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Publisher's Summary

Considered one of the finest historical works in the English language, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is lauded for its graceful, elegant prose style as much as for its epic scope. Remarkably accurate for its day, Gibbon's treatise holds a high place in the history of literature and remains an enduring subject of study.

Gibbon's monumental work traces the history of more than 13 centuries, covering the great events as well as the general historical progression. This first volume covers A.D. 180 to A.D. 395, which includes the establishment of Christianity and the Crusades.

©Public Domain (P)1992 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"[Gibbon] stood on the summit of the Renaissance achievement and looked back over the waste of history to ancient Rome, as from one mountain top to another." (Christopher Dawson)

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  • Overall

What an age we live in

I can't see how anyone can complain about having such a great work, in it's entirety, in audio format. Personally, I would never have the time or drive to tackle it in text, but now I can turn it on each evening as I lay in bed and rest my eyes while some of the greatest events of mankind are narrated to me. As for the narrator, I don't understand the complaints others have lodge about him (I fear they have been spoiled by the quality of newer books). No, it's not hi-def quality, but it is by no means unpleasant to listen to the narrator. He has a slight British accent, a proper grasp of the material and the pronunciations of the ancient words, and ads emphasis and inflections to the prose. The somewhat antiquated quality of the narration makes it feel as if Gibbon himself is reading tale. This book is nothing short of a gift.

53 of 55 people found this review helpful

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One of the best purchases of my life

I came on here to check something else, and was shocked to see the negative reviews. I spent three credits on this series a few years ago and they were the best-spent money of the last few years. It would be heaven to know that all my Audible purchases would be so rewarding.

The book is so classic that my voice would be nearly meaningless, but I'm sad to see the narrator so maligned. His stodgy sounding voice made the text come alive for me because he sounds just so classically English. Just as another reviewer said, it sounded like Gibbon himself was reading his book to me, or reciting the history of the decline and fall of Rome.

I really can't imagine why he's getting bad reviews. I guess I'm just the type of person who will appreciate a book like this and a narrator like this. What type is that? A lover of history, a lover of old things, a lover of classical things, I suppose.

34 of 35 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 04-15-12

War, rapine, and freewill offerings!

Love Gibbon's sense of humor, his methodology, his hard bigotry towards the Huns, his soft bigotry towards the Christians, and his ability to find interesting nouns to link with rapine: "idleness, poverty, and rapine"; "rapine and oppression"; "violence and rapine"; "rapine and cruelty"; "rapine and torture"; "rapine and corruption"; "rapine and disregard"; "War, rapine, and freewill offerings" AND that is all just volume one. An important and interesting work, that moves with a quicker pace than its size or age would suggest. Bring on Volumes 2 and the decline of the HRE!

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

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Historical Fascination and Literary Pleasure

Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) is one of those classics you always hear about but never read because the prospect of broaching a six-volume history of the Roman Empire written in the 18th century is so daunting. But finally listening to the first volume of the audiobook (which includes the first two volumes of Gibbon's opus) filled me with a historical and literary rapture.

Gibbon brings to life the Roman Empire from about 180 AD to about 395, the extent of its boundaries, the governing of its provinces, the organization of its military, and the success that led to its decline and fall by, among other things, making the citizens too soft, the military too mercenary, and the senate too weak. This history was made by spoiled citizens, fickle soldiers, corrupt prefects, obsequious senators, pernicious eunuchs, rapacious barbarians, and, of course, numerous emperors: amoral and tyrannical, pusillanimous and paranoid, or, rarely, moderate and able. Gibbon wittily and enthusiastically relates fateful battles, appalling scenes of treachery, rapine, and slaughter (often internecine or inter-familial), interesting details of exotic cultures (like the Sarmatian barbarians who wore "mail" vests of overlapping horse hoof slices and wielded poisoned fish bone weapons), and telling insights like, "History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."

