We have given a lot of attention to the campaigns of Belisarius, especially those in Italy. Gibbon covers it all in sumptuous detail. I think we can assume that the court in Constantinople did as well. Big events like the recapture of Rome and Ravenna are bound to be seen as important and significant.
You can’t doubt Mary beard’s academic credentials, but she has written SPQR for the general reader. She starts the story with Cicero and the Cataline conspiracy. We get the characters involved and we get a description of what the world the action is taking place in looked like. This is history as entertainment, and it is very entertaining. But that doesn’t stop it also being very informative.
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.
In the late Roman Empire most people were poor. The state was in the hands of a hugely wealthy elite who called all the shots. The logic for a religion was inevitable. The only source of converts was to appeal to people in poverty. The only source of cash was the government. The winning formula turned out to be highly centralised Christianity. This combined stuff that would appeal to the broke who stood to inherit the Earth if sufficiently meek while guaranteeing that that which was due to Caesar would actually be rendered unto Caesar. Anything that convenient had to be true. It was also worth wiping out any competition. So we ended up with Christian monoculture.
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.
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.
Hi, I’m Colin Sanders, this is the History Books Review and this episode covers the rise of monasticism as described by Edward Gibbon in Chapter 37 of the Decline and Fall of the Roman 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.
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.