The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 3 of 3)

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3 by Edward Gibbon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The finale volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 49 through 71 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the Iconoclast controversy in correlation with rise of the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century and ending with a description of the causes and progression of the decay of the city of Roman in the 15th century, Gibbon relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments in both Europe and the Middle East ultimately led to the end of Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the state of the city of Roman at time of the Roman Empire’s complete end.

The majority of the 22 chapters deal with the rise of Islam and the resultant political and martial effects that would ultimately determine the fate of the Byzantine Empire. Although beginning with the Iconoclastic controversy that began the schism of the Christian church as the bishop of Rome rose to power in the West, Gibbon used those developments to launch into how Islam rose in Arabia then spread across not only areas once under Roman control but also their long-time Persian rivals in the aftermath of the reconquests of Heraclius. While detailing the internal struggle within the Caliphate period, Gibbon reveals how Emperors attempted to combat this new faith and military force to increasing little effect has time went on.

The thorough retelling of the numerous political changes throughout Asia that affect the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire shifted the focus away from the ‘Roman’ world to locations as far east as China, but revolutions of people in these areas would play into the fortunes of Constantinople. Also playing into fate of Byzantine was the barbarian Christian West that the Emperors called for aid not only from kings but the Pope as well. Unfortunately the resulting Crusades and mercenary arms that went East would inflict a mortal wound to the Empire in 1204 thus beginning a centuries long death spiral that only lasted as long as it did because of internal revolutions with the growing Ottoman Empire until 1453. This dreary recounting of the end of Byzantium is mirrored by Gibbon in his recounting of the history of the city of Rome itself throughout the Middle Ages until the fall of the New Rome in the East.

This finale volume of Gibbon’s life consuming work revealed the struggle of the Eastern Empire of Byzantium to continue against a succession of Islamic powers and its ultimate demise thus completing the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet in retelling the eventual fall of Constantinople, Gibbon paints a huge picture for the reader about how events both near and far away from the Bosporus affected the fortunes for both good and ill of the New Rome. And in recounting the history of the city of Rome throughout the Middle Ages, a reader sheds a tear with Gibbon about the loss of the monuments of both Republic and Empire due to the necessity or vanity of the people of Rome after for the fall of the Western Empire.

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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 2 of 3)

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2 by Edward Gibbon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 27 through 48 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the reign of Gratian and ending with the reconquests of Heraclius in 628 A.D., Gibbons relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments that saw the ultimate split of the Roman Empire, the fall of the West, and the continuance of Roman tradition in the East centered in Constantinople before glancing at the lives of the next 60 emperors of Byzantium over the next 600 years.

The deterioration of the Rome picks up with the reign of Gratian and his eventual overthrow leading to the unification of the Empire under Theodosius the Great before its finale split with the inheritance of his sons and then their successors over the next 50+ years. Throughout the era of House of Theodosius, the various barbarian tribes made inroads into the Western Empire which included two sacks of Rome itself by the Visigoths and Vandals, as the long ineffectual reign of Honorius and his successors allowed the Empire to slip out of their fingers. In the vacuum arose the genesis of future European states such as England, France, and Spain while Italy declined in population and political cohesion as the Pope began to fill not only a religious but political role.

The Eastern Emperors in Constantinople, unlike their family and colleagues in the West, were able to keep their domain intact through military force or bribes to turn away. The bureaucratic framework established by Constantine and reformed by Theodosius was used to keep the Eastern Empire thriving against barbarian incursion and Persian invasions while creating a link to the Roman past even as the eternal city fell from its greatness. Yet as the Eastern Emperors kept alive the Roman imperial tradition while continually orienting it more towards Greek cultural heritage, the internal conflicts of Christianity became a hindrance to social and imperial stability leading to rebellions of either a local or statewide nature or allowing foreign powers to invade.

