Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Course No. 3450
Professor Leo Damrosch, Ph.D.
Harvard University
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Course No. 3450
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Examine Gibbon's use of the periodic style to engage readers.
  • numbers Learn the specific reasons why the Roman Empire collapsed.
  • numbers Probe the Decline and Fall's historical biases and blind spots.
  • numbers Explore how Gibbon built a framework for future historians.
  • numbers Read the Decline and Fall as a warning to Enlightenment Europe.

Course Overview

According to his Memoirs, on October 15, 1764, the Enlightenment historian Edward Gibbon discovered his life’s mission: to chronicle the centuries-long collapse of the Roman Empire. The result of this grand endeavor would become one of the greatest works of history ever written.

For all its renown as a work of style, elegance, wit, and insight, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire can be intimidating for the armchair historian. Published between 1776 and 1781, the six volumes contain 1.5 million words, an estimated 8,000 footnotes, a cast of 10,000 historical figures, and they span a timeline of more than 1,000 years.

Yet, even today, centuries after its original publication, Gibbon’s historical chronicle demands to be read and understood. There are several important reasons for this, according to Dr. Leo Damrosch, Professor of Literature Emeritus at Harvard University:

First, while later historians have brought fresh perspectives to the Roman Empire’s collapse, Gibbon’s book remains profoundly truthful in the events it recounts, bringing what Professor Damrosch calls a “unifying, insight-inspiring perspective to the past.”

Second, a great work of history is just as much about storytelling as it is about events. Gibbon is a masterful storyteller, and his Decline and Fall still has the ability to hook modern-day readers with its style and manner—just like a great novel.

And third, Gibbon was (and remains) a landmark historian who revolutionized the way writers think about and interpret the past. Despite being a product of his time in certain views, his techniques and insights would lay the foundation for generations of future historians.

In Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Professor Damrosch invites you on a riveting, 24-lecture examination of this great work from multiple perspectives; as a vast historical chronicle, as a compelling masterpiece of literature, as a sharp commentary on cultural mores, and as a cautionary tale to Enlightenment Europe. An engaging, chapter-by-chapter guide to the Decline and Fall, Professor Damrosch’s course helps you navigate the book’s themes, structure, philosophies, background, and lasting influence. Whether you’ve read the book before and are looking for new ways to think about it, or whether you’ve always wanted to read it but never knew where to start, Professor Damrosch’s lectures are a fascinating, rewarding, and authoritative guide to the enduring legacy of a once-mighty empire—and the great book that became its eulogy and epitaph.

“I Was Immediately Dominated Both by the Story and the Style”

As a young army officer stationed in India, Winston Churchill discovered Gibbon’s masterpiece and wrote in his memoir, “I was immediately dominated both by the story and the style. All through the long glistening middle hours of the Indian day I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from beginning to end, and enjoyed it all.”

This same spirit of excitement and wonder is at the heart of Professor Damrosch’s lectures. Central to his course is the idea of the Decline and Fall as a masterpiece of the art and craft of history. You’ll approach the book as that: a written work that reflects the styles, techniques, and ideologies of the Enlightenment age in which it was written.

You’ll understand why this book captivated millions of readers who, like Churchill, found Gibbon’s writing to be both authoritative and un-put-downable. You’ll also get a sense of just how revolutionary a work of history this book is.

  • Footnotes: “We’re so accustomed to footnotes today,” says Professor Damrosch, “that we may not suspect how original Gibbon was in providing them.” Taken together, the footnotes in Decline and Fall occupy fully one fourth of the entire book. Not only did these copious footnotes register sources (uncommon in other texts of the time), they allowed Gibbon to engage in an intimate conversation with the reader that would have seemed inappropriate in the body of the text itself.
  • Periodic Style: The Decline and Fall‘s renown as a work of literary genius owes much to Gibbon’s employment of the periodic style throughout its pages. For example, about a Byzantine emperor, he writes, “In every deed of mischief, he had a heart to resolve, a head to contrive, and a hand to execute.” By bringing out parallels, or setting ideas against each other, Gibbon gives the reader a coherent structure for stories that might otherwise be extremely confusing. It also makes the book compulsively readable.
  • Room for Reflection: In many respects, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall offered a new way to write about the past. While Gibbon admired Enlightenment theorizing, he believed historiography should always be grounded in “knowledge and reflection.” The best historians, according to Gibbon, take readers behind the scenes and allow them to ponder evidence alongside the author. The Decline and Fall wasn’t written from a place of complete understanding; rather, it was written to help readers better evaluate the past.

