The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Edward Gibbon

Part 14 out of 14

odious to the Saxons, and unknown to the rest of mankind. The
pride and curiosity of the Norman conquerors prompted them to
inquire into the ancient history of Britain: they listened with
fond credulity to the tale of Arthur, and eagerly applauded the
merit of a prince who had triumphed over the Saxons, their common
enemies. His romance, transcribed in the Latin of Jeffrey of
Monmouth, and afterwards translated into the fashionable idiom of
the times, was enriched with the various, though incoherent,
ornaments which were familiar to the experience, the learning, or
the fancy, of the twelfth century. The progress of a Phrygian
colony, from the Tyber to the Thames, was easily ingrafted on the
fable of the Aeneid; and the royal ancestors of Arthur derived
their origin from Troy, and claimed their alliance with the
Caesars. His trophies were decorated with captive provinces and
Imperial titles; and his Danish victories avenged the recent
injuries of his country. The gallantry and superstition of the
British hero, his feasts and tournaments, and the memorable
institution of his Knights of the Round Table, were faithfully
copied from the reigning manners of chivalry; and the fabulous
exploits of Uther's son appear less incredible than the
adventures which were achieved by the enterprising valor of the
Normans. Pilgrimage, and the holy wars, introduced into Europe
the specious miracles of Arabian magic. Fairies and giants,
flying dragons, and enchanted palaces, were blended with the more
simple fictions of the West; and the fate of Britain depended on
the art, or the predictions, of Merlin. Every nation embraced
and adorned the popular romance of Arthur, and the Knights of the
Round Table: their names were celebrated in Greece and Italy; and
the voluminous tales of Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram were
devoutly studied by the princes and nobles, who disregarded the
genuine heroes and historians of antiquity. At length the light
of science and reason was rekindled; the talisman was broken; the
visionary fabric melted into air; and by a natural, though
unjust, reverse of the public opinion, the severity of the
present age is inclined to question the existence of Arthur. ^141

[Footnote 138: Bede, who in his chronicle (p. 28) places
Ambrosius under the reign of Zeno, (A.D. 474 - 491,) observes,
that his parents had been "purpura induti;" which he explains, in
his ecclesiastical history, by "regium nomen et insigne
ferentibus," (l. i. c. 16, p. 53.) The expression of Nennius (c.
44, p. 110, edit. Gale) is still more singular, "Unus de
consulibus gentis Romanicae est pater meus."]

[Footnote 139: By the unanimous, though doubtful, conjecture of
our antiquarians, Ambrosius is confounded with Natanleod, who
(A.D. 508) lost his own life, and five thousand of his subjects,
in a battle against Cerdic, the West Saxon, (Chron. Saxon. p. 17,

[Footnote 140: As I am a stranger to the Welsh bards, Myrdhin,
Llomarch, and Taliessin, my faith in the existence and exploits
of Arthur principally rests on the simple and circumstantial
testimony of Nennius. (Hist. Brit. c. 62, 63, p. 114.) Mr.
Whitaker, (Hist. of Manchester, vol. ii. p. 31 - 71) had framed
an interesting, and even probable, narrative of the wars of
Arthur: though it is impossible to allow the reality of the round

Note: I presume that Gibbon means Llywarch Hen, or the Aged.
- The Elegies of this Welsh prince and bard have been published
by Mr. Owen; to whose works and in the Myvyrian Archaeology,
slumbers much curious information on the subject of Welsh
tradition and poetry. But the Welsh antiquarians have never
obtained a hearing from the public; they have had no Macpherson
to compensate for his corruption of their poetic legends by
forcing them into popularity. - See also Mr. Sharon Turner's
Essay on the Welsh Bards. - M.]
[Footnote 141: The progress of romance, and the state of
learning, in the middle ages, are illustrated by Mr. Thomas
Warton, with the taste of a poet, and the minute diligence of an
antiquarian. I have derived much instruction from the two
learned dissertations prefixed to the first volume of his History
of English Poetry.