This middle volume of Gibbon’s monumental work is divided in two, the first focusing on the fall of the Western Empire and the second on how the Eastern Empire survived through various struggles and for a brief time seemed on the verge of reestablishing the whole imperium. Yet throughout, Gibbon weaves not only the history of Rome but also the events of nomadic peoples as far away at China, the theological controversies within Christianity, and the numerous other treads to create a daunting, yet compete look of how Rome fell but yet continued.

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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte CristoThe Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The name Alexandre Dumas is well known, but before the author and his playwright son was the General. Tom Reiss brings the little known founder of the Dumas family into the spotlight in The Black Count, a born slave of noble blood turned Republican general in the service of France. This giant of a man both of stature in the view of his novelist son cast a long shadow since his death.

Born in modern Haiti as a slave to a French nobleman father, Alexandre life suddenly changed when he joined on his father’s return journey to France to take is family title. However after years of dealing with his father behavior, Alexandre joined the French army and with the coming of the French Revolution into Republican government. His daring feats in the field and dedication to the ideals of republicanism sent him quickly up the chain of command to General. Continuing his lead in front style, Alexandre was sent to lead men on every front that France needed him. But it was his feats during the Italian campaign that truly brought him his greatest fame and yet began his long cold relationship with another General, Napoleon. After more spectacular feats in Egypt and yet more conflict with Napoleon, Alexandre decided to return to France but was then captured in southern Italy only to emerge two year later into a new France in which his desire to service his country was rejected by its new leader. Five years after his release, Alexandre died leaving his young son bereaved. Yet, the legendary events of his life would inspire young Alexandre with a lot of material for his epic heroes including one Edmund Dantes.

The Black Count is a thrilling ride following a mixed raced former slave fighting for the republican ideals of his new homeland even as radical political events shift all around him, yet Alexandre Dumas quickly became a hero to the French until his capture and release into an entirely different France that didn’t appreciate him. Tom Reiss brought to life of a little known French Republican general that had a long lasting impact on history outside of the military and political sphere to the enjoyment of readers around the world.

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Chronicles of the Crusades

Chronicles of the CrusadesChronicles of the Crusades by Jean de Joinville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally I skimmed through this book almost a decade ago in preparation for my Senior History Oral Exam and only focused on the overall theme questions listed in my study guide at the time.  However this past week while actually reading Chronicles of the Crusades and found thanks to the excellent translation, a easy read and very informative on its subject matters.  Of the two chroniclers, I found Jean de Joinville the easier to read because of his style of writing.  Most likely the spread and evolution of romantic literature influenced Joinville’s style of being more down-to-earth and slightly easier to read when compared to Geoffrey of Villehardouin, who was more matter-of-fact and somewhat “stiff.”  However, just because Geoffrey’s style is a little “stiffer” doesn’t mean it’s not easy to read nor informative about the establish and early years of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.  If you’re interested about first-hand accounts of the Crusades, specifically the 4th and 7th, this is the book for you.

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The Legend of Bouvines: War, Religion, and Culture in the Middle Ages

The Legend of Bouvines: War, Religion and Culture in the Middle AgesThe Legend of Bouvines: War, Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages by Georges Duby

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I bought Georges Duby’s The Legend of Bouvines to learn about the impact this battle had on the history of France. Duby’s does excellent work in bring out knowledge from the sources concerning the battle and giving an as accurate detail of the battle that he could. Duby’s also gives an account of the battle in the social and cultural, not just political, context that helps give the reader a full sense of how to view the battle.

However, while all those things are positives for the book, the major negative was how Duby’s structured his book from beginning to end. Duby’s chooses to begin his book with the actual battle itself with political background interlaced throughout the account. Then after the battle he starts shaping the social and cultural worlds in which the historical players came from then referring back to sections of the battle a particular point can be shown in action. It wasn’t until the end of the book which Duby’s then discussed the “Legend” of this battle to conclude his book.

While all the information that Duby’s research and prose brought forward was excellent, it lost a lot of it’s impact with how he decided to give structure to his text. Whether it is because the time at which this book was published (1973) or the historiographical conventions of the French, I do not know, but many days to found myself losing concentration on the text. I can only recommend this book to more academically inclined historians.

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