But the Decline and Fall isn’t a perfect work of history. As Professor Damrosch also notes, for all its historical insight, Gibbon’s masterpiece was nevertheless a victim of blind spots in Enlightenment thinking. One such failing you’ll come back to repeatedly is Gibbon’s treatment of religion (including Christianity and Islam) as a purely social phenomenon. All too often in these pages, he neglects its importance as an interior, spiritual experience.

“The Events Most Interesting in Human Annals”

For those intimidated by the Decline and Fall‘s thousands of pages, or for those who feel they may lack the time to fully appreciate the entirety of Gibbon’s narrative of how Rome fell to “barbarism and religion,” this course is an excellent and richly detailed overview of what Gibbon called “many of the events most interesting in human annals.”

There are many pivotal moments in the grand story of the Roman Empire’s collapse that you’ll see through Gibbon’s unique lens.

  • One last golden age (Chapters 1 to 3): Gibbon begins the Decline and Fall with a look at the Antonines (whom Machiavelli called the “Five Good Emperors” of Rome). The image Gibbon creates is of an empire that saw an undogmatic attitude toward religion, magnificent public structures like the Pantheon—and the slavery that made it all possible. Some examples:
  • A new world faith emerges (Chapters 15 and 16): Before the 18th century, historians attributed the rise of Christianity to divine providence. Gibbon, however, outlines the human causes behind the faith’s emergence as the dominant ideology of the Roman world, including the early Christians’ proselytizing zeal, ”pure” morals, and organizational ability.
  • Building a legal foundation (Chapter 44): Gibbon devotes an entire chapter to a historical event he wholeheartedly admired, which was the revision and codification of Roman law. Established beginning in 529 A.D. by the emperor Justinian, this code covered everything from marriage and divorce to property and contracts.
  • Another world faith emerges (Chapters 50 to 52): Seen by Gibbon as an amazing historical intervention, Islam emerged just when the Roman Empire in the West was collapsing. As the faith quickly spread under Muhammad and his successors, conditions arose that would set the stage for the Crusades, explored in subsequent chapters.
  • The last breath of an empire (Chapter 71): How did Gibbon decide to end this massive chronicle? His answer was to make “some inquiry into the state of the city of Rome during the darkness and confusion of the Middle Ages.” (It is worth noting that later historians and archaeologists would revise what they saw as his somewhat oversimplified summation of medieval Europe.)

“A Revolution Which Will Ever Be Remembered…”

A grand historical work such as this demands a professor with an incomparable command of the written word. These lectures are your chance to learn from an award-winning professor and noted author, whose books have been finalists for prestigious prizes including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

With his storytelling prowess and wit, Professor Damrosch reveals the literary brilliance of Gibbon’s work, unearths hidden pockets of humor (and controversy), and brings forth insights you’d otherwise miss on a solitary reading of the Decline and Fall. His immersion in and unparalleled understanding of Gibbon’s unique style and intellectual world make many of his lectures feel like dynamic conversations occurring across the centuries with the author himself. Equally helpful for visual learners, his lectures include:

  • historical portraits that add humanity to larger-than-life individuals, and
  • detailed maps that put the empire’s gradual collapse in geographical context, with extensive attention to the Byzantine Empire in the East, which outlived the original Roman Empire by a thousand years.

In the opening paragraph of the Decline and Fall, Gibbon describes the centuries-long end of the Roman Empire as “a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the Earth.”

