (XXVII-XXXVI), Gibbon charts the fall of the Western empire.
Starting with the reign of Emperor Gratian (d. 383) his survey moves to
political and religious issues in the East and West before covering the
increasing military power of the Barbarians. Occasionally a great Roman
general emerges to stem the tide, but internecine power struggles see
the Western empire weakened, until Gaul, Britain, Spain and other
territories find themselves, as the 5th century advances, unable to rely
on Rome for defense.

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Reviews for The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III:

5

Aug 07, 2014

Volumes V and VI include probably the most interesting period for my taste, while also including the worst individual chapter and even more unnecessary Byzantine-bashing (Constantinople's "decline is almost coeval with her foundation") and even clearer bias on Gibbon's side. It's fascinating to read someone so blithely unaware of the inconsistencies in his own beliefs, and so happily accepting of the superiority of his own class. You know who should control everything, Gibbon asks? The most Volumes V and VI include probably the most interesting period for my taste, while also including the worst individual chapter and even more unnecessary Byzantine-bashing (Constantinople's "decline is almost coeval with her foundation") and even clearer bias on Gibbon's side. It's fascinating to read someone so blithely unaware of the inconsistencies in his own beliefs, and so happily accepting of the superiority of his own class. You know who should control everything, Gibbon asks? The most wealthy merchants and the nobility. Why? Because that's freedom and liberty. But don't let others have freedom and liberty, that way lies anarchy. This is based on a rigorous classicism, which imagines that "the old patricians were the subjects, the modern barons the tyrants, of the state." Yes. In Ancient Greece, the massively wealthy just hung out talking about Homer all day. Ignore the slaves being used as footstools while they read.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of things he knows makes it much harder for him to keep up his own bigotries for long, and he concludes there there were many causes for end of Rome in both West and East--not just one. He's clearly made uncomfortable by the knowledge that what we have of Ancient Rome in the West was saved by the Papacy, but gives Sixtus V his due. Womersley argues in the introduction that Gibbon's movement away from philosophical history was complete by the end of the History, but that's a bit extreme.* There's plenty of hatred for everyone who isn't a rich, British, post-Anglican rationalist.

And there are still plenty of great fantasy-novel stories in this volume; I expect a dissertation soon, "Fall of Thrones: Gibbon's influence on George R. R. Martin". And many perfect turns of phrase: "Hitherto the weight of supernatural belief inclines against the Protestants; and many a sober Christian would rather admit that a wafer is God, than that God is a cruel and capricious tyrant." Not sure the doctrine of predestination is coming back from that. "The battles won by lessons of tactics may be numbered with the epic poems created from the rules of criticism." Hah. On gunpowder: "If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind."

It makes me slightly uncomfortable that it took me so long to put my finger on the great flaw in Gibbon's prose, but I finally did: his rhythms and cadences don't alter according to the importance of the information being presented. Whether he's describing one of the most important points in his argument, or just throwing away a line about a fifth-rate Byzantine princeling, his words *sound* the same. In this, at least, we've gone one better than Gibbon. But, as he says, "Genius may anticipate the season of maturity; but in the education of a people, as in that of an individual, memory must be exercised, before the powers of reason and fancy can be expanded; nor may the artist hope to equal or surpass, till he has learned to imitate, the works of his predecessors." Gibbon helps us to to exercise memory, his work is an example of the powers of reason, and he is certainly an artist worthy of imitation, as well as worth surpassing.




*: The best part of Womersley's excellent introduction is his quote from Johnson's 'Journey to the Western Islands': "whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings." Most certainly this applies to Gibbon's History. ...more
5

Oct 13, 2014

As this is my fourth review of Gibbon, and as I am not as inexhaustible as that great man, this review will be somewhat scatterbrained—just a few casual observations and some final reflections.

First, it occurred to me, after reading Gibbon’s memoirs, that one of the largest influences on his writing must have been Homer. Notice that Gibbon systematically reuses and repeats certain key phrases and words in the same situations, just as Homer reused the same formulas through his poems. For As this is my fourth review of Gibbon, and as I am not as inexhaustible as that great man, this review will be somewhat scatterbrained—just a few casual observations and some final reflections.

First, it occurred to me, after reading Gibbon’s memoirs, that one of the largest influences on his writing must have been Homer. Notice that Gibbon systematically reuses and repeats certain key phrases and words in the same situations, just as Homer reused the same formulas through his poems. For example, Gibbon always uses “the winds and waves” to denote challenges at sea, while Homer always uses “wine-dark sea” to denote the stormy, foreboding sea. Homer was, in all probability, an oral poet, so it’s no surprise that one finds formulas in his poems. But Gibbon must have done this quite intentionally; this wouldn’t be surprising, as he was a great fan of the Grecian bard.

Next, as I have on several occasions sung Gibbon’s praises, I think it only fair that I jot down some of his shortcomings. Gibbon’s prose is supremely beautiful; but, unlike the beauty of, say, Shakespeare’s language, Gibbon’s writing is all beautiful in the same way. Gibbon mastered one aesthetic, and deployed it to great effect. But after thousands upon thousands of pages of his style, one does grow a bit tired of it. I think much of this has to do with pacing. Gibbon’s mind traveled at one speed—a slow, stately procession. The tumult of battle and the sublimities of philosophy are all recounted in the same majestic waltz. Of course, this is a great part of the appeal of his works, since he manages to cast his silken shroud over all of life’s defects. Yet the reader does sometimes long for some variety, some bit of headstrong passion or unrestrained pathos on the part of the author.