Note: These valuable dissertations should not now be read
without the notes and preliminary essay of the late editor, Mr.
Price, which, in point of taste and fulness of information, are
worthy of accompanying and completing those of Warton. - M.]
Resistance, if it cannot avert, must increase the miseries
of conquest; and conquest has never appeared more dreadful and
destructive than in the hands of the Saxons; who hated the valor
of their enemies, disdained the faith of treaties, and violated,
without remorse, the most sacred objects of the Christian
worship. The fields of battle might be traced, almost in every
district, by monuments of bones; the fragments of falling towers
were stained with blood; the last of the Britons, without
distinction of age or sex, was massacred, ^142 in the ruins of
Anderida; ^143 and the repetition of such calamities was frequent
and familiar under the Saxon heptarchy. The arts and religion,
the laws and language, which the Romans had so carefully planted
in Britain, were extirpated by their barbarous successors. After
the destruction of the principal churches, the bishops, who had
declined the crown of martyrdom, retired with the holy relics
into Wales and Armorica; the remains of their flocks were left
destitute of any spiritual food; the practice, and even the
remembrance, of Christianity were abolished; and the British
clergy might obtain some comfort from the damnation of the
idolatrous strangers. The kings of France maintained the
privileges of their Roman subjects; but the ferocious Saxons
trampled on the laws of Rome, and of the emperors. The
proceedings of civil and criminal jurisdiction, the titles of
honor, the forms of office, the ranks of society, and even the
domestic rights of marriage, testament, and inheritance, were
finally suppressed; and the indiscriminate crowd of noble and
plebeian slaves was governed by the traditionary customs, which
had been coarsely framed for the shepherds and pirates of
Germany. The language of science, of business, and of
conversation, which had been introduced by the Romans, was lost
in the general desolation. A sufficient number of Latin or
Celtic words might be assumed by the Germans, to express their
new wants and ideas; ^144 but those illiterate Pagans preserved
and established the use of their national dialect. ^145 Almost
every name, conspicuous either in the church or state, reveals
its Teutonic origin; ^146 and the geography of England was
universally inscribed with foreign characters and appellations.
The example of a revolution, so rapid and so complete, may not
easily be found; but it will excite a probable suspicion, that
the arts of Rome were less deeply rooted in Britain than in Gaul
or Spain; and that the native rudeness of the country and its
inhabitants was covered by a thin varnish of Italian manners.
[Footnote 142: Hoc anno (490) Aella et Cissa obsederunt
Andredes-Ceaster; et interfecerunt omnes qui id incoluerunt; adeo
ut ne unus Brito ibi superstes fuerit, (Chron. Saxon. p. 15;) an
expression more dreadful in its simplicity, than all the vague
and tedious lamentations of the British Jeremiah.]
[Footnote 143: Andredes-Ceaster, or Anderida, is placed by Camden
(Britannia, vol. i. p. 258) at Newenden, in the marshy grounds of
Kent, which might be formerly covered by the sea, and on the edge
of the great forest (Anderida) which overspread so large a
portion of Hampshire and Sussex.]
[Footnote 144: Dr. Johnson affirms, that few English words are of
British extraction. Mr. Whitaker, who understands the British
language, has discovered more than three thousand, and actually
produces a long and various catalogue, (vol. ii. p. 235 - 329.)
It is possible, indeed, that many of these words may have been
imported from the Latin or Saxon into the native idiom of

Note: Dr. Prichard's very curious researches, which connect
the Celtic, as well as the Teutonic languages with the
Indo-European class, make it still more difficult to decide
between the Celtic or Teutonic origin of English words. - See
Prichard on the Eastern Origin of the Celtic Nations Oxford,
1831. - M.]

[Footnote 145: In the beginning of the seventh century, the
Franks and the Anglo-Saxons mutually understood each other's
language, which was derived from the same Teutonic root, (Bede,
l. i. c. 25, p. 60.)]

[Footnote 146: After the first generation of Italian, or
Scottish, missionaries, the dignities of the church were filled
with Saxon proselytes.]
This strange alteration has persuaded historians, and even
philosophers, that the provincials of Britain were totally
exterminated; and that the vacant land was again peopled by the
perpetual influx, and rapid increase, of the German colonies.
Three hundred thousand Saxons are said to have obeyed the summons
of Hengist; ^147 the entire emigation of the Angles was attested,
in the age of Bede, by the solitude of their native country; ^148
and our experience has shown the free propagation of the human
race, if they are cast on a fruitful wilderness, where their
steps are unconfined, and their subsistence is plentiful. The
Saxon kingdoms displayed the face of recent discovery and
cultivation; the towns were small, the villages were distant; the
husbandry was languid and unskilful; four sheep were equivalent
to an acre of the best land; ^149 an ample space of wood and
morass was resigned to the vague dominion of nature; and the
modern bishopric of Durham, the whole territory from the Tyne to
the Tees, had returned to its primitive state of a savage and
solitary forest. ^150 Such imperfect population might have been
supplied, in some generations, by the English colonies; but
neither reason nor facts can justify the unnatural supposition,
that the Saxons of Britain remained alone in the desert which
they had subdued. After the sanguinary Barbarians had secured
their dominion, and gratified their revenge, it was their
interest to preserve the peasants as well as the cattle, of the
unresisting country. In each successive revolution, the patient
herd becomes the property of its new masters; and the salutary
compact of food and labor is silently ratified by their mutual
necessities. Wilfrid, the apostle of Sussex, ^151 accepted from
his royal convert the gift of the Vpeninsula of Selsey, near
Chichester, with the persons and property of its inhabitants, who
then amounted to eighty-seven families. He released them at once
from spiritual and temporal bondage; and two hundred and fifty
slaves of both sexes were baptized by their indulgent master.
The kingdom of Sussex, which spread from the sea to the Thames,
contained seven thousand families; twelve hundred were ascribed
to the Isle of Wight; and, if we multiply this vague computation,
it may seem probable, that England was cultivated by a million of
servants, or villains, who were attached to the estates of their
arbitrary landlords. The indigent Barbarians were often tempted
to sell their children, or themselves into perpetual, and even
foreign, bondage; ^152 yet the special exemptions which were
granted to national slaves, ^153 sufficiently declare that they
were much less numerous than the strangers and captives, who had
lost their liberty, or changed their masters, by the accidents of
war. When time and religion had mitigated the fierce spirit of
the Anglo-Saxons, the laws encouraged the frequent practice of
manumission; and their subjects, of Welsh or Cambrian extraction,
assumed the respectable station of inferior freemen, possessed of
lands, and entitled to the rights of civil society. ^154 Such
gentle treatment might secure the allegiance of a fierce people,
who had been recently subdued on the confines of Wales and
Cornwall. The sage Ina, the legislator of Wessex, united the two
nations in the bands of domestic alliance; and four British lords
of Somersetshire may be honorably distinguished in the court of a
Saxon monarch. ^155

[Footnote 147: Carte's History of England, vol. i. p. 195. He
quotes the British historians; but I much fear, that Jeffrey of
Monmouth (l. vi. c. 15) is his only witness.]

