Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire turns from clever narrative to intense introspection of religion and social troubles within the Roman world in Volume II. Constantine the Great changed the planet forever with his conversion to Christianity something Gibbon clearly feels was motivated by personal ambition and a desire to upset the existing order once he attained power.
Constantine's family didn't persecute Pagans according to Gibbon but used the institutions of the Empire to promote Christianity. Constantine's family began a pattern unique to The Eastern Roman/Greek world through the fall of Byzantium in 1453: that of dueling heirs who often times delved the state into civil war to achieve ultimate victory. Pre-Constantine, pagan Rome had sibling conflicts but rarely if ever Empire wide bloody civil wars between members of the same family. The ascension of Constantine's line also ended the period of time where soldiers and generals ran the Roman world. In the future both through Constantine's line and then the line of Theodosius, generals much like the period from 27BC thru 193 AD worked for the Emperors. Sadly this change to civilian rule and dynastic houses wasn't the best thing for Rome as capable generals such as Stillico and Aetius were eventually killed due to the ineptitude of the Emperor.
In 360 AD, Julian a nephew of Constantius (Constantine's son and survivor of a bloody reign where his brothers and other nephews and cousins were all killed) ascended to the Roman throne. Julian known as a the Apostate by history is clearly Gibbon's favorite Emperor of this period.
Julian was a remarkable man, having been educated in the classics as a youth in Athens and having led the Roman army on a campaign against the Germans in Gaul. His embrace of Paganism and the classical history of Rome is why, according to Gibbon he has been judged harshly by history. Julian led the Roman army into yet another war with the Persians in 363 AD and ended up losing his life, not in battle but perhaps under mysterious circumstances in Mesopotamia.
With Julian's death, the continued rise of Christianity and decline of Paganism accelerated in the Roman world, culminating with Theodosius declaration in 395 AD that Christianity was the official religion of the Empire. This came after the devastating battle at Hadrianople (modern Edirne in Turkey) where Emperor Valens was killed by the Goths, and the Roman legions for centuries invincible seemed pathetically weak and suspect. This set up the final century of misery for Rome, which is discussed in volume three.
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