Conversion of the Barbarians – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 37 Part 3

Conversion of the barbarians

 

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? Continue reading Conversion of the Barbarians – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 37 Part 3

Simeon Styllites – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 37 Part 2

simeon-styllites
Remains of Simeon’s Pillar

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

Extinction of the Western Empire – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 3

Extinction of the Western Empire

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.   Continue reading Extinction of the Western Empire – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 3

Last Emperors of the West – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 2

Last Emperors in the westMaximus 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. Continue reading Last Emperors of the West – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 2

The Vandals Sack Rome – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 1

Vandals Sack Rome

The death of Attila was greeted with enthusiasm and relief by most of the courts of Europe. It must have been like having a troublesome neighbour finally move away. But in Carthage there was one man who was sad to see him go. His alliance with Attila had been Genseric’s trump card which had prevented the long overdue reassertion of the empire’s authority over the fertile strip of northern Africa that the Vandals and their Alan allies had wrested from them. Continue reading The Vandals Sack Rome – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 1

Attila Invades Italy – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 35 Part 3

Attila Invades Italy

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

Revolt of Gainas – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 32 Part 2

 Byzantine Sea Battle

The Byzantine court during the reign of the ineffectual Arcadius in the late fourth century was run by two men.  The emperor’s favourite at court was the corrupt and worldly Eutropius who ran the civil administration of the empire largely for his own benefit.  The army was run by the Goth Gainas. Continue reading Revolt of Gainas – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 32 Part 2

Eutropius – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 32 Part 1

Eutropius

I am working my way through an extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  I have reached the point at which we can start thinking of this as being a history of the Byzantine Empire.  The term Byzantine to describe the Eastern Roman empire wasn’t commonly used in Gibbon’s time, though he uses that adjective often enough.  It is often said that Gibbon disliked and disparaged the Byzantines, and it is from the start of Chapter 32 that the quote most often used to justify this idea comes.

In fact it is the first sentence. Continue reading Eutropius – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 32 Part 1

The Death of Alaric – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 31 Part 4

Death_of_Alaric

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