Both of the above qualities—his reuse of certain phrases, and the uniformity of his style—combined to give an artificial homogeneity to the material under discussion. Whether discussing the Turks or the Tuscans, the same phrases are heard, the same cadences sounded. It is often difficult to picture the action in the mind’s eye; the appeal is rather to the ear, as Gibbon’s prose rolls augustly along in its inexorable course.

Gibbon’s other major flaw is his cultural snobbishness. His heroes are all cultured gentlemen and amateur philosophers; his villains are philistines and savages. Gibbon will connect the decline of an empire with the decline in literary taste, and the ruin of a polity with the ruin of a monument. His historical explanations all involve loosening standards of personal honor—something most modern readers are wont to regard as an effect, rather than a cause, of decline.

Yet I will speak no more of this. It feels dishonest of me to nitpick an author who has so deeply influenced me, and has filled so many of my leisure hours with pleasure and companionship. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is as great a monument of the human spirit as is the Coliseum. And like that ancient amphitheater, this work exquisitely blends the most noble and most base aspects of our species: a grand edifice, erected by diligence and knowledge, preserved by respect and care; and in the center of this great work—amid the elegant archways and the polished marble—the spectator finds nothing but pointless bloodshed.
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5

Aug 22, 2013

Ok I'm onto volume III and starting to shake because it's coming to the end. By now I am a complete addict, just a few thousand pages in. What can I do when I get to the last page? Is there a centre that treats people for Edward Gibbon withdrawal?

It is a great shame that the Roman empire collapsed so quickly after a mere 1500 years of analysis because Gibbon could have just kept going.

If you find yourself in prison, on a slow train or on a desert island take all three with you. The only Ok I'm onto volume III and starting to shake because it's coming to the end. By now I am a complete addict, just a few thousand pages in. What can I do when I get to the last page? Is there a centre that treats people for Edward Gibbon withdrawal?

It is a great shame that the Roman empire collapsed so quickly after a mere 1500 years of analysis because Gibbon could have just kept going.

If you find yourself in prison, on a slow train or on a desert island take all three with you. The only downside is that I have started to speak in arcane English which is insensible in the present world.

I have mostly laughed because Gibbon is a superb ironist but I have also learned that the more the world changes in terms of our material culture the more we humans living in it stay the same. I also learned that I am a Barbarian. ...more
5

Jan 20, 2017

Upon completing this 3rd Volume, I now stand at the halfway point of Gibbon’s 6 Volume masterpiece. From this vantage point, it’s the late 5th Century, Attila the Hun has invaded, pillaged and conquered the Eastern Empire, and the last Emperor of the crumbling Western Empire, Romulus Augustulus, has made way for Odoacer, the first Barbarian King of Italy.

I grow more fascinated, as I continue this long and detailed history, with just how much material Gibbon imbibed in order to organize and write Upon completing this 3rd Volume, I now stand at the halfway point of Gibbon’s 6 Volume masterpiece. From this vantage point, it’s the late 5th Century, Attila the Hun has invaded, pillaged and conquered the Eastern Empire, and the last Emperor of the crumbling Western Empire, Romulus Augustulus, has made way for Odoacer, the first Barbarian King of Italy.

I grow more fascinated, as I continue this long and detailed history, with just how much material Gibbon imbibed in order to organize and write this work. I’m especially glad my edition contains his footnotes, where he copiously references a wealth of historians from earlier eras --- and doesn’t hesitate to pass judgment on their veracity or their errant speculations.

Some highlights from this portion of the journey:

• The continuous invasions of, battles against, and alliances with, the Goths, Huns, and Vandals.
• The final years and death of Theodosius the Great.
• A detailed account of the final destruction of Paganism in the Empire, as the Christians tore down idols (replacing them with relics of Christian martyrs), statues, and temples, and introduced the worship of saints.
• The final division of the Eastern and Western empires, and the new Western headquarters at Ravenna .
• The valor and leadership of Stilicho.
• A fascinating account of the career of Attila the Hun.

It’s not difficult to see clear parallels with modern times: for instance, during the 5th Century, the Empire’s military became weaker, along with the borders of the Empire. What followed were numerous invasions of barbarians, and the sacking of Rome by the Goths.

See you at the end of Volume 4!
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5

Apr 27, 2017

The finale volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 49 through 71 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the Iconoclast controversy in correlation with rise of the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century and ending with a description of the causes and progression of the decay of the city of Roman in the 15th century, Gibbon relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological The finale volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 49 through 71 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the Iconoclast controversy in correlation with rise of the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century and ending with a description of the causes and progression of the decay of the city of Roman in the 15th century, Gibbon relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments in both Europe and the Middle East ultimately led to the end of Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the state of the city of Roman at time of the Roman Empire’s complete end.

The majority of the 22 chapters deal with the rise of Islam and the resultant political and martial effects that would ultimately determine the fate of the Byzantine Empire. Although beginning with the Iconoclastic controversy that began the schism of the Christian church as the bishop of Rome rose to power in the West, Gibbon used those developments to launch into how Islam rose in Arabia then spread across not only areas once under Roman control but also their long-time Persian rivals in the aftermath of the reconquests of Heraclius. While detailing the internal struggle within the Caliphate period, Gibbon reveals how Emperors attempted to combat this new faith and military force to increasing little effect has time went on.

