The following is an excerpt of Oliver Nicholson's blog post "It’s not just decline and fall anymore…," which published on the OUPblog on 10 July 2018.
"One evening in mid-October 1764, the young Edward Gibbon sat among the ruins of the Capitol at Rome. The prospect before him must have looked like a Piranesi print–bony cattle grazing on thin grass in the shade of shattered marble columns. It was then and there that he resolved to write the history of the decline and fall of Rome. For Gibbon, the half-millennium between the High Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages, the era between the mid-3rd and mid-8th century AD which scholars now call Late Antiquity, was marked by an Awful Revolution. Gibbon thought that in the 2nd century AD the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth and the most civilised portion of mankind. He shared the confidence of many of his contemporaries that progress was as inevitable as it was desirable; thanks to the steady advance of civilisation and rationality, no people need ever relapse into primitive uncouthness. The Awful Revolution which had caused the fall of the Roman Empire from its high point in the 2nd century was, therefore, a calamity which demanded an explanation. He found one; 'I have described,' he wrote, 'the triumph of barbarism and religion.'"
Oliver Nicholson taught in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota between 1986 and 2016. His courses covered post-classical Latin authors as well as the Age of Constantine the Great, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Justinian, and Muhammad, and his publications have been particularly concerned with Lactantius, the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, and the history of Asia Minor.
Image credit: Taq-e Bostan: equestrian statue of Khosro II in parthian armor, Philippe Chavin. CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.