Edward Gibbon mistake?

Feb 2019
408
Thrace
#1
I'm confused about a passage from Gibbon.

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws.

Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1827) Vol 1.djvu/117 - Wikisource, the free online library

Didn't he meant 5 successive emperors? Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus? Did he equate "the Antonines" with one successive emperor? I'm sure there's something obvious I'm missing.
 
Feb 2019
408
Thrace
#4
At first sight I'd say that Gibbon felt to be an Ancient Roman Citizen and he used the "plurale maiestatis", but it's just a first sight thought.
Could be. But see where he actually lists the emperors in the next sentence? He goes from Emperors "whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect" and in the next sentence he's talking about the ones who carefully preserved "the forms of the civil administration ."

Makes sense if he thought Nerva didn't fit in the first category.
 
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Oct 2011
26,582
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#5
Could be. But see where he actually lists the emperors in the next sentence? He goes from Emperors "whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect." and in the next sentence he's talking about the ones who carefully preserved the "the forms of the civil administration ."

Makes sense if he thought Nerva didn't fit in the first description.
I'm not excluding the possibility that Gibbon made a mistake. Actually, if we don't consider the plurare maiestatis, I see a mistate there. Listen, there are two fields where I'm almost an expert: Ancient Egypt and Middle Ages. In both the fields I'm noted scholars doing incredible and mundane mistakes. But where? Not in Peer reviewed works, usually in books written for the general public. Publishers want a product in a little time and they don't want a high quality standard.
 
Likes: Openminded
#7
I wouldn't consider Nerva an emperor whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect - the fact that this wasn't the case (rebellious praetorians, and a potential usurper commanding the legions in Syria) is why he was effectively forced to adopt Trajan as his son and Caesar. So I agree that he may not have included Nerva in the first statement. But then again, as also noted in this thread, it could just be a mundane mistake.
 
Likes: Openminded
#8
I wouldn't consider Nerva an emperor whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect - the fact that this wasn't the case (rebellious praetorians, and a potential usurper commanding the legions in Syria) is why he was effectively forced to adopt Trajan as his son and Caesar. So I agree that he may not have included Nerva in the first statement. But then again, as also noted in this thread, it could just be a mundane mistake.
I wonder if Gibbon read Cassius Dio, because Dio states that Nerva literally crapped himself when the praetorians went out of control.
 
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Dec 2011
2,289
#10
I don't understand the OP. Clearly, by the Antonines he meant Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and with Nerva and Trajan that's 5 emperors.

Oh sorry, I just realised his mention of the "four successive emperors". Yes, maybe he excluded Nerva from the list of emperors who restrained the armies.

E B Elliot, in Historae Apocalypticae, wrote "By 'the 4 emperors', Gibbon means those after Nerva; Nerva himself, during his short 16 months' reign, having failed partially on this one point of good government."
 
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Likes: Openminded

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