The succeeding chapters and volumes, rich in detail and epic in scope, are a pinnacle of history writing. And in 24 lectures, you can finally appreciate why this book matters so much to our understanding of this great “revolution”—and why it still matters to readers (and empires) today.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Greatness of Gibbon's Decline and Fall
    Ground your understanding of Gibbon's masterpiece with this helpful introductory lecture. Why was Rome so important to Gibbon and his readers? What makes the periodic style so essential to the Decline and Fall's accessibility? Why should we want to read it today in the 21st century? x
  • 2
    The Making of Gibbon the Historian
    Follow Edward Gibbon's intellectual development: his childhood obsession with reading, his military service, his disappointed love, his social circles, his personal politics, and his life as a gentleman "scholar of leisure." Your primary source for this biographical study: fragments from Gibbon's posthumously published Memoirs. x
  • 3
    The Empire at Its Beginning
    Before plunging into the Decline and Fall, which starts in the second century A.D., you need a little background in early Roman history. Professor Damrosch reviews the Empire's important provinces (including their strange names), the excessive influence of the Roman military, the emergence of imperial dictatorship, and other facts Gibbon's original readers took for granted. x
  • 4
    The Theory and Practice of History
    It's no accident that the Decline and Fall survives as a great work of history. Here, explore how Gibbon understood the role of the historian; consider what he thought of Hume, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment writers; and discover how he revolutionized the use of extensive documentation in his work. x
  • 5
    The Golden Age of the Antonines
    Meet the Antonines: the subject of the first three chapters of the Decline and Fall. From Nerva to Hadrian to Marcus Aurelius, these "five good emperors" ruled the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government. x
  • 6
    The Hidden Poison Begins to Work
    After the peace of the Antonines, things quickly began to fall apart. Describing the horrific reigns of emperors like Commodus, Caracalla, and Elagabalus, Gibbon illustrates the "hidden poison" by which one-man rule produced a vicious cycle of incompetent, power-corrupt emperors. x
  • 7
    Diocletian and the Triumph of Constantine
    Get a close reading of Chapters 8 to 14 of Gibbon's masterpiece. In these pages, follow the first assaults of the barbarians who would eventually bring the Empire to its knees: the Goths. Also, meet two emperors who would radically reshape the structure of the Roman Empire: Diocletian and Constantine. x
  • 8
    Enlightenment Skepticism
    Consider just how dangerous Gibbon's sociological treatment of Christianity in Chapters 14 and 15 (while grounding the faith in extremely detailed historical analysis) seemed to most of his readers. Rather than focusing on divine providence, the Decline and Fall documents the human causes behind Christianity's evolution into the dominant ideology of the ancient world. x
  • 9
    The Rise of Christianity
    Continue your look at Chapters 14 and 15 of the Decline and Fall. In these pages, Gibbon takes up five causes for Christianity's success, including proselytizing zeal the promise of a future life in heaven, but also unprecedented organizational ability. What Gibbon leaves out, however: any imaginative empathy with religion. x
  • 10
    Constantine and Athanasius
    Chapter 17 is the major turning point in the Decline and Fall. What are Gibbon's thoughts on the transferring of the capital to Constantinople, and on Constantine's famous vision of the cross? Why does he give so much attention to theological controversies, and why was he so impressed by Athanasius, the archbishop of Alexandria? x
  • 11
    Julian and the Return to Paganism
    Paganism in the Empire didn't go down without a fight. Enter Julian the Apostate, who tried to reinstate the Olympian gods. Here, study Chapters 22 to 24, which are devoted to this last dying gasp of paganism-struck down by Julian's death during an ill-advised military campaign, and afterward by pushback from the Christians. x
  • 12
    Barbarian Advances and Theodosius
