The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
|Subject||History of the Roman Empire and Fall of the Western Roman Empire|
|Publisher||Strahan & Cadell, London|
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire[a] is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon. It traces Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium in the fifteenth century. Volume I was published in 1776 and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, and VI in 1788–1789.[b]
The six volumes cover the history, from 98 to 1590, of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity and then of the Roman State Church, and the history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire among other things.
He began an ongoing controversy about the role of Christianity, but he gave great weight to other causes of internal decline and to attacks from outside the Empire.
The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians.— Edward Gibbon. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 38 "General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West"
Like other Enlightenment thinkers and British citizens of the age steeped in institutional anti-Catholicism, Gibbon held in contempt the Middle Ages as a priest-ridden, superstitious Dark Age. It was not until his own era, the "Age of Reason", with its emphasis on rational thought, it was believed, that human history could resume its progress.
[A]s long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.
The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.
[H]istory [...] is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [of gunpowder] 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.
Numerous tracts were published criticising his work. In response, Gibbon defended his work with the 1779 publication of A Vindication ... of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His remarks on Christianity aroused particularly vigorous attacks, but in the mid-twentieth century, at least one author claimed that "church historians allow the substantial justness of [Gibbon's] main positions."
Misinterpretation of Byzantium
Some historians such as John Julius Norwich, despite their admiration for his furthering of historical methodology, consider Gibbon's hostile views on the Byzantine Empire flawed and blame him somewhat for the lack of interest shown in the subject throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This view might well be admitted by Gibbon himself: "But it is not my intention to expatiate with the same minuteness on the whole series of the Byzantine history." However, the Russian historian George Ostrogorsky writes, "Gibbon and Lebeau were genuine historians – and Gibbon a very great one – and their works, in spite of factual inadequacy, rank high for their presentation of their material."
Gibbon's views on religion
Criticism of Quran and Muhammad
Gibbon was critical of the Quran and Muhammad. He outlined in chapter 33 the widespread tale of the Seven Sleepers, and remarked "This popular tale, which Mahomet might learn when he drove his camels to the fairs of Syria, is introduced, as a divine revelation, into the Quran." His presentation of Muhammad's life again reflected his anti-Islamic views: "in his private conduct, Mahomet indulged the appetites of a man, and abused the claims of a prophet. A special revelation dispensed him from the laws which he had imposed on his nation: the female sex, without reserve, was abandoned to his desires; and this singular prerogative excited the envy, rather than the scandal, the veneration, rather than the envy, of the devout Mussulmans."
Views on Jews and charge of antisemitism
Gibbon has been accused of antisemitism. He has described the Jews as "a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but also of humankind."
Number of Christian martyrs
Gibbon challenged Church history by estimating far smaller numbers of Christian martyrs than had been traditionally accepted. The Church's version of its early history had rarely been questioned before. Gibbon, however, knew that modern Church writings were secondary sources, and he shunned them in favor of primary sources.
Christianity as a contributor to the fall and to stability: chapters XV, XVI
Historian S. P. Foster says that Gibbon:
- blamed the otherworldly preoccupations of Christianity for the decline of the Roman empire, heaped scorn and abuse on the church, and sneered at the entirety of monasticism as a dreary, superstition-ridden enterprise. The Decline and Fall compares Christianity invidiously with both the pagan religions of Rome and the religion of Islam.
