The three greatest ancient historians are probably Herodotus, Thucydides, and Tacitus. No doubt there are other good historians, such as Livy, Polybius, and others, but the first three pretty much set the standard for ancient historians. Gibbon is arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, historian subsequent to the close of the Medieval period. This is not to say that Gibbon is without fault. He has many, and we'll discuss those shortly, but in terms of style and narrative sweep and sheer learning he is undoubtedly superb.
Gibbon at one point warns his readers against the seduction of Tacitus. Now the translation of Tacitus that I read was rather dry, so I may not have experienced his charms as Gibbon, who appears to have kept his Latin in practice, which I have not, did. Gibbon is very seductive. His sentences are smooth and balanced, and you can be lulled into accepting his evaluations, even when, as in the case of Christianity, they violate your own beliefs
What I want to do is make a few general comments about Gibbon, and some of the things I found interesting, then I'm going to give a few passages, quite a few in fact, from Gibbon, and offer a brief comment, shown in blue on most of the selections. I've also put up a Table of Contents allows the user to see what topics I've selected, and what Gibbon had to say about them.
SpellingSpelling and usage had not stabilized in Gibbon's day, and the reader will notice a few oddities in Gibbon's text:
harambecause of the terror group Boko Haram, but while haram is a word, which means sin of the worst kind, according to Wikipedia; it is quite different from
harem,which has more pleasant connotations. It also used to be correct to refer to Mohammedans, or Mahometans, but that's objected to on the grounds that followers of the prophet do not worship him as Christians worship Christ.
Dark Age, Renaissance, EnlightenmentGibbon actually uses the phrase
decline and fallseveral times within the body of his text. He sees the fall of the empire as having a largely negative effect throughout the West, starting with the fall of the Western Empire in 476 ᴀᴅ. There immediately ensued the loathsome Dark Ages during which there was no progress in science, art, or literature until the 1300s in Italy when you hit a bright spot in Italy with Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante. Then there's more darkness until the first refugees begin arriving from Constantinople in the 1450s, and in 1517 you have Luther and the Protestant Reformation. After that you get the overthrow of the Roman religion, i.e., Catholicism, and everything is uphill from then on.
Now Gibbon wasn't the first to think that way. Petrarch was the first to use the word Renaissance, and it effectively placed all that had gone before into the netherworld of darkness and ignorance. Later historians would reject the idea of the Dark Ages and would see renaissances occurring in the 800s and in the 12th century.
The most basic problem with this view of history is that it presents a static period of roughly 800–1,000 years in which nothing much is going on until Petrarch and his buddies in Italy, and a few émigré Greeks in the 1450s start going back to the Greek and Latin classics of antiquity. In reality the very monks that Gibbon spends much of the book condemning were the ones who preserved those works. The view is further complicated by the fact that there was a fair amount of cultural activity going on.
There are not a lot of remains of Anglo-Saxon literature, and people are wont to tell you how much they or their relatives hated Beowulf if they catch you reading it or related literature, but Beowulf is a remarkable poem. Some of the lyrics are also remarkably fine. Gibbon, during his time as an MP must have seen Westminster Abbey on a frequent basis. The church as it exists today was started in 1285, though it has some modifications, such as the Western towers, that were done in the 18ᵗʰ century. There is also a fair amount of art, though Gibbon would likely sneer at it as idolatrous imagery.
Gibbon is at pains to present the Medieval period as benighted and dumb. This only serves to highlight the relative superiority of Gibbon's era. Of course, the enlightenment led inexorably into the French Revolution from which we get the sources for horror of the 19ᵗʰ and 20ᵗʰ centuries. Maybe the Enlightenment wasn't so great after all.
ReligionGibbon's comments on religion were fairly controversial in the 1770s and 1780s. They may be less so today. When I was in high school I had a serious interest in Greek and Roman art, literature, and history, and I wanted to read Gibbon, but at the time the Catholic Church had the Index of Prohibited Books, and you were supposed to ask your priest for permission to read these books. I'd heard that it was largely because of two chapters in the first volume, I'd asked if you could just skip those two. Nope, the whole thing was prohibited. Well, they've done away with the Index now, and while the Chapters 15 and 16 are hostile, the hostility is not limited to those two chapters alone. It pervades much of the work.
The Pagan DeistFairly early on Gibbon gives a portrait of the Roman Empire and its people and the attitudes toward other religions. He portrays the Empire and its citizens as being a tolerant bunch of polytheists. His overall portrait though seems to be that they're pretty much like him, a tolerant, skeptical, deist who just wishes people would stop bothering him about theological nonsense.
The Pure Church & The Corrupt ChurchHe presents the church that Christ founded, or the church of the Apostles, as being pure, uncorrupt. Then lo and behold stuff happens, and the church is corrupt and impure until lo and behold again Martin Luther arrives and miraculously cleanses the Christian temple. Stuff and nonsense. I haven't read Heidegger, and very probably will never get around to reading Being and Time, but simply as a matter of common sense to be is to be in time. Now if you are in time then you are subject to all the stresses and strains of time, including change. Change is not synonymous with corruption, and can just as easily be related to development. It is also possible to view the primitive church as being an embryonic state that precedes the development of the fully grown church. Cardinal Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition both deal with the development of doctrine from the seed that was present in the apostolic church.
I should add that I've always found the argument from Protestants that the church was corrupt to be less than convincing. If you believe that Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, then you have to believe that from the 4ᵗʰ through the 15ᵗʰ and part way into the 16ᵗʰ century that Hell prevailed against the church. At least it did so until Luther came around and set everything straight. I'm afraid that involves too much self-contradiction for my taste.
Relics & ImagesThere's an image of Jean Harlow's hand print, and her shoe print in front of what in 1933 was Grauman's Chinese Theater. Below it is a picture of William Shatner's star on the Hollywood Walk of FAme. Now it's Gibbon's contention that images, statues, and relics are all insertions of the discarded pagan practices into the previously pure apostolic religion. Now I've got no idea if pagan worshippers thought the idol of Zeus, Aphrodite, or Apollo had power and directed their prayers to the idol itself, or if they thought they were praying to the being that the idol represented, but Christians, such as Anglicans and Catholics, usually make a distinction between worship, the latria in idolatry, and honor or veneration. Are there secular parallels that provide some justification for this practice? That's where Miss Harlow comes in. Now Jean has been dead since 1936, so if you like her and her films, you may want to have some sort of feeling of connectedness to her. In the cement block that I took a picture of you have an impression of her form, a relic, if you will, that connects you to Jean. I also have at least one book with pictures of her. So if I want to feel connected I can look at her pictures, and stimulate feelings and connections even though she is absent. I also have some autographed books that were signed by people like William O. Douglas, Tony Kornheiser, and a few others. And of course autographed letters, manuscripts, and other writings go for a good price. Now those have a utilitarian purpose in that they can help establish a text, or increase our understanding of the writer, but the autograph pure and simple functions as a bridge between us and the absent author. Relic or image, either one serves to direct the mind to what lies behind the relic or image. So the secular world, in my opinion, does provide a parallel and a justification for the religious use of relics and images.
Shatner's star, unlike Harlow's hand and footprints, is stylized, and is relatively unemotional. There is no feeling of specialness connected to the star, and hence no sense of that connectedness that we find in Harlow's relic. What is experienced in the secular world as a sense of connectedness to the absent person is in the religious world transferred to the saint and through the saint to God. So my argument contends that if the connection between secular relics, autographs, hand prints, foot prints, and so on is legitimate, so is the connection between sacred relics legitimate.
HeresiesI spent from the 4ᵗʰ through the 12ᵗʰ grades in Catholic schools, and I had to take religion on a regular basis. We got more details, and more intense history in the higher grades, but we got some grounding in what Arianism, Donatism, and Pelagianism were. (I think I can give fair definitions of the latter two, Arianism I'm not so sure about.) As to the difference between the Monophysites and the Monothelites, I'm totally at a loss. Gibbon explains a good deal of this stuff, but seems to regard it as pretty inconsequential. When he comes to the Paulicians, however, he is beside himself with joy, and spends an entire chapter on this heresy as a precursor to Luther's beliefs. His descriptions of the heresies may be accurate, but his evaluations, when it comes to religion, are generally suspect.
Jews & The Blood LibelGibbon generally seems to manifest what I've called elsewhere
polite anti-semitism.Anti-semitism that manifests itself more in things like restrictive covenants, and exclusion from country clubs, and similar things. You might picture an 18ᵗʰ century gentleman attired in appropriate garb, lace sleeves, who, while taking a bit of sniff, inhales the snuff, and says with a sigh,
Well, really it just wouldn't do to have people like that at Black's.The other kind takes direct action in pogroms and vicious attacks, and culminates in the Shoah. Now you can debate all day about the relations between the two kinds, whether there are two kinds, and all of that. Gibbon to my mind doesn't strike me as being the kind of man who would go out and knock Jewish heads together simply on account of their Jewishness. However, and this is pretty big, he does print in Chapter 16 a footnote in which he gives an account of Jewish atrocities upon gentiles, including cannibalism.
