THE period of time of which this book treats is that lying between the greatest splendor of the Roman Empire and the beginning of what may properly be called the Middle Ages. It is a period which has often been passed over lightly by historians or dismissed with a sneer as the Dark Ages of the world. And this was done in spite of the fact that perhaps the greatest historian, all things considered, who has ever written in the English language, chose just this period for his theme. It is not improbable that the very title of Gibbon's great work may have done its part toward creating a false impression of the time he describes. If one comes to our period as a time of Decline and Fall merely, one can hardly fail to carry away from the study of it a depressing sense of gloom and wretchedness. Gibbon himself, great historian as he was, did not succeed in avoiding this danger. His splendid narrative is on the whole a mournful one. We feel ourselves to be dealing with the wild movements of men, either half brutal or wholly brutalized. We see a magnificent edifice crumbling to decay, but we are not impressed with the elements of life contained in this very process.
It is only when we realize that this is a period of decay