Gibbon's work was originally published in sections, as was common for large works at the time. The first two volumes were well-received and widely praised, but with the publication of volume 3, Gibbon was attacked by some as a "paganist" because he argued that Christianity (or at least the abuse of it by some of the clergy and its followers) had hastened the fall of the Roman Empire, as seen in this extended quote from chapter 38, part VI of Volume 3:
As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear without surprise or scandal that the introduction, or at least the abuse of Christianity, had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire. The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister: a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers' pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both sexes who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity. Faith, zeal, curiosity, and more earthly passions of malice and ambition, kindled the flame of theological discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country. Yet party-spirit, however pernicious or absurd, is a principle of union as well as of dissension. The bishops, from eighteen hundred pulpits, inculcated the duty of passive obedience to a lawful and orthodox sovereign; their frequent assemblies and perpetual correspondence maintained the communion of distant churches; and the benevolent temper of the Gospel was strengthened, though confirmed, by the spiritual alliance of the Catholics. The sacred indolence of the monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age; but if superstition had not afforded a decent retreat, the same vices would have tempted the unworthy Romans to desert, from baser motives, the standard of the republic. Religious precepts are easily obeyed which indulge and sanctify the natural inclinations of their votaries; but the pure and genuine influence of Christianity may be traced in its beneficial, though imperfect, effects on the barbarian proselytes of the North. If the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors (chap. 38).
Voltaire was deemed to have influenced Gibbon's claim that Christianity was a contributor to the fall of the Roman Empire. As one pro-Christian commenter put it in 1840:
As Christianity advances, disasters befall the [Roman] empire – arts, science, literature, decay – barbarism and all its revolting concomitants are made to seem the consequences of its decisive triumph – and the unwary reader is conducted, with matchless dexterity, to the desired conclusion – the abominable Manicheism of Candide, and, in fact, of all the productions of Voltaire's historic school – viz., "that instead of being a merciful, ameliorating, and benignant visitation, the religion of Christians would rather seem to be a scourge sent on man by the author of all evil."
The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.
He has been criticized for his portrayal of Paganism as tolerant and Christianity as intolerant. In an article that appeared in 1996 in the journal Past & Present, H. A. Drake challenges an understanding of religious persecution in ancient Rome, which he considers to be the "conceptual scheme" that was used by historians to deal with the topic for the last 200 years, and whose most eminent representative is Gibbon. Drake counters:
With such deft strokes, Gibbon enters into a conspiracy with his readers: unlike the credulous masses, he and we are cosmopolitans who know the uses of religion as an instrument of social control. So doing, Gibbon skirts a serious problem: for three centuries prior to Constantine, the tolerant pagans who people the Decline and Fall were the authors of several major persecutions, in which Christians were the victims. ... Gibbon covered this embarrassing hole in his argument with an elegant demur. Rather than deny the obvious, he adroitly masked the question by transforming his Roman magistrates into models of Enlightenment rulers – reluctant persecutors, too sophisticated to be themselves religious zealots.
Gibbon's initial plan was to write a history "of the decline and fall of the city of Rome", and only later expanded his scope to the whole Roman Empire:
If I prosecute this History, I shall not be unmindful of the decline and fall of the city of Rome; an interesting object, to which my plan was originally confined.
Although he published other books, Gibbon devoted much of his life to this one work (1772–1789). His autobiography Memoirs of My Life and Writings is devoted largely to his reflections on how the book virtually became his life. He compared the publication of each succeeding volume to a newborn child.
Gibbon continued to revise and change his work even after publication. The complexities of the problem are addressed in Womersley's introduction and appendices to his complete edition.
- In-print complete editions
- J.B. Bury, ed., seven volumes, seven editions, London: Methuen, 1898 to 1925, reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1974.ISBN 0-404-02820-9.
- J.B. Bury, ed., two volumes, 4th edition New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914 Volume 1 Volume 2
- Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed., six volumes, New York: Everyman's Library, 1993–1994. The text, including Gibbon's notes, is from Bury but without his notes.ISBN 0-679-42308-7 (vols. 1–3);ISBN 0-679-43593-X (vols. 4–6).
- David Womersley, ed., three volumes, hardback London: Allen Lane, 1994; paperback New York: Penguin Books, 1994, revised ed. 2005. Includes the original index, and the Vindication (1779), which Gibbon wrote in response to attacks on his caustic portrayal of Christianity. The 2005 print includes minor revisions and a new chronology.ISBN 0-7139-9124-0 (3360 p.);ISBN 0-14-043393-7 (v. 1, 1232 p.);ISBN 0-14-043394-5 (v. 2, 1024 p.);ISBN 0-14-043395-3 (v. 3, 1360 p.)
