While reading John H. Arnold's History: A Very Short Introduction I came across the very interesting claim that "the big problem with the Decline and Fall [of the Roman Empire] is that Gibbon never properly tells us why Rome decayed..."

Is this true?

  • 5
    I think Gibbon wrote a book to answer that question.
    – MCW
    Mar 7, 2017 at 9:54
  • 2
    Yes, wasn't his answer that Christianity weakened Rome? Why don't you read the book, or if you can't be bothered, read the wikipedia article?
    – Ne Mo
    Mar 7, 2017 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


Gibbon basically said after finish a book about Middle Ages that he had described the triumph of barbarism and religion.
Now regarding Rome itself, Gibbon theory says that the roman spirit was gone, they were no longer warriors at service of the state, instead they were not interested on the state. Actually, most soldiers during the late Roman Empire were just mercenaries, and the pretorian guard was the real power behind, because they were the one who choose the emperors.
Christian religions made romans to be interested more in the Heaven instead of Earth, and at the same time they had several internal disputes about religion.

That's basically what Gibbon said about the end of Rome: lack of civic duty, pretorians and religion. Barbarians were just the coup de grâce.


The accepted explanation for most of what happens in history is climate, geography, and race. Edward Gibbons went against this and suggested more of a Marxist idea. Not that he was a Marxist or anything.

Maybe John Arnold wasnt satisfied with the explanation, or didn't consider it serious. But Gibbons did have an explanation.

  • 2
    Gibbon's writings were released well over 200 years ago. Are you saying that 200 years ago other people were blaming Climate Change?
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 7, 2017 at 16:56
  • A Marxist explanation of collapse of the Roman Empire would be something along the lines of "class struggle" and "a conflict between the "base and the superstructure". Where did you find any of these in Gibbon? Mar 7, 2017 at 17:03

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