The thorough retelling of the numerous political changes throughout Asia that affect the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire shifted the focus away from the ‘Roman’ world to locations as far east as China, but revolutions of people in these areas would play into the fortunes of Constantinople. Also playing into fate of Byzantine was the barbarian Christian West that the Emperors called for aid not only from kings but the Pope as well. Unfortunately the resulting Crusades and mercenary arms that went East would inflict a mortal wound to the Empire in 1204 thus beginning a centuries long death spiral that only lasted as long as it did because of internal revolutions with the growing Ottoman Empire until 1453. This dreary recounting of the end of Byzantium is mirrored by Gibbon in his recounting of the history of the city of Rome itself throughout the Middle Ages until the fall of the New Rome in the East.

This finale volume of Gibbon’s life consuming work revealed the struggle of the Eastern Empire of Byzantium to continue against a succession of Islamic powers and its ultimate demise thus completing the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet in retelling the eventual fall of Constantinople, Gibbon paints a huge picture for the reader about how events both near and far away from the Bosporus affected the fortunes for both good and ill of the New Rome. And in recounting the history of the city of Rome throughout the Middle Ages, a reader sheds a tear with Gibbon about the loss of the monuments of both Republic and Empire due to the necessity or vanity of the people of Rome after for the fall of the Western Empire. ...more
4

Jul 28, 2011

Quite the masterpiece but very, very long and the language is both archaic and complicated, so a fair effort is required. This is, however, repaid as this complete Historian covers all the angles. So, his account of the end of the Roman Empire includes the fate of the Eastern Empire based at Constantinople and this, in turn, includes the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the Mongols and the viccissitudes within the Islamic states.

A pleasant surprise is his modern mind. Gibbon's critiques of religion Quite the masterpiece but very, very long and the language is both archaic and complicated, so a fair effort is required. This is, however, repaid as this complete Historian covers all the angles. So, his account of the end of the Roman Empire includes the fate of the Eastern Empire based at Constantinople and this, in turn, includes the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the Mongols and the viccissitudes within the Islamic states.

A pleasant surprise is his modern mind. Gibbon's critiques of religion are Enlightenment gold and still not perceived by many today. Indeed, in the appendicies we find his response to critics who have called him on his religious comments and like so many religious critics of our own day, their criticism are ill considered and often simply not relating to what the text says. While his language is a treasure trove of disused spelling and grammar such as sea-shore, fewell and use of an before any "h" even remotely considered silent.

The 4 reasons for the decline and fall are also very telling. Barbarian invasion we all know about, internicine rivalries also. More surprising is the importance he uneraths of recycling the physcial material of the great buildings of Rome, which literally and figuratively diminishes it. Perhaps above all though, the lesson for our times is that environmental factors were the fourth cause. ...more
5

Aug 13, 2016

Thus ends the first half of Gibbon's extraordinary narrative with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Following the repeated campaigns of Alaric culminating in his sack of Rome in 410, the emerging boldness of Attila and his unification of the Huns, the sweeping victories of Genseric and the Vandals in Africa culminating in his own sack of Rome in 455, the West truly fell. While the barbarians were at the gates, the ridiculous political infighting and absurd thinning of Roman military Thus ends the first half of Gibbon's extraordinary narrative with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Following the repeated campaigns of Alaric culminating in his sack of Rome in 410, the emerging boldness of Attila and his unification of the Huns, the sweeping victories of Genseric and the Vandals in Africa culminating in his own sack of Rome in 455, the West truly fell. While the barbarians were at the gates, the ridiculous political infighting and absurd thinning of Roman military power contributed greatly to the success of these competing factions. An excellent read as always and a great edition from Everyman, on to the East! ...more
4

Apr 02, 2019

I finally completed my 6 month journey of reading Gibbon's masterpiece. I would say that this is one of the most important historical works (in history ;) ). Essentially a history of Europe and the world from Commodus to the Renaissance, I feel like I learned a great deal here and will need some months to process it. Any leader would benefit from reading this in order to avoid making the same mistakes as the emperors of Rome.

Some parts really put into perspective the summation of one's life and I finally completed my 6 month journey of reading Gibbon's masterpiece. I would say that this is one of the most important historical works (in history ;) ). Essentially a history of Europe and the world from Commodus to the Renaissance, I feel like I learned a great deal here and will need some months to process it. Any leader would benefit from reading this in order to avoid making the same mistakes as the emperors of Rome.

Some parts really put into perspective the summation of one's life and achievements and the risk required to have one's name rescued from oblivion. Here's my favorite quote: "In a composition of some days, in a perusal of some hours, six hundred years have rolled away, and the duration of a life or reign is contracted to a fleeting moment: the grave is ever beside the throne: the success of a criminal is almost instantly followed by the loss of his prize and our immortal reason survives and disdains the sixty phantoms of kings who have passed before our eyes, and faintly dwell on our remembrance." Gibbon is funny as hell in his footnotes too. I love how he absolutely eviscerates incompetent historical figures in the most eloquent of english. Would recommend this if you want to win your next bar trivia challenge. ...more
5

Feb 13, 2014

In my Victorian edition, this third volume stretches from the fall of Rome itself to the conquests of the Islamic empire under the first caliphs and the early Umayyads. In other words, the original Book IV and first few chapters of Book V. I don't know if it's just me getting used to his style, or maybe reflects a difference in his sources, but it seems to me that in this volume Gibbon is looser, more vivid, more willing to tell stories; there is plenty of excitement and fun here.

The first In my Victorian edition, this third volume stretches from the fall of Rome itself to the conquests of the Islamic empire under the first caliphs and the early Umayyads. In other words, the original Book IV and first few chapters of Book V. I don't know if it's just me getting used to his style, or maybe reflects a difference in his sources, but it seems to me that in this volume Gibbon is looser, more vivid, more willing to tell stories; there is plenty of excitement and fun here.

