Introduction. The importance and magnitude of the subject.
Had the praise of History been passed over by former
Chroniclers it would perhaps have been incumbent upon me to urge the choice and
special study of records of this sort, as the
readiest means men can have of correcting their
knowledge of the past. But my predecessors have not been
sparing in this respect. They have all begun and ended, so to
speak, by enlarging on this theme: asserting again and again
that the study of History is in the truest sense an education,
and a training for political life; and that the most instructive,
or rather the only, method of learning to bear with dignity
the vicissitudes of fortune is to recall the catastrophes of
others. It is evident, therefore, that no one need think it his
duty to repeat what has been said by many, and said well.
Least of all myself: for the surprising nature of the events
which I have undertaken to relate is in itself sufficient to challenge and stimulate the attention of every one, old or young, to
the study of my work. Can any one be so indifferent or idle
as not to care to know by what means, and under what kind
of polity, almost the whole inhabited world was conquered and
brought under the dominion of the single city of Rome
that too within a period of not quite fifty-three
years? Or who again can be so completely
absorbed in other subjects of contemplation or study, as to
think any of them superior in importance to the accurate understanding of an event for which the past affords no precedent.