    In the wake of Julian's death there was great confusion, which occupies Chapters 25 to 28. Topics covered here include increased barbarian threats from in Britain, Germany, the Middle East, the Danube, and North Africa; the "chaste and temperate" rule of Theodosius; and Gibbon's intriguing thoughts on Christian veneration of saints' relics. x
  • 13
    East and West Divided
    With Rome's fracture into eastern and western camps, the story of the empire's decline begins to get complicated. Learn how to navigate the tricky waters of Chapters 29 to 33, which examine cataclysmic events including the sack of Rome in 410 A.D. and the loss of North Africa to the Vandals. x
  • 14
    Huns and Vandals
    Professor Damrosch guides you through successive waves of barbarian invaders, beginning with the assault of the Huns, led by Attila. You'll also get Gibbon's insights on the development of barbarian kingdoms, a sequence of nine Roman emperors in just 20 years, and his biased views on the growth of monasticism. x
  • 15
    Theodoric and Justinian
    The first was a Gothic king; the second Rome's eastern emperor. Theodoric and Justinian (along with his general, Belisarius, and his wife, Theodora) dominate Chapters 39 to 44 of the Decline and Fall, which also examines Constantinople's massive building program (including the Hagia Sophia) and the codification of Roman Law. x
  • 16
    The Breakup of the Empire
    After the fall of the empire in the West, how did Byzantium in the East persist for another nine centuries? Start with this look at Chapters 45 to 47, which cover the consolidation of France under Clovis, the establishment of the papacy as the center of Christendom, and a new swarm of religious heresies. x
  • 17
    The Byzantine Empire and Charlemagne
    Turn now to the fifth volume (of the original six) of the Decline and Fall, where the narrative starts to speed up. In addition to covering historical moments like the reign of Charlemagne and the Comnenian dynasty, you'll also consider the implications of Gibbon's "great man" approach to history from the 7th to 11th centuries. x
  • 18
    The Rise of Islam
    Step back in time to get Gibbon's account of the rise of Islam. Occupying Chapters 50 to 52, this narrative emphasizes how, in Gibbon's view, Islam arrived at a fortunate historical moment when it faced only weak opposition from surrounding powers; he also pays warm tribute to Muhammad's qualities of character. x
  • 19
    The Byzantine Empire in the 10th Century
    At the end of the Decline and Fall's fifth volume, you'll survey the ever-shrinking form of the Byzantine Empire (Chapter 53), early Russians (Chapter 55), Norman conquests in the Mediterranean (Chapter 56), and the expanding dominion of the Turks (Chapter 57). x
  • 20
    The Crusades
    Gibbon's account of the Crusades focused on the way religion was used to rationalize European military and territorial aggression. Learn what this master historian has to say about the rivalry of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the birth of the Crusader States, and military orders like the Knights Templar. x
  • 21
    Genghis Khan and Tamerlane
    Unpack another turning point in the Decline and Fall: Genghis Khan and the dawn of the Ottoman Empire. Central to this lecture is another of Gibbon's charismatic figures: Tamerlane (known as "the scourge of God"). Then, end with Gibbon's account of the discovery of gunpowder-which would forever change history. x
  • 22
    The Fall of Constantinople
    Chapters 66 to 70 chronicle the final defeat of Byzantium. Topics you'll explore in this lecture include the exiled papal court at Avignon, Mahomet the Second's capture of Constantinople, and the Great Schism from 1378 to 1417. x
  • 23
    The End of Gibbon's Work
    How did Gibbon keep the Decline and Fall from simply petering out in its final chapter?What were some of his assumptions about the "darkness and confusion" of medieval Europe? See how his visit to the physical ruins of Rome inspired Gibbon's final thoughts on the collapse of the empire and helped to bring his great work to a close. x
  • 24
    Decline and Fall in Modern Perspective
    Professor Damrosch ends his course with a reflections on the Decline and Fall in the 21st century. You'll consider why some historians reject the term "fall" in favor of "transformation," together with insistence by recent specialists that there truly was a fall; and also three major blind spots Gibbon exhibits in his history: toward religion, toward Byzantine civilization, and toward the persistence of deep cultural rhythms as contrasted with political and military events. x