[Footnote 148: Bede, Hist. Ecclesiast. l. i. c. 15, p. 52. The
fact is probable, and well attested: yet such was the loose
intermixture of the German tribes, that we find, in a subsequent
period, the law of the Angli and Warini of Germany, (Lindenbrog.
Codex, p. 479 - 486.)]

[Footnote 149: See Dr. Henry's useful and laborious History of
Great Britain, vol. ii. p. 388.]

[Footnote 150: Quicquid (says John of Tinemouth) inter Tynam et
Tesam fluvios extitit, sola eremi vastitudo tunc temporis fuit,
et idcirco nullius ditioni servivit, eo quod sola indomitorum et
sylvestrium animalium spelunca et habitatio fuit, (apud Carte,
vol. i. p. 195.) From bishop Nicholson (English Historical
Library, p. 65, 98) I understand that fair copies of John of
Tinemouth's ample collections are preserved in the libraries of
Oxford, Lambeth, &c.]

[Footnote 151: See the mission of Wilfrid, &c., in Bede, Hist.
Eccles. l. iv. c. 13, 16, p. 155, 156, 159.]

[Footnote 152: From the concurrent testimony of Bede (l. ii. c.
1, p. 78) and William of Malmsbury, (l. iii. p. 102,) it appears,
that the Anglo- Saxons, from the first to the last age, persisted
in this unnatural practice. Their youths were publicly sold in
the market of Rome.]

[Footnote 153: According to the laws of Ina, they could not be
lawfully sold beyond the seas.]

[Footnote 154: The life of a Wallus, or Cambricus, homo, who
possessed a hyde of land, is fixed at 120 shillings, by the same
laws (of Ina, tit. xxxii. in Leg. Anglo-Saxon. p. 20) which
allowed 200 shillings for a free Saxon, 1200 for a Thane, (see
likewise Leg. Anglo-Saxon. p. 71.) We may observe, that these
legislators, the West Saxons and Mercians, continued their
British conquests after they became Christians. The laws of the
four kings of Kent do not condescend to notice the existence of
any subject Britons.]
[Footnote 155: See Carte's Hist. of England, vol. i. p. 278.]

The independent Britons appear to have relapsed into the state
of original barbarism, from whence they had been
imperfectly reclaimed. Separated by their enemies from the rest
of mankind, they soon became an object of scandal and abhorrence
to the Catholic world. ^156 Christianity was still professed in
the mountains of Wales; but the rude schismatics, in the form of
the clerical tonsure, and in the day of the celebration of
Easter, obstinately resisted the imperious mandates of the Roman
pontiffs. The use of the Latin language was insensibly abolished,
and the Britons were deprived of the art and learning which Italy
communicated to her Saxon proselytes. In Wales and Armorica, the
Celtic tongue, the native idiom of the West, was preserved and
propagated; and the Bards, who had been the companions of the
Druids, were still protected, in the sixteenth century, by the
laws of Elizabeth. Their chief, a respectable officer of the
courts of Pengwern, or Aberfraw, or Caermarthen, accompanied the
king's servants to war: the monarchy of the Britons, which he
sung in the front of battle, excited their courage, and justified
their depredations; and the songster claimed for his legitimate
prize the fairest heifer of the spoil. His subordinate
ministers, the masters and disciples of vocal and instrumental
music, visited, in their respective circuits, the royal, the
noble, and the plebeian houses; and the public poverty, almost
exhausted by the clergy, was oppressed by the importunate demands
of the bards. Their rank and merit were ascertained by solemn
trials, and the strong belief of supernatural inspiration exalted
the fancy of the poet, and of his audience. ^157 The last
retreats of Celtic freedom, the extreme territories of Gaul and
Britain, were less adapted to agriculture than to pasturage: the
wealth of the Britons consisted in their flocks and herds; milk
and flesh were their ordinary food; and bread was sometimes
esteemed, or rejected, as a foreign luxury. Liberty had peopled
the mountains of Wales and the morasses of Armorica; but their
populousness has been maliciously ascribed to the loose practice
of polygamy; and the houses of these licentious barbarians have
been supposed to contain ten wives, and perhaps fifty children.
^158 Their disposition was rash and choleric; they were bold in
action and in speech; ^159 and as they were ignorant of the arts
of peace, they alternately indulged their passions in foreign and
domestic war. The cavalry of Armorica, the spearmen of Gwent,
and the archers of Merioneth, were equally formidable; but their
poverty could seldom procure either shields or helmets; and the
inconvenient weight would have retarded the speed and agility of
their desultory operations. One of the greatest of the English
monarchs was requested to satisfy the curiosity of a Greek
emperor concerning the state of Britain; and Henry II. could
assert, from his personal experience, that Wales was inhabited by
a race of naked warriors, who encountered, without fear, the
defensive armor of their enemies. ^160

[Footnote 156: At the conclusion of his history, (A.D. 731,) Bede
describes the ecclesiastical state of the island, and censures
the implacable, though impotent, hatred of the Britons against
the English nation, and the Catholic church, (l. v. c. 23, p.

