Sunday Morning Decline and Fall

 

the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-colosseumIt’s a Ricochet tradition — or mine, anyway – to reserve Sundays for the discussion of religion, the arts, letters, history, philosophy, and science. We need a break once a week; otherwise, we should go quite mad. Thus I offer as a topic for today’s discussion the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. I have no idea why I was prompted to think of the subject. It came to me unbidden. I must take up the question with my unconscious mind.

In 1984, Alexander Demandt enumerated 210 theses variously advanced to account for the collapse in Der Falls Rom:

Abolition of gods, abolition of rights, absence of character, absolutism, agrarian question, agrarian slavery, anarchy, anti-Germanism, apathy, aristocracy, asceticism, attacks by Germans, attacks by Huns, attacks by nomads on horseback.

Backwardness in science, bankruptcy, barbarization, bastardization, blockage of land by large landholders, blood poisoning, bolshevization, bread and circuses, bureaucracy, Byzantinism.

1399198446375Capitalism, change of capitals, caste system, celibacy, centralization, childlessness, Christianity, citizenship (granting of), civil war, climatic deterioration, communism, complacency, concatenation of misfortunes, conservatism, corruption, cosmopolitanism, crisis of legitimacy, culinary excess, cultural neurosis.

Decentralization, decline of Nordic character, decline of the cities, decline of the Italic population, deforestation, degeneration, degeneration of intellect, demoralization, depletion of mineral resources, despotism, destruction of environment, destruction of peasantry, destruction of political process, destruction of Roman influence, devastation, differences in wealth, disarmament, disillusion with state, division of empire, division of labour.

Earthquakes, egoism, egoism of the state, emancipation of slaves, enervation, epidemics, equal rights (granting of), eradication of the best, escapism, ethnic dissolution, excessive aging of population, excessive civilization, excessive culture, excessive foreign infiltration, excessive freedom, excessive urbanization, expansion, exploitation.

Fear of life, female emancipation, feudalization, fiscalism, gladiatorial system, gluttony, gout, hedonism, Hellenization, heresy, homosexuality, hothouse culture, hubris, hyperthermia.

Immoderate greatness, imperialism, impotence, impoverishment, imprudent policy toward buffer states, inadequate educational system, indifference, individualism, indoctrination, inertia, inflation, intellectualism, integration (weakness of), irrationality, Jewish influence.

the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-romes-destruction-paintingLack of leadership, lack of male dignity, lack of military recruits, lack of orderly imperial succession, lack of qualified workers, lack of rainfall, lack of religiousness, lack of seriousness, large landed properties, lead-poisoning, lethargy, levelling (cultural), levelling (social), loss of army discipline, loss of authority, loss of energy, loss of instincts, loss of population, luxury.

Malaria, marriages of convenience, mercenary system, mercury damage, militarism, monetary economy, monetary greed, money (shortage of), moral decline, moral idealism, moral materialism, mystery religions, nationalism of Rome’s subjects, negative selection.

Orientalization, outflow of gold, over-refinement, pacifism, paralysis of will, paralysation, parasitism, particularism, pauperism, plagues, pleasure-seeking, plutocracy, polytheism, population pressure, precociousness, professional army, proletarization, prosperity, prostitution, psychoses, public baths.

Racial degeneration, racial discrimination, racial suicide, rationalism, refusal of military service, religious struggles and schisms, rentier mentality, resignation, restriction to profession, restriction to the land, rhetoric, rise of uneducated masses, romantic attitudes to peace, ruin of middle class, rule of the world.

Semi-education, sensuality, servility, sexuality, shamelessness, shifting of trade routes, slavery, Slavic attacks, socialism (of the state), social tensions, soil erosion, soil exhaustion, spiritual barbarism, stagnation, stoicism, stress, structural weakness, superstition.

Taxation, pressure of terrorism, tiredness of life, totalitarianism, treason, tristesse, two-front war, underdevelopment, useless diet, usurpation of all powers by the state, vaingloriousness, villa economy, vulgarization.