The first 2/3rds or so is dominated by the figure and reign of Justinian: the factions and controversies and scandals of his long life, the reconquest of the West by his generals Belisarius and Narses, his wars with the Persians, his legal and religious reforms and consolidations, his building program. Thanks to Procopius, who wrote both sober, eyewitness-based history and outrageous, tabloid-style scandal reporting, Gibbon has plenty of material. He professes to be skeptical of the Secret History, saying "a lover of truth will peruse with a suspicious eye the instructive anecdotes of Procopius...Ambiguous actions are imputed to the worst motives, error is confounded with guilt, accident with design, and laws with abuses; the partial injustice of a moment is dextrously applied as the general maxim of a reign of thirty-two years," all of which sounds exactly like blogs and online comment threads today. But in fact Gibbon allows himself to be swayed by Procopius's malice, and he never misses a chance to mock and belittle the emperor who takes up so much of his book. It's funny to read, for example, the account of the conquest of Italy, which Gibbon consistently credits only to the generals (not the "timid" emperor who never took the field) while his own narrative suggests that the skillful diplomacy and artifice of Justinian and Theodora were just as important. (Gibbon does not even really pretend to scruples about Theodora, a figure so fascinating to us today, or her frenemy Antonina, the wife of Belisarius.)

Overall the Justinian chapters are magnificently fascinating, though I admit I struggled through the long chapter on his legal code and the history of Roman law in general. (It did have, in my edition, the closest equivalent yet to the wonderful squabbling footnotes of chapters 15 and 16; Reverend Milman brought a legal scholar in to correct Gibbon, adding even more length and boredom.) After Justinian, there is less detail, but great vividness--I feel like there has to be a bleak but exciting revenge movie/TV series about Justinian II, who survived deposition, exile, having his nose cut off, attempted assassination, and near-shipwreck, to return to Constantinople at the head of a barbarian army to get bloody revenge on basically the entire empire. During the war between Khosrau and Heraclius (who lost Syria, Palestine, and Egypt to the Persians, won them back in an insanely bold campaign, and then lost them again forever to the Muslims), Gibbon even puts in some wonderful foreshadowing: Khosrau recieves a letter from some guy down south called Mohammed, urging him to recognize the one true God, which he impatiently tears up and tosses away as an irrelevant distraction from the war.

That guy down south turns out to be one of Gibbon's favorites; like Julian the Apostate, he lingers on his virtues, and throws in some faults mostly to avoid the appearance of bias. (By contrast, he is completely uninterested in and dismissive of Charlemagne.) Gibbon is very sympathetic to Islam, even more than to iconoclasm, both of which better fit his Enlightenment Deism than the orthodox Catholics do. (The uncomfortably racist/prejudiced chapter is not on Islam, but on the various small Christian churches of the East such as the Copts and Nestorians.) Early Muslim heroes in general get plenty of admiration from Gibbon: not just Mohammed but Ali, Tariq, Abu Bakr, Abu Ubaidah, and especially Khalid, "the Sword of God". I'm sure more accurate Western accounts of the early Caliphs have been written since Gibbon, but I doubt whether any of them are more evenhanded, which to me is remarkable.

I'm three-quarters of the way through now, and my enthusiasm is undiminished. Can't wait to read the last volume! I will add more to the list of my favorite Gibbonian construction. Here are a few highlights of it from this volume: "that thankless island", "that ambitious princess", "that virtuous patriot", "that exiled nation", "that useful animal", "that meritorious service", "that Gallic adventurer", "that flagitious minister", "that rambling jeweller", "that skillful botanist", "that delicious territory". I never get tired of these. What will I do when the book is over, and there are no more to look forward to? ...more
3

Nov 02, 2016

The so-called “Age of Reason,” is long over, but the ruling class never fully lost the mindset of this time. Then again, the Age of Reason ushered in the philosophy of the ruling class. Christianity had already destroyed the notion that strength alone should determine who should rule. But the “Enlightenment” idea that man was the maker and organizer of society rather than God created the intellectual justification for meritocracy, and basis for every bourgeois state, from liberal democracies to The so-called “Age of Reason,” is long over, but the ruling class never fully lost the mindset of this time. Then again, the Age of Reason ushered in the philosophy of the ruling class. Christianity had already destroyed the notion that strength alone should determine who should rule. But the “Enlightenment” idea that man was the maker and organizer of society rather than God created the intellectual justification for meritocracy, and basis for every bourgeois state, from liberal democracies to communist dictatorships. It was not until our current age when rule based on brute strength, in the form of ethnic superiority, returned to legitimacy.

The intellectual class has never really departed from Gibbon’s mindset. The intelligentsia of Gibbon’s age is always in the temple of the world, protected by its buttresses yet free and clear of the idols and shrines those buttresses were meant to protect. Gibbon finished his masterpiece in the sweet age when materialism ruled, yet before 1789, when materialist ideology had to fail in practice. Much of Volume III of Decline and Fall reads like a hypothesis proved wrong. This materialism was evident in the first two volumes, but in Volume III Gibbon’s cynicism and materialism finally give way to rancidity.

Again, Gibbon’s analysis is tainted by his lack of philosophy. His chapters on Christianity once again display almost no ability for theological thought. This is not necessarily a problem—Gibbon does not need to concern himself with theological matters if he doesn’t want to. The problem with Gibbon’s analysis, as with so much analysis from deists and materialists, is that he believes his other analysis is improved by his lack of theological understanding. Many an ignorant Christian has made a fool out of himself by claiming knowledge he doesn’t have. But materialists are the only people who think their ignorance makes them wiser. Gibbon elides theology, and is left with only his scabrous wit in discussing the iconoclasm and the eastern schism. This is inadequate for anyone interested in the subjects.