I was morbidly fascinated by Gibbon's account of the feuding sects of the "primitive" Christian church, Catholics, Arians, Homoousians, and so on arguing, persecuting, and excommunicating each other over the true substance of Jesus while indulging in pomp, pelf, pride, and power, yet ever spreading their religion due to their zeal, world everlasting after death, and "real" relics, miracles, and visions. Gibbon advocates Age of Enlightenment reason against superstition and might have enjoyed the Jefferson Bible.

My favorite figure was the philosopher-poet-general Apostate Emperor Julian, who packed so much into his short life (32 years) and reign (1 year and 8 months). As new Caesar, Julian was tossed into Gaul with 360 soldiers and told to rescue it from tens of thousands of German barbarians, disarmingly declaiming, "Plato, Plato! What a task for a philosopher!" As new Emperor, he booted bishops, barbers, and eunuchs out of the palace, replaced them with poets, philosophers, and sages, and tried to return the newly Christian Roman Empire to a Hellenistic Paganism. He even got back at the insulting people of Antioch by writing a satire on his beard. Ah, how might the current world have developed had Julian not played Alexander the Great and invaded Persia!

Although Gibbon objectively navigates between earlier historical panegyrics and calumnies of his imperial subjects, he also falls prey to his own biases. The worst is his favoritism for western culture at the expense of eastern (opining that a single Greek statue is worth more than whole Persian palaces), and for "civilization" at the expense of "barbarism" (figuring that oral cultures produce no worthy art or culture). Nevertheless, Gibbon always champions humane behavior and criticizes wanton slaughter and destruction, regardless of whether the actors were barbarian or Roman.

The audiobook is really abridged, because it excludes "Gibbon's table talk," his spicy notes. This is understandable, because they would have broken the flow of the narrative and made the audiobook run too long, but still a pity.

Some listeners complain that reader Bernard Mayes sounds too British or boring, but I find him perfectly suited to reading long works of history (like Herodotus' Histories). He reads with a professorial British accent and impeccable rhythm, enunciation, and emphasis, a wise and weathered uncle recounting a fascinating history.

Mostly I had no problem following Gibbon's well-regulated trains of thought, and found his writing elegant, clear, and pleasurable. The only difficulty I had while listening to the audiobook occurred during his long sentences that include "the former" and "the latter," because I'd often have forgotten which was which by the time they appeared, leaving me longing for a printed version of the text. But anyone familiar with 18th and 19th century novels should otherwise have no trouble with Gibbon's prose. I relished it to the point of grins and chuckles. I'll close this review with some examples:

"The monstrous vices of the son have cast a shade on the purity of the father's virtues."

"But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous."

"He promised only to betray, he flattered only to ruin; and however he might occasionally bind himself by oaths and treaties, his conscience, obsequious to his interest, always released him from the inconvenient obligation."

"It was easier to vanquish the Goths than to eradicate the public vices, yet even in the first of these enterprises Decius lost his army and his life."

"The ecclesiastical governors of the Christians were taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove; but as the former was refined, so the latter was insensibly corrupted, by the habits of government."

"If this Punic war was carried on without any effusion of blood, it was owing much less to the moderation than to the weakness of the contending prelates. Invectives and excommunications were their only weapons; and these, during the progress of the whole controversy, they hurled against each other with equal fury and devotion."

"The weak and guilty Lupicinus, who had dared to provoke, who had neglected to destroy, and who still presumed to despise his formidable enemy, marched against the Goths at the head of such a military force as could be collected in this emergency."

"Their flesh was greedily devoured by the birds of prey, who in that age enjoyed very frequent and delicious feasts, and several years afterwards, the white and naked bones which covered the wide extent of the fields presented to the eyes of Ammianus a dreadful monument of the battle of Salices."

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Probably the greatest prose work in the English language--given a superb reading here.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • brett
  • moraga, CA, United States
  • 01-05-08

solid, well done

Gibbon's Decline and Fall unabridged! What more can anyone ask for? And with a great narrator to boot! Get this, quit your job and listen full time!

