Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some Interesting Parallels...

HT to Internet Monk and specifically to Damaris Zehner for some good words about the so-called Dark Ages...  I am not a fan of this derisive term for it is inaccurate as well as an easy way to write off this whole period in history.  This little article raises not only some good points about the period, but lists some parallels for our own age and time -- would we characterize this age as dark?

Well, read for yourself.....   Decline And Fall...

"There’s been a lot of discussion over the last 1500 years or so of what led to the fall of the Roman Empire and ushered in the Dark Ages.  Such discussions are hard to conduct because already there are those (and I am among them) who want to point out that the eastern half of the Roman Empire survived until almost the time of Columbus and that the “Dark Ages” is an unnecessarily condescending term for the years from oh, say AD 500 through AD 800.  But still, I am going to talk about the fall of the Roman Empire and the advent of the Dark Ages, because the conditions that prevailed then are eerily familiar to us now.

First, a rough collection of scholarly opinion about the fall of the western half of the Empire would have to include the following points.
Immigration Conflict:  Starting in the 300s, the western Empire was overrun with immigration.  Some of it was violent – invasion, actually – while some was potentially peaceful.  At one point, the Germanic tribes on the other side of the Danube, squeezed by the inroads of Asian nomads and attracted by Roman culture, petitioned to be allowed to join the Empire.  The petition was granted.  But when the Goths tried to cross the river, they were met with a fatal reception of corruption and inefficiency, which resulted in warfare that killed the emperor.  Eventually the Goths entered the Empire anyway.
Environmental Disaster:  It wasn’t really a disaster, just a cold winter.  But the winter of 406-407 was cold enough that it froze the Rhine River, and Germanic warriors were able to cross into Roman territory.  Troops had to be pulled from other areas of the Empire to defend the Rhine frontier, and as a result Britain was emptied for good – one domino down.

Depopulation:  The Goths were ultimately successful in moving into western Europe because the Roman Empire was drastically depopulated.  There were several causes for this.  There had been outbreaks of what was probably the bubonic plague around the Mediterranean world.  There had been ongoing fighting around the borders of the Empire for centuries, and both soldiers and civilians were frequent casualties:  army recruiters accepted more and more non-Romans as soldiers because there simply weren’t enough Romans left to defend the vast frontier.  Finally, the population of the Empire consisted of as much as thirty percent slaves.  Roman slaves were largely agricultural; some did heavy labor in other areas, such as mining.  All slaves, with the exception of household servants, lived in barracks and were not permitted to reproduce themselves.  The slave-owners and slave-traders had to raid or finagle farther and farther afield to acquire new slaves.  (The profitability of slave-trading was what was behind the corruption mentioned under Immigration Conflict.)
Rural Collapse:  Because there were so few people, whole villages and towns collapsed.  Rural dwellers left the land and moved to the cities.  The Roman tax system, which was based on land occupation, had a dramatically shrinking base, and the government could no longer raise the revenues it needed.
Collapse of the Monetary System and Economic Recession:  By around the year 600, there was very little money in circulation in western Europe.  Local governments took their payment in goods or labor.
Negative Balance of Trade:  Because of the increased poverty and decreased population, Europeans produced no attractive trade goods and had little ability to increase their wealth through trade with the East or, soon, with the vibrant economies of North Africa.
Hypertrophy:  Maybe the Empire was just too big, and it was inevitable that it would collapse under its own weight.  Diocletian worried about that at the end of the third century, and from that point on there were often two emperors.  There were also two languages eventually – Greek and Latin – and many diverse cultures, customs, and religions.
Cultural Decadence:  This one is a bit harder to prove, but it’s probably the most frequently evoked in recent centuries.  Edward Gibbon thought that the cultural decadence that led to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was Christianity.  He posited that after their conversion the Romans became so focused on the other world that they were no good at defending their borders.  Nowadays you hear the opposite.  People talk about the revolting and costly entertainments in the latter days of the Empire – gladiator shows, martyr burnings, orgies, what have you – as the root of the Empire’s collapse.  I’m sympathetic to the idea, but while I see correlation, I’m not sure I see causation.  But then, I’m not an evangelical preacher..."


Terry Maher said...

I am surprised that the list of factors does not include any mention that there was no clear means of leadership succession in the Empire, meaning that leadership in the face of these other factors was subject to power struggles, civil war, assassination etc.

There are those too who would say that it isn't really the decline and fall of the Empire, but rather the end of Roma (the Roman Republic) that was the real problem, and that what passed to later ages was that of Roma that survived in the Empire amid the worldly corruption however splendid. Roma was never formally abolished, rather, in a series of events just before Jesus' lifetime, it was morphed into the Imperium Romanum.

Which never entirely went away. We still have its state religion with us to-day in the RCC and EO.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

There are indeed many parallels between the Empire of Rome and the "Empire" of the USA.