- In-print abridgements
- David Womersley, abridged ed., one volume, New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Includes all footnotes and seventeen of the seventy-one chapters.ISBN 0-14-043764-9 (848 p.)
- Hans-Friedrich Mueller, abridged ed., one volume, New York: Random House, 2003. Includes excerpts from all seventy-one chapters. It eliminates footnotes, geographic surveys, details of battle formations, long narratives of military campaigns, ethnographies and genealogies. Based on the Rev. H.H. [Dean] Milman's edition of 1845 (see also Gutenberg e-text edition).ISBN 0-375-75811-9, (trade paper, 1312 p.);ISBN 0-345-47884-3 (mass market paper, 1536 p.)
- AMN, abridged ed., one volume abridgement, Woodland: Historical Reprints, 2019. It eliminates most footnotes, adds some annotations, and omits Milman's notes.ISBN 978-1-950330-46-1 (large 8x11.5 trade paper 402 pages)
Many writers have used variations on the series title (including using "Rise and Fall" in place of "Decline and Fall"), especially when dealing with a large polity that has imperial characteristics. Piers Brendon notes that Gibbon's work "became the essential guide for Britons anxious to plot their own imperial trajectory. They found the key to understanding the British Empire in the ruins of Rome."
- Playfair, William (1805). An Inquiry into the Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations. Designed To Show How The Prosperity Of The British Empire May Be Prolonged. ISBN 978-1166472474.
- Davis, Jefferson (1868). The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. ISBN 978-1540456045.
- Cuppy, Will (1950). The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. ISBN 978-0880298094.
- Shirer, William (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. ISBN 978-0671728687.
- Jacobs, Jane (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. ISBN 978-0679741954.
- Kinks, The (1969). Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). ASIN B00005O053.
- Toland, John Willard (1970). The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945. ISBN 978-0812968583.
- Green, Celia (1976). The Decline and Fall of Science. ISBN 978-0900076060.
- Balfour, Patrick (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. ISBN 978-0688030933.
- Martin, Malachi (1983). The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church. ISBN 978-0553229448.
- Eysenck, Hans (1986). Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire. ISBN 978-0765809452.
- Kennedy, Paul (1987). The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. ISBN 978-0679720195.
- Wilson, Henry (1872). History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. ISBN 978-1504215428.
- Cannadine, David (1990). The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy. ISBN 978-0375703683.
- James, Lawrence (1998). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. ISBN 978-0312169855.
- Faulkner, Neil (2000). The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain. ISBN 978-0752414584.
- Ferguson, Niall (2002). Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. ISBN 978-0465023295.
- Carlin, David (2003). The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America. ISBN 978-1622821693.
- Brendon, Piers (2007). The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. ISBN 978-0712668460.
- Simms, Brendan (2008). Three victories and a defeat: the rise and fall of the first British Empire. ISBN 978-0465013326.
- Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire. ISBN 978-1784537470.
- Ackerman, Bruce (2010). Decline and Fall of the American Republic. ISBN 978-0674725843.
- Smith, Phillip J. (2015). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire: Mercantilism, Diplomacy and the Colonies. ISBN 978-1518888397.
- Ober, Josiah (2015). The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. ISBN 978-0691173146.
and in film:
- The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
- The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), Penelope Spheeris
- The Decline of the American Empire (1986), Denys Arcand
and in television:
and in video games:
- Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War (2006)
- Civilization VI: Rise and Fall (2018)
The title and author are also cited in Noël Coward's comedic poem "I Went to a Marvellous Party",[d] and in the poem "The Foundation of Science Fiction Success", Isaac Asimov acknowledged that his Foundation series – an epic tale of the fall and rebuilding of a galactic empire – was written "with a tiny bit of cribbin' / from the works of Edward Gibbon". Feminist science fiction author Sheri S. Tepper gave one of her novels the title Gibbon's Decline and Fall.
