The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

by Edward Gibbon

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon is the history of Roman Empire from the end of the golden age to the fall of Byzantium. Though considerable strides in historical understanding have been made since the 1700s, and the work is no longer widely reflective of modern understanding, it is still considered to be an extraordinary literary achievement due to Gibbon's great strides in methodology and the undertaking of such a daunting task with so few comprehensive sources.

Gibbon states that the death of Marcus Aurelius was the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire. What follows is the succession of events that lead to its ultimate demise. According to Gibbon, these events included repeated attacks by barbarians as well as a loss of civility among Roman citizens. In particular, Gibbon cites Christianity as a major reason for the fall of Rome.

Gibbon came under severe criticism for his perceived attack on Christianity, and he seemed to be expecting it. Like many thinkers of the time, he held the role that the Christian Church played in the dark ages in contempt. The tone on which he speaks on the religion in the work is cynical, to say the least. Critics commenting on chapters fifteen and sixteen even went as far to call Gibbon a "paganist."

The way Gibbon writes through footnotes offers a humorous view of his thought process and moralist views on the Roman Empire as well as Gibbon's modern world, and have served as a standard for the modern use of footnotes. These incredibly entertaining sections have been called "Gibbon's Table Talk."

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