I couldn’t say why I find myself so fascinated by that list today. I must take it up with my unconscious mind. For those of you inclined to take up that question with your own unconscious minds, I commend to your attention this passage from Civilization and Its Discontents, in which Sigmund Freud compares the mind to a city with an ancient history:

Now let us make the fantastic supposition that Rome were not a human dwelling-place, but a mental entity with just as long and varied a past history: that is, in which nothing once constructed had perished, and all the earlier stages of development had survived alongside the latest. This would mean that . . . where the Palazzo Caffarelli stands there would also be, without this being removed, the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. … Where the Coliseum stands now, we could at the same time admire Nero’s Golden House. … And the observer would need merely to shift the focus of his eyes, perhaps, or change his position, in order to call up a view of either the one or the other.

Adam Kirsch begins with that allusion in an interesting review of new works about the Roman Empire and the long tradition of seeing America both in and as Rome:

120109_r21737_p886-873The comparison is necessarily a loose one, but it preserves the customary understanding of the Roman Empire as a peak of human civilization, a fragile accomplishment that could all too easily be undermined by its own hubris. But this season brings a number of new works on Roman history that focus not on the glories of Roman culture but on its notorious brutalities. The perspective is, in its own way, just as unsettling as any apocalyptic fantasy of decline and fall. What if the true meaning of Rome is not justice but injustice, not civilization but institutionalized barbarism? What if, when you look back as Freud did at the Eternal City — a sobriquet that Rome had already earned two thousand years ago — you find at the bottom of all its archeological strata not a forum or a palace but a corpse?

What if, indeed.

Now, it’s surely true that there’s a Rorschach-test aspect to the question, “Why do you believe the Roman Empire collapsed?” It’s possible to construct many plausible theories, and if any event seems (retrospectively) over-determined, it’s the fall of Rome. Wikipedia’s account of the historiography of the period looks to me a sound and comprehensive review for those of you who need a refresher (I did); and we have among us a number of classicists who will surely have more thoughts to add. Suffice to say, there’s a vast reading list to master. A great deal of powerful human intellect has been applied to this question: There’s a compellingly-argued thesis to please all tastes.

statue_planetIt’s true that the theories about the fall of Rome that seem most persuasive to historians tend to be the ones that confirm their contemporary political beliefs. For example, Bruce Bartlett of the Cato Institute does a fine job of attributing Rome’s demise to its failure to adopt the Cato Institute’s policy recommendations. (That’s not sarcasm, by the way: It’s an outstanding piece, and really well worth reading.) Historians are human.

That said, none of us here, I assume, ascribe to the postmodern thesis that our interpretation of history is of necessity an entirely subjective matter. Some historical explanations are better and more plausible than others. Objectively.

So, Ricochet, what do you hold to be the top five — objective — causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire? Why do you think them more important than the others?

And don’t you find it relaxing to take a day away from contemplating current affairs? I don’t know why thinking about this subject hasn’t relaxed me yet, but I’m sure it will as I meditate upon it more deeply.

 

There are 81 comments.

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  1. Contributor

    A fascinating topic and question. I’m reading this just minutes after finishing a novella titled Dies Irae: Day of Wrath by William R. Forstchen, which is a fictional account of a multitude of domestic terrorist attacks against the United States by ISIS. The story ends leaving the reader wondering if the events herald the demise of America, or its renewal. I hope the author writes a sequel.

    As for why Rome collapsed, I hesitate to offer my own suggestions, as so many of the reasons given above seem plausible. Nonetheless, here they are:

    1.) lack of faith in institutional leaders
    2.) lack of faith in the institutions themselves
    3.) lack of trust in one’s fellow man
    4.) no belief that matters will improve in the foreseeable future
    5.) a desire to seek individual survival, or the survival of one’s family at all costs, damn the social consequences

    From what I understand of Rome’s final days, the citizens of the city itself and what remained of the larger empire were convinced that the wolves were at the door. They were not wrong. And to survive, they had to become wolves themselves.

    • #1
    • June 28, 2015 at 1:27 am
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  2. Thatcher

    1. Lack of male dignity: from Ammianus Marcellinus, “Some men think they can become immortal by having statues made of them—as if they could be rewarded after death by being cast as bronze figures that have no sense or feeling rather than by striving to perform upright and honorable actions.” When Romans rejected the moral code that caused Rome to be great, it was only a matter of time before Roman institutions fell apart under the pressure of such a vast empire.

    2. Slavery: a large empire can only expand and survive with a dynamic economy that can provide meaningful employment to large urban populations and handle extended periods of difficulty, like climate fluctuations, plague, and invasions. Slavery inhibited Roman economic development.