Most marring is Gibbon’s treatment of the Mohammadan heresy. Though Gibbon employs his skepticism against the sects of Mahmoud and Ali, no objective reader can fail to see Gibbon’s sharpest daggers are directed towards the Church, not the mosque.

Why is Gibbon so sympathetic, in comparison, to Mohammad’s heresy? The doctrine of the 73 celestial virgins is met with an understanding smirk. Given the fact that Christian kings were yet protecting the welfare of the Voltaires and Gibbons of the world, it was not likely fear of jihadists. (The same cannot be said for Hans-Friedrich Mueller, the unctuous editor of the newest Gibbon truncation, who takes the bravely attacks Bush’s Iraq war, mocks Christianity, and announces he is adopting a more reverent spelling Mahomet’s name.) Islam offers a weaker theology and a stronger legal system. The theology of Islam is secondary to the demands of temporal rule and conquest. No social scientist could envision a better creator of social capital than a submission.

Christianity is a religion of middle ground and contradiction. It is not a pacifist religion—however much scoffers like Gibbon might like to dishonestly suggest—yet it is also not a bellicose religion, since converts must be won by the cross, not the sword. Christianity proposes grand principles, but no formal code for civil life. In these senses—by its own looseness, Christianity can claim to be truly catholic. Islam is mind-numbingly simple by comparison. The scimitar is Islam’s transmission tool. Sharia is Islam’s law. Islam’s simplicity creates adherents of great myopic fervor. There is even a Christian way to drink alcohol (see Ecclesiasticus 31, rightly stripped from the Bible by Puritans). Insofar that Gibbon will approve of Christianity, it is in the Islamified, dumbed-down and yet more strident form of Zwingli and Luther. Why does Gibbon speak more kindly of rigid protestantism than liberal Catholicism? Because it is easier to ignore. Similarly, Islam is simple. No alcohol, four wives, conversion or death. Islam’s most imposing feature is extrinsic to the philosophy itself—the violence of its adherence. But the philosophy itself is merely a system of government, and can be relegated to the outskirts, so long as its adherents can be relegated to the outskirts as well.

These are theological subtleties which do not interest Gibbon. Modern readers cannot be indifferent to the continued takeover of Europe and America by Islamic forces—not sensible ones, at least. The freedom which Islam presented to philosophes like Voltaire and Gibbon was purely negative—the hollow mockery of Mohammad’s realm limited the power of the Church, which guarded sensible people from their empty scoffing.

All this might simply be a matter of philosophical differences. Yet Gibbon’s desire to harm the Church perverts all his other senses. See in Chapter LXX, when the popes gain temporal power over much of Italy. “The barons forgot the arms and factions of their ancestors, and insensibly became the servants of luxury and government.” Their ancestors? These ancestors had been dead for fifteen centuries. The brief revolts of Rienzi created no true spirit of liberty which might be eulogized by Gibbon. Marius and Caesar killed the spirit of liberty in the Romans, not the popes. Or in the final chapter, Gibbon decries the fortifications of St. Peter’s, aphorizing: “Whatever is fortified will be attacked; and whatever is attacked may be destroyed.” This is blather from liberals of the 21st Century, not the 18th. Gibbon has deranged himself so thoroughly by this point against the Church that all logic and philosophy must find their subordinated places in the hierarchy of Gibbon’s prose.

Gibbon lauds Plato without seeming to ever had read him. The Church may have appropriated Plato for purposes Gibbons dislikes, but at no point does Gibbon make any critique of the Church’s Platonism or even acknowledges the Church’s debt to the Greeks. Gibbon’s summary writing-off of Augustine becomes embarrassing when this is considered. His complete elision of Albert Magnus and Thomas Aquinas is just as embarrassing—he mentions Peter Abelard only to note that his ideas may have been heretical to the Church, all without mentioning the ideas or the heresy! When the libraries of Constantinople are burned, he expresses some pleasure in the destruction of reams of theology

Let us keep an imperfect score of where this disdain has taken him. He has sympathized with a terrorist regime that would kill such an irreverent man as him, he has suggested the popes were responsible for the servitude of the Romans rather than Rome’s millennium-plus of servitude; he has lambasted and lauded the destruction of Christian theology without seeming to know anything about it. Perhaps the popes of the Middle Ages appear faint compared to the Antonines, but certainly after hundreds of pages of squalor Gibbon knows the mean average Emperor was much more corrupt than these popes!

Gibbon does not quite adhere to the conceit that allows this third volume to exist. Of course, the Western Empire was dead in the fifth century, and to justify his sojourns away from the East, Gibbon must turn his eyes to Charlemagne’s empire. The Holy Roman Empire lasted until 1807, when Napoleon destroyed it. By then, it was both more amazing and more pathetic than the foundering Byzantine Empire, a product of its own deceits more than any actual connection with the Tarquins and Caesars. Yet at its height, it would have had to earn Gibbon’s praise as a truly orthodox empire which was responsible for modern Europe’s glory and the propagation of liberal ideals to the Americas. In a sense, Charlemagne’s empire was more astounding than Caesar’s; its “decay,” after all, brought not squalor and misery but the modern West.

The schism between the Western and Eastern churches gets perfunctory treatment. While filioque may seem a small matter to the oblivious Gibbon, it once again replays the scenes of Arianism in which the divinity of Christ is disparaged. To any believer, this is no little issue; an entire cosmology may depend on this little word. Gibbon cannot understand this; like all materialists, he cannot begin to comprehend what he cannot understand.


