The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III : A.D. 1185 to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453
"I set out upon Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [and] was immediately dominated by both the story and the style," recalled Winston Churchill. "I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all....I was not even estranged by his naughty footnotes." In the two centuries since its completion, Gibbon's magnum opus--which encompasses some thirteen hundred years as it swings across Europe, North Africa, and Asia--has refused to go the way of many "classics" and grow musty on the shelves. "Gibbon is a landmark and a signpost--a landmark of human achievement: and a signpost because the social convulsions of the Roman Empire as described by him sometimes prefigure and indicate convulsions which shake the whole world today," wrote E.M. Forster. Never far below the surface of the magnificent narrative lies the author's wit and sweeping irony, exemplified by Gibbon's famous definition of history as "little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind."
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February 28, 2005
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Excerpt from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III by Edward Gibbon
The Extent of the Empire in the Age of the Antonines Introduction.
The extent and military force of the empire in the age of the Antonines. In the second century of the Christian Era, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period of more than fourscore years [a.d. 98 ' 180], the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this, and of the two succeeding chapters, to describe the prosperous condition of their empire; and afterwards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall, a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth.
The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic; and the emperors, for the most part, were satisfied with preserving those dominions which had been acquired by the policy of the senate, the active emulation of the consuls, and the martial enthusiasm of the people. The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of triumphs; but it was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils. Inclined to peace by his temper and situation, it was easy for him to discover that Rome, in her present exalted situation, had much less to hope than to fear from the chance of arms; and that, in the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking became every day more difficult, the event more doubtful, and the possession more precarious, and less beneficial.