    3. Totalitarianism: when you must worship the emperor and the state provides you with bread and circuses, it is no wonder that Rome fell.

    4. Shifting of trade routes: the Roman Empire didn’t fall, the Western Roman Empire fell. How do we explain how the East remained in-tact and Justinian almost reunited the whole thing from Constantinople?

    5. Barbarian invasions: Rome would not have fallen if there was nobody to conquer it. Names like the Huns, Vandals, and Goths still incite fear. I would not want to face them on the battlefield.

    • #2
    • June 28, 2015 at 1:43 am
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  3. Inactive

    Great post and plenty to think about as I go off to bed. I might simply say that Rome fell because she ceased being Roman.

    • #3
    • June 28, 2015 at 2:09 am
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  4. Thatcher

    I do appreciate the posts here that don’t have to do with current affairs as well as the ones that do. This topic is fascinating and I am looking forward to everyone’s top 5. Heading to work now unfortunately but that will also help me take a day off from all things political…..at least until I look at twitter and ruin my day. :)

    • #4
    • June 28, 2015 at 2:29 am
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  5. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: And don’t you find it relaxing to take a day away from contemplating current affairs? I don’t know why thinking about this subject hasn’t relaxed me yet, but I’m sure it will as I meditate upon it more deeply.

    Good luck not thinking of current affairs while thinking of the collapse of the Roman Republic into the Princeps period. Or were you thinking of the period around 500 AD? Well, that end started when the Republic collapsed. The seeds were sown, as are ours.

    • #5
    • June 28, 2015 at 3:14 am
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  6. Inactive

    I fear we will be more Carthage than Rome. We have no eastern continuance, and we are falling to an ascendant foe, not bands of raiders with impeccable timing and a nose for rot.

    • #6
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:10 am
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  7. Inactive

    Arahant:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: And don’t you find it relaxing to take a day away from contemplating current affairs? I don’t know why thinking about this subject hasn’t relaxed me yet, but I’m sure it will as I meditate upon it more deeply.

    Good luck not thinking of current affairs while thinking of the collapse of the Roman Republic into the Princeps period.. …The seeds were sown, as are ours.

    Good Point. Perhaps 26+ years of Bushes, Clinton(s?), Obama’s and the last 60 years of rule by Supreme Court get one thinking of the fall of formerly great Republics. Not very relaxing to thinking about the devolution of our country and culture.

    • #7
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:13 am
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  8. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    American Abroad: 4. Shifting of trade routes: the Roman Empire didn’t fall, the Western Roman Empire fell. How do we explain how the East remained in-tact and Justinian almost reunited the whole thing from Constantinople?

    This is, I think, a crucial point — and any historian who emphasizes the loss of civic virtue in late antiquity as the primary causal agent of Roman demise has to reckon with it. In the battle of Bury v. Gibbon, Bury wins. 

    • #8
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:16 am
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  9. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball:I fear we will be more Carthage than Rome. We have no eastern continuance, and we are falling to an ascendant foe, not bands of raiders with impeccable timing and a nose for rot.

    Well, both even. How’s that for cheery?

    • #9
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:17 am
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  10. Inactive

    If I remember correctly, in the New Criterion recently Rodger Kimball reviewed a book about the death of Caesar that made the argument that the Republic was doomed regardless of Caesar’s opportunism. It made me want to read the book. I also recall, vaguely seeing and interview with Victor Davis Hanson who had made some gloomy comparison between our time and the decline of Rome and he said something to the effect that it took 1000 years…so at least we’ve got that going for us. I became fascinated and then repulsed by the TeeVee show Vikings and so discovered the far better version which are the Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell. Reading those novels got me wondering if anyone has attempted to determine what might have happened to make the various barbarian populations grow. I wonder if some change in climate or some adaptation allowed more of them to survive and begin to explore away from their inhospitable lands toward the Mediterranean civilizations?

    • #10
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:19 am
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  11. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    I’m curious to know if anyone’s read Peter Heather’s book about it and if so, how you rate his thesis. He tried to revive Vegetius’s theory, in a way, but argued that it wasn’t the Germanian dilution of Roman culture that did them in but the rise of the Sassanid Persians. Basically (to make a long, long story short), he argues that the eastern part of the empire sucked the the western part dry to resist the Persians — and that this is what left the west unable to resist barbarian incursion.

