The Byzantine Empire survived the turmoil that had wrecked the western Roman Empire despite having some pretty unimpressive leadership. Leo was the first emperor to use Greek for his legislation, but had little notable impact on the big picture. His successor was Zeno who was newly in post when the western Empire was ended. He consolidated the situation in the East but there was still instability at the top with other candidates for the throne creating problems. Zeno’s reign was briefly interrupted by the reign of Basiliscus. He was finally succeed by Anastasius, who owed his elevation to the favour of Zeno’s widow. This was hardly the most legitimate of grounds for rule, and to add to the problem he contrived to approach death childless and with no obvious heir.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is permeated from beginning to end with the atmosphere of the Enlightenment. But at the end of the third volume, he comes out and says directly what he believes in.
Gibbon wonders whether some unknown threat could arise that would once again destroy the civilisation of the western world of his time. After all the Arabs had appeared out of nowhere in the eighth century. Could the same thing happen again? Luckily the existence of gunpowder had changed the rules of the game. Mounted bow wielding horsemen no longer needed to be feared – Attila’s Huns would be no match for a column of men with muskets. And it is not just gadgets. The whole of Europe has progressed and moved forward to a brighter age.
Although Roman influence in Britain ended before it did in Gaul, Gibbon chooses to place it in the narrative afterwards. You can see why. The situation in Gaul steadily evolved and are developed. It’s very much part of the story of the fall of the Western Empire. What happened in Britain seems to be a very different story indeed, it does feel very much like a footnote to the rest of the book.
At the end of Volume 3 of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Gibbon is in a reflective mood. It feels very much like he is intending on finishing his story here with the end of the Roman Empire in the West as a legal entity. In fact I think that is exactly what his intentions were. This is how he puts it.
Hi, this is the History Books Review and I am Colin Sanders, currently engaged on mopping up operations. We have seen that the last Roman emperor had been removed by Odoacer in Italy, and in this episode we follow the ramifications to Roman Gaul in Chapter 38 Part 1 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
It isn’t too hard to explain why Christianity became the predominant religion in the Roman Empire. It was well organised. It provided social security at a time of great insecurity. It also had all the coercive power of the state behind it. But how did the conversion of the barbarians make such inroads into the German tribes?
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.
Leo was an unlikely man to end up being called ‘the Great’. Emperors had become mere figureheads. Military strongmen of barbarian origin actually called the shots and decided who sat on the throne in Constantinople. Leo looked very much like a figurehead. He had no particular credentials for joining the imperial ranks, and only got the job as the frontman for the army chief Aspar.
Maximus had achieved almost nothing in his short reign. And certainly, setting up the most humiliating sack of Rome itself earns him pretty much the uncontested medal for the most unsuccessful holder of the purple. But his foreign policy did bear one fruit. He had sent the seasoned veteran politician Avitus to negotiate with the Visigoths. The negotiations went well and Avitus got the support of the Visigothic king Theoderic.