After two-plus centuries, does Gibbon have anything to teach us? The Roman Empire could appeal to a man of Gibbon’s time, where material advancements and protestantized theology created an environment unknown since pagan times. The steam engine made a new European empire necessary simply so it could be put to use. Guttenberg made it feasible that the literary greatness of Cicero and Pliny—if not Plato and Demosthenes—might against flourish across this empire. Yet now technology more than leaders or events has enslaved us. The modern Western empire has no outside adversaries, not really. The Persians and Germanics which posed a perpetual threat to Rome could be disposed of at the push of a button. The technology which made the fortress of Gibbon’s Europe impenetrable has now turned it into a slave state, fatally corrupted by wanton vice and sloth.

Since 1517, the moral has been eaten away by Protestant heresy. The illogical and anarchic impulses which come from rejecting truth had their most pernicious effects on the soul (and the bodies of those killed in the Thirty Years’ War, etc.). The span between 1789 and 1945 was the war of materialism. The Christianity of William Blake was really not so different from Nietzsche’s atheism. Thoreau's mourning the fact that average workers could not make deities of themselves is only an Americanized (i.e. softened) version of the nihilists. Zarathustra and Luther differed only in that Luther was too cowardly to follow through with his thoughts. 1789 proved that Martin Luther had already won. The change was that the spiritual world was now transformed into mad rush for material prospects. The emblem of this is the British Empire, which was always Locke and Bacon and almost nothing of Chaucer and Shakespeare. The British Empire was a materialist empire.

The coin flipped again. Materialism no longer had an intellectual role in Western history. The wants of the affluent nations were met, were so greatly exceeded that no economy could function without the principle of conspicuous waste. Warfare was obsolete in an age where no nuclear power could reasonably attack another, and any barbarian nemesis continued to exist only by the benevolence or apathy of the First World. The American Empire is recognized only tacitly by the ruling class. Its boundaries are spiritual and intellectual, not physical. It is spread by technology and ambivalence.

We lack any true intellectual justification for rule. More than anything, this is what is necessary for a happy society. Raw power justifies all acts. Our rights have been completely divorced from right, and therefore are only a matter of being grandfathered into them. The “Dark Ages” elided by Gibbon were not really so dark. The material necessities of life decayed, but the light of man and the light of God shone still. The light of reason has been snuffed out of public light, and we now only have disputes over raw power—over race and sex.

Reading Gibbon is to read one of the greatest works of a revolution that failed. The story of collapse of the empire Gibbon envisioned will not be written for another millennia, if anyone still exists to write it. ...more
5

Apr 05, 2018

What an amazing ride Edward Gibbon has been. Who would have guessed that a book written over 200 years ago could still be so relevant and so entertaining. It is enough that I am apt to forgive his comments (while in Parliament) speaking ill of those "upstart colonists" who would dare to make revolution against King and country.

If you're going to be a child of the Enlightenment, you absolutely must read this history by THE Historian of the Enlightenment.
4

Mar 06, 2016

Still enjoying the prose and the odd relevance to current events. Gibbon is enlightened, even, and optimistic and it makes for wonderful narration.

“A long period of calamity or decay must have checked the industry, and diminished the wealth, of the people; and their profuse luxury must have been the result of that indolent despair, which enjoys the present hour, and declines the thoughts of futurity. The uncertain condition of their property discouraged the subjects of Theodosius from engaging Still enjoying the prose and the odd relevance to current events. Gibbon is enlightened, even, and optimistic and it makes for wonderful narration.

“A long period of calamity or decay must have checked the industry, and diminished the wealth, of the people; and their profuse luxury must have been the result of that indolent despair, which enjoys the present hour, and declines the thoughts of futurity. The uncertain condition of their property discouraged the subjects of Theodosius from engaging in those useful and laborious undertakings which require an immediate expense, and promise a slow and distant advantage.”

“The valuable library of Alexandria was pillaged or destroyed; and near twenty years afterwards, the appearance of the empty shelves excited the regret and indignation of every spectator, whose mind was not totally darkened by religious prejudice.”

“A nation of slaves is always prepared to applaud the clemency of their master, who, in the abuse of absolute power, does not proceed to the last extremes of injustice and oppression.”

“The ignorant vulgar, whose minds are still agitated by the blind hopes and terrors of superstition, will be soon persuaded by their superiors to direct their vows to the reigning deities of the age; and will insensibly imbibe an ardent zeal for the support and propagation of the new doctrine,”

“But we may surely be allowed to observe, that a miracle, in that age of superstition and credulity, lost its name and its merit, since it could scarcely be considered as a deviation from the ordinary and established laws of nature.”

“But the fair Honoria had no sooner attained the sixteenth year of her age, than she detested the importunate greatness which must forever exclude her from the comforts of honorable love; in the midst of vain and unsatisfactory pomp, Honoria sighed, yielded to the impulse of nature, and threw herself into the arms of her chamberlain Eugenius. Her guilt and shame (such is the absurd language of imperious man) were soon betrayed by the appearances of pregnancy”

“In every just government the same penalty is inflicted, or at least is imposed, for the murder of a peasant or a prince.”