[Footnote 157: Mr. Pennant's Tour in Wales (p. 426 - 449) has
furnished me with a curious and interesting account of the Welsh
bards. In the year 1568, a session was held at Caerwys by the
special command of Queen Elizabeth, and regular degrees in vocal
and instrumental music were conferred on fifty-five minstrels.
The prize (a silver harp) was adjudged by the Mostyn family.]
[Footnote 158: Regio longe lateque diffusa, milite, magis quam
credibile sit, referta. Partibus equidem in illis miles unus
quinquaginta generat, sortitus more barbaro denas aut amplius
uxores. This reproach of William of Poitiers (in the Historians
of France, tom. xi. p. 88) is disclaimed by the Benedictine

[Footnote 159: Giraldus Cambrensis confines this gift of bold and
ready eloquence to the Romans, the French, and the Britons. The
malicious Welshman insinuates that the English taciturnity might
possibly be the effect of their servitude under the Normans.]
[Footnote 160: The picture of Welsh and Armorican manners is
drawn from Giraldus, (Descript. Cambriae, c. 6 - 15, inter
Script. Camden. p. 886 - 891,) and the authors quoted by the Abbe
de Vertot, (Hist. Critique tom. ii. p. 259 - 266.)]

By the revolution of Britain, the limits of science, as well
as of empire, were contracted. The dark cloud, which had been
cleared by the Phoenician discoveries, and finally dispelled by
the arms of Caesar, again settled on the shores of the Atlantic,
and a Roman province was again lost among the fabulous Islands of
the Ocean. One hundred and fifty years after the reign of
Honorius, the gravest historian of the times ^161 describes the
wonders of a remote isle, whose eastern and western parts are
divided by an antique wall, the boundary of life and death, or,
more properly, of truth and fiction. The east is a fair country,
inhabited by a civilized people: the air is healthy, the waters
are pure and plentiful, and the earth yields her regular and
fruitful increase. In the west, beyond the wall, the air is
infectious and mortal; the ground is covered with serpents; and
this dreary solitude is the region of departed spirits, who are
transported from the opposite shores in substantial boats, and by
living rowers. Some families of fishermen, the subjects of the
Franks, are excused from tribute, in consideration of the
mysterious office which is performed by these Charons of the
ocean. Each in his turn is summoned, at the hour of midnight, to
hear the voices, and even the names, of the ghosts: he is
sensible of their weight, and he feels himself impelled by an
unknown, but irresistible power. After this dream of fancy, we
read with astonishment, that the name of this island is Brittia;
that it lies in the ocean, against the mouth of the Rhine, and
less than thirty miles from the continent; that it is possessed
by three nations, the Frisians, the Angles, and the Britons; and
that some Angles had appeared at Constantinople, in the train of
the French ambassadors. From these ambassadors Procopius might
be informed of a singular, though not improbable, adventure,
which announces the spirit, rather than the delicacy, of an
English heroine. She had been betrothed to Radiger, king of the
Varni, a tribe of Germans who touched the ocean and the Rhine;
but the perfidious lover was tempted, by motives of policy, to
prefer his father's widow, the sister of Theodebert, king of the
Franks. ^162 The forsaken princess of the Angles, instead of
bewailing, revenged her disgrace. Her warlike subjects are said
to have been ignorant of the use, and even of the form, of a
horse; but she boldly sailed from Britain to the mouth of the
Rhine, with a fleet of four hundred ships, and an army of one
hundred thousand men. After the loss of a battle, the captive
Radiger implored the mercy of his victorious bride, who
generously pardoned his offence, dismissed her rival, and
compelled the king of the Varni to discharge with honor and
fidelity the duties of a husband. ^163 This gallant exploit
appears to be the last naval enterprise of the Anglo-Saxons. The
arts of navigation, by which they acquired the empire of Britain
and of the sea, were soon neglected by the indolent Barbarians,
who supinely renounced all the commercial advantages of their
insular situation. Seven independent kingdoms were agitated by
perpetual discord; and the British world was seldom connected,
either in peace or war, with the nations of the Continent. ^164
[Footnote 161: See Procopius de Bell. Gothic. l. iv. c. 20, p.
620 - 625. The Greek historian is himself so confounded by the
wonders which he relates, that he weakly attempts to distinguish
the islands of Britia and Britain, which he has identified by so
many inseparable circumstances.]
[Footnote 162: Theodebert, grandson of Clovis, and king of
Austrasia, was the most powerful and warlike prince of the age;
and this remarkable adventure may be placed between the years 534
and 547, the extreme terms of his reign. His sister
Theudechildis retired to Sens, where she founded monasteries, and
distributed alms, (see the notes of the Benedictine editors, in
tom. ii. p. 216.) If we may credit the praises of Fortunatus, (l.
vi. carm. 5, in tom. ii. p. 507,) Radiger was deprived of a most
valuable wife.]

[Footnote 163: Perhaps she was the sister of one of the princes
or chiefs of the Angles, who landed in 527, and the following
years, between the Humber and the Thames, and gradually founded
the kingdoms of East Anglia and Mercia. The English writers are
ignorant of her name and existence: but Procopius may have
suggested to Mr. Rowe the character and situation of Rodogune in
the tragedy of the Royal Convert.]

[Footnote 164: In the copious history of Gregory of Tours, we
cannot find any traces of hostile or friendly intercourse between
France and England except in the marriage of the daughter of
Caribert, king of Paris, quam regis cujusdam in Cantia filius
matrimonio copulavit, (l. ix. c. 28, in tom. ii. p. 348.) The
bishop of Tours ended his history and his life almost immediately
before the conversion of Kent.]