    His thesis has the virtue of accounting for the survival of the eastern empire in a plausible way, right? 

    • #11
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:30 am
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  12. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Capt. Aubrey: Reading those novels got me wondering if anyone has attempted to determine what might have happened to make the various barbarian populations grow. I wonder if some change in climate or some adaptation allowed more of them to survive and begin to explore away from their inhospitable lands toward the Mediterranean civilizations?

    I vaguely remember that Jared Diamond tried to make this case. I think I have a copy of his book somewhere in my apartment. But I don’t remember seeing it recently, which means it’s probably buried under a pile of other stuff and I’ll never find it. Does anyone else remember whether Diamond argues this, and if so, whether he makes the case persuasively?

    • #12
    • June 28, 2015 at 4:39 am
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  13. Listener

    Not in particular order:
    1.) Abdication by the Senate
    2.) Inconsistent foreign (e.g., barbarian) policy.
    3.) Over-reliance on mercenaries.
    4.) Debased currency.
    5.) Poorly assimilated immigrants, which is merely a symptom that Romans had stopped believing Romans were different.

    • #13
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:11 am
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  14. Inactive

    I don’t think the Roman Empire ever collapsed, or even ” fell “. It evolved, or devolved if you insist. From the the founding of the city (AUC) to its withering away ” Rome ” lasted more than 1000 years (take THAT, Adolph!). That’s pretty much what Gibbon tells us. Okay, If I have to pick five here’s my list.

    1. Time. ThingS change. The world moves on. It’s a fact.

    2. Geographic processes. People move. Economies rise and collapse. Beliefs and attitudes begin in one place and are carried and transplanted in other places. Things change. The world moves on. It’s a fact.

    3. Ethnic and linguistic nationalism. People with strong senses of group identity become powerful and exert their power and influence on other peoples and regions around them. Sometimes they migrate to whole new places ( a la Goths or Vandals ) and they change the places to which they move. Things change. The world moves on. It’s a fact.

    4. The chaos of history. History is an infinite series of now points. It has no direction and no teleological essence. Stuff happens. Things change. The world moves on. It’s a fact.

    5. The birth, growth, and development of different and sometimes better ( in the qualitative as well as evolutionary sense ) ideas. The idea of “Rome” became old. An Eastern and a Western empire was better, but that idea became old, too. So did the ” the Holy Roman Empire” and Byzantium. Stuff happens, things change, the world moves on. Or so it would seem.

    • #14
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:13 am
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  15. Thatcher

    Assuming you are referring to the Western Roman Empire:

    1. Failure of the Empire to ever come up with a generally accepted process for succession leading to increasing number of civil wars from the early 3rd century on that weakened the army and economy.

    2. The resulting division of the Empire leading to an Eastern Empire with a more prosperous economy and tax base than the West.

    3. The Eastern Empire’s ability to finally deflect the Visigoths into the weaker West in the early 5th century.

    Actually what’s always interested me more is a different question. How did Rome (both Republic and Empire) manage to dominate the entire Mediterranean world for about 600 years from the end of the Second Punic War (201 BC) into the 5th century AD, something not done before or since?

    • #15
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:33 am
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  16. Inactive

    The Roman empire collapsed through prosperity and the complacency that ensues. When an empire or a nation is no longer concerned about it’s survival, it’s attention moves to more trivial and transient issues which produces cultural rot. Sound familiar?

    • #16
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:38 am
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  17. Member

    Robert McReynolds:Great post and plenty to think about as I go off to bed. I might simply say that Rome fell because she ceased being Roman.

    Pretty much. I tag the collapse of Rome on two things:

    First (and most important) it allowed outsiders into the empire without assimilating them. Prior to Adrianople barbarian tribes wishing to enter the empire were allowed to do so if they disarmed and agreed to become Roman. They were often settled far from where they entered, and then educated as to what being Roman was. Within two generations they were Roman. After Adrianople outside peoples entered Rome as armed bands, and carved out enclaves, remaining Roman only nominally.

    Second – the tax structure changed favoring only the very rich and very poor. The rich could evade taxation by using influence to delay payment until a tax forgiveness was declared (generally when a new Emperor appeared), while the poor paid no taxes. Everyone in the middle was squeezed out – you either became rich enough to avoid paying taxes or fell into poverty by paying them.