“Since the first discovery of the arts, war, commerce, and religious zeal have diffused, among the savages of the Old and New World, these inestimable gifts: they have been successively propagated; they can never be lost. We may therefore acquiesce in the pleasing conclusion, that every age of the world has increased, and still increases, the real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race.” ...more
5

May 11, 2017

Magnificent, majestic, and monumental. I’m actually pretty sad that I’m now done with the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire because I’m certain that few books will remotely compare. Seriously, don’t go through life without reading these books, there’s so many salient lessons to be learned and applied to our day and age. I think my favorite parts in Volumes Five and Six were the sections covering Genghis Khan; the Golden Horde; the Muslim conquests of North Africa and Western Magnificent, majestic, and monumental. I’m actually pretty sad that I’m now done with the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire because I’m certain that few books will remotely compare. Seriously, don’t go through life without reading these books, there’s so many salient lessons to be learned and applied to our day and age. I think my favorite parts in Volumes Five and Six were the sections covering Genghis Khan; the Golden Horde; the Muslim conquests of North Africa and Western Asia and the resulting Crusades by the Latin kingdoms; the two sieges of Constantinople (first by the Crusaders from the Fourth Crusade in 1204 A.D. and later by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A.D.); the breakup of the Byzantine Empire into the Empire of Trebizond, the Empire of Nicaea, and the Despotate of Epirus; the effect of gunpowder; and the analyses of the popes ruling both religious and civil life. I do wish that he spent more time on the Crusades, but I understand that at that point Gibbon believes the Western Empire is simply fragmented kingdoms that are in no way “Roman” anymore (which is why his focus remains on the Eastern Empire under the Byzantine Empire). I find it interesting, that to Gibbon at least, the very last remnant of the actual Roman Empire is really only the single city of Constantinople by 1453. I do think that there is a lot of attenuation at that point, even if the Byzantines referred to themselves as “Roman” and believed that they were still the “Roman Empire,” the culture, language, and anything else distinguishable about the Roman Empire was long extinct, but the history is enthralling nevertheless. One thing is certain: the Roman Empire left a deeper impression on Western (and arguable to some extent Eastern) Society than almost any other empire or society.

Gibbon summarizes the fall in its most basic terms with the following: “Of these pilgrims, and of every reader, the attention will be excited by an history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire; the greatest perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind. The various causes and progressive effects are connected with many of the events most interesting in human annals: the artful policy of the Caesars, who long maintained the name and image of a free republic; the disorders of military despotism; the rise, establishment, and sects of Christianity; the foundation of Constantinople; the division of the monarchy; the invasion and settlements of the Barbarians of Germany and Scythia; the institutions of the civil law; the character and religion of Mohammed; the temporal sovereignty of the popes; the restoration and decay of the Western empire of Charlemagne; the crusades of the Latins in the East; the conquests of the Saracens and Turks; the ruin of the Greek empire; the state and revolutions of Rome in the middle age.”
...more
5

Sep 14, 2008

This still rates as one of my favorite books in regards to the evolution and eventual demise of a republic. Its relevance to modern America can not be overstated.
3

May 09, 2016

2016 Book # 26/35. Continuing with the fascinating information, this book, because of the time period covered, brought in lots of interesting stuff on the world outside of the empire. I'm more interested in this stuff because it's about the fall. I continue to see many parallels to the world today. Kind of scary.
4

Aug 01, 2016

Oh yes, the first half is done and the sun has set on the Western Roman Empire. It became a bit tiresome with bucket loads of minor emperors in quick succession, the usual way in which most empires end: general disorganisation and uncertainty and, of course, the barbarians doing what barbarians do best, chipping at the foundations. Senators and the elite busy sorting their own problems out instead doing their duties, personal vendettas, dishonored wives etc. At the end you just feel relieved Oh yes, the first half is done and the sun has set on the Western Roman Empire. It became a bit tiresome with bucket loads of minor emperors in quick succession, the usual way in which most empires end: general disorganisation and uncertainty and, of course, the barbarians doing what barbarians do best, chipping at the foundations. Senators and the elite busy sorting their own problems out instead doing their duties, personal vendettas, dishonored wives etc. At the end you just feel relieved that it is over. ...more
4

Feb 15, 2016

Gibbon continues to impress me with his very manifest use and criticism of his sources. The writing is relatively easy, though at times discursive and, in keeping with the time in which it was written, assumes in the reader a certain immersion in neo-classical knowledge and thought. His history contains a degree of drama, but one must be patient enough to wait for it. On a technical note, the maps in all these books are almost useless. I'm not sure if they are the ones from the original run of Gibbon continues to impress me with his very manifest use and criticism of his sources. The writing is relatively easy, though at times discursive and, in keeping with the time in which it was written, assumes in the reader a certain immersion in neo-classical knowledge and thought. His history contains a degree of drama, but one must be patient enough to wait for it. On a technical note, the maps in all these books are almost useless. I'm not sure if they are the ones from the original run of the book or if they were added at a later date, but they are very general and contain very few of the place names mentioned in the book, either for specific cities or wider regions. This doesn't bother me too much, but it gets annoying. ...more
5

Jan 14, 2010

I read the abridged Vols. 1 and 2 but decided to switch over to the unabridged for Vol. 3. Not having read 4-6 yet, I would suppose that this volume is the most important as a stand alone book, in that it addresses arguably the most crucial aspects of the Decline and Fall: the final triumph of Christianity; the conflict with the Arians; the loss of Africa; both sacks of Rome, and finally the loss of the Rome and the Western Roman Empire entirely. Gibbon's language is elqouent, imaginative and at I read the abridged Vols. 1 and 2 but decided to switch over to the unabridged for Vol. 3. Not having read 4-6 yet, I would suppose that this volume is the most important as a stand alone book, in that it addresses arguably the most crucial aspects of the Decline and Fall: the final triumph of Christianity; the conflict with the Arians; the loss of Africa; both sacks of Rome, and finally the loss of the Rome and the Western Roman Empire entirely. Gibbon's language is elqouent, imaginative and at times quite beautiful, but more importantly his writing is fast paced and eminently readable. I found myself continuously amazed that a book written over 200 years ago could remain so compelling. ...more
5

Dec 23, 2013

While I was reading the book, my main interest was the fall of the western half of the roman empire, which declined around the 5th and 6th centuries, which ended about half way through the second volume. The last half of the second volume and third volume was concerned with the Eastern "roman" empire until the fall of the Constantinople to Mohammed the Second.

