Review of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

I sent out a tweet on 15/3/18 “Just finished the abridged Kindle version of Gibbon’s Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire.  1252 pages and each page = 6 Kindle screen shots.  Started reading it at the Christmas break.”  Back came a tweet asking for a review so here goes.

The unabridged book comprises six volumes, 71 chapters and 3675 pages:

Volume I (16 chapters) starts with the Antonine Dynasty and finishes with Constantine becoming Emperor.   It contains a famous quote of Gibbon: “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”  I think in 200 years’ time that the same will be said of the Post World War II Anglo-Saxon generation..

Volume II (10 Chapters) begins with the foundation of Constantinople and finishes with the arrival of the Huns.

Volume III (12 Chapters) starts with the reign of Theodosius and finishes with the reign of Clovis.

Volume IV (9 Chapters) begins with the Goths ruling Italy and finishes with a chapter on Ecclesiastical Discord.  This is a recurring theme of Gibbon’s who describes repeatedly the various battles of the Christian Churches over various creeds.

Volume V (10 Chapter) deals with the rise of the Muslim faith and the civil wars that followed the death of Mohammed.  This is rarely covered in depth and was an eyeopener to me.  Also Gibbon argues strongly that a major reason for the rapid rise of Islam was that the Christian Churches were too inwardly focused on various minor battles such as whether the bread at Communion should be unleavened.

Volume 6 (14 Chapters) starts with the Crusades and finishes with fall of Constantinople.

A recurring claim of Gibbon is that Christianity was a major contributor to the fall of the Roman Empire.  He was quite tolerant of paganism as exemplified by one his most famous quotes:

“The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.”

To read Gibbon you will need a decent command of the English language and the capacity to unpack dense meaning.  His prose style is more more complex than what we accustomed to from today’s writers.  If you dislike long, complicated sentences, it’s probable that you won’t enjoy this work.  It is a work of the Enlightenment and I found it enlightening.




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