Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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The decline of the Roman Empire has been the subject of intense scholarly research. Yet the causes of the decline are still the subject of vigorous debate. The classic work on the collapse is the massive text titled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in 1776 by the English historian Edward Gibbon. Over two hundred theories have been advanced to explain the decline.

Despite many areas for conjecture regarding the decline of the Roman Empire, at least three points seem to be beyond dispute. First, its decline was slow, proceeding at a glacial pace over several centuries. Second, a critical turning that hastened its decline occurred in 337 when its rule was divided into three zones – the east, central and west. Third, even though many scholars disagree that it marks the end point of the overall Roman Empire, 476 is commonly cited as the year that marks the end of its western section.

A critical turning point in the history of the Roman Empire that significantly contributed to its demise occurred in 337 when its rule was divided between three brothers. Many scholars argue this division strategically weakened the empire and increased its exposure to attack from aggressive rivals. The division followed the death of the emperor Constantine the Great. During his life, Constantine had indicated that his successor would be either one of his three sons (Constantius, Constans and Constantine II) or his two nephews (Gallus and Julian). Gallus and Julian were respectively aged only twelve and six at the time (and were eventually executed in Athens during 354).

By agreement of the three brothers, the empire was divided amongst themselves. Constantine II (also known as Constantinus) took the west, Constans the centre and Const...

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...ry. Its beginning is defined by the fall of the western Roman Empire. The Middle Ages are often identified as the middle of a three-period division of history – Classic (Antiquity), Medieval and Modern.

The early centuries of the Middle Ages are commonly referred to as the Dark Ages since they were characterized by a continuation of unfavourable trends that had begun in late-Antiquity including slowed population growth and urbanization as well as increased barbarian invasions and rule. They also marked a general decline in scholarship. From a religious perspective North Africa and the Middle East, formerly lands part of the eastern Roman Empire, turned toward Islam. The later part of the Middle Ages saw the emergence of feudalism and systematic agriculture, accelerated population growth, the spread of Christianity as well as the return of scholarship and the arts.

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