I have now accomplished the laborious narrative of the
decline and fall of the Roman empire, from the fortunate age of
Trajan and the Antonines, to its total extinction in the West,
about five centuries after the Christian era. At that unhappy
period, the Saxons fiercely struggled with the natives for the
possession of Britain: Gaul and Spain were divided between the
powerful monarchies of the Franks and Visigoths, and the
dependent kingdoms of the Suevi and Burgundians: Africa was
exposed to the cruel persecution of the Vandals, and the savage
insults of the Moors: Rome and Italy, as far as the banks of the
Danube, were afflicted by an army of Barbarian mercenaries, whose
lawless tyranny was succeeded by the reign of Theodoric the
Ostrogoth. All the subjects of the empire, who, by the use of
the Latin language, more particularly deserved the name and
privileges of Romans, were oppressed by the disgrace and
calamities of foreign conquest; and the victorious nations of
Germany established a new system of manners and government in the
western countries of Europe. The majesty of Rome was faintly
represented by the princes of Constantinople, the feeble and
imaginary successors of Augustus. Yet they continued to reign
over the East, from the Danube to the Nile and Tigris; the Gothic
and Vandal kingdoms of Italy and Africa were subverted by the
arms of Justinian; and the history of the Greek emperors may
still afford a long series of instructive lessons, and
interesting revolutions.

Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis.

Part VI.

General Observations On The Fall Of The Roman Empire In The West.

The Greeks, after their country had been reduced into a
province, imputed the triumphs of Rome, not to the merit, but to
the fortune, of the republic. The inconstant goddess, who so
blindly distributes and resumes her favors, had now consented
(such was the language of envious flattery) to resign her wings,
to descend from her globe, and to fix her firm and immutable
throne on the banks of the Tyber. ^1 A wiser Greek, who has
composed, with a philosophic spirit, the memorable history of his
own times, deprived his countrymen of this vain and delusive
comfort, by opening to their view the deep foundations of the
greatness of Rome. ^2 The fidelity of the citizens to each other,
and to the state, was confirmed by the habits of education, and
the prejudices of religion. Honor, as well as virtue, was the
principle of the republic; the ambitious citizens labored to
deserve the solemn glories of a triumph; and the ardor of the
Roman youth was kindled into active emulation, as often as they
beheld the domestic images of their ancestors. ^3 The temperate
struggles of the patricians and plebeians had finally established
the firm and equal balance of the constitution; which united the
freedom of popular assemblies, with the authority and wisdom of a
senate, and the executive powers of a regal magistrate. When the
consul displayed the standard of the republic, each citizen bound
himself, by the obligation of an oath, to draw his sword in the
cause of his country, till he had discharged the sacred duty by a
military service of ten years. This wise institution continually
poured into the field the rising generations of freemen and
soldiers; and their numbers were reenforced by the warlike and
populous states of Italy, who, after a brave resistance, had
yielded to the valor and embraced the alliance, of the Romans.
The sage historian, who excited the virtue of the younger Scipio,
and beheld the ruin of Carthage, ^4 has accurately described
their military system; their levies, arms, exercises,
subordination, marches, encampments; and the invincible legion,
superior in active strength to the Macedonian phalanx of Philip
and Alexander. From these institutions of peace and war Polybius
has deduced the spirit and success of a people, incapable of
fear, and impatient of repose. The ambitious design of conquest,
which might have been defeated by the seasonable conspiracy of
mankind, was attempted and achieved; and the perpetual violation
of justice was maintained by the political virtues of prudence
and courage. The arms of the republic, sometimes vanquished in
battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid steps to
the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the Ocean; and the
images of gold, or silver, or brass, that might serve to
represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken
by the iron monarchy of Rome. ^5

[Footnote 1: Such are the figurative expressions of Plutarch,
(Opera, tom. ii. p. 318, edit. Wechel,) to whom, on the faith of
his son Lamprias, (Fabricius, Bibliot. Graec. tom. iii. p. 341,)
I shall boldly impute the malicious declamation. The same
opinions had prevailed among the Greeks two hundred and fifty
years before Plutarch; and to confute them is the professed
intention of Polybius, (Hist. l. i. p. 90, edit. Gronov. Amstel.
[Footnote 2: See the inestimable remains of the sixth book of
Polybius, and many other parts of his general history,
particularly a digression in the seventeenth book, in which he
compares the phalanx and the legion.]
[Footnote 3: Sallust, de Bell. Jugurthin. c. 4. Such were the
generous professions of P. Scipio and Q. Maximus. The Latin
historian had read and most probably transcribes, Polybius, their
contemporary and friend.]
[Footnote 4: While Carthage was in flames, Scipio repeated two
lines of the Iliad, which express the destruction of Troy,
acknowledging to Polybius, his friend and preceptor, (Polyb. in
Excerpt. de Virtut. et Vit. tom. ii. p. 1455 - 1465,) that while
he recollected the vicissitudes of human affairs, he inwardly
applied them to the future calamities of Rome, (Appian. in
Libycis, p. 136, edit. Toll.)]