After the Western Roman Empire fell the first time, there was no true roman empire, although you can say that Charlemagne reincarnated While I was reading the book, my main interest was the fall of the western half of the roman empire, which declined around the 5th and 6th centuries, which ended about half way through the second volume. The last half of the second volume and third volume was concerned with the Eastern "roman" empire until the fall of the Constantinople to Mohammed the Second.

After the Western Roman Empire fell the first time, there was no true roman empire, although you can say that Charlemagne reincarnated the western half as the holy roman empire. The eastern half became the Byzantines after the fall. Justinian was not really a roman emperor per se, just the ruler of the eastern half of an empire that was once apart of the Roman Empire.

I found the series to be a fascinating read, although it did speak to some of the things I already know. A must-read for the ancient/classical civilization buff. ...more
4

Sep 29, 2012

Despite being the third volume in Gibbon’s epic history of the Roman Empire, he is still able to bring the same freshness and engagement from his first two volumes. Keeping his honest analysis of the impact of each emperor in the overall health of the empire, he is able to convey the impacts of the division of the Empire into its western and eastern branch. By focusing on the increasingly important role of the Gothic, Vandal and Gallic tribes in the last decades of the Empire, he is able to give Despite being the third volume in Gibbon’s epic history of the Roman Empire, he is still able to bring the same freshness and engagement from his first two volumes. Keeping his honest analysis of the impact of each emperor in the overall health of the empire, he is able to convey the impacts of the division of the Empire into its western and eastern branch. By focusing on the increasingly important role of the Gothic, Vandal and Gallic tribes in the last decades of the Empire, he is able to give a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental causes behind the end of the Western Roman Empire. Lastly, by independently analyzing the conversion of the “Barbarians” to Christianity, he is able to demonstrate how this more familiarity with the Roman world allowed these “Barbarians” to be more and more accepted by the Roman people until their involvement served to magnify the common civil wars of the Romans into the final catalyst of a decaying empire. ...more
4

Aug 12, 2019

Now that I have finished it, a few words.

It is a truly monumental work.

I will only express positive points here.

One thing I had not anticipated was the occasional humor, which is sly, deadpan, gallows, etc. I wondered if this was a strategy to lighten up a topic otherwise so very dark and heavy as to be crushing to the reader, but a British friend tells me that satire was the dominant literary form in the 18th century and that Gibbon, while ostensibly writing a history, was actually writing Now that I have finished it, a few words.

It is a truly monumental work.

I will only express positive points here.

One thing I had not anticipated was the occasional humor, which is sly, deadpan, gallows, etc. I wondered if this was a strategy to lighten up a topic otherwise so very dark and heavy as to be crushing to the reader, but a British friend tells me that satire was the dominant literary form in the 18th century and that Gibbon, while ostensibly writing a history, was actually writing "satire manqué." So all those dry asides and deadpan jokes which the author makes were the expressions of a would-be satirist, mocking the late Roman empire just as his contemporaries were mocking contemporary European manners and mores.

This third omnibus tome goes from the Coronation of Charlemagne to a bit beyond the Fall of Constantinople, and I enjoyed it more than the previous tomes. It has the rise and explosive expansion of Islam, the increasing strangeness of the Byzantine Empire, a rousing version of the Crusades, the arrival of the Mongols under Genghis Khan, the emergence of certain Italian city states and their merchant princes, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. ...more
4

Jan 04, 2013

Gibbon summarizes briefly near the end of Volume III the period covered in the first three volumes of his history the five centuries from the “fortunate age of Trajan” to the total extinction of the Roman Empire in the West. We are left with Vandals and Moors in North Africa, Saxons struggling with natives in Britain, mercenaries in Italy as far as the Danube. The German nations replaced the Roman government while the Eastern Constantinople’s feeble princes continued to reign in the East faintly Gibbon summarizes briefly near the end of Volume III the period covered in the first three volumes of his history the five centuries from the “fortunate age of Trajan” to the total extinction of the Roman Empire in the West. We are left with Vandals and Moors in North Africa, Saxons struggling with natives in Britain, mercenaries in Italy as far as the Danube. The German nations replaced the Roman government while the Eastern Constantinople’s feeble princes continued to reign in the East faintly representing the majesty of Rome.

Gibbons believes in the overall progress of humanity in history when he writes that “it may safely be presumed, that no people, unless the face of nature is changed, will relapse into their original barbarism.”

Perhaps Gibbon’s History should be rewritten. It’s good to know all the gory side of humanity that he describes but there is the other unknown side to the non-stop struggle and all this slaughter, the average humans who cultivated the corn and paid the taxes to those who went fighting. If there only was a way to get the details of their everyday toils and show their side of the story. It’s probably no less interesting than that of the patricians, legionnaires, and Caesars.
...more
3

Mar 07, 2019

Losing interest

I'm starting to lose interest in the series this version was written better than the two previous volumes I read
5

Jun 28, 2019

What caused it? One big part was Alaric the First. The Visigoth Romanian who plucked the corrupt over ripe Rome like a plum.
2

Sep 22, 2017

Reading this baby, even if you just go to what you are interested using the index, it is a real challenge. Or maybe XVIII century writers are not my thing.
Anyway the chapter on Christian mythology is still interesting.

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