After a diligent inquiry, I can discern four principal causes
for the ruin of Rome, which continued to operate in a period of more
than a thousand years. I. The injuries of time and nature. II. The
hostile attacks of the barbarians and Christians. III. The use and
abuse of materials. And IV. The domestic quarrels of the Romans.
"The forests and morasses of Germany were filled with a hardy
race of barbarians, who despised life when it was separated from
freedom; and though on the first attack they seemed to yield to the
weight of the Roman power; they soon, by a signal act of despair,
regained their independence and reminded Augustus of the vicissitude
"The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world,
were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher,
as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful."
"Hope, the best comfort of our imperfect condition, was not denied
to the Roman slave; and if he had any opportunity of rendering himself
either useful or agreeable, he might very naturally expect that the
diligence and fidelity of a few years would be rewarded with the
inestimable gift of freedom."
"It is scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should
discover in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption.
This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced
a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds
of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius
was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated."
"To resume, in a few words, the system of the Imperial government,
as it was instituted by Augustus, and maintained by those princes
who understood their own interest and that of the people, it may
be defined an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth.
The masters of the Roman world surrounded their throne with darkness,
concealed their irresistible strength, and humbly professed themselves
the accountable ministers of the senate, whose supreme decrees they
dictated and obeyed."
"Antoninus diffused order and tranquility over the greatest part
of the earth. His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing
very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than
the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."
"The possession and the enjoyment of property are the pledges
which bind a civilised people to an improved country."
"A warlike nation like the Germans, without either cities, letters,
arts, or money, found some compensation for this savage state in
the enjoyment of liberty. Their poverty secured their freedom, since
our desires and our possessions are the strongest fetters of despotism."
"On the slightest touch the unsupported fabric of their pride
and power fell to the ground. The expiring senate displayed a sudden
lustre, blazed for a moment, and was extinguished for ever."
"The Romans, who so coolly and so concisely mention the acts of
justice which were exercised by the legions, reserve their compassion
and their eloquence for their own sufferings, when the provinces
were invaded and desolated by the arms of the successful Barbarians.
The simple circumstantial narrative (did such a narrative exist)
of the ruin of a single town, of the misfortunes of a single family,
might exhibit an interesting and instructive picture of human manners;
but the tedious repetition of vague and declamatory complaints would
fatigue the attention of the most patient reader."
THE FINAL WORD FROM GIBBON...
(...and the most controversial)