[Footnote 5: See Daniel, ii. 31 - 40. "And the fourth kingdom
shall be strong as iron; forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and
subdueth all things." The remainder of the prophecy (the mixture
of iron and clay) was accomplished, according to St. Jerom, in
his own time. Sicut enim in principio nihil Romano Imperio
fortius et durius, ita in fine rerum nihil imbecillius; quum et
in bellis civilibus et adversus diversas nationes, aliarum
gentium barbararum auxilio indigemus, (Opera, tom. v. p. 572.)]
The rise of a city, which swelled into an empire, may
deserve, as a singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic
mind. But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable
effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle
of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of
conquest; and as soon as time or accident had removed the
artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the
pressure of its own weight. The story of its ruin is simple and
obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was
destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so
long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the
vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom
of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the
purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the
public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting
the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their
sovereign and to the enemy; the vigor of the military government
was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions
of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge
of Barbarians.
The decay of Rome has been frequently ascribed to the
translation of the seat of empire; but this History has already
shown, that the powers of government were divided, rather than
removed. The throne of Constantinople was erected in the East;
while the West was still possessed by a series of emperors who
held their residence in Italy, and claimed their equal
inheritance of the legions and provinces. This dangerous novelty
impaired the strength, and fomented the vices, of a double reign:
the instruments of an oppressive and arbitrary system were
multiplied; and a vain emulation of luxury, not of merit, was
introduced and supported between the degenerate successors of
Theodosius. Extreme distress, which unites the virtue of a free
people, imbitters the factions of a declining monarchy. The
hostile favorites of Arcadius and Honorius betrayed the republic
to its common enemies; and the Byzantine court beheld with
indifference, perhaps with pleasure, the disgrace of Rome, the
misfortunes of Italy, and the loss of the West. Under the
succeeding reigns, the alliance of the two empires was restored;
but the aid of the Oriental Romans was tardy, doubtful, and
ineffectual; and the national schism of the Greeks and Latins was
enlarged by the perpetual difference of language and manners, of
interests, and even of religion. Yet the salutary event approved
in some measure the judgment of Constantine. During a long
period of decay, his impregnable city repelled the victorious
armies of Barbarians, protected the wealth of Asia, and
commanded, both in peace and war, the important straits which
connect the Euxine and Mediterranean Seas. The foundation of
Constantinople more essentially contributed to the preservation
of the East, than to the ruin of the West.

As the happiness of a future life is the great object of
religion, we may hear without surprise or scandal, that the
introduction or at least the abuse, of Christianity had some
influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire. The
clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and
pusillanimity: the active virtues of society were discouraged;
and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the
cloister: a large portion of public and private wealth was
consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion; and
the soldiers' pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both
sexes, who could only plead the merits of abstinence and
chastity. ^* Faith, zeal, curiosity, and the more earthly
passions of malice and ambition, kindled the flame of theological
discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by
religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody, and
always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted
from camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new
species of tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret
enemies of their country. Yet party spirit, however pernicious
or absurd, is a principle of union as well as of dissension. The
bishops, from eighteen hundred pulpits, inculcated the duty of
passive obedience to a lawful and orthodox sovereign; their
frequent assemblies, and perpetual correspondence, maintained the
communion of distant churches; and the benevolent temper of the
gospel was strengthened, though confined, by the spiritual
alliance of the Catholics. The sacred indolence of the monks was
devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age; but if
superstition had not afforded a decent retreat, the same vices
would have tempted the unworthy Romans to desert, from baser
motives, the standard of the republic. Religious precepts are
easily obeyed, which indulge and sanctify the natural
inclinations of their votaries; but the pure and genuine
influence of Christianity may be traced in its beneficial, though
imperfect, effects on the Barbarian proselytes of the North. If
the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of
Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the
fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors.
[Footnote *: It might be a curious speculation, how far the purer
morals of the genuine and more active Christians may have
compensated, in the population of the Roman empire, for the
secession of such numbers into inactive and unproductive
celibacy. - M.]

This awful revolution may be usefully applied to the
instruction of the present age. It is the duty of a patriot to
prefer and promote the exclusive interest and glory of his native
country: but a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views,
and to consider Europe as one great republic whose various
inhabitants have obtained almost the same level of politeness and
cultivation. The balance of power will continue to fluctuate,
and the prosperity of our own, or the neighboring kingdoms, may
be alternately exalted or depressed; but these partial events
cannot essentially injure our general state of happiness, the
system of arts, and laws, and manners, which so advantageously
distinguish, above the rest of mankind, the Europeans and their
colonies. The savage nations of the globe are the common enemies
of civilized society; and we may inquire, with anxious curiosity,
whether Europe is still threatened with a repetition of those
calamities, which formerly oppressed the arms and institutions of
Rome. Perhaps the same reflections will illustrate the fall of
that mighty empire, and explain the probable causes of our actual

I. The Romans were ignorant of the extent of their danger,
and the number of their enemies. Beyond the Rhine and Danube,
the Northern countries of Europe and Asia were filled with
innumerable tribes of hunters and shepherds, poor, voracious, and
turbulent; bold in arms, and impatient to ravish the fruits of
industry. The Barbarian world was agitated by the rapid impulse
of war; and the peace of Gaul or Italy was shaken by the distant
revolutions of China. The Huns, who fled before a victorious
enemy, directed their march towards the West; and the torrent was
swelled by the gradual accession of captives and allies. The
flying tribes who yielded to the Huns assumed in their turn the
spirit of conquest; the endless column of Barbarians pressed on
the Roman empire with accumulated weight; and, if the foremost
were destroyed, the vacant space was instantly replenished by new
assailants. Such formidable emigrations can no longer issue from
the North; and the long repose, which has been imputed to the
decrease of population, is the happy consequence of the progress
of arts and agriculture. Instead of some rude villages, thinly
scattered among its woods and morasses, Germany now produces a
list of two thousand three hundred walled towns: the Christian
kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Poland, have been successively
established; and the Hanse merchants, with the Teutonic knights,
have extended their colonies along the coast of the Baltic, as
far as the Gulf of Finland. From the Gulf of Finland to the
Eastern Ocean, Russia now assumes the form of a powerful and
civilized empire. The plough, the loom, and the forge, are
introduced on the banks of the Volga, the Oby, and the Lena; and
the fiercest of the Tartar hordes have been taught to tremble and
obey. The reign of independent Barbarism is now contracted to a
narrow span; and the remnant of Calmucks or Uzbecks, whose forces
may be almost numbered, cannot seriously excite the apprehensions
of the great republic of Europe. ^6 Yet this apparent security
should not tempt us to forget, that new enemies, and unknown
dangers, may possibly arise from some obscure people, scarcely
visible in the map of the world, The Arabs or Saracens, who
spread their conquests from India to Spain, had languished in
poverty and contempt, till Mahomet breathed into those savage
bodies the soul of enthusiasm.