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Your professor

Leo Damrosch

About Your Professor

Leo Damrosch, Ph.D.
Harvard University
Dr. Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature Emeritus at Harvard University, where he has been teaching since 1989. He earned a B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from Cambridge University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. At Harvard, Professor Damrosch was named a Harvard College Professor in recognition of distinguished teaching. He has held National Endowment for...
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Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presenter I have many, many Great Courses. This one, as many others, is so fine. I love his presentation of information! So much great text and maps, and an English major’s mind. So fine.
Date published: 2019-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Triumph This course is a triumph. It is brilliantly conceived and executed. Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” is one of those books that every educated person has heard of but few have read. I myself simply do not have the time or the motivation to read all six volumes, but I wanted to have some sense of its majesty and importance. Several years ago I read an abridged, one volume condensation of it and was able to get a sense of Gibbon’s incomparable style and erudition. This course fills in all the gaps for a pseudo-scholar like me. Professor Damrosch gives us the background of the book, a biography of the remarkable and quirky man who wrote it, and a very clear guiding hand through its thousands of pages. Along the way he points out Gibbon’s biases, comments on his use of sources, explains the late eighteenth century context of Gibbon’s British world, defines some of the terms he uses, and, of course, summarizes the events Gibbon catalogues. This course is far superior to one of the other “books that matter” items in the Teaching Company catalogue. The course on Augustine’s “City of God” was a huge disappointment as discussed in my review of that course. Since Professor Damrosch is a scholar of eighteenth century English writers, I would love to see him do a course on Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” That is another famous work of that period that I have tried to read but had trouble making my way in it. I think Professor Damrosch could make it understandable even to me.
Date published: 2019-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the best the Great Courses offers I've listened to about 50 sets of Great Courses lectures on history, and this is my favorite. The subject matter is inherently interesting: an overview of the one of the greatest works of history and literature by a master stylist about the most interesting story in Western Civilization. Professor Damrosch's lecturing style is mellifluous, with a dry wit appropriate for discussing Gibbon, and he does an excellent job of excerpting, selecting, and condensing a voluminous work. The criticism that this is not focused on the historical details is unfair in my view. I've listened to some excellent lectures about Rome by Professor Fagan and others, but these lectures are attempting to do more than that. They are appreciating a witty and learned work which presents a very big picture of Western history. It's impossible to do that and provide the comprehensive detail that some other lectures provide. Both approaches are valuable. If these lectures don't inspire you to spend a significant chunk of your life reading Gibbon, listening to them is the next best thing. On the perennial question of format, I listened to these lectures on audio CD, as I like to do driving. They worked great. I don't see the need for DVD's unless you prefer watching lectures on television. If some maps are provided, and I don't know because I haven't watched it, they're really not necessary if you have basic geographical literacy.
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enjoyable and informative I am more an enthusiast of history than a student of it. I simply want to say that I was enjoyably entertained not just by what I learned about Roman history, but also by what I learned about the historian Gibbon and some of the colorful people around him. Lastly, although Professor Damrosch's visible (bodily) presentation style was one of the least active I can recall seeing (but not detrimentally so), his vocal style and use of visual aids were distinct value-adds to the course. Many thanks to him for sharing his enthusiasm for Gibbon and his book with those of us fortunate enough to have purchased this course.
Date published: 2019-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent classes It keeps an old man’s mind active & expands my interests.
Date published: 2019-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review of the work. Enjoyed the course thoroughly. I have read the first volume of Gibbons work and now excited to read the rest.
Date published: 2019-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Glorified Book Report The professor simply gave a "book report" on a book written by Gibbons. He added very little of his own knowledge. I have taken many course from The Great Courses and this was the only one I was disappointed in.
Date published: 2019-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It truly is a book that matters This course is excellent. It's clear that Professor Damrosch has studied Gibbon and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in depth and he conveys his insights well. He makes a fair and balanced presentation.
Date published: 2019-01-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from history of the decline and fall of the roman empir too academic--like college lecture. expected more 'history channel' type presentation. returned (with no problem)
Date published: 2019-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great compacting of a massive work Leo Damrosch takes one on an admirable jaunt through the massive, and depressive, Decline and Fall. I found most helpful his successful attempt at recreating Gibbon's own viewpoints and attitudes towards the different subjects and peoples he covers.
Date published: 2018-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course Professor Damrosch is a superior lecturer. He is engaging and brings the course to life. This was a topic of which I thought I was familiar but the amount of knowledge I learned from this course was immense. I particularly liked the way he was able to clearly demonstrate how Gibbons literary talents were essential to gaining a clearer understanding of the history. Highly recommended! This is one of the best of over 100 Teaching Co. Courses I have taken.
