In perhaps the most famous work of history of all, Gibbon studies the Roman Empire and looks at both how it came to power and why it fell in quite so spectacular a fashion.
According to Gibbon, the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens. They had become weak, contracting out their duties to defend themselves to mercenaries and barbarians, who then became so powerful that they were able to take over the Empire.
Romans, he believed, had become unwilling to live the tough military lifestyle of the founders. He also blames the degeneracy of the Roman army and the Praetorian Guard. Gibbon argued that Christianity created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference to the present among Roman citizens, sapping their desire to sacrifice for the empire. He also believed its comparative pacifism tended to hamper the traditional Roman martial spirit.
Gibbon finds the main catalyst of the empire's initial decay and eventual collapse in the Praetorian Guard, set up as a special class of political military unit. He cites many examples of this elite force abusing its power with shocking results, including numerous imperial assassinations and blackmail over staggeringly large pay-packets that equated to millions in today's money.
Never bettered in its analysis, although many have tried.
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