I should say that I think it is arguable that what I've called
polite anti-semitism supports the more thuggish and violent kind. Though many people probably think of themselves as nice, gentle people who wouldn't do anything directly to hurt others, they may well turn nasty without too much provocation. Of course, all of this is my opinion, though it's not one to which I'm deeply committed, and I may well be wrong. In any case, keep in my mind that my opinion is worth exactly what you're paying for it.
Now there is a biblical instance of cannibalism during the siege of Samaria in 2 Kings 6:28–29: “ And the king asked her, 'What is your trouble?' She answered, 'This woman said to me, "Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow." 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, "Give your son, that we may eat him." But she has hidden her son.'” You also hear of instances of cannibalism in modern warfare, but in all these cases it is the besieged who are forced into cannibalism, not the victors.¹ Gibbon's figures seem high too. I'm not sure why he accepts these figures, nor why he appears to accept the cannibalism.
¹ Notably the Siege of Leningrad. See the Wikipedia article for that event.
He may not have believed them, and that may be why they are relegated to a footnote. In that case though, why bother with printing them at all?
In other instances though Gibbon seems genuinely sympathetic to Jews, and to regard their persecution as a blot upon society.
I can't really justify or explain this, except to note that it is a definite blotch on Gibbon's record.
IslamI've never been a big fan of Islam. Whenever I hear an explanation of the differences between the Sunni and the Shia, I just sort of nod my head, wonder what bloody difference it makes whether Ali should have been caliph or whatever, and move to more interesting topics. Now I grant you that I have theological blindspots. I've already indicated that I can't tell the difference between the Monophysites and the Monothelites, on the other hand I think that it makes a considerable difference whether the eucharist is really the
body, blood, soul, and divinityof Christ, or whether it's just a symbol, and it certainly seems valid to see Pelagianism in religion as being related to liberalism and socialism in politics, and Donatism as re-appearing in the crisis over priestly ephebophiles. So belief in religion is important. But what the heck is Islam about? Mohammed goes out and conquers somebody and forces his religion on them, and then proceeds to tax the surviving non-Moslems. To me it's just glorified robbery. The dispute between the Sunni and the Shia seems to be just a dispute among gangs of robbers, and to have nothing whatever to do with religion, i.e., my relationship to God.
Gibbon is a bit more sympathetic to Islam than I am. In various passages he describes them as
Unitarians, which was becoming prominent in London and in England in the 1770s. He regards the elimination of the Trinity as a good thing, and as a step back from polytheism. He does, however, feel that they should be more welcoming of pagan, Greek and Latin, literature. He does give a history of Mohammed, and the infighting among the rival gangs, but I remain unconvinced that the dispute is much different than the dispute between Don Corleone and the Five Families. He also repeats, although in a footnote, the allegation that Mohammed had an almost incestuous relationship with his daughter Fatima. Mohammed is accused of soul kissing, or French kissing, both boys and girls, and of sleeping with his head in Fatima's breast. (This is what Gibbon reports. I have no interest in pursuing the question through the Koran and various hadiths. I make no judgement as to the truth or falsity of the charge.)
The Library of AlexandriaOther than the fact that it once existed, and that it now doesn't exist, no one really knows much about the Great Library of Alexandria. We don't know its location, the number of scrolls that it contained, or the contents of those scrolls. We also don't know when it was finally destroyed. Gibbon attributes the destruction to Christian riots in the 4ᵗʰ century AD. I think, for whatever it's worth that it was a gradual process.
- The scrolls were largely papyrus. Now that is, from all accounts, a delicate substance, and the scrolls were subject to extensive wear and tear.
- Copying something by hand is a labor intensive process. To maintain thousands of scrolls by hand requires a large number of scribes. Unfortunately Alexandria was to experience several disasters, outside of war.
- The Antonine PlagueBoth this plague, which dates from 165–180 ad, and the Plague of Cyprian, which came about a century later, appear to have been smallpox, and they wreaked havoc on the Empire.
- The Plague of Cyprian from 250 ad on at its peak claimed as many as 5,000 a day in Rome.
- The Cretan Earthquake of 365 ad Gibbon says that the tsunami reached several miles inward in Alexandria. If the library was near the sea, as it would appear to be based it catching fire in 48 bc
- The Plague of Justinian of 541–2 ad, which appears to have been yersinia pestis, bubonic plague.
- There were several wars and riots that affected the Library.
- Julius Ceasar in 48 bc, burnt his boats, and the wind is supposed to have carried the fire into adjoining neighborhoods, including the Library of Alexandria. The actual extent of the damage to the library is unknown.
- During the reign of the Emperor Aurelian (270–5 ad) there was conflict in the region that resulted in damage to the library.
- The patriarch Theophilus closed pagan temple in 391. This is the event that Gibbon claims saw the final destruction of the temple, and he puts the blame on the Christians. David Bentley Hart over at First Things has an article about the destruction of the library, and declares the attack on the library to be a myth.
- An Islamic attack on the library in 642. Gibbon in a later chapter dismisses this version, as do most modern scholars.
A Gibbon Anthology
After the Danube had received the waters of the Teyss and the Save, it acquired, at least among the Greeks, the name of Ister. It formerly divided Maesia and Dacia, the latter of which, as we have already seen, was a conquest of Trajan, and the only province beyond the river. If we inquire into the present state of those countries, we shall find that, on the left hand of the Danube, Temeswar and Transylvania have been annexed, after many revolutions, to the crown of Hungary; whilst the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia acknowledge the supremacy of the Ottoman Porte. On the right hand of the Danube, Maesia, which, during the middle ages, was broken into the barbarian kingdoms of Servia and Bulgaria, is again united in Turkish slavery.
Gibbon, Edward (2011-10-14). History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, All 6 volumes plus Biography, Historiography and more. Over 8,000 Links (Illustrated) . Packard Technologies. Kindle Edition. location 664
The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord. The superstition of the people was not imbittered by any mixture of theological rancor; nor was it confined by the chains of any speculative system. The devout polytheist, though fondly attached to his national rites, admitted with implicit faith the different religions of the earth.
Gibbon, location 743
This is one of Gibbon's attempts to portray the pagans as generally tolerant chaps.
With regard to Spain, that country flourished as a province, and has declined as a kingdom. Exhausted by the abuse of her strength, by America, and by superstition, her pride might possibly be confounded, if we required such a list of three hundred and sixty cities, as Pliny has exhibited under the reign of Vespasian.
Gibbon, location 1055
The superstition referred to here is Roman Catholicism.
mankind, if we pursue the metaphor, was daily sinking below the old standard, and the Roman world was indeed peopled by a race of pygmies; when the fierce giants of the north broke in, and mended the puny breed. They restored a manly spirit of freedom; and after the revolution of ten centuries, freedom became the happy parent of taste and science.
Gibbon, location 1192
Decline until the Renaissance.
His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
Gibbon, location 1463
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect.
Gibbon, location 1479
A capricious prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers applauded a spirit of magnificence unknown to the tameness of his predecessors.
Gibbon, location 2460
Elagabalus wastes on the peoples' money on himself. Modern governments waste it on bridges to nowhere, non-working web sites, and maleficent agencies.
In every age and country, the wiser, or at least the stronger, of the two sexes, has usurped the powers of the state, and confined the other to the cares and pleasures of domestic life. In hereditary monarchies, however, and especially in those of modern Europe, the gallant spirit of chivalry, and the law of succession, have accustomed us to allow a singular exception; and a woman is often acknowledged the absolute sovereign of a great kingdom, in which she would be deemed incapable of exercising the smallest employment, civil or military.
Gibbon, location 2501
Neither Elizabeth I nor Victoria, arguably two of England's greatest monarchs would have been eligible to vote at the time of their reigns.
Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than for ostentation.
Gibbon, location 2896
A very surprising instance is recorded of the prowess of Proculus. He had taken one hundred Sarmatian virgins. The rest of the story he must relate in his own language: "Ex his una necte decem inivi; omnes tamen, quod in me erat, mulieres intra dies quindecim reddidi. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 246.
Gibbon, location 9947
Here is a translation from one of the older Loeb editions: "From Proculus to his kinsman Maecianus, greeting. I have taken one hundred maidens from Sarmatia. Of these I mated with ten in a single night; all of them, however, I made into women, as far as was in my power, in the space of fifteen days." See the Penelope site for more about Proculus. Not all of Gibbon's Latin or Greek passages are to protect his readers' modesty, most seem to be in the original languages simply because it was the custom to use the original language. In the case of Theodora he does have a description of her act when she was on stage. It is rather indelicate and involves Theodora and trained birds.
Philip, his successor in the praefecture, was an Arab by birth, and consequently, in the earlier part of his life, a robber by profession.
Gibbon, location 3110
Gibbon appears to dislike Arabs almost as much as I dislike the French.
The most civilized nations of modern Europe issued from the woods of Germany; and in the rude institutions of those barbarians we may still distinguish the original principles of our present laws and manners.
Gibbon, location 3418
Gibbon would be including the English, French, and the Germans themselves among
the most civilized nations.
