The decline and fall of the roman empire: Gibbon revisited
Dr Jamie WoodUniversity of Manchester
Introduce you to Edward Gibbon, a foundational thinker on the end of the Roman Empire Think about the impact of Gibbon’s work Start to prepare for the revision session in two weeks Consider how later historians modified, developed and rejected Gibbon’s ideas about the end of the Roman Empire Provide an overview of modern scholarship on the end of the Roman Empire
Political Empire Absolutism vs. democracy and reform Revolution Formation of nations Intellectual Enlightenment ▪ Rationalism over religion ▪ Science ▪ History as science – historicism in 19th C
Wealthy family Educated in London and Oxford Passion for theological controversy Conversion to Catholicism and back to Protestantism 5 years studying in Lausanne Essai sur lÉtude de la Littérature (1761): literary celebrity Service in the South Hampshire militia 1762: commences Grand Tour, including travel to Rome, where he says idea for the Decline and Fall took root 1773: appointed honorary professor in ancient history at the Royal Academy 1774: MP for Liskeard, Cornwall 1776-1788: publication of the Decline and Fall in 6 volumes
“...at the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod, with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation.”
The volumes were a commercial and literary success Negative appraisals: Strongly criticised for its view of Christianity (chapters 15-16 banned in several countries) Accused on anti-Semitism Negative view of middle ages: “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.” (3.71) Rejection of contemporary democratic movements Positive appraisals: Praised for its style (e.g. by Winston Churchill) and ideas (Isaac Asimov) Emphasised importance of primary sources rather than secondary accounts (first modern historian?)
Read the extracts from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall that I have provided In pairs discuss the following questions: What does Gibbon say were the key factors in the success of early Christianity? What reasons does he give for the failure of paganism/ polytheism to resist Christianity? Why were people attracted to Christianity, according to Gibbon?
Internal factors are pre- eminent Factors built in to the imperial system the role of the army the role of the emperor Christianity weakens the Roman spirit monks rather than legionaries The barbarians defeat an already-decrepit system
In pairs, spend a bit of time discussing the homework reading by Bowersock Between you, decide on 3 key points that you think Bowersock is trying to make Get ready to present them back to the rest of the class You have 8 minutes
Spend a couple of minutes thinking about what you’d like to do in the revision class in two weeks. Think about both content you’d like to cover and how you’d like to cover it (= process) Are there any gaps that you’d like to see filled? Do you have any concerns about the format of the exam? Which topics have you particularly enjoyed and would like to focus on? Is there anything we can learn from other revision classes that you’ve had in the past?
Over the next few slides we’ll be working through the historians that I asked you to look at for homework ▪ J.B. Bury ▪ Henri Pirenne ▪ Arnaldo Momigliano ▪ G.E.M. de Ste. Croix ▪ Peter Brown Spend 5 minutes (either on your own or with someone who researched the same historian) Think of about 5 key points relating to your historian’s views on the end of the Roman Empire Get ready to feed them back to the rest of the class I will summarise your points on the PowerPoint
Toronto and Vienna Schools (Goffart and Pohl) Degree of continuity in personnel Was there a migration? Is there more continuity with the Roman period than allowed? Who writes the histories and what can they tell us? Archaeological perspectives (e.g. Ward-Perkins) Decline in material conditions is discernable and measurable; But: Is this the right question to ask? What about the Islamic- Byzantine worlds? Migration is important (e.g. Heather; response by Halsall) Transformations of the Roman World EU-funded project; the origins of Europe and European nations… What about the medieval world? Should we be viewing it from the perspective of what was lost with fall of Rome?
Is Gibbon’s model still useful for thinking about the end of the Roman Empire? Why? What might it help us to do? Can we identify common themes in these analyses of the end of the Roman Empire?
Context of interpretation is extremely important Modern concern for multiculturalism/ migration Cf. Gibbon’s Enlightenment concerns (e.g. anti-religion) Nationalism was important in 19th/early 20th Cs Europeanism in the late 20th C Sources/methodologies/ theories that are privileged are also vital Interest in certain kinds of evidence allows certain kinds of interpretations Methodologies (i.e. ways that you engage with your sources; e.g. textual analysis; social history; political history) Theories that underpin interpretations (e.g. Marxism) Direction of viewpoint will alter perspective and therefore interpretation: From perspective of the high empire or from the medieval kingdoms? Or from Byzantium/ Islamic world or W. Europe?
Read the following article, which summarises some (relatively) recent work on the fall of Rome and the barbarian invasions: Guy Halsall (1999), ‘Review article: Movers and Shakers: the Barbarians and the Fall of Rome’, Early Medieval Europe 8.1, pp. 131-145 Email me (email@example.com) if you have any concerns or ideas for the revision session Optional: watch Visiting Scholar Michael McCormick on "Climate Change and the Fall of the Roman Empire” (YouTube, 2011)