Date published: 2018-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation Well researched and presented in an intellectual and interesting fashion. Would recommend this to anyone who wants a summary of the Decline and Fall without reading the text and also to get additional opinions about the author and the importance of the work.
Date published: 2018-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview with right amount of depth Completed 1/2 of course. Excellent presenter. I am thoroughly enjoying this course and am now ready to read my father's copy of Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire.
Date published: 2018-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History and literature by through teacher the professor provides a great, in-depth look at Gibbon's classic work, looking at it as literature and a work of history. If Prof. Damrosch is not the most exciting lecturer, he is through, balanced and eminently listenable. I appreciate the summary chapter; too many course, in my view, simply end without a summing up. Prof. Damrosch admirably summed up Gibbon's great work and put it in a modern perspective.
Date published: 2018-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course for Roman Empire buffs I read "The Decline & Fall" many years ago, so this course was a review. Prof. Damrosch has an interesting presentation style that made my revisiting of the subject matter very enjoyable. Also, I appreciated the commentaries of other historians that he presents and discusses, most of which I was not aware of. As is now accepted, no one has done the decline and fall better than Gibbon, and Prof. Damrosch shows why.
Date published: 2018-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring presentation. Upped my interest in the subject to verging on passion. After 6 decades of threatening to read The Decline and Fall, it shall now become a fact.
Date published: 2018-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Literature and History in One In my youth, I relied on “Classics Illustrated” to catch up on books I didn’t have the time (or inclination) to read. Now, in my decline, I rely on The Great Courses. Although I own a beautiful Folio Society set of Gibbon, I have not yet gotten beyond the occasional perusal of a page or two. Professor Damrosch has done me a favor by surveying Gibbon’s masterwork in 24 lectures, providing biographical information on the author, context for the work’s publication, and best of all, a summary of the contents. So in essence, this is both a literature and a history course. The Prof discusses Gibbon’s strong points and also his blind spots, and peppers his lectures with quotes that provide a good idea of Gibbon’s mastery of English. (His comparison of Gibbon to Churchill’s histories made me realize where Winston had learned his craft.) I followed the audio version of the course, which seemed perfectly adequate to me. The professor’s delivery was easy to follow, and his style was pleasant to listen to. I may actually give old Gibbon a try one of these days, using Prof. Damrosch’s course book as a guide.
Date published: 2018-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding European History Beginning with the Antonines in A.D. 96 and continuing through the Council of Constance in A.D. 1417, Professor Damosch illuminates Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Not only is this a grand review of Gibbon's books, but it traces the formation of modern Europe from the expansion of Roman states and civilization of the Huns, Goths, and Vandals by the Romans and in conflict with the Romans. Gibbon devotes much of his writing to the formation of the Christian Church through the conversion of Constantine, and the formation of Islam through the visions of Mohammed. Many names of characters of history became real through Gibbon's descriptions of the persons and their activities. Formation of the Byzantine Empire is one of the central features of the book; the Crusades are described in an understandable way. From the title: "Decline and Fall..." Gibbon traces the gradual collapse of the greatest empire to exist after the Egyptian and Greek civilizations. The Roman Empire flourished because of strong leadership; the Roman Empire declined and collapsed because of lack of talented leaders, and extending its boundaries beyond the ability of the Empire to support armines and supplies, and assimilation of different peoples into the Empire. Gibbon's book has contemporary relevance. One has to ask about successful assimilation of different people into the United States and countries in Europe. One has to ask about expanding a nation's influence into other countries that have different values, ethics, religions, and cultures. Professor Damrosch presents the material in a compelling way. He is articulate and knowledgeable of his subject. I did not want this course to end. The course guidebook is one of the best I have used with a Great Course. It can be a stand-alone reference on the subject.
Date published: 2018-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire I have watched the video, but haven't completed the reading yet. I got the book, not only the one that goes with the video. I am enjoying both. I like to read, so that's why I got the big book for $25. The author, Gibbons, has certain biases, which does make me wonder how honest the whole thing is. For example, he obviously hates Christianity, especially the Catholic Church and the Pope. One might almost believe during that part of the lecture that Gibbons blames the fall of Rome on the Church. I am a Catholic myself and am very fond of the Pope, but in some ways, I can see Gibbons point. It's the control thing. Who's in charge? Also, early Christianity was very biased. If not a Christian and later a Catholic, one was in serious trouble in the Roman Empire. The lecturer, Professor Damrosch, makes this exceedingly clear. He also goes into Gibbons' other biases. It's worth the read, even if it takes me awhile.
Date published: 2018-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A master of the content and context This was my 64th "Great Courses" class. (Really!) I have taken several on the period of history covered by "The Decline and Fall" by Gibbon, so I knew the underlying history pretty well. Professor Damrosch is a master of both the history and the book - so much so that he is at ease with the material, and can pause at any moment to add insight. The professor did a great job explaining why the book mattered so much then, and why it still does today. I think people should listen to this class if they are interested in the historical period that is covered, and especially if they have even the slightest interest in the book itself.