24 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Magnificent version of a classic

The decline and fall is generally seen as a forbidding Everest that the intellectually ambitious must surpass in order to qualify for cultured status (rather like the Divine Commedy, of the History of Herodotus or the 6 Jane Austen novels). But although formidable (and not just in extension, but also in breadth of learning), this first volume of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is also a great story. Not only does it prove that the hereditary principle doesn't work as a way to run governmental affairs (from Augustus to Constantine there isn't even one example where acted wisely by leaving the empire to his son), it also shows that great architecture and art doesn't necessarily mean civilization as we understand it. Volume I also has the deservedly infamous chapters about the origins and spread of the Christian religion. Although they retain a power to offend believers, they are also very funny. This narration by Bernard Mayes (who is a former anglican priest, teacher and scholar, and quite a character in his own right- look him up in Wikipedia) is perfect. His perfect ennunciation and languid delivery are perfect for this work. I am looking forward to hearing the other 5 volumes.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • Lenexa, KS, United States
  • 09-25-09

excellent all round

Bernard Mayes deserves the highest accolades for his narration of this masterpiece. His reading is itself a masterwork!

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Ancient History At Its Best

This exhaustive history is one of the best on the subject. Gibbon knew his material and gave us one of the greatest works about the long period that this history covers. Where this history might seem long and tedious in places, it is made up for by the numerous explanations of battles and descriptions of the cities and characters of the times. Where Gibbon sometimes seems to opinionated about the times and people, he gives reasons for this and helps the listener to understand the circumstances and ideas of the times. The narration is at times tedious as well. You get the idea that you are in a college lecture hall rather than listening to the reading of a book. Bernard Mayes does a good job with the material. Overall, I would recommend this set of volumes to anyone who is interested in the hisory of the world. Others will find this material tedious and boring at times. My advice? Give a listen and stick with this. You might find out some things that you didn't know and might find this history as extremely interesting as I have.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Bravo Bernard Mayes!

If you could sum up The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1 in three words, what would they be?

sublimely written classic

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1?

Caracalla murdering his younger brother, Geta, in front of their mother and then murdering near 20,000 people who might possibly have had anything to do with Geta. As foul and loathsome as humans can get. The bloodbaths of imperial regime changes must rank as one of the darkest moments of the human experience.

What does Bernard Mayes bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

It would be my hope that he pronounced names and words correctly. I have heard other readers who mispronounced words that appeared regularly in the text. The usually excellent reader of the Patrick O'Brien Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick Tull, mispronounces "bowsprit." This important and frequently referred to "bowsprit" is the "mast" that protrudes horizontally from the front of the ship, referred to as the "bow", pronounced like "bough" of a tree...or as dogs say, in "bow-wow." Alas, Mr. Tull pronounces "bow" as in "bow and arrow." Generally, my friends very much applaud Patrick Tull's reading.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

This classic work is notable that the reader may open the work just about anywhere, read and be entertained, delighted, enlightened. It doesn't get better than this.

Any additional comments?

The decision of over two centuries is pretty much in: It is a classic. The depth of Gibbon's research, study, eloquence, and philosophical wisdom has won this work the just praise of thoughtful readers and will continue to do so. As long time resident of Frostbite Falls, MN, Mr. Bullwinkle J. Moose, observed to his pal, Rocky, "Ya just can't beat the classics!" Amen!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • melmoth2
  • 01-28-08


I've been hanging on for an unabridged version of Gibbon for a while now and this well worth the wait. Some may find Bernard Mayes' delivery a little dry but the reprise of his slightly grandfatherly delivery from Herodotus' Histories suits Gibbon's prose perfectly. I'm not sure what edition is being used, I would guess it's the Penguin. The only gripe is that Gibbon's introduction is missing, as are the copious footnotes, but then constant digressions, as entertaining as they are in the original, probably wouldn't work in audio form. Highly recommended.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Natalia
  • 09-04-13

Great book, poor recording

What did you like about this audiobook?