In 1995, an established journal of classical scholarship, Classics Ireland, published punk musician's Iggy Pop's reflections on the applicability of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to the modern world in a short article, Caesar Lives, (vol. 2, 1995) in which he noted
America is Rome. Of course, why shouldn't it be? We are all Roman children, for better or worse ... I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins – military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial – are all there to be scrutinised in their infancy. I have gained perspective.
- Decline of the Roman Empire
- Outline of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- William Strahan (publisher), who also first printed The Wealth of Nations (1776)
- sometimes shortened to Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- The original volumes were published in quarto sections, a common publishing practice of the time.
- See for example Henri Pirenne's (1862–1935) famous thesis published in the early 20th century. As for sources more recent than the ancients, Gibbon certainly drew on Montesquieu's short essay, Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, and on previous work published by Bossuet (1627–1704) in his Histoire universelle à Monseigneur le dauphin (1763). see Pocock, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764. for Bousset, pp. 65, 145; for Montesquieu, pp. 85–88, 114, 223.
- Link to notes on the poem here. Excerpt:
"If you have any mind at all,
Gibbon's divine Decline and Fall,
Seems pretty flimsy,
No more than a whimsy ... ."
- Gibbon, Edward (1776). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I. W. Strahan and T. Cadell.
- Gibbon, Edward (1781). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. II.
- Gibbon, Edward (1781). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. III.
- Gibbon, Edward (1788). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. IV.
- Gibbon, Edward (1788). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. V. W. Strahan and T. Cadell.
- Edward Gibbon (1788). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. VI.
- Edward Gibbon (1788). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. VII. Basil: J. J. Tourneisen. p. i(Preface).
I now discharge my promise, and complete my design, of writing the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, both in West and the East. The whole period extends from the age of Trajan and the Antonines, to the taking of Constantinople by Mahomet the second; and includes a review of the Crusades and the state of Rome during the middle ages. Since the publication of the first volume, twelve years have elapsed; twelve years, according to my wish, "of health, of leisure, and of perseverance." I may now congratulate my deliverance from a long and laborious service, and my satisfaction will be pure and perfect, if the public favour should be extended to the conclusion of my work.
- J.G.A. Pocock, "Between Machiavelli and Hume: Gibbon as Civic Humanist and Philosophical Historian," Daedalus 105:3 (1976), 153–169; and in Further reading: Pocock, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764, 303–304; The First Decline and Fall, 304–306.
- Pocock, J.G.A. (1976). "Between Machiavelli and Hume: Gibbon as Civic Humanist and Philosophical Historian". Daedalus. 105 (3): 153–169.; and in Further reading: Pocock, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764, 303–304; The First Decline and Fall, 304–306.
- Foster (2013). Melancholy Duty. p. 63. ISBN 978-9401722353.
- Edward Gibbon (1779). A vindication of some passages in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire: By the author. Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand.
- The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. IV, eds. S.M. Jackson, et al. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1952), 483–484. online.
- John Julius Norwich, Byzantium (New York: Knopf, 1989); Byzantium: the apogee (London and New York: Viking Press, 1991).
- Preface of 1782 online.
- Ostrogorsky, George (1986). History of the Byzantine State. p. 6.
- Rashid Iqbal, (2017). “A New Theory on Aṣḥāb al-kahf (The Sleepers of the Cave) Based on Evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS)”. Al-Bayān – Journal of Qurʾān and ḤadĪth Studies 15 (2017). doi:10.1163/22321969-12340044. pp. 20–47. Retrieved from http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/22321969-12340044#
- Gibbon, Edward. Chapter 50 of 'The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire'. Project Gutenberg.
- "Anti-Semitism | EIPA".
- Gibbon, Edward. "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", p. 521 in the first volume.
- S.P. Foster (2013). Melancholy Duty: The Hume-Gibbon Attack on Christianity. Springer. p. 16. ISBN 978-9401722353.