Date published: 2018-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concisely well exlained! After finishing this course, I purchased whole books of Gibbon's Roman History from Amazon (hard cover 6 volumes) set and also Kindle books. So, it was good introduction to me. Professor convinced me that this classic worth to read completely. He was so good, so I purchased his 3 other biography books.
Date published: 2018-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good way to prepare to read Gibbon's masterpiece Gibbon’s epic work is still considered one of the most important works and this course tells you why. Profesor Damrosch did a good job at trying to compressive the six volumes in Gibbon’s series. It is a lot of information and time for him to cover but the professor only cherry-picked certain moments that best shows of Gibbon’s work as a writer and historian. I had only read an abridged version of Gibbon’s work so this course exposed me to the work as a whole. I wanted to watch this course before I read the entire series. I feel that this course has prepared me for that eventual goal of mine and I recommend anyone else who wants to try it as well.
Date published: 2018-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Six Star Course. Five is inadequate. Superb. Best of the eight or so I've gone through so far. Wide ranging, deep, smart, a "heavy," in the best sense. Rich and packed a master. No wonder the Professor gathered in many awards. Great Courses was lucky to get him, and I was lucky to hear him. A Six Star course, as I said above.
Date published: 2018-03-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Couldn't be much duller I read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire years ago. I bought this course hoping for something a lot livelier to engage my mind. Since this course is so academic, a review should include a grade. My grade is a D. I'm not surprised that a Harvard prof is academic in the worst sense. Leo Damrosch is a poor public speaker, droning on intellectually. The presentation has lots of text on the screen, with a disembodied voice reading aloud. I think every viewer wants to experience some sense of history as it happened, not a dissertation. The professor could have TRIED to be dynamic. Wearing a few Roman costumes would have been much better than having to stare at his shirt and tie all of the time.
Date published: 2018-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Insightful, well delivered, it was truly a great course. Not to miss if you are interested European history.
Date published: 2017-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What A Joy! I found this course very enjoyable and Professor Damrosch a special pleasure.He puts Gibbon in both time and place, and walks you through the chapters of the Decline and Fall giving contextual references as he proceeds. I've diddled with the Decline and Fall over the years so I found this particularly on interest. One minor demerit is the discussion of the Fourth Crusade. There is none by name, even though Gibbon spends most of chapter 60 on it. As a result the discussion of latin rule of Byzantium feels bit disjointed. I note Professor Damrosch is not alone in avoiding detailed discussion of the Fourth Crusade. It appears to be common affliction. But all in all still a very satisfying course. It is highly recommended!
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An insightful review. I read the first 5 volumes off and on over several years, but I never got around to the final one. This review covered the whole scope of the work in a week or so, and the professor’s insights and commentary enriched the experience. If you want a review, this is a good one. If you have never read the Decline & Fall, this set of lectures may motivate you to do’s worth the effort,
Date published: 2017-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfull Wonderfull course! I got all GC on Rome. I read all volumes of Gibbon. And I still find out so many small and big details about this book and it's subject. I love prof. very much. Can we have his course Roman novels. Petronius anybody?
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful. A fascinating, wonderful course about an extraordinary book. The course covers in some depth the history of the Roman Empire, including that of the Eastern or Byzantine Empire after the "fall of Rome", as described in Gibbon's masterpiece. It also describes, in somewhat less detail, Gibbon's life, his motivation for writing this 6-volume monument, his own thoughts about it, its reception, and its place in the history of history and of historical writing. And attention is given throughout to the work as literature - both to its overall architecture and to the impressive eloquence of Gibbon's writing. Our professor does not hesitate to criticize as well. He is careful to point out where modern historians differ from Gibbon, whether because of newly available sources, of the change in historians' perspectives and interests, or of simple disagreement in interpretation. The final lecture provides an excellent assessment of the whole, including of Gibbon's blind spots and prejudices, as well as of his remarkable accomplishment and its lasting influence. Professor Damrosch is himself outstanding. He is very well organized, extremely knowledgeable, clear and eloquent, and speaks in a pleasant, well-modulated conversational voice which is a pleasure to listen to. So - I highly recommend this course to any with an interest in the development of the history of the Roman Empire, and especially in learning about this masterpiece of historical writing.
Date published: 2017-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course This superlative course lends itself to audio format. It is perfect for long commutes or trips. It gives a detailed history and outline of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and stimulates the listener to want to read the whole set!! This is a great starting point for the first read. I was impressed with discussion of the various book chapters and thought the Professor did a brilliant job.
Date published: 2017-08-09
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