    There were other reasons, but those were key.

    My recommendation: Listen to The History of Rome podcast.

    Seawriter

    • #17
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:52 am
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  18. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Mark:Assuming you are referring to the Western Roman Empire:

    Effectively, yes, but I was hoping the question of the different fates of the Western and Eastern parts of the empire would come up — and it did.

    1. Failure of the Empire to ever come up with a generally accepted process for succession leading to increasing number of civil wars from the early 3rd century on that weakened the army and economy.

    2. The resulting division of the Empire leading to an Eastern Empire with a more prosperous economy and tax base than the West.

    3. The Eastern Empire’s ability to finally deflect the Visigoths into the weaker West in the early 5th century.

    Actually what’s always interested me more is a different question. How did Rome (both Republic and Empire) manage to dominate the entire Mediterranean world for about 600 years from the end of the Second Punic War (201 BC) into the 5th century AD, something not done before or since?

    And a very good question that is, too. Thoughts about the answer?

    • #18
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:53 am
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  19. Inactive

    The Roman Empire was bound to fail. We didn’t know how bad it was when Bushicus left it to us.

    • #19
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:59 am
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  20. Member

    Mark: How did Rome (both Republic and Empire) manage to dominate the entire Mediterranean world for about 600 years from the end of the Second Punic War (201 BC) into the 5th century AD, something not done before or since?

    One of the big ways they did this was by allowing anyone to become a Roman citizen – to become Roman. No other ancient empire did this (at least in Europe/Africa/Middle East). The Greeks failed because they could not get beyond their city. A barbarian was anyone who did not speak the same brand of Greek as in their home city, even folks from another Greek city were foreigners, and even those from colony cities settled by folks from the home town were inferiors (and generally not citizens of the home polis).

    The Roman genius was allowing anyone – regardless of origin – to assimilate. Kind of like the United States between 1880 and 1920 . . .

    Seawriter

    • #20
    • June 28, 2015 at 5:59 am
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  21. Member

    A complex topic to be sure, and I suffer for not having the persistence to finish Gibbon (or get much past the start, for that matter). That out of the way, I would have to point to a single aspect with multiple root causes: a collapse of the tax base in the west.

    The East continued primarily because it had access to revenues that had gone dry in the West, notably trade related revenues. The strength of the west was always in its agricultural base, which was wrecked by poor climate in the 3rd century. At the same time, disease ate the heart out of the Roman populace. the reason for letting the Goths resettle into Dacia was because disease had emptied it of Romans. Without people and without products, there’s not a lot to tax.

    Further, concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands reached a critical point at about the same time. Contra the lefties, this wasn’t a problem in itself, but it meant that certain wealthy landowners essentially became “too big to fail” and ceased to pay their taxes due- the State essentially had to bargain to get even a portion of what it needed to survive.

    The fact that Rome even survived the 3rd century is almost entirely due to the institutional strength that the Empire possessed. So, I don’t entirely buy the institutional rot thesis for the collapse. As others noted, essentially the same institutions continued for another 1000 years in Constantinople.

    • #21
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:05 am
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  22. Member

    Ball Diamond Ball:I fear we will be more Carthage than Rome. We have no eastern continuance, and we are falling to an ascendant foe, not bands of raiders with impeccable timing and a nose for rot.

    There’s a lot to this, actually. However, I don’t think that the fall of Carthage bears any relation to America today. Carthage, like America and Britain, was a sea based power, its economy dependent on trade. Rome was more on the model of France, Germany, China or Russia: expansionist land-based powers with an economy dependent on internal production.

    If there’s any historical analogue, it’s more an answer to the question of what if Carthage had beaten Rome.

    • #22
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:10 am
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  23. Member

    The inflow of precious metals from conquest gave rise to inflation, causing the enrichment of the largest landed aristocrats and creditors. The inflow of slaves gradually replaced almost all workers and gave rise to urban unemployment. Smaller farmers were bought out. The new urban mobs had to be pacified, so the elite had to have some of the new concentrated wealth removed from them so the oligarchy had to give way to dictatorship. The concentration of power and wealth went hand in hand, but as the sloth and easy living of great wealth sapped the strength, the martial habits eroded, the inflow slowed but the system had to be maintained, the currency was debased, defense of trading routes and rural security eroded. It didn’t collapse, it just rotted and at some point was gone.

