Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/60

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
liv
INTRODUCTION

entirely false impression of the facts. If the materials had been then as well sifted and studied as they are even to-day, he could not have failed to see that beneath the intrigues and crimes of the Palace there were deeper causes at work, and beyond the revolutions of the Capital City wider issues implied. The cause for which the Iconoclasts contended involved far more than an ecclesiastical rule or usage; it meant, and they realized, the regeneration of the Empire. Or, to take another instance: the key to the history of the tenth and eleventh centuries, is the struggle between the Imperial throne and the great landed interest of Asia Minor;[1] the accession of Alexius Commenus marked the final victory of the latter. Nor had Gibbon any conception of the great ability of most of the Emperors from Leo the Isaurian to Basil II., or, we might say, to Constantine the conqueror of Armenia. The designation of the story of the later Empire as a "uniform tale of weakness and misery"[2] is one and as to its weakness of the most untrue, and most effective, judgments ever uttered by a thoughtful historian. Before the outrage of 1204, the Empire was the bulwark of the West.[3]

Reaction Against Gibbon's point of view there has been a gradual reaction which may be said to have culminated within the Finlay's History last ten years. It was begun by Finlay, whose unprosperous speculations in Greece after the Revolution prompted him to seek for the causes of the insecurity of investments in land, and, leading him back to the year 146 B.C., involved him in

  1. This has been best pointed out by C. Neumann.
  2. Chap, xlviii. ad init., where a full statement of his view of the later Empire will be found.
  3. I need not repeat here what I have said elsewhere, and what many others have said (recently Mr. Frederic Harrison in two essays in his volume entitled The Meaning of History) as to the various services of the Empire to Europe. They are beginning to be generally recognized and they have been brought out in Mr. C. W. Oman's brief and skilful sketch of the "Byzantine Empire" (1892).