Some ingenious writers have suspected that Europe was much colder formerly than it is at present; and the most ancient descriptions of the climate of Germany tend exceedingly to confirm their theory. The general complaints of intense frost and eternal winter, are perhaps little to be regarded, since we have no method of reducing to the accurate standard of the thermometer, the feelings, or the expressions, of an orator born in the happier regions of Greece or Asia.
Gibbon, location 3434
Hey!!! GLOBAL WARMING! Cries of climate change are perennial. In some cases they are real. My opinion, however, is that climate is not a real thing, it is only a mental construct that captures certain things, and then, incorrectly, affirms that these things are a constant.
The Goths were now in possession of the Ukraine, a country of considerable extent and uncommon fertility, intersected with navigable rivers, which, from either side, discharge themselves into the Borysthenes; and interspersed with large and leafy forests of oaks. The plenty of game and fish, the innumerable bee-hives deposited in the hollow of old trees, and in the cavities of rocks, and forming, even in that rude age, a valuable branch of commerce, the size of the cattle, the temperature of the air, the aptness of the soil for every species of gain, and the luxuriancy of the vegetation, all displayed the liberality of Nature, and tempted the industry of man. But the Goths withstood all these temptations, and still adhered to a life of idleness, of poverty, and of rapine.
Gibbon, location 3880
Three hundred years of peace, enjoyed by the soft inhabitants of Asia, had abolished the exercise of arms, and removed the apprehension of danger. The ancient walls were suffered to moulder away, and all the revenue of the most opulent cities was reserved for the construction of baths, temples, and theatres.
Gibbon, location 4168
The softness of peace. Notice that the peace dividend goes to public welfare.
Another circumstance is related of these invasions, which might deserve our notice, were it not justly to be suspected as the fanciful conceit of a recent sophist. We are told, that in the sack of Athens the Goths had collected all the libraries, and were on the point of setting fire to this funeral pile of Grecian learning, had not one of their chiefs, of more refined policy than his brethren, dissuaded them from the design; by the profound observation, that as long as the Greeks were addicted to the study of books, they would never apply themselves to the exercise of arms. The sagacious counsellor (should the truth of the fact be admitted) reasoned like an ignorant barbarian. In the most polite and powerful nations, genius of every kind has displayed itself about the same period; and the age of science has generally been the age of military virtue and success.
Gibbon, location 4233
In every art that he attempted, his lively genius enabled him to succeed; and as his genius was destitute of judgment, he attempted every art, except the important ones of war and government. He was a master of several curious, but useless sciences, a ready orator, an elegant poet, a skilful gardener, an excellent cook, and most contemptible prince.
Gibbon, location 4313
Is there a parallel to our own times? I think there is, but then I'm sort of obsessed by the incompetence of our current masters.
Modern Europe has produced several illustrious women who have sustained with glory the weight of empire; nor is our own age destitute of such distinguished characters. But if we except the doubtful achievements of Semiramis, Zenobia is perhaps the only female whose superior genius broke through the servile indolence imposed on her sex by the climate and manners of Asia.
Gibbon, location 4721
The revolt of Saturninus was scarcely extinguished in the East, before new troubles were excited in the West, by the rebellion of Bonosus and Proculus, in Gaul. The most distinguished merit of those two officers was their respective prowess, of the one in the combats of Bacchus, of the other in those of Venus, yet neither of them was destitute of courage and capacity, and both sustained, with honor, the august character which the fear of punishment had engaged them to assume, till they sunk at length beneath the superior genius of Probus.
Gibbon, location 5210
It may be remarked, that these ancient books, so liberally ascribed to Pythagoras, to Solomon, or to Hermes, were the pious frauds of more recent adepts. The Greeks were inattentive either to the use or to the abuse of chemistry. In that immense register, where Pliny has deposited the discoveries, the arts, and the errors of mankind, there is not the least mention of the transmutation of metals; and the persecution of Diocletian is the first authentic event in the history of alchemy.
Gibbon, location 5648
There's a lot of crud, even today, floating around about Hermetic philosophy and Hermes Trismegistus. Gibbon rightly demounces it as fraudulent.
The successors of Augustus exercised the power of dictating whatever laws their wisdom or caprice might suggest; but those laws were ratified by the sanction of the senate. The model of ancient freedom was preserved in its deliberations and decrees; and wise princes, who respected the prejudices of the Roman people, were in some measure obliged to assume the language and behavior suitable to the general and first magistrate of the republic. In the armies and in the provinces, they displayed the dignity of monarchs; and when they fixed their residence at a distance from the capital, they forever laid aside the dissimulation which Augustus had recommended to his successors. In the exercise of the legislative as well as the executive power, the sovereign advised with his ministers, instead of consulting the great council of the nation. The name of the senate was mentioned with honor till the last period of the empire; the vanity of its members was still flattered with honorary distinctions; but the assembly which had so long been the source, and so long the instrument of power, was respectfully suffered to sink into oblivion. The senate of Rome, losing all connection with the Imperial court and the actual constitution, was left a venerable but useless monument of antiquity on the Capitoline hill.
Gibbon, location 5863
Gibbon is discussing the change from a monarch who obtains the advice and consent of the legislative body to a dictator who rules by executive fiat. Is there perhaps a parallel to ruling with
a pen and a phone?
Even when the spirit of freedom had been utterly extinguished, the tamest subjects have sometimes ventured to resist an unprecedented invasion of their property;
Gibbon, location 6171
Again is there a parallel here between Roman invasions of property and modern incursions by the bureaucratic state?
. The horrid practice, so familiar to the ancients, of exposing or murdering their new-born infants, was become every day more frequent in the provinces, and especially in Italy. It was the effect of distress; and the distress was principally occasioned by the intolerant burden of taxes, and by the vexatious as well as cruel prosecutions of the officers of the revenue against their insolvent debtors. The less opulent or less industrious part of mankind, instead of rejoicing in an increase of family, deemed it an act of paternal tenderness to release their children from the impending miseries of a life which they themselves were unable to support. The humanity of Constantine; moved, perhaps, by some recent and extraordinary instances of despair,a engaged him to address an edict to all the cities of Italy, and afterwards of Africa, directing immediate and sufficient relief to be given to those parents who should produce before the magistrates the children whom their own poverty would not allow them to educate. But the promise was too liberal, and the provision too vague, to effect any general or permanent benefit. The law, though it may merit some praise, served rather to display than to alleviate the public distress. It still remains an authentic monument to contradict and confound those venal orators, who were too well satisfied with their own situation to discover either vice or misery under the government of a generous sovereign.
Gibbon, location 6631
. The laws of Constantine against rapes were dictated with very little indulgence for the most amiable weaknesses of human nature; since the description of that crime was applied not only to the brutal violence which compelled, but even to the gentle seduction which might persuade, an unmarried woman, under the age of twenty-five, to leave the house of her parents. "The successful ravisher was punished with death; and as if simple death was inadequate to the enormity of his guilt, he was either burnt alive, or torn in pieces by wild beasts in the amphitheatre. The virgin's declaration, that she had been carried away with her own consent, instead of saving her lover, exposed her to share his fate. The duty of a public prosecution was intrusted to the parents of the guilty or unfortunate maid; and if the sentiments of nature prevailed on them to dissemble the injury, and to repair by a subsequent marriage the honor of their family, they were themselves punished by exile and confiscation. The slaves, whether male or female, who were convicted of having been accessory to rape or seduction, were burnt alive, or put to death by the ingenious torture of pouring down their throats a quantity of melted lead. As the crime was of a public kind, the accusation was permitted even to strangers. The commencement of the action was not limited to any term of years, and the consequences of the sentence were extended to the innocent offspring of such an irregular union." But whenever the offence inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigor of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind. The most odious parts of this edict were softened or repealed in the subsequent reigns; and even Constantine himself very frequently alleviated, by partial acts of mercy, the stern temper of his general institutions. Such, indeed, was the singular humor of that emperor, who showed himself as indulgent, and even remiss, in the execution of his laws, as he was severe, and even cruel, in the enacting of them. It is scarcely possible to observe a more decisive symptom of weakness, either in the character of the prince, or in the constitution of the government.
Gibbon, location 6641
Under Title IX educational institutions punish guys accused of rape, which is a criminal offense, even if the civil authorities have found no reason to prosecute. Now the modern university doesn't have the authority to put people to death, but it frequently fails to provide the accused with the kinds of judicial safeguards that he would have in civil court.