    • #23
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:14 am
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  24. Inactive

    Given that the Roman Empire was very much in the minds of our founders as they designed our system and our country seems to mirror Rome in many ways, I wonder if there is something inherent in the design that leads to a boom/collapse. And then what that might be and if it can be corrected. Now or in the beginning.

    That is, one might say she died of a fever. But it wasn’t the fever. Or even the germ. It was that our bodies are designed in a way that makes us susceptible to germs. Determining why and how allows us to overcome the danger.

    The list above reads like a list of germs.

    • #24
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:15 am
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  25. Inactive

    Seawriter:

    Mark: How did Rome (both Republic and Empire) manage to dominate the entire Mediterranean world for about 600 years from the end of the Second Punic War (201 BC) into the 5th century AD, something not done before or since?

    One of the big ways they did this was by allowing anyone to become a Roman citizen – to become Roman. No other ancient empire did this (at least in Europe/Africa/Middle East). The Greeks failed because they could not get beyond their city. A barbarian was anyone who did not speak the same brand of Greek as in their home city, even folks from another Greek city were foreigners,…

    The Roman genius was allowing anyone – regardless of origin – to assimilate. Kind of like the United States between 1880 and 1920 . . .

    Seawriter

    This is one of the point made in the magnificent Lost to the West, a history of what we call “Byzantium”, but which was the eastern half of the Roman Empire, and which stood for a thousand years after Rome fell.

    Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

    • #25
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:24 am
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  26. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    SPare: which was wrecked by poor climate in the 3rd century.

    You sound as if you’re coming down quite firmly on the “climate wrecked the tax base” side of things. But this is also when the money economy broke down — and the state began compelling farmers to work and denying them the freedom to move. Perhaps the tax base could have survived these environmental changes had the state embraced laissez-faire economic policies? It seems to me imaginable, at least, that had subjects not been tied to the land, the West could have developed non-agricultural sources of revenue. It did subsequently, after all. 

    • #26
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:31 am
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  27. Reagan
    iWe

    Rome lost its civilizational confidence. Once people are no longer willing to fight and die for their cause, the cause will fail against those who oppose it with greater will. This is not about numbers: it is about the power of determination.

    Rome got in the habit of buying off its enemies instead of opposing them in battle. In the short term, that works. In the longer run, it leads to stronger enemies and a depleted treasury, as well as a citizenry that no longer even sees fighting as a viable option.

    • #27
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:38 am
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  28. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    iWe:Rome lost its civilizational confidence. Once people are no longer willing to fight and die for their cause, the cause will fail against those who oppose it with greater will. This is not about numbers: it is about the power of determination.

    Rome got in the habit of buying off its enemies instead of opposing them in battle. In the short term, that works. In the longer run, it leads to stronger enemies and a depleted treasury, as well as a citizenry that no longer even sees fighting as a viable option.

    How does your argument account for the difference in the fates of the Eastern and Western empires?

    • #28
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:45 am
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  29. Thatcher

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    iWe:Rome lost its civilizational confidence. Once people are no longer willing to fight and die for their cause, the cause will fail against those who oppose it with greater will. This is not about numbers: it is about the power of determination.

    Rome got in the habit of buying off its enemies instead of opposing them in battle. In the short term, that works. In the longer run, it leads to stronger enemies and a depleted treasury, as well as a citizenry that no longer even sees fighting as a viable option.

    How does your argument account for the difference in the fates of the Eastern and Western empires?

    1. I don’t think the Western empire fell because of a lack of confidence. Even the barbarians entering the empire starting in the 3rd century wanted to become a part of it. Their intent was not to overthrow it.

    2. The Eastern empire succeeded for a while by buying off the Visigoths and Huns, not defeating them, and bribing them to go westwards.

    3. Even the Eastern empire only lasted as a global power until the mid-7th century. It fought a long war 602-28 against the Persians which, though it ultimately won, was mostly fought on its territory causing massive disruption in its most prosperous provinces and then, starting in 634, the Muslim invasions ripped those provinces permanently away leaving Byzantium as a weakened regional power for the rest of its existence.

    • #29
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:59 am
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  30. Inactive

    It’s due for re-reading after a span of years, so please forgive the lack of explication, but it seems appropriate to again recommend The Collapse of Complex Societies.

    • #30
    • June 28, 2015 at 6:59 am
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