Even those who have never read “the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire” are affected by what Edward Gibbon wrote. His interpretation of history is stuck in our collective memory. Modern scholars can find fault with his interpretations, but his use of language is beautiful. Gibbon identified when he decided to write his life’s great work.
” It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind. But my original plan was circumscribed to the decay of the city rather than of the empire: and, though my reading and reflections began to point towards that object, some years elapsed, and several avocations intervened, before I was seriously engaged in the execution of that laborious work.”
“Decline & Fall” was published in 1776, a great year for long-lasting documents including “The Wealth of Nations” and our own Declaration of Independence.
Let me quote the first few lines of the book to show its beauty.
“In the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period (A.D. 98-180) of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines.”
It is still worth reading Gibbon today, both as history and literature.
My pictures show some of the monuments of Rome that inspired Gibbon and others who see them.
The Romans were imperialists and very proud of it.