[Footnote 6: The French and English editors of the Genealogical
History of the Tartars have subjoined a curious, though
imperfect, description, of their present state. We might
question the independence of the Calmucks, or Eluths, since they
have been recently vanquished by the Chinese, who, in the year
1759, subdued the Lesser Bucharia, and advanced into the country
of Badakshan, near the source of the Oxus, (Memoires sur les
Chinois, tom. i. p. 325 - 400.) But these conquests are
precarious, nor will I venture to insure the safety of the
Chinese empire.]

II. The empire of Rome was firmly established by the
singular and perfect coalition of its members. The subject
nations, resigning the hope, and even the wish, of independence,
embraced the character of Roman citizens; and the provinces of
the West were reluctantly torn by the Barbarians from the bosom
of their mother country. ^7 But this union was purchased by the
loss of national freedom and military spirit; and the servile
provinces, destitute of life and motion, expected their safety
from the mercenary troops and governors, who were directed by the
orders of a distant court. The happiness of a hundred millions
depended on the personal merit of one or two men, perhaps
children, whose minds were corrupted by education, luxury, and
despotic power. The deepest wounds were inflicted on the empire
during the minorities of the sons and grandsons of Theodosius;
and, after those incapable princes seemed to attain the age of
manhood, they abandoned the church to the bishops, the state to
the eunuchs, and the provinces to the Barbarians. Europe is now
divided into twelve powerful, though unequal kingdoms, three
respectable commonwealths, and a variety of smaller, though
independent, states: the chances of royal and ministerial talents
are multiplied, at least, with the number of its rulers; and a
Julian, or Semiramis, may reign in the North, while Arcadius and
Honorius again slumber on the thrones of the South. The abuses of
tyranny are restrained by the mutual influence of fear and shame;
republics have acquired order and stability; monarchies have
imbibed the principles of freedom, or, at least, of moderation;
and some sense of honor and justice is introduced into the most
defective constitutions by the general manners of the times. In
peace, the progress of knowledge and industry is accelerated by
the emulation of so many active rivals: in war, the European
forces are exercised by temperate and undecisive contests. If a
savage conqueror should issue from the deserts of Tartary, he
must repeatedly vanquish the robust peasants of Russia, the
numerous armies of Germany, the gallant nobles of France, and the
intrepid freemen of Britain; who, perhaps, might confederate for
their common defence. Should the victorious Barbarians carry
slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean, ten thousand
vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of
civilized society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the
American world, which is already filled with her colonies and
institutions. ^8

[Footnote 7: The prudent reader will determine how far this
general proposition is weakened by the revolt of the Isaurians,
the independence of Britain and Armorica, the Moorish tribes, or
the Bagaudae of Gaul and Spain, (vol. i. p. 328, vol. iii. p.
315, vol. iii. p. 372, 480.)]
[Footnote 8: America now contains about six millions of European
blood and descent; and their numbers, at least in the North, are
continually increasing. Whatever may be the changes of their
political situation, they must preserve the manners of Europe;
and we may reflect with some pleasure, that the English language
will probably be diffused ever an immense and populous
III. Cold, poverty, and a life of danger and fatigue,
fortify the strength and courage of Barbarians. In every age
they have oppressed the polite and peaceful nations of China,
India, and Persia, who neglected, and still neglect, to
counterbalance these natural powers by the resources of military
art. The warlike states of antiquity, Greece, Macedonia, and
Rome, educated a race of soldiers; exercised their bodies,
disciplined their courage, multiplied their forces by regular
evolutions, and converted the iron, which they possessed, into
strong and serviceable weapons. But this superiority insensibly
declined with their laws and manners; and the feeble policy of
Constantine and his successors armed and instructed, for the ruin
of the empire, the rude valor of the Barbarian mercenaries. The
military art has been changed by the invention of gunpowder;
which enables man to command the two most powerful agents of
nature, air and fire. Mathematics, chemistry, mechanics,
architecture, have been applied to the service of war; and the
adverse parties oppose to each other the most elaborate modes of
attack and of defence. Historians may indignantly observe, that
the preparations of a siege would found and maintain a
flourishing colony; ^9 yet we cannot be displeased, that the
subversion of a city should be a work of cost and difficulty; or
that an industrious people should be protected by those arts,
which survive and supply the decay of military virtue. Cannon
and fortifications now form an impregnable barrier against the
Tartar horse; and Europe is secure from any future irruptions of
Barbarians; since, before they can conquer, they must cease to be
barbarous. Their gradual advances in the science of war would
always be accompanied, as we may learn from the example of
Russia, with a proportionable improvement in the arts of peace
and civil policy; and they themselves must deserve a place among
the polished nations whom they subdue.
[Footnote 9: On avoit fait venir (for the siege of Turin) 140
pieces de canon; et il est a remarquer que chaque gros canon
monte revient a environ ecus: il y avoit 100,000 boulets; 106,000
cartouches d'une facon, et 300,000 d'une autre; 21,000 bombes;
27,700 grenades, 15,000 sacs a terre, 30,000 instruments pour la
pionnage; 1,200,000 livres de poudre. Ajoutez a ces munitions, le
plomb, le fer, et le fer-blanc, les cordages, tout ce qui sert
aux mineurs, le souphre, le salpetre, les outils de toute espece.