A candid but rational inquiry into the progress and establishment of Christianity may be considered as a very essential part of the history of the Roman empire. While that great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigor from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the Cross on the ruins of the Capitol. Nor was the influence of Christianity confined to the period or to the limits of the Roman empire. After a revolution of thirteen or fourteen centuries, that religion is still professed by the nations of Europe, the most distinguished portion of human kind in arts and learning as well as in arms. By the industry and zeal of the Europeans, it has been widely diffused to the most distant shores of Asia and Africa; and by the means of their colonies has been firmly established from Canada to Chili, in a world unknown to the ancients. But this inquiry, however useful or entertaining, is attended with two peculiar difficulties. The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the church. The great law of impartiality too often obliges us to reveal the imperfections of the uninspired teachers and believers of the gospel; and, to a careless observer, their faults may seem to cast a shade on the faith which they professed. But the scandal of the pious Christian, and the fallacious triumph of the Infidel, should cease as soon as they recollect not only by whom, but likewise to whom, the Divine Revelation was given. The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.*
Gibbon, location 6755
But at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their calamities; and the Romans, exasperated by their repeated rebellions, exercised the rights of victory with unusual rigor. The emperor founded, under the name of Aelia Capitolina, a new city on Mount Sion, to which he gave the privileges of a colony; and denouncing the severest penalties against any of the Jewish people who should dare to approach its precincts, he fixed a vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort to enforce the execution of his orders.
Gibbon, location 6878
The chaste severity of the fathers, in whatever related to the commerce of the two sexes, flowed from the same principle; their abhorrence of every enjoyment which might gratify the sensual, and degrade the spiritual, nature of man. It was their favorite opinion, that if Adam had preserved his obedience to the Creator, he would have lived forever in a state of virgin purity, and that some harmless mode of vegetation might have peopled paradise with a race of innocent and immortal beings. The use of marriage was permitted only to his fallen posterity, as a necessary expedient to continue the human species, and as a restraint, however imperfect, on the natural licentiousness of desire. The hesitation of the orthodox casuists on this interesting subject, betrays the perplexity of men, unwilling to approve an institution which they were compelled to tolerate.
Gibbon, location 7265
There is some reason likewise to believe that great numbers of infants, who, according to the inhuman practice of the times, had been exposed by their parents, were frequently rescued from death, baptized, educated, and maintained by the piety of the Christians, and at the expense of the public treasure.
Gibbon, location 7478
I don't know whether infanticide was used as a form of birth control, but I would argue that the prevalence of it, if it was prevalent, parallels the use of abortion in the modern day.
The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its proximity to Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the new religion. It was at first embraced by great numbers of the Theraputae, or Essenians, of the Lake Mareotis, a Jewish sect which had abated much of its reverence for the Mosaic ceremonies. The austere life of the Essenians, their fasts and excommunications, the community of goods, the love of celibacy, their zeal for martyrdom, and the warmth though not the purity of their faith, already offered a very lively image of the primitive discipline.
Gibbon, location 7616
Gibbon appears to be referring to the Essenes, the group responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Such is the constitution of civil society, that whilst a few persons are distinguished by riches, by honors, and by knowledge, the body of the people is condemned to obscurity, ignorance and poverty. The Christian religion, which addressed itself to the whole human race, must consequently collect a far greater number of proselytes from the lower than from the superior ranks of life. This innocent and natural circumstance has been improved into a very odious imputation, which seems to be less strenuously denied by the apologists, than it is urged by the adversaries, of the faith; that the new sect of Christians was almost entirely composed of the dregs of the populace, of peasants and mechanics, of boys and women, of beggars and slaves, the last of whom might sometimes introduce the missionaries into the rich and noble families to which they belonged. These obscure teachers (such was the charge of malice and infidelity) are as mute in public as they are loquacious and dogmatical in private. Whilst they cautiously avoid the dangerous encounter of philosophers, they mingle with the rude and illiterate crowd, and insinuate themselves into those minds, whom their age, their sex, or their education, has the best disposed to receive the impression of superstitious terrors. This unfavorable picture, though not devoid of a faint resemblance, betrays, by its dark coloring and distorted features, the pencil of an enemy. As the humble faith of Christ diffused itself through the world, it was embraced by several persons who derived some consequence from the advantages of nature or fortune. Aristides, who presented an eloquent apology to the emperor Hadrian, was an Athenian philosopher. Justin Martyr had sought divine knowledge in the schools of Zeno, of Aristotle, of Pythagoras, and of Plato, before he fortunately was accosted by the old man, or rather the angel, who turned his attention to the study of the Jewish prophets. Clemens of Alexandria had acquired much various reading in the Greek, and Tertullian in the Latin, language. Julius Africanus and Origen possessed a very considerable share of the learning of their times; and although the style of Cyprian is very different from that of Lactantius, we might almost discover that both those writers had been public teachers of rhetoric. Even the study of philosophy was at length introduced among the Christians, but it was not always productive of the most salutary effects; knowledge was as often the parent of heresy as of devotion, and the description which was designed for the followers of Artemon, may, with equal propriety, be applied to the various sects that resisted the successors of the apostles. "They presume to alter the Holy Scriptures, to abandon the ancient rule of faith, and to form their opinions according to the subtile precepts of logic. The science of the church is neglected for the study of geometry, and they lose sight of heaven while they are employed in measuring the earth. Euclid is perpetually in their hands. Aristotle and Theophrastus are the objects of their admiration; and they express an uncommon reverence for the works of Galen. Their errors are derived from the abuse of the arts and sciences of the infidels, and they corrupt the simplicity of the gospel by the refinements of human reason."
Gibbon, location 7692
The deification of Antinous, his medals, his statues, temples, city, oracles, and constellation, are well known, and still dishonor the memory of Hadrian. Yet we may remark, that of the first fifteen emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct.
Gibbon, location 8415
Gibbon discreetly notes that most of the first fifteen were members of what we would politely refer to as the LGBT, or LGBTQ community. Tiberius for instance was, according to Suetonius, fond of little boys and girls. The less said about the predilections of Caligula and Nero the better.
By each of his concubines, the younger Gordian left three or four children. His literary productions, though less numerous, were by no means contemptible.
Gibbon, location 9001
I find this very elegantly put.
Without repeating what has already been mentioned of the reverence of the Roman princes and governors for the temple of Jerusalem, we shall only observe, that the destruction of the temple and city was accompanied and followed by every circumstance that could exasperate the minds of the conquerors, and authorize religious persecution by the most specious arguments of political justice and the public safety. From the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious massacres and insurrections. Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives; and we are tempted to applaud the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms of the legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but of human kind. The enthusiasm of the Jews was supported by the opinion, that it was unlawful for them to pay taxes to an idolatrous master; and by the flattering promise which they derived from their ancient oracles, that a conquering Messiah would soon arise, destined to break their fetters, and to invest the favorites of heaven with the empire of the earth. It was by announcing himself as their long-expected deliverer, and by calling on all the descendants of Abraham to assert the hope of Israel, that the famous Barchochebas collected a formidable army, with which he resisted during two years the power of the emperor Hadrian.
Gibbon, location 11216
Gibbon gives scant attention to the Jewish war of 66–73, which is understandable since he begins with the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the second century, and very minimal notice of the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–136. Both of these are outside of his period.
The invitations of a master are scarcely to be distinguished from commands;
Gibbon, location 12371
The frequent and regular distributions of wine and oil, of corn or bread, of money or provisions, had almost exempted the poorest citizens of Rome from the necessity of labor. The magnificence of the first Caesars was in some measure imitated by the founder of Constantinople: but his liberality, however it might excite the applause of the people, has in curred the censure of posterity. A nation of legislators and conquerors might assert their claim to the harvests of Africa, which had been purchased with their blood; and it was artfully contrived by Augustus, that, in the enjoyment of plenty, the Romans should lose the memory of freedom. But the prodigality of Constantine could not be excused by any consideration either of public or private interest; and the annual tribute of corn imposed upon Egypt for the benefit of his new capital, was applied to feed a lazy and insolent populace, at the expense of the husbandmen of an industrious province.
Gibbon, location 12382
Compare to modern Europe with its high cost of welfare, or of the US with over 40&percent; of the population receiving some form of government assistance.
The court of the Praetorian praefect of the east could alone furnish employment for one hundred and fifty advocates, sixty-four of whom were distinguished by peculiar privileges, and two were annually chosen, with a salary of sixty pounds of gold, to defend the causes of the treasury.
Gibbon, location 12600 Note: $700k 922320 Edit
In the Troy system of measurement, which is used for precious metals, that's 720℥ of gold. At the current price $1,252.30 that's $901,656. A bit more than our current cabinet officers get.
The perpetual intercourse between the court and the provinces was facilitated by the construction of roads and the institution of posts. But these beneficial establishments were accidentally connected with a pernicious and intolerable abuse. Two or three hundred agents or messengers were employed, under the jurisdiction of the master of the offices, to announce the names of the annual consuls, and the edicts or victories of the emperors. They insensibly assumed the license of reporting whatever they could observe of the conduct either of magistrates or of private citizens; and were soon considered as the eyes of the monarch, and the scourge of the people. Under the warm influence of a feeble reign, they multiplied to the incredible number of ten thousand, disdained the mild though frequent admonitions of the laws, and exercised in the profitable management of the posts a rapacious and insolent oppression. These official spies, who regularly corresponded with the palace, were encouraged by favor and reward, anxiously to watch the progress of every treasonable design, from the faint and latent symptoms of disaffection, to the actual preparation of an open revolt. Their careless or criminal violation of truth and justice was covered by the consecrated mask of zeal; and they might securely aim their poisoned arrows at the breast either of the guilty or the innocent, who had provoked their resentment, or refused to purchase their silence.
