Chapter 2

The Roman empire as an ideal society, guided by atheist philosophers who allow the populace to pursue their primitive beliefs in a spirit of toleration. Yet as soon as we get into specifics we learn that this is not so: the Druids are suppressed in Gaul, the Egyptian cults banned from Rome – though the latter did not work, as “the zeal of fanaticism prevailed over the cold and feeble efforts of policy.”

Rome succeeds by offering citizenship (eventually) to all its subjects, and by the universality of Latin, though this doesn’t quite work for the stuck-up Greeks or the lazy Arabs. Slavery is a bad thing, but it is difficult to emancipate them.

It is impossible to read this chapter in particular without wondering what Gibbon is telling us about British policies in North America, the Caribbean or India.

On the Roman empire’s population:

The total amount of this imperfect calculation would rise to about one hundred and twenty millions of persons; a degree of population which possibly exceeds that of modern Europe, and forms the most numerous society that has ever been united under the same system of government.

Is that still considered to be true? Surely China had a greater population, even in Gibbon’s time?

Herodes Atticus as exemplary private philanthropist, at least as far as funding buildings goes.

I hadn’t realised that Trajan’s column is the height of the original hill which was dug away to make the Forum! A hell of a lot of earth must have been moved; where did it go, I wonder?

Achievements of the Romans in the spread of agriculture.

Trade with India: I should not have been surprised by the extent of Roman seamanship as described in the previous chapter, since they were sailing to Ceylon at every monsoon.

But at the end of the chapter, after a para about the wonderfulness of the Roman empire, he castigates them for a lack of military courage and for failing to produce any great literature, allowing peace to produce indolence. So it’s not quite as perfect a picture as he appeared to be wanting us to believe at first.

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1 Response to Chapter 2

  1. ext_447962 says:

    I’m glad you’re not the only one to persist with complaints like this … it’s cathartic, even if it means they’ll close your local station as revenge!

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