Edward Gibbon: Ambition, Style and Sacrifice

The challenges that Gibbon faced remain much the same for historians today.

The year 238 was a turbulent one for the Roman Empire. It has become known to posterity as the Year of the Six Emperors, one of whom was Gordian II, who ruled for just one month alongside his father, Gordian I. His brief possession of the title, ratified by the Senate, came to an end outside Carthage, where he was killed in battle attempting to overthrow the ‘barracks emperor’ Maximinus Thrax.

By any standards, the second Gordian is a minor figure, but he did inspire one of the finest passages in all historical writing, in Chapter VII of the first volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776):

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