Gibbon, location 12800
Note how the bureaucracy is subverted to serve the emperor's political purposes.
But the progress of their negotiation was opposed and defeated by the hostile arts of Antoninus, a Roman subject of Syria, who had fled from oppression, and was admitted into the councils of Sapor, and even to the royal table, where, according to the custom of the Persians, the most important business was frequently discussed.
Gibbon, location 13883
If Julian could now revisit the capital of France, he might converse with men of science and genius, capable of understanding and of instructing a disciple of the Greeks; he might excuse the lively and graceful follies of a nation, whose martial spirit has never been enervated by the indulgence of luxury; and he must applaud the perfection of that inestimable art, which softens and refines and embellishes the intercourse of social life.
Gibbon, location 14188
My original note on this saysPoppycock!!!The greatest French scientist in Gibbon's period, Antoine Lavoisier, the discoverer of oxygen, was guillotined during the Revolution. French armies were successful for a bit, and then collapsed on June 18, 1815, a collapse from which they never recovered. In the 1850s they went berserk, tore down most of Paris, and replaced it with ugly rococo buildings such as the Comedie-Francaise, culminating in the desecration of the Louvre with a pyramidal monstrosity. France produces good food, good wine, and some beautiful women (Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Emmanuel Beart), but it stopped being a political force on June 22, 1940, and it stopped being an intellectual force in 1980 or thereabouts.
The Greek word, which was chosen to express this mysterious resemblance, bears so close an affinity to the orthodox symbol, that the profane of every age have derided the furious contests which the difference of a single diphthong excited between the Homoousians and the Homoiousians. As it frequently happens, that the sounds and characters which approach the nearest to each other accidentally represent the most opposite ideas, the observation would be itself ridiculous, if it were possible to mark any real and sensible distinction between the doctrine of the Semi-Arians, as they were improperly styled, and that of the Catholics themselves.
Gibbon, location 15039
Gibbon seems to have a tin ear when it comes to fine theological distinctions. I have to admit I'm not entirely out of sympathy on this point myself, but I'm not going to get upset about it.
He attributes the origin of the whole controversy to a trifling and subtle question, concerning an incomprehensible point of law, which was foolishly asked by the bishop, and imprudently resolved by the presbyter. He laments that the Christian people, who had the same God, the same religion, and the same worship, should be divided by such inconsiderable distinctions; and he seriously recommend to the clergy of Alexandria the example of the Greek philosophers; who could maintain their arguments without losing their temper, and assert their freedom without violating their friendship.
Gibbon, location 15078
The restoration of the Jewish temple was secretly connected with the ruin of the Christian church. Julian still continued to maintain the freedom of religious worship, without distinguishing whether this universal toleration proceeded from his justice or his clemency. He affected to pity the unhappy Christians, who were mistaken in the most important object of their lives; but his pity was degraded by contempt, his contempt was embittered by hatred; and the sentiments of Julian were expressed in a style of sarcastic wit, which inflicts a deep and deadly wound, whenever it issues from the mouth of a sovereign. As he was sensible that the Christians gloried in the name of their Redeemer, he countenanced, and perhaps enjoined, the use of the less honorable appellation of Galilaeans. He declared, that by the folly of the Galilaeans, whom he describes as a sect of fanatics, contemptible to men, and odious to the gods, the empire had been reduced to the brink of destruction; and he insinuates in a public edict, that a frantic patient might sometimes be cured by salutary violence. An ungenerous distinction was admitted into the mind and counsels of Julian, that, according to the difference of their religious sentiments, one part of his subjects deserved his favor and friendship, while the other was entitled only to the common benefits that his justice could not refuse to an obedient people. According to a principle, pregnant with mischief and oppression, the emperor transferred to the pontiffs of his own religion the management of the liberal allowances for the public revenue, which had been granted to the church by the piety of Constantine and his sons. The proud system of clerical honors and immunities, which had been constructed with so much art and labor, was levelled to the ground; the hopes of testamentary donations were intercepted by the rigor of the laws; and the priests of the Christian sect were confounded with the last and most ignominious class of the people. Such of these regulations as appeared necessary to check the ambition and avarice of the ecclesiastics, were soon afterwards imitated by the wisdom of an orthodox prince. The peculiar distinctions which policy has bestowed, or superstition has lavished, on the sacerdotal order, must be confined to those priests who profess the religion of the state. But the will of the legislator was not exempt from prejudice and passion; and it was the object of the insidious policy of Julian, to deprive the Christians of all the temporal honors and advantages which rendered them respectable in the eyes of the world.
Gibbon, location 16540
In the warm climate of Assyria, which solicited a luxurious people to the gratification of every sensual desire, a youthful conqueror preserved his chastity pure and inviolate; nor was Julian ever tempted, even by a motive of curiosity, to visit his female captives of exquisite beauty, who, instead of resisting his power, would have disputed with each other the honor of his embraces.
Gibbon, location 17083
The cumbersome train of artillery and wagons, which retards the operations of a modern army, were in a great measure unknown in the camps of the Romans. Yet, in every age, the subsistence of sixty thousand men must have been one of the most important cares of a prudent general; and that subsistence could only be drawn from his own or from the enemy's country.
Gibbon, location 17228
It's a commonplace that logistics determines battles. Napoleon was defeated in Russia because his soldiers did not have sufficient cold weather supplies. England survived in WW II because convoys eventually managed to get enough supplies through. Attacks on oil fields undermined Hitler's war machine. Scott's Anaconda strategy cut off supply to Jeff Davis and the Confederacy. Logistics is more than a slogan for UPS>
Jovian, who in a few weeks had assumed the habits of a prince, was displeased with freedom, and offended with truth.
Gibbon, location 17475
But the inquisition into the crime of magic,a which, under the reign of the two brothers, was so rigorously prosecuted both at Rome and Antioch, was interpreted as the fatal symptom, either of the displeasure of Heaven, or of the depravity of mankind. Let us not hesitate to indulge a liberal pride, that, in the present age, the enlightened part of Europe has abolished a cruel and odious prejudice, which reigned in every climate of the globe, and adhered to every system of religious opinions.
Gibbon, location 17736
Valentinian appears to have been less attentive and less anxious to relieve the burdens of his people. He might reform the abuses of the fiscal administration; but he exacted, without scruple, a very large share of the private property; as he was convinced, that the revenues, which supported the luxury of individuals, would be much more advantageously employed for the defence and improvement of the state.
Gibbon, location 17829
High taxation. My contention is that taxes, not property, are theft.
The inaction of the negroes does not seem to be the effect either of their virtue or of their pusillanimity. They indulge, like the rest of mankind, their passions and appetites; and the adjacent tribes are engaged in frequent acts of hostility. But their rude ignorance has never invented any effectual weapons of defence, or of destruction; they appear incapable of forming any extensive plans of government, or conquest; and the obvious inferiority of their mental faculties has been discovered and abused by the nations of the temperate zone.
Gibbon, location 18229
Gibbon's racist views pre-date Darwin's evolutionary theory, so that's one linkage that can't be pinned on Darwin. On the other hand it does line up nicely with the views of some of those who justified slavery.
As long as the same passions and interests subsist among mankind, the questions of war and peace, of justice and policy, which were debated in the councils of antiquity, will frequently present themselves as the subject of modern deliberation. But the most experienced statesman of Europe has never been summoned to consider the propriety, or the danger, of admitting, or rejecting, an innumerable multitude of Barbarians, who are driven by despair and hunger to solicit a settlement on the territories of a civilized nation.
Gibbon, location 18839
Does this have any relevance for current debates on immigration?
A Gothic soldier was slain by the dagger of an Arab; and the hairy, naked savage, applying his lips to the wound, expressed a horrid delight, while he sucked the blood of his vanquished enemy.
Gibbon, location 19160
I find this a bit hard to believe. Of course there is no limit to human depravity, so it might be true.
In Cyrene, they massacred 220,000 Greeks; in Cyprus, 240,000; in Egypt, a very great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawn asunder, according to a precedent to which David had given the sanction of his example. The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, and twisted the entrails like a girdle round their bodies. See Dion Cassius, l. lxviii. p. 1145. Some commentators, among them Reimar, in his notes on Dion Cassius think that the hatred of the Romans against the Jews has led the historian to exaggerate the cruelties committed by the latter. Don. Cass. lxviii. p. 1146. -
Gibbon, location 19425
First, those figures seem a bit high. I know that at its height Rome had a million residents, but I doubt if whether that many other areas were densely populated. Second, I'm not sure that I can recall David sawing anybody asunder. Third, here we have a variant of the blood libel. The basic form is the assertion that Jews use the blood of Christian children in the Passover matzoh. Here the assertion is that the Jews indulged in cannibalism, and in drinking the blood of their victims, something which is expressly forbidden. Now this is relegated to a footnote, so Gibbon may not have fully believed it, and he notes the dispute about the number, but not the cannibalism and the blood drinking. In any case, I discussed this separately, and I regard it as a blotch upon Gibbon's character that it's in his book.
