Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the definitive history of the Roman empire from the end of its golden age to its final political and physical disintegration. The massive character of the work, testifying to the years devoted to its composition by its scholar-author, is the first, but most superficial, sign of its greatness. The style—urbane, dramatic, polished—ensures its eminent place in literature. Finally, as history, the work stands or falls on the accuracy and depth of its report of events covering more than twelve centuries, and in this respect The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire continues to prevail as the most authoritative study on this theme ever written. Later scholars have challenged minor points or added to the material of the history, but Gibbon’s work stands as the source of all that is most relevant in the story of Rome’s declining years.
The account begins with a critical description of the age of the Antonines. Gibbon concentrates on the period from 96 to 180 c.e., a time that he describes as “a happy period,” during the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. The first three chapters are prefatory to the body of the work; they establish the claim that Rome was then at the height of its glory as an empire—it was strong, prosperous, and active, with worldwide influence. After the death of Marcus...
(The entire section is 1559 words.)
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