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Decay Of Roman Empire

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Edward Gibbon says the decay of Rome was inevitable. He writes that instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, it is surprising that it subsisted so long. Gibbons' argument comes down to four major arguments, divided into rulership, the abuse of Christianity, the expansion of the Barbarians, and finally the loss of the Roman military power. Edward Gibbon was one of the greatest English historians of the late 1700's. His father entered him in Magdalen College, University of Oxford but shortly after his enrollment in 1753 he decided to convert to Roman Catholicism. Magdalen college only accepted Anglicans so he was barred from the school. His father then sent him to Switzerland, in care of a Calvinist pastor, who by Christmas, 1754, had reconciled him to Protestantism. After many years in Switzerland Gibbon returned home and decided to devote his life to scholarship and writing. In 1764, while visiting Rome, Gibbon decided to write about the city's history. His work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was one of his greatest works and despite the availability of new factual data and a recognition of Gibbon's western Bias, Decline and Fall is still read and enjoyed.

In Gibbons first argument of divided rulership, he states that there simply was no central power in the Roman Empire. He writes, "The throne of Constantinople was erected in the East; while the West was still possessed by a series of emperors who held their residence in Italy and claimed their equal inheritance of the legions and provinces. This dangerous novelty impaired the strength, and fomented the vices, of a double reign." (2)

As in any historical reference, when one divides their forces it weakens their strength. Gibbons makes this out to be a very important reason for the collapse of Rome. Even thought Constantinople was strong at this time, Gibbon points out that, "The Byzantine court beheld, perhaps with pleasure the disgrace of Rome, and the misfortunes of Italy."

Edward Gibbon's second argument, the abuse of Christianity, has much to do with the new virtues of society brought with the new religion. Gibbons states, "The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged." These active virtues of ambition and power were what made Rome great. "The church and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody, and always implacable; the attention of the Emperors were diverted from camps to synods. Here Gibbons is writing about the inner religious conflicts that were happening within the Roman Empire, and how they weakened the unity of the country. This in turn set up the Roman Empire for vulnerability from outside attacks, which leads to Gibbon's third reason for the collapse of Rome.

"The savage nations of the globe are the common enemies of civilized society." The Barbarian tribes from the north began to push southward into Rome about the same time that Rome was going through much inner turmoil. Gibbons points

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