This circumstance, as it is noticed by Ammianus, serves to prove the veracity of Herodotus, (l. i. c. 133,) and the permanency of the Persian manners. In every age the Persians have been addicted to intemperance, and the wines of Shiraz have triumphed over the law of Mahomet.
Gibbon, location 20879
Sallust (ap. Vet. Scholiast. Juvenal. Satir. i. 104) observes, that nihil corruptius moribus [nothing corrupts the dead?]. The matrons and virgins of Babylon freely mingled with the men in licentious banquets; and as they felt the intoxication of wine and love, they gradually, and almost completely, threw aside the encumbrance of dress; ad ultimum ima corporum velamenta projiciunt. Q. Curtius, v. 1.
Gibbon, location 22470
The French and English lawyers, of the present age, allow the theory, and deny the practice, of witchcraft, (Denisart, Recueil de Decisions de Jurisprudence, au mot Sorciers, tom. iv. p. 553. Blackstone's Commentaries, vol. iv. p. 60.) As private reason always prevents, or outstrips, public wisdom, the president Montesquieu (Esprit des Loix, l. xii. c. 5, 6) rejects the existence of magic.
Gibbon, location 22747
The monks and populace of Callinicum,a an obscure town on the frontier of Persia, excited by their own fanaticism, and by that of their bishop, had tumultuously burnt a conventicle of the Valentinians, and a synagogue of the Jews. The seditious prelate was condemned, by the magistrate of the province, either to rebuild the synagogue, or to repay the damage; and this moderate sentence was confirmed by the emperor. But it was not confirmed by the archbishop of Milan. He dictated an epistle of censure and reproach, more suitable, perhaps, if the emperor had received the mark of circumcision, and renounced the faith of his baptism. Ambrose considers the toleration of the Jewish, as the persecution of the Christian, religion; boldly declares that he himself, and every true believer, would eagerly dispute with the bishop of Callinicum the merit of the deed, and the crown of martyrdom; and laments, in the most pathetic terms, that the execution of the sentence would be fatal to the fame and salvation of Theodosius. As this private admonition did not produce an immediate effect, the archbishop, from his pulpit, publicly addressed the emperor on his throne; nor would he consent to offer the oblation of the altar, till he had obtained from Theodosius a solemn and positive declaration, which secured the impunity of the bishop and monks of Callinicum.
Gibbon, location 24001
Gibbon seems sympathetic to the Jews here, which makes his use of the Blood Libel in a previous passage so disturbing.
In populous cities, which are the seat of commerce and manufactures, the middle ranks of inhabitants, who derive their subsistence from the dexterity or labor of their hands, are commonly the most prolific, the most useful, and, in that sense, the most respectable part of the community. But the plebeians of Rome, who disdained such sedentary and servile arts, had been oppressed from the earliest times by the weight of debt and usury; and the husbandman, during the term of his military service, was obliged to abandon the cultivation of his farm. The lands of Italy which had been originally divided among the families of free and indigent proprietors, were insensibly purchased or usurped by the avarice of the nobles; and in the age which preceded the fall of the republic, it was computed that only two thousand citizens were possessed of an independent substance. Yet as long as the people bestowed, by their suffrages, the honors of the state, the command of the legions, and the administration of wealthy provinces, their conscious pride alleviated in some measure, the hardships of poverty; and their wants were seasonably supplied by the ambitious liberality of the candidates, who aspired to secure a venal majority in the thirty-five tribes, or the hundred and ninety-three centuries, of Rome. But when the prodigal commons had not only imprudently alienated the use, but the inheritance of power, they sunk, under the reign of the Caesars, into a vile and wretched populace, which must, in a few generations, have been totally extinguished, if it had not been continually recruited by the manumission of slaves, and the influx of strangers. As early as the time of Hadrian, it was the just complaint of the ingenuous natives, that the capital had attracted the vices of the universe, and the manners of the most opposite nations. The intemperance of the Gauls, the cunning and levity of the Greeks, the savage obstinacy of the Egyptians and Jews, the servile temper of the Asiatics, and the dissolute, effeminate prostitution of the Syrians, were mingled in the various multitude, which, under the proud and false denomination of Romans, presumed to despise their fellow- subjects, and even their sovereigns, who dwelt beyond the precincts of the Eternal City. Yet the name of that city was still pronounced with respect: the frequent and capricious tumults of its inhabitants were indulged with impunity; and the successors of Constantine, instead of crushing the last remains of the democracy by the strong arm of military power, embraced the mild policy of Augustus, and studied to relieve the poverty, and to amuse the idleness, of an innumerable people.
Gibbon, location 25785
Panem et circenses combined with high debt, idleness that seems connected to the dole of bread and entertainment, and unassimilated aliens. Seems like a recipe for disaster.
The disregard of custom and decency always betrays a weak and ill-regulated mind….
Gibbon, location 26606
The laws of war, that restrain the exercise of national rapine and murder, are founded on two principles of substantial interest: the knowledge of the permanent benefits which may be obtained by a moderate use of conquest; and a just apprehension, lest the desolation which we inflict on the enemy's country may be retaliated on our own.
Gibbon, location 27513
This seems to be a case of MAD.
It was the opinion of Marcian, that war should be avoided, as long as it is possible to preserve a secure and honorable peace; but it was likewise his opinion, that peace cannot be honorable or secure, if the sovereign betrays a pusillanimous aversion to war.
Gibbon, location 27807
Does anyone we know betraya pusillanimous aversion to war?
But its fall was announced by a clearer omen than the flight of vultures: the Roman government appeared every day less formidable to its enemies, more odious and oppressive to its subjects. The taxes were multiplied with the public distress….”
Gibbon, location 28272
Cannon and fortifications now form an impregnable barrier against the Tartar horse; and Europe is secure from any future irruptions of Barbarians; since, before they can conquer, they must cease to be barbarous. Their gradual advances in the science of war would always be accompanied, as we may learn from the example of Russia, with a proportionable improvement in the arts of peace and civil policy; and they themselves must deserve a place among the polished nations whom they subdue.
Gibbon, location 30528
Gibbon seems a bit too optimistic here. Barbarians who cannot make anything can find ready sellers who will supply them with just about anything. Consider that some states and some groups are procuring weapons that they cannot make themselves, but which others are only too eager to sell.
The beauty of Theodora was the subject of more flattering praise, and the source of more exquisite delight. Her features were delicate and regular; her complexion, though somewhat pale, was tinged with a natural color; every sensation was instantly expressed by the vivacity of her eyes; her easy motions displayed the graces of a small but elegant figure; and either love or adulation might proclaim, that painting and poetry were incapable of delineating the matchless excellence of her form. But this form was degraded by the facility with which it was exposed to the public eye, and prostituted to licentious desire. Her venal charms were abandoned to a promiscuous crowd of citizens and strangers of every rank, and of every profession: the fortunate lover who had been promised a night of enjoyment, was often driven from her bed by a stronger or more wealthy favorite; and when she passed through the streets, her presence was avoided by all who wished to escape either the scandal or the temptation. The satirical historian has not blushed to describe the naked scenes which Theodora was not ashamed to exhibit in the theatre. After exhausting the arts of sensual pleasure, she most ungratefully murmured against the parsimony of Nature; but her murmurs, her pleasures, and her arts, must be veiled in the obscurity of a learned language.
Gibbon, location 34326. The description of Theodora's act is taken from chapter 9 of The Secret History by Procopius. I'm burying it here so that delicate readers won't be offended:20 And often even in the theatre, before the eyes of the whole people, she stripped off her clothing and moved about naked through their midst, having only a girdle about her private parts and her groins, not, however, that she was ashamed to display these too to the populace, but because no person is permitted to enter there entirely naked, but must have at least a girdle about the groins. 21 Clothed in this manner, she sprawled out and lay on her back on the ground. And some slaves, whose duty this was, sprinkled grains of barley over her private parts, and geese, which happened to have been provided for this very purpose, picked them off with their beaks, one by one, and ate them. 22 And when she got up, she not only did not blush, but even acted as if she p111took pride in this strange performance. For she was not merely shameless herself, but also a contriver of shameless deeds above all others. 23 And it was a common thing for her to undress and stand in the midst of the actors on the stage, now straining her body backwards and now trying to penetrate the hinder parts both of those who had consorted with her and those who had not yet done so, running through with pride the exercises of the only wrestling school to which she was accustomed. 24 And she treated her own body with such utter wantonness that she seemed to have her privates5 not where Nature had placed them in other women, but in her face! 25 Now those who had intimacy with her immediately made it clear by that very fact that they were not having intercourse according to the laws of Nature; and all the more respectable people who chanced upon her in the market-place would turn aside and retreat in haste, lest they should touch any of the woman's garments and so seem to have partaken of this pollution. 26 For she was, to those who saw her, particularly early in the day, a bird of foul omen. On the other hand, she was accustomed to storm most savagely at all times against the women who were her fellow-performers; for she was a very envious and spiteful creature.”"
The Arabians, till Mahomet arose, were formidable only as robbers….”
Gibbon, location 34960
If a Christian power had been maintained in Arabia, Mahomet must have been crushed in his cradle, and Abyssinia would have prevented a revolution which has changed the civil and religious state of the world.