This is one of the classics of the genre, and despite it's reputation for being dry and dusty is actually quite interesting with a wry sense of humour in places.

How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?

I am already a great fan of books about Roman history, so reading one that is so important to books that came after just makes me want to read more.

Does the author present information in a way that is interesting and insightful, and if so, how does he achieve this?

It really is the kind of style that you either enjoy it or hate it.

What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

While the narrator is okay, the sound quality is woeful - at times it sounds like there is another person reading in the background or that this has been copied over another recording!

Do you have any additional comments?

It is a shame that such a great book is let down by such bad recording quality.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • PFK
  • 03-20-14

Very poor sound quality

Where does The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1 rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

The book is one I was really looking forward to. Sadly the recording appears to be very old. It sounds like an ancient cassette tape and would have benefited from cleaning up. It is very difficult to listen to - I might persist for a few minutes, but not for a long, long book like this.

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Bernard Mayes?

The reader was probably good but the poor sound quality made it hard to tell.

Any additional comments?

I gave up after about ten minutes - with regret.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • andslau
  • 10-01-13

Poor quality audio

What disappointed you about The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1?

The quality of the audio is rather poor.

What did you like best about this story?

This is Gibbon's elegantly written epic work - difficult to fault.

What does Bernard Mayes bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

The narrator was excellent but unfortunately let down by the quality of the recording. It was bearable for a few minutes but started to grate fairly quickly.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • andrew
  • 04-07-13

Beautifully written, strangely read!

This book is widely regarded as being one of the most beautifully written in the English language. This spoken version sounds rather odd to the modern ear as the narrator gives the impression of having recorded it whilst having a glass of brandy dressed in a silk smoking jacket! Very upper middle class! Once you become accustomed to the rather homely style however, the language shines through and you begin to focus rather more on the subject matter and less on the delivery. I do feel this is a book for those already accustomed with Roman history rather than a 'beginner 's guide' so would recommend it to those who wish to expand their knowledge, not those starting their exploration.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • john
  • 01-26-17

The Foundation of Europe; the Origins of Islam

Where does The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1 rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Gibbon ranks very high even among the giants of the 18th century. Bernard Mayes has the perfect delivery for this great work. He is a flawless professional narrator.

What did you like best about this story?

History made personal in so many major personalities

Which character – as performed by Bernard Mayes – was your favourite?

Gibbon enlists the sympathy of his readers for many of his characters

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

We laughed often; the satire is biting, and there is nothing maudlin about Gibbon.

Any additional comments?

Following the first audio reading, we bought the hardback books, and have since listened twice more--with increasing enjoyment. Gibbon is so quotable, his phrases can be applied to so many contemporary situations.

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  • A. Dufficy
  • 12-02-15

Epic History from Enlightenment Genius

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I'm going to hazard a guess that that feat would be impossible. Especially considering that this is only part one of a three thousand page opus.

Any additional comments?

If Gibbon's history is a work you've always wanted to attempt (or even if you're hearing about it for the first time) this is a uniquely approachable way of experiencing a magisterial work of literature. It is quite an undertaking, but hugely rewarding and absolutely unforgettable. Gibbon takes six full volumes to cover the thirteen centuries from the Age of the Antonines to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. He was meticulous in his use of primary sources, which means his history has dated very well over the centuries. It works best if you close your eyes and imagine the great historian is telling you the story personally and confidentially. Our Roman History lecturer attempted to get us to read Gibbon by informing us that Iggy Pop said in an interview that as he was getting older, following a gig he would relax and unwind by reading the Decline and Fall. Churchill expanded his education by reading Gibbon. It probably contributed to his own rhetorical and prose style (he had hated his own school years). It was almost required reading for British Colonial officials and military officers in order that they would learn and avoid the mistakes the Roman Imperialists had made. Gibbon's "Memoirs of My Life" is also a superb work (and much shorter). One could be pompous and assert that an education is incomplete without having read (or listened to) the Decline and Fall. However, I couldn't say that here.