What sort of reputation does Gibbon have nowadays?

Is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire still considered a reliable, scholarly work, or has it been surpassed by modern scholarship? If I were to assign parts of it to be read by uni students for a course, would that be looked down upon by modern classical scholars?

No clearcut answer, but about 10 years ago, I’d read that Gibbon was a mixture of good scholarship and of credulous sensationalistic reporting. Don’t even remember if I read it in some serious work or some internet comic book, tho. Sorry I can’t be of better help, but to me the question was too good to let die an ignominious death.

I’ve heard that Gibbon definitely had his prejudices. In any event, the book isn’t laboriously referenced, and we’ve had over two hundred years of very active research on a span of history that’s about one and a half millennia long. Certainly it’s been superceded by more recent work.

It’s still a good read – I’ve gone through it. And it was my go-to reference after I saw Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

Gibbon is an invaluable resource on the history of history. As far as a source on the Roman Empire itself, you won’t find him cited in any contemporary articles or monographs (except as an example of former attitudes or as the origin of certain lines of argument). Essentially, he’s become a primary source for his own time.

I would contrast him with Frazer, who is routinely derided as “embarrassing” by contemporary scholars–but they cite him anyway.

After seeing the grandfather/granddaughter on “Mad Men” reading the book (and having some free time myself), I thought I might pick it up and read it. So my question is “Is it worth reading, or something else would be better?”

Gibbon still has a reputation as one of the great historians, it’s simply that (as with Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus, et al) he needs to be read with footnotes these days to give the benefits of later scholarship and correct any of Gibbon’s errors (and all historians make them).

As a stylist, of course, he is still supreme.

Are you asking about Gibbon’s standing in academia, or among the public at large?

Among the public at large, Gibbon is either completely forgotten, or just vaguely remembered. Almost no one reads his “Decline and Fall” any more. Ask a layman to summarize “Decline and Fall” and you’ll get either a blank stare, a shrug, or an oversimplified, “Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire.”

The ‘public at large’ would be hard pressed to name any historian, ancient or modern.

I actually read the whole thing.

It is a work easier to admire than to enjoy. It was very good for its day, it stands as one of the great works of scholarship of his period, but I wouldn’t use it as a primary source for much except the study of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.


Someone must read it, or at least buy it, because I still see it on sale in bookstores–which is true of few other non-fiction works of comparable age.

I have as well. Some parts of it I found very interesting, but other parts my jaws were cracking trying to keep from falling asleep.

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

It’s not “the book” but “books” - the edition I have is in eight volumes. I found parts of it lots of fun to read.

There are some things and some sources that are mentioned by him which are not mentioned anywhere else, I think he repeats a Greek historian about a Temple in Arabia which is holy, which I think is the first reference to the Masjid Al Haram in Mecca.

On the whole, I think he has been influential, the less then steller reputation of the Byzantine Empire which persists even to this day is mostly due to him.