Gibbon, location 36884
…and science have justified the conjectures and predictions of the Roman sage: the telescope has opened new worlds to the eyes of astronomers; and, in the narrow space of history and fable, one and the same comet is already found to have revisited the earth in seven equal revolutions of five hundred and seventy-five years. The first, which ascends beyond the Christian aera one thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven years, is coeval with Ogyges, the father of Grecian antiquity. And this appearance explains the tradition which Varro has preserved, that under his reign the planet Venus changed her color, size, figure, and course; a prodigy without example either in past or succeeding ages. The second visit, in the year eleven hundred and ninety-three, is darkly implied in the fable of Electra, the seventh of the Pleiads, who have been reduced to six since the time of the Trojan war. That nymph, the wife of Dardanus, was unable to support the ruin of her country: she abandoned the dances of her sister orbs, fled from the zodiac to the north pole, and obtained, from her dishevelled locks, the name of the comet. The third period expires in the year six hundred and eighteen, a date that exactly agrees with the tremendous comet of the Sibyl, and perhaps of Pliny, which arose in the West two generations before the reign of Cyrus. The fourth apparition, forty-four years before the birth of Christ, is of all others the most splendid and important. After the death of Caesar, a long-haired star was conspicuous to Rome and to the nations, during the games which were exhibited by young Octavian in honor of Venus and his uncle. The vulgar opinion, that it conveyed to heaven the divine soul of the dictator, was cherished and consecrated by the piety of a statesman; while his secret superstition referred the comet to the glory of his own times. The fifth visit has been already ascribed to the fifth year of Justinian, which coincides with the five hundred and thirty-first of the Christian aera. And it may deserve notice, that in this, as in the preceding instance, the comet was followed, though at a longer interval, by a remarkable paleness of the sun. The sixth return, in the year eleven hundred and six, is recorded by the chronicles of Europe and China: and in the first fervor of the crusades, the Christians and the Mahometans might surmise, with equal reason, that it portended the destruction of the Infidels. The seventh phenomenon, of one thousand six hundred and eighty, was presented to the eyes of an enlightened age. The philosophy of Bayle dispelled a prejudice which Milton's muse had so recently adorned, that the comet, "from its horrid hair shakes pestilence and war." Its road in the heavens was observed with exquisite skill by Flamstead and Cassini: and the mathematical science of Bernoulli, Newtona, and
Gibbon, location 37511
See the Wikipedia article on the comet of 1680.
Whatever might be the origin or the merit of the twelve tables, they obtained among the Romans that blind and partial reverence which the lawyers of every country delight to bestow on their municipal institutions. The study is recommended by Cicero as equally pleasant and instructive. "They amuse the mind by the remembrance of old words and the portrait of ancient manners; they inculcate the soundest principles of government and morals; and I am not afraid to affirm, that the brief composition of the Decemvirs surpasses in genuine value the libraries of Grecian philosophy. How admirable," says Tully, with honest or affected prejudice, "is the wisdom of our ancestors! We alone are the masters of civil prudence, and our superiority is the more conspicuous, if we deign to cast our eyes on the rude and almost ridiculous jurisprudence of Draco, of Solon, and of Lycurgus." The twelve tables were committed to the memory of the young and the meditation of the old; they were transcribed and illustrated with learned diligence; they had escaped the flames of the Gauls, they subsisted in the age of Justinian, and their subsequent loss has been imperfectly restored by the labors of modern critics. But although these venerable monuments were considered as the rule of right and the fountain of justice, they were overwhelmed by the weight and variety of new laws, which, at the end of five centuries, became a grievance more intolerable than the vices of the city. Three thousand brass plates, the acts of the senate of the people, were deposited in the Capitol: and some of the acts, as the Julian law against extortion, surpassed the number of a hundred chapters. The Decemvirs had neglected to import the sanction of Zaleucus, which so long maintained the integrity of his republic. A Locrian, who proposed any new law, stood forth in the assembly of the people with a cord round his neck, and if the law was rejected, the innovator was instantly strangled.
Gibbon, location 37661
Compare and contrast: The twelve tables and Title 18 of the US Code, or the tax code, or the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
The Romans had aspired to be equal; they were levelled by the equality of servitude….
Gibbon, location 37685
The will of a single man, of a child perhaps, was allowed to prevail over the wisdom of ages and the inclinations of millions;”
Gibbon, location 37737
The licentious commerce of the sexes may be tolerated as an impulse of nature, or forbidden as a source of disorder and corruption; but the fame, the fortunes, the family of the husband, are seriously injured by the adultery of the wife. The wisdom of Augustus, after curbing the freedom of revenge, applied to this domestic offence the animadversion of the laws: and the guilty parties, after the payment of heavy forfeitures and fines, were condemned to long or perpetual exile in two separate islands. Religion pronounces an equal censure against the infidelity of the husband; but, as it is not accompanied by the same civil effects, the wife was never permitted to vindicate her wrongs; and the distinction of simple or double adultery, so familiar and so important in the canon law, is unknown to the jurisprudence of the Code and the Pandects.”
Gibbon, location 38429
The toleration, and even the privileges of the Jews, who had multiplied to the number of forty thousand, were secured by the laws of the Caesars and Ptolemies, and a long prescription of seven hundred years since the foundation of Alexandria. Without any legal sentence, without any royal mandate, the patriarch, at the dawn of day, led a seditious multitude to the attack of the synagogues. Unarmed and unprepared, the Jews were incapable of resistance; their houses of prayer were levelled with the ground, and the episcopal warrior, after-rewarding his troops with the plunder of their goods, expelled from the city the remnant of the unbelieving nation. Perhaps he might plead the insolence of their prosperity, and their deadly hatred of the Christians, whose blood they had recently shed in a malicious or accidental tumult. Such crimes would have deserved the animadversion of the magistrate; but in this promiscuous outrage, the innocent were confounded with the guilty, and Alexandria was impoverished by the loss of a wealthy and industrious colony.”
Gibbon, location 40018
This is another passage that is somewhat sympathetic to the Jews. Here Gibbon terms themwealthy and industrious,qualities which he seems to like. Passages like this are what make that blasted footnote in chapter 16 so difficult to square with Gibbon's possible anti-semitism.
During ten centuries of blindness and servitude, Europe received her religious opinions from the oracle of the Vatican; and the same doctrine, already varnished with the rust of antiquity, was admitted without dispute into the creed of the reformers, who disclaimed the supremacy of the Roman pontiff.”
Gibbon, location 40267
In a long reign of thirty-four years, the son and successor of Leo, Constantine the Fifth, surnamed Copronymus, attacked with less temperate zeal the images or idols of the church. Their votaries have exhausted the bitterness of religious gall, in their portrait of this spotted panther, this antichrist, this flying dragon of the serpent's seed, who surpassed the vices of Elagabalus and Nero. His reign was a long butchery of whatever was most noble, or holy, or innocent, in his empire. In person, the emperor assisted at the execution of his victims, surveyed their agonies, listened to their groans, and indulged, without satiating, his appetite for blood: a plate of noses was accepted as a grateful offering, and his domestics were often scourged or mutilated by the royal hand. His surname was derived from his pollution of his baptismal font. The infant might be excused; but the manly pleasures of Copronymus degraded him below the level of a brute; his lust confounded the eternal distinctions of sex and species, and he seemed to extract some unnatural delight from the objects most offensive to human sense. In his religion the Iconoclast was a Heretic, a Jew, a Mahometan, a Pagan, and an Atheist; and his belief of an invisible power could be discovered only in his magic rites, human victims, and nocturnal sacrifices to Venus and the daemons of antiquity. His life was stained with the most opposite vices, and the ulcers which covered his body, anticipated before his death the sentiment of hell-tortures.”
Gibbon, location 41093
The wisdom of a sovereign is comprised in the institution of laws and the choice of magistrates, and while he seems without action, his civil government revolves round his centre with the silence and order of the planetary system.”
Gibbon, location 41247
Hypocrisy I shall never justify or palliate; but I will dare to observe, that the odious vice of avarice is of all others most hastily arraigned, and most unmercifully condemned. In a private citizen, our judgment seldom expects an accurate scrutiny into his fortune and expense; and in a steward of the public treasure, frugality is always a virtue, and the increase of taxes too often an indispensable duty. In the use of his patrimony, the generous temper of Nicephorus had been proved; and the revenue was strictly applied to the service of the state: each spring the emperor marched in person against the Saracens; and every Roman might compute the employment of his taxes in triumphs, conquests, and the security of the Eastern barrier.n”
Gibbon, location 41486
A crowd of disgraceful passages will force themselves on the memory of the classic reader: I will only remind him of the cool declaration of Ovid:- Odi concubitus qui non utrumque resolvant. Hoc est quod puerum tangar amore minus.”
Gibbon, location 44098
The merchant is the friend of mankind….”
Gibbon, location 46216
Try telling that to some academics, or some pols, nowadays.
The faith which, under the name of Islam, he preached to his family and nation, is compounded of an eternal truth, and a necessary fiction, That there is only one God, and that Mahomet is the apostle of God.”
