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Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Sources

Gibbon's footnotes hint at his scholarship. He had certainly read extremely widely in the authors from the ancient world: when his work was attacked he produced a detailed defence outlining the impressive breadth of his reading. Here he compares Caesar's and Suetonius’ different accounts of why the Romans decided to invade Britain and decides that, in the matter of the pearl fisheries, Suetonius is probably the better source.

He fits in some further references both to classical writers, such as Tacitus and Pomponius Mela, and to writers of his own day, such as Camden and Horsley, even including a light hearted reference to Irish writers feeling rather put out that Agricola thought their island would require so few troops to conquer.

The note about Gibbon’s reference to the Grampian Hills, where he has drawn a mistaken inference from Tacitus, is by Oliphant Smeaton, who produced a copiously edited version of Gibbon’s work in the early years of the twentieth century and demonstrates the sort of difficulty that is thrown up when we have to rely on the writings of Roman historians.

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