Jim's Reviews > The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
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's review
Sep 11, 10

Read in August, 2010

Volume I.

Fabulous and complete with a grand style.

“The empress Faustina would have avoided her mortality had she condescended to dissemble her ardor.” Eunuchs are called “pernicious vermin.” Jews are labeled as “an unsociable people.” And lastly, “Caesar had a 22,000 volume library and 30 concubines in his harem, and one, and the other, were for use, not ostentation.” James Kirkpatrick claims E. Gibbon is the best writer of prose in the English language. I would agree, but Volume I took four months to read. I told this quote to Pete Dully and he felt that title belongs to Shelby Foote.

Marcus Aurelius, Commodius, Maximin, Caracella, Constantine, Constantius, Julian all come to life. Gibbons gives a real sense of the grandeur, average life, threats and religion of the Roman Empire. All questions are answered, and Gibbon leaves no stone or antiquarian text unturned. Whew!



Volume II

A chronicle of the tribs that washed over the Roman Empire and the separation of the Roman Empire into the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. The avars, Goths, Visigoths, Lombards, Turks, Vandals, Allemanni and Huns. The Roman Empire was eroded by a loss of martial spirit, thoroughly dissipated emperors and the rise of Christianity. Much time is spent on the various heresies - Copts, Monophysites and Arianism. All are about the dual nature of Christ, or not. The style continues to be grandeloquent, funny, iconoclastic, combined with impeccable scholarship.

Some quotes.

"Those who reverence the infallibillity of synods may try to ascertain their sense."

"Theodora distained the merit of conjugal fidelity."

"The art of man is able to construct monumens for more permanence than the narrow span of his own existence; yet these monuments, like himself, are perishable and fail; and in the boundless annals of time, his life and his labours must be equally measured as afleeting moment."

Volume III
The last volume describes the diaspora of the Roman Empire and its lasting echo through Western civilization. The literary style continues to be orotund, Latinate and regal. But, the third volume lacked the narrative of the first two volumes and tried to cover too much. From Marco Polo in China, Timour in Hindustan, the rise of Mohammed, success of the Saracens, the Crusades to the history of Byzantium. Characters and names are referenced without explanations. The cCrusades, crucial in Western history, are seen as in intrusion into the forces of conquer and rapine between the Turks, Saracens and Greeks. The rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1452 was ascribed to the fall of Constantinople and was described as “the fall of Constantinople was completed by the cry of women, the screams of men and the shrieks of virgins.” A full and horrific account of war.
The Crusades lifted the influence and control of the Catholic church, but the papacy was a follower and not a leader in the Crusade effort. The rise of Muhammad was in part ascribed to the failure and corruption of the Catholic church in the fifth and sixth centuries, mostly through simony and greed.

Overall, this volume maintains by description rather than saying, that the decline of the Roman civilization gave rise to Byzantium and Western Europe.


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