The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful."--The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) by Edward Gibbon
"Mahomet indulged the appetites of a man, and abused the claims of a prophet. A special revelation dispensed him from the laws which he had imposed on his nation: the female sex, without reserve, was abandoned to his desires; and this singular prerogative excited the envy, rather than the scandal, the veneration, rather than the envy, of the devout Mussulmans. If we remember the seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines of the wise Solomon, we shall applaud the modesty of the Arabian, who espoused no more than seventeen or fifteen wives; eleven are enumerated who occupied at Medina their separate apartments round the house of the apostle, and enjoyed in their turns the favor of his conjugal society. What is singular enough, they were all widows, excepting only Ayesha, the daughter of Abubeker. She was doubtless a virgin, since Mahomet consummated his nuptials (such is the premature ripeness of the climate) when she was only nine years of age."--The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) by Edward Gibbon
"The memory of these devastations, for Abderame did not spare the country or the people, was long preserved by tradition ; and the invasion of France by the Moors or Mahometans affords the ground-work of those fables which have been so wildly disfigured in the romances of chivalry and so elegantly adorned by the Italian muse."--The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) by Edward Gibbon
The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a major literary achievement of the 18th century published in six volumes, was written by the celebrated English historian Edward Gibbon. Volume I was published in 1776, and went through six printings (a remarkable feat for its time). Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, VI in 1788-89. The original volumes were published as quartos, a common publishing practice of the time.
Controversy: chapters XV, XVI
When Volume I was first published, it was introduced in quartos. The first two were well received and widely praised. The last quarto in Volume I, especially Chapters XV and XVI, were highly controversial, and Gibbon was attacked as a "paganist".
Gibbon attacked Christian martyrdom as a myth by deconstructing official Church history that had been perpetuated for centuries. Because the Roman Catholic Church had a virtual monopoly on its own history, its own Latin interpretations were considered sacrosanct, and as a result the Church's writings had rarely been questioned before. For Gibbon, however, the Church writings were secondary sources, and he shunned them in favour of primary sources contemporary to the period he was chronicling. This is why Gibbon is referred to as the "first modern historian".
According to Gibbon, Romans were far more tolerant of Christians than Christians were of one another, especially once Christianity gained the upper hand. Christians inflicted far greater casualties on other Christians than were ever inflicted by the Roman Empire. Gibbon extrapolated that the number of Christians executed by other Christian factions far exceeded all the Christian martyrs who died during the three centuries of Christianity under Roman rule. This was in stark contrast to orthodox Church history, which insisted that Christianity won the hearts and minds of people largely because of the inspirational example set by its martyrs. Gibbon demonstrated that the early Church's custom of bestowing the title of martyr on all confessors of faith grossly inflated the actual numbers.
Gibbon compares how insubstantial that number was, by comparing it to more modern terms. He compared both the reigns of Diocletian (284-305), and Charles V (1519-1556) and the electorate of the Holy Roman Empire, making the argument that both were remarkably similar. Both emperors were plagued by continuous war and compelled to excessive taxation; both chose to abdicate as Emperors at roughly the same age; and both chose to lead a quiet life upon their retirement.
Gibbon's critics were scathing in their attack on this particular line of argument. Numerous tracts were published criticizing his work, and Gibbon was forced to defend his work in reply. He left London to finish the following volumes in Lausanne, where he could work in solitude.