Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Edward Gibbon

After a long hiatus, I have decided to take up my blog that I started some time ago.  Here is my new contribution.

I have been reading for a couple of months now a very well-known and much less read today book by Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which he published in six volumes during 1776—1788. I am reading it on a Kindle, so it is not easy to really grasp the full magnitude of this amazing set of books as I am reading.  Six volumes would take up some space on a shelf. Here’s a picture from Amazon;

which one can purchase today for only $2,235.36.

My Kindle edition is an old one from the early 19th century (1845), edited by Rev. H. H. Milman. The language of both the text and the notes, most from Gibbon and some from Milman is quite old-fashioned and quaint at times. I have learned much from this reading and here are a few notes of items that I wasn’t really aware of. 

When Rome, the city, fell to the Barbarians in 476AD, the Eastern Roman Empire, based in Constantinople, continued to flourish for about 1000 more years until the Turks conquered this city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia in 1453.  The city of Rome was recaptured by the eastern empire several more times more as there was a continuing see-saw over the control of Italy and other parts of the classic Western Roman Empire.

The Eastern Empire became what is known as Byzantium with its contributions to the arts and culture.  The writing down of a code of Roman law by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century became the foundation of law for continental Europe over the centuries following. The Decline of the Roman Empire coincided with the growth of the Christian Empire, which through the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches came to dominate religious thought in Europe.  The Gothic kings who took over Italy after the fall of Rome were all Catholic and the power of the Vatican was never impeded by the fall of Rome but continued to wield more and more power as the centuries evolved.

What is coming on the horizon in Gibbon’s book for me is the creation and growth of the Muslim religion by Muhammad and his followers, which I am looking forward to. One of the things that Gibbon does well is to describe the other cultures which surrounded the Roman empire throughout its history (he begins his history of the decline in about the second century AD, referring only briefly to the earlier Roman Republic which was followed by Julius Caesar, Augustus and the other earlier caesars). This includes the various Germanic tribes, the cultures of the Middle East and of northern Africa, and others. Of particular note is the continual evolution during this time of the Persian culture, which was always on the border of the Roman Empire and continues to this day in Iran, having been converted to a Muslim country sometime after the rise of Muslim culture in the Arabian Peninsula.

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