Gibbon, location 46381
The harmony and copiousness of style will not reach, in a version, the European infidel: he will peruse with impatience the endless incoherent rhapsody of fable, and precept, and declamation, which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust, and is sometimes lost in the clouds. The divine attributes exalt the fancy of the Arabian missionary; but his loftiest strains must yield to the sublime simplicity of the book of Job, composed in a remote age, in the same country, and in the same language. If the composition of the Koran exceed the faculties of a man to what superior intelligence should we ascribe the Iliad of Homer, or the Philippics of Demosthenes? In all religions, the life of the founder supplies the silence of his written revelation: the sayings of Mahomet were so many lessons of truth; his actions so many examples of virtue; and the public and private memorials were preserved by his wives and companions.”
Gibbon, location 46455
No doubt I'm guilt of blasphemy to Islam, but I've tried reading the Koran, and I find it to be drivel, and quite frankly unreadable,
Notwithstanding a vulgar prejudice, the gates of heaven will be open to both sexes; but Mahomet has not specified the male companions of the female elect, lest he should either alarm the jealousy of their former husbands, or disturb their felicity, by the suspicion of an everlasting marriage.”
Gibbon, location 46565
One of the apartments of the palace was decorated with a carpet of silk, sixty cubits in length, and as many in breadth: a paradise or garden was depictured on the ground: the flowers, fruits, and shrubs, were imitated by the figures of the gold embroidery, and the colors of the precious stones; and the ample square was encircled by a variegated and verdant border. The Arabian general persuaded his soldiers to relinquish their claim, in the reasonable hope that the eyes of the caliph would be delighted with the splendid workmanship of nature and industry. Regardless of the merit of art, and the pomp of royalty, the rigid Omar divided the prize among his brethren of Medina: the picture was destroyed; but such was the intrinsic value of the materials, that the share of Ali alone was sold for twenty thousand drams.”
Gibbon, location 47360
But a religion of peace was incapable of withstanding the fanatic cry of "Fight, fight! Paradise, paradise!" that reechoed in the ranks of the Saracens; and the uproar of the town, the ringing of bells, and the exclamations of the priests and monks, increased the dismay and disorder of the Christians.”
Gibbon, location 47482
Note that thereligion of peacehere is not Islam, but Christianity.
But the Moslems deprived themselves of the principal benefits of a familiar intercourse with Greece and Rome, the knowledge of antiquity, the purity of taste, and the freedom of thought. Confident in the riches of their native tongue, the Arabians disdained the study of any foreign idiom. The Greek interpreters were chosen among their Christian subjects; they formed their translations, sometimes on the original text, more frequently perhaps on a Syriac version; and in the crowd of astronomers and physicians, there is no example of a poet, an orator, or even an historian, being taught to speak the language of the Saracens. The mythology of Homer would have provoked the abhorrence of those stern fanatics: they possessed in lazy ignorance the colonies of the Macedonians, and the provinces of Carthage and Rome: the heroes of Plutarch and Livy were buried in oblivion; and the history of the world before Mahomet was reduced to a short legend of the patriarchs, the prophets, and the Persian kings. Our education in the Greek and Latin schools may have fixed in our minds a standard of exclusive taste; and I am not forward to condemn the literature and judgment of nations, of whose language I am ignorant. Yet I know that the classics have much to teach, and I believe that the Orientals have much to learn; the temperate dignity of style, the graceful proportions of art, the forms of visible and intellectual beauty, the just delineation of character and passion, the rhetoric of narrative and argument, the regular fabric of epic and dramatic poetry. The influence of truth and reason is of a less ambiguous complexion. The philosophers of Athens and Rome enjoyed the blessings, and asserted the rights, of civil and religious freedom. Their moral and political writings might have gradually unlocked the fetters of Eastern despotism, diffused a liberal spirit of inquiry and toleration, and encouraged the Arabian sages to suspect that their caliph was a tyrant, and their prophet an impostor. The instinct of superstition was alarmed by the introduction even of the abstract sciences; and the more rigid doctors of the law condemned the rash and pernicious curiosity of Almamon. To the thirst of martyrdom, the vision of paradise, and the belief of predestination, we must ascribe the invincible enthusiasm of the prince and people. And the sword of the Saracens became less formidable when their youth was drawn away from the camp to the college, when the armies of the faithful presumed to read and to reflect. Yet the foolish vanity of the Greeks was jealous of their studies, and reluctantly imparted the sacred fire to the Barbarians of the East.”
Gibbon, location 48919
Gibbon appears to believe that classical literature, i.e., the humanities has a civilizing influence on people. This distinguishes him from many, both academics and politicians, who want to push STEM at the expense of the humanities.
So familiar, and as it were so natural to man, is the practice of violence, that our indulgence allows the slightest provocation, the most disputable right, as a sufficient ground of national hostility. But the name and nature of a holy war demands a more rigorous scrutiny; nor can we hastily believe, that the servants of the Prince of Peace would unsheathe the sword of destruction, unless the motive were pure, the quarrel legitimate, and the necessity inevitable. The policy of an action may be determined from the tardy lessons of experience; but, before we act, our conscience should be satisfied of the justice and propriety of our enterprise. In the age of the crusades, the Christians, both of the East and West, were persuaded of their lawfulness and merit; their arguments are clouded by the perpetual abuse of Scripture and rhetoric; but they seem to insist on the right of natural and religious defense, their peculiar title to the Holy Land, and the impiety of their Pagan and Mahometan foes. I. The right of a just defense may fairly include our civil and spiritual allies: it depends on the existence of danger; and that danger must be estimated by the twofold consideration of the malice, and the power, of our enemies. A pernicious tenet has been imputed to the Mahometans, the duty of extirpating all other religions by the sword. This charge of ignorance and bigotry is refuted by the Koran, by the history of the Mussulman conquerors, and by their public and legal toleration of the Christian worship. But it cannot be denied, that the Oriental churches are depressed under their iron yoke; that, in peace and war, they assert a divine and indefeasible claim of universal empire; and that, in their orthodox creed, the unbelieving nations are continually threatened with the loss of religion or liberty. In the eleventh century, the victorious arms of the Turks presented a real and urgent apprehension of these losses. They had subdued, in less than thirty years, the kingdoms of Asia, as far as Jerusalem and the Hellespont; and the Greek empire tottered on the verge of destruction. Besides an honest sympathy for their brethren, the Latins had a right and interest in the support of Constantinople, the most important barrier of the West; and the privilege of defense must reach to prevent, as well as to repel, an impending assault. But this salutary purpose might have been accomplished by a moderate succor; and our calmer reason must disclaim the innumerable hosts, and remote operations, which overwhelmed Asia and depopulated Europe. II. Palestine could add nothing to the strength or safety of the Latins; and fanaticism alone could pretend to justify the conquest of that distant and narrow province. The Christians affirmed that their inalienable title to the promised land had been sealed by the blood of their divine Savior; it was their right and duty to rescue their inheritance from the unjust possessors, who profaned his sepulcher, and oppressed the pilgrimage of his disciples. Vainly would it be alleged that the preeminence of Jerusalem, and the sanctity of Palestine, have been abolished with the Mosaic law; that the God of the Christians is not a local deity, and that the recovery of Bethlem or Calvary, his cradle or his tomb, will not atone for the violation of the moral precepts of the gospel. Such arguments glance aside from the leaden shield of superstition; and the religious mind will not easily relinquish its hold on the sacred ground of mystery and miracle. III. But the holy wars which have been waged in every climate of the globe, from Egypt to Livonia, and from Peru to Hindostan, require the support of some more general and flexible tenet. It has been often supposed, and sometimes affirmed, that a difference of religion is a worthy cause of hostility; that obstinate unbelievers may be slain or subdued by the champions of the cross; and that grace is the sole fountain of dominion as well as of mercy. Above four hundred years before the first crusade, the eastern and western provinces of the Roman empire had...”
Gibbon, location 51890But all force may be annihilated by the negligence of the prince and the venality of his ministers.”
Gibbon, location 57047
But the wicked can never love, and should rarely trust, their fellow-criminals.”
Gibbon, location 57429
In modern times our debts and taxes are the secret poison which still corrodes the bosom of peace: but in the weak and disorderly government of the middle ages, it was agitated by the present evil of the disbanded armies.”
Gibbon, location 58272
The Athenians walk with supine indifference among the glorious ruins of antiquity; and such is the debasement of their character, that they are incapable of admiring the genius of their predecessors.”
Gibbon, location 58365
The introduction of barbarians and savages into the contests of civilized nations, is a measure pregnant with shame and mischief; which the interest of the moment may compel, but which is reprobated by the best principles of humanity and reason.”
Gibbon, location 58553
Persuasion is the resource of the feeble; and the feeble can seldom persuade.”
Gibbon, location 60908
A stranger might admire those riches; the national historians will tell with what lawless and wasteful oppression they were collected.”
Gibbon, location 63150
Next UpI'll be doing a David Weber sci-fi novel, and Kant's Critique of Practical Reason.