There are many reasons for reading the Decline and Fall of the Roman empire. For a start you get to know a lot about Roman history. You also learn a lot about 18th Century Britain. I hope, or at least aspire, to get these across to people who haven’t read the book itself. But one thing my paraphrasing can never get across is just how good a book it is simply from the point of view of style. Nobody writes like that anymore. I have already done quite a few quotes that hopefully give a flavour. But here is a passage that demonstrates Gibbon’s writing style extremely well and which stands alone as a piece of writing. Continue reading Simeon Styllites – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 37 Part 2
Chalons was hardly a victory in the tradition of Rome. When you look at the Roman victory over the Dacians portrayed on Trajan’s Column you see a large professional organisation using technology to wipe out a brave but outmatched enemy. They display tactics, well drilled formations and sophisticated logistics. It is clear that the Romans are more advanced than the people they are fighting against. Three hundred years later we are in a world of tribal battles with both sides indistinguishable from each other. Individual feats of arms are important – so Thorismund the son of Theodoric becomes a hero by dint of his bravery. Men are inspired to great deeds by orations and martial music. Omens are sought and used to influence morale. It wasn’t really a Roman victory in anything other than name and certainly did not herald any kind of rebirth of Roman power in the west. Continue reading Attila Invades Italy – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 35 Part 3
The reign of Constantine III was a precarious business. With the legions no longer holding the frontier of the Rhine and the Roman navy no longer in existence, the world was now one dominated by anyone who could pull together some effective mobile forces. The rule of the Caesars had been replaced by the rule of petty warlords. Constantine never had any solid power base he could draw from and was continually juggling alliances, bribes and trying to avoid being overrun by barbarians or killed by the representatives of the official Roman empire. You might have thought that nobody would want a job like that. But you’d be wrong, he had to face at least two major rebellions by people who wanted to replace him. Continue reading The Death of Constantine III – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 31 Part 6
My extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire continues, and we have now reached part 5 of Chapter 31 where we see Gaul and Spain fall to the barbarians in the aftermath of the sack of Rome.
Alaric died suddenly after a short fever. He was somewhere around forty years old. For all his urbane sophistication and his desire to become a Roman, he was given a truly barbarian funeral. The course of the river Busento was diverted and his body buried under its bed. Then the river was restored to its normal course and the captives who had worked on it were killed. The location of his body has remained a secret ever since. The secret of what exactly he was doing in southern Italy has remained just as obscure. Gibbon assumes that his interest in Sicily was as a stepping stone to Africa. Africa fed Rome, so if he wanted to control one he had to control the other. Maybe this marks his ambition to become in effect the ruler of the Roman world. Or maybe his reasoning was that Africa represented a defendable home for his people with the resources that they needed. Continue reading The Death of Alaric – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 31 Part 4
The troubles in Italy and Gaul left Britain isolated. Its imperial forces had been withdrawn leaving low level garrisons to defend it from the depredations of the Picts and the seaborne Saxons. Being right at the bottom of the imperial todo list created a power vacuum in the province. There was a long tradition in Britain of providing usurpers to the throne, so it was sort of inevitable that a pretender to the purple should emerge. Continue reading Constantine III – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 30 Part 3
While the invasion by Alaric threw Italy into a crisis, Germany was in turmoil. There was increasing pressure from the Huns in the East – Gibbon traces its origin all the way back to China, which is probably fanciful but I suppose isn’t impossible. From this emerged a new barbarian leader who rapidly became an enemy of Rome. Alaric was a Christian who understood the empire intimately. In contrast the new leader was an out and out barbarian. His name was Radagaisus and he was not just a pagan, but a sincere one who regularly sacrificed to his gods. He treated the civilised world with contempt rather than envy. It was widely believed that he had taken a vow to reduce the city of Rome to rubble and to sacrifice the senators to his heavenly supporters. Continue reading The Germans Invade Gaul – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 30 Part 2