This is the first volume of the six volumes of Edward Gibbon's History Of The Decline And Fall
Of The Roman Empire. If you find any errors please feel free to notify me of them. I want to
make this the best etext edition possible for both scholars and the general public. I would like to
thank those who have helped in making this text better. Especially Dale R. Fredrickson who has
hand entered the Greek characters in the footnotes and who has suggested retaining the
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addresses for now. Please feel free to send me your comments and I hope you enjoy this.
History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire
Edward Gibbon, Esq.
With notes by the Rev. H. H. Milman
1782 (Written), 1845 (Revised)
Preface By The Editor.
The great work of Gibbon is indispensable to the student of history. The literature of Europe
offers no substitute for "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." It has obtained undisputed
possession, as rightful occupant, of the vast period which it comprehends. However some
subjects, which it embraces, may have undergone more complete investigation, on the general
view of the whole period, this history is the sole undisputed authority to which all defer, and
from which few appeal to the original writers, or to more modern compilers. The inherent
interest of the subject, the inexhaustible labor employed upon it; the immense condensation of
matter; the luminous arrangement; the general accuracy; the style, which, however monotonous
from its uniform stateliness, and sometimes wearisome from its elaborate art., is throughout
vigorous, animated, often picturesque always commands attention, always conveys its meaning
with emphatic energy, describes with singular breadth and fidelity, and generalizes with
unrivalled felicity of expression; all these high qualifications have secured, and seem likely to
secure, its permanent place in historic literature.
This vast design of Gibbon, the magnificent whole into which he has cast the decay and ruin of
the ancient civilization, the formation and birth of the new order of things, will of itself,
independent of the laborious execution of his immense plan, render "The Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire" an unapproachable subject to the future historian:* in the eloquent language of
his recent French editor, M. Guizot: --
"The gradual decline of the most extraordinary dominion which has ever invaded and oppressed
the world; the fall of that immense empire, erected on the ruins of so many kingdoms, republics,
and states both barbarous and civilized; and forming in its turn, by its dismemberment, a
multitude of states, republics, and kingdoms; the annihilation of the religion of Greece and
Rome; the birth and the progress of the two new religions which have shared the most beautiful
regions of the earth; the decrepitude of the ancient world, the spectacle of its expiring glory and
degenerate manners; the infancy of the modern world, the picture of its first progress, of the new
direction given to the mind and character of man -- such a subject must necessarily fix the
attention and excite the interest of men, who cannot behold with indifference those memorable
epochs, during which, in the fine language of Corneille --
'Un grand destin commence, un grand destin s'achève.'"
This extent and harmony of design is unquestionably that which distinguishes the work of Gibbon from all other great historical compositions. He has first bridged the abyss between ancient and modern times, and connected together the two great worlds of history. The great advantage which the classical historians possess over those of modern times is in unity of plan, of course greatly facilitated by the narrower sphere to which their researches were confined. Except Herodotus, the great historians of Greece -- we exclude the more modern compilers, like Diodorus Siculus -- limited themselves to a single period, or at least to the contracted sphere of Grecian affairs. As far as the Barbarians trespassed within the Grecian boundary, or were necessarily mingled up with Grecian politics, they were admitted into the pale of Grecian history; but to Thucydides and to Xenophon, excepting in the Persian inroad of the latter, Greece was the world. Natural unity confined their narrative almost to chronological order, the episodes were of rare occurrence and extremely brief. To the Roman historians the course was equally clear and defined. Rome was their centre of unity; and the uniformity with which the circle of the Roman dominion spread around, the regularity with which their civil polity expanded, forced, as it were, upon the Roman historian that plan which Polybius announces as the subject of his history, the means and the manner by which the whole world became subject to the Roman sway. How different the complicated politics of the European kingdoms! Every national history, to be complete, must, in a certain sense, be the history of Europe; there is no knowing to how remote a quarter it may be necessary to trace our most domestic events; from a country, how apparently disconnected, may originate the impulse which gives its direction to the whole course of affairs.