Il est certain que les frais de tous ces preparatifs de
destruction suffiroient pour fonder et pour faire fleurir la plus
aombreuse colonie. Voltaire, Siecle de Louis XIV. c. xx. in his
Works. tom. xi. p. 391.]

Should these speculations be found doubtful or fallacious,
there still remains a more humble source of comfort and hope.
The discoveries of ancient and modern navigators, and the
domestic history, or tradition, of the most enlightened nations,
represent the human savage, naked both in body and mind and
destitute of laws, of arts, of ideas, and almost of language. ^10
From this abject condition, perhaps the primitive and universal
state of man, he has gradually arisen to command the animals, to
fertilize the earth, to traverse the ocean and to measure the
heavens. His progress in the improvement and exercise of his
mental and corporeal faculties ^11 has been irregular and
various; infinitely slow in the beginning, and increasing by
degrees with redoubled velocity: ages of laborious ascent have
been followed by a moment of rapid downfall; and the several
climates of the globe have felt the vicissitudes of light and
darkness. Yet the experience of four thousand years should
enlarge our hopes, and diminish our apprehensions: we cannot
determine to what height the human species may aspire in their
advances towards perfection; but it may safely be presumed, that
no people, unless the face of nature is changed, will relapse
into their original barbarism. The improvements of society may
be viewed under a threefold aspect. 1. The poet or philosopher
illustrates his age and country by the efforts of a single mind;
but those superior powers of reason or fancy are rare and
spontaneous productions; and the genius of Homer, or Cicero, or
Newton, would excite less admiration, if they could be created by
the will of a prince, or the lessons of a preceptor. 2. The
benefits of law and policy, of trade and manufactures, of arts
and sciences, are more solid and permanent: and many individuals
may be qualified, by education and discipline, to promote, in
their respective stations, the interest of the community. But
this general order is the effect of skill and labor; and the
complex machinery may be decayed by time, or injured by violence.

3. Fortunately for mankind, the more useful, or, at least, more
necessary arts, can be performed without superior talents, or
national subordination: without the powers of one, or the union
of many. Each village, each family, each individual, must always
possess both ability and inclination to perpetuate the use of
fire ^12 and of metals; the propagation and service of domestic
animals; the methods of hunting and fishing; the rudiments of
navigation; the imperfect cultivation of corn, or other nutritive
grain; and the simple practice of the mechanic trades. Private
genius and public industry may be extirpated; but these hardy
plants survive the tempest, and strike an everlasting root into
the most unfavorable soil. The splendid days of Augustus and
Trajan were eclipsed by a cloud of ignorance; and the Barbarians
subverted the laws and palaces of Rome. But the scythe, the
invention or emblem of Saturn, ^13 still continued annually to
mow the harvests of Italy; and the human feasts of the
Laestrigons ^14 have never been renewed on the coast of Campania.

[Footnote 10: It would be an easy, though tedious, task, to
produce the authorities of poets, philosophers, and historians.
I shall therefore content myself with appealing to the decisive
and authentic testimony of Diodorus Siculus, (tom. i. l. i. p.
11, 12, l. iii. p. 184, &c., edit. Wesseling.) The Icthyophagi,
who in his time wandered along the shores of the Red Sea, can
only be compared to the natives of New Holland, (Dampier's
Voyages, vol. i. p. 464 - 469.) Fancy, or perhaps reason, may
still suppose an extreme and absolute state of nature far below
the level of these savages, who had acquired some arts and

[Footnote 11: See the learned and rational work of the president
Goguet, de l'Origine des Loix, des Arts, et des Sciences. He
traces from facts, or conjectures, (tom. i. p. 147 - 337, edit.
12mo.,) the first and most difficult steps of human invention.]
[Footnote 12: It is certain, however strange, that many nations
have been ignorant of the use of fire. Even the ingenious
natives of Otaheite, who are destitute of metals, have not
invented any earthen vessels capable of sustaining the action of
fire, and of communicating the heat to the liquids which they

[Footnote 13: Plutarch. Quaest. Rom. in tom. ii. p. 275. Macrob.
Saturnal. l. i. c. 8, p. 152, edit. London. The arrival of
Saturn (of his religious worship) in a ship, may indicate, that
the savage coast of Latium was first discovered and civilized by
the Phoenicians.]

[Footnote 14: In the ninth and tenth books of the Odyssey, Homer
has embellished the tales of fearful and credulous sailors, who
transformed the cannibals of Italy and Sicily into monstrous

Since the first discovery of the arts, war, commerce, and
religious zeal have diffused, among the savages of the Old and
New World, these inestimable gifts: they have been successively
propagated; they can never be lost. We may therefore acquiesce
in the pleasing conclusion, that every age of the world has
increased, and still increases, the real wealth, the happiness,
the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race. ^15
[Footnote 15: The merit of discovery has too often been stained
with avarice, cruelty, and fanaticism; and the intercourse of
nations has produced the communication of disease and prejudice.
A singular exception is due to the virtue of our own times and
country. The five great voyages, successively undertaken by the
command of his present Majesty, were inspired by the pure and
generous love of science and of mankind. The same prince,
adapting his benefactions to the different stages of society, has
founded his school of painting in his capital; and has introduced
into the islands of the South Sea the vegetables and animals most
useful to human life.]

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