- General Observations On The Fall Of The Roman Empire In The West. Fall In The West – The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/25717
- Dublin review: a quarterly and critical journal. Burns, Oates and Washbourne. 1840. pp. 208–.
p. 208 image at Google Books
- Gibbon, Edward (1781). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 3. chapter 36, footnote 43.
- Craddock, Patricia B. (1989). Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. pp. 249–266.
- Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781–1997 (2008) p. xv.
- "Welcome to the Noël Coward Society".
- Asimov, Isaac (October 1954). "The Foundation of S. F. Success". The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. p. 69.
- Pop, Iggy (1995). "Caesar lives". Classics Ireland. 2: 94–96. doi:10.2307/25528281. JSTOR 25528281.
- Brownley, Martine W. "Appearance and Reality in Gibbon's History," Journal of the History of Ideas 38:4 (1977), 651–666.
- Brownley, Martine W. "Gibbon's Artistic and Historical Scope in the Decline and Fall," Journal of the History of Ideas 42:4 (1981), 629–642.
- Cosgrove, Peter. Impartial Stranger: History and Intertextuality in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Newark: Associated University Presses, 1999)ISBN 0-87413-658-X.
- Craddock, Patricia. "Historical Discovery and Literary Invention in Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall'," Modern Philology 85:4 (May 1988), 569–587.
- Drake, H.A., "Lambs into Lions: explaining early Christian intolerance," Past and Present 153 (1996), 3–36. Oxford Journals
- Furet, Francois. "Civilization and Barbarism in Gibbon's History," Daedalus 105:3 (1976), 209–216.
- Gay, Peter. Style in History (New York: Basic Books, 1974)ISBN 0-465-08304-8.
- Ghosh, Peter R. "Gibbon's Dark Ages: Some Remarks on the Genesis of the Decline and Fall," Journal of Roman Studies 73 (1983), 1–23.
- Homer-Dixon, Thomas "The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization", 2007ISBN 978-0-676-97723-3, Chapter 3 pp. 57–60
- Kelly, Christopher. "A Grand Tour: Reading Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall'," Greece & Rome 2nd ser., 44:1 (Apr. 1997), 39–58.
- Momigliano, Arnaldo. "Eighteenth-Century Prelude to Mr. Gibbon," in Pierre Ducrey et al., eds., Gibbon et Rome à la lumière de l'historiographie moderne (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1977).
- Momigliano, Arnaldo. "Gibbon from an Italian Point of View," in G.W. Bowersock et al., eds., Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977).
- Momigliano, Arnaldo. "Declines and Falls," American Scholar 49 (Winter 1979), 37–51.
- Momigliano, Arnaldo. "After Gibbon's Decline and Fall," in Kurt Weitzmann, ed. Age of Spirituality : a symposium (Princeton: 1980);ISBN 0-89142-039-8.
- Pocock, J.G.A. Barbarism and Religion, 4 vols. Cambridge University Press.
- vol. 1, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764, 1999 [hb:ISBN 0-521-63345-1];
- vol. 2, Narratives of Civil Government, 1999 [hb:ISBN 0-521-64002-4];
- vol. 3, The First Decline and Fall, 2003 [pb:ISBN 0-521-82445-1].
- vol. 4, Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 2005 [hb:ISBN 0-521-85625-6].
- The Work of J.G.A. Pocock: Edward Gibbon section.
- Roberts, Charlotte. Edward Gibbon and the Shape of History. 2014 Oxford University PressISBN 978-0198704836
- Trevor-Roper, H.R. "Gibbon and the Publication of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776–1976," Journal of Law and Economics 19:3 (Oct. 1976), 489–505.
- Womersley, David. The Transformation of 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' (Cambridge: 1988).
- Womersley, David, ed. Religious Scepticism: Contemporary Responses to Gibbon (Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 1997).
- Wootton, David. "Narrative, Irony, and Faith in Gibbon's Decline and Fall," History and Theory 33:4 (Dec. 1994), 77–105.
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