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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire tells the story of the Roman Empire from the time of Trajan in the third century to the fall of Constantinople in the sixteenth. Along the way Gibbon describes not only the internal issues that arise within the empire, but also the various outside forces that contribute to its fall: the Goths, Huns, Persians, Muslims, and many others. He also has two highly controversial (at the time, and still today for some) chapters on his view of the role of Christianity in the empire’s unraveling, which caused a firestorm when the first volume of the history was published.
As a history, it is perhaps without peer. Gibbon committed to studying, and quoting, first-hand sources whenever possible, and had an unerring eye for the difference between facts, opinions, and nonsense. He quoted from 1,850 unique sources written in eleven languages, and was scrupulous about referencing those sources: his text of over a million words contains almost 8,000 endnotes of another 400,000 words. Although history might be static, the study of it is not, resulting in his later nineteenth century editors adding another twenty percent to those notes with updates, corrections, and additional information that had come to light since the original publication.
But if Decline and Fall excels at history, it is even better as literature, for Gibbon was not only an outstanding historian, he was also a remarkable writer. His narrative reads more like a novel than a dry history text, and his dry wit is apparent throughout, especially in his notes.
In an effort to make it easier for the reader to refer to Gibbon’s sources if desired, this edition expands the often cryptic abbreviations used in the source references, both for the publication titles and the author’s names.
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