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The militarization of the Western Empire: How the COVID pandemic accelerated the process

The militarization of the Western Empire: How the COVID pandemic accelerated the process

Donald Trump may not have been not such a warlike emperor as previous Western Emperors have been (and probably will be). But, even assuming that Trump is trying to avoid wars, he cannot oppose the militarization trends of the Western economy that was boosted by the COVID-19 epidemics. 

History repeats itself – oh, yes! And sometimes it repeats itself so fast and so ruthlessly that it leaves you out of breath. Think of what’s happening right now: the COVID; the lockdowns, the face masks, the limitations to movements: all that happened in a few months, and the world of last year looks so remote that it could be seen as part of the still ongoing Middle Ages.

And, yet, there is some logic in what has happened. History may surprise you and it usually does (the only sure thing we learn from history is that people never learn from history). But whatever happens in history has a reason to happen. And what we are seeing is not unexpected. We have seen it already, stark clear and unavoidable: it is the militarization trend of a decaying society.

Let’s go back to the Roman Empire, as always the paradigmatic story of a state that went through a full cycle of growth and collapse. The Roman world was not so technologically sophisticated as ours, but the basic needs of the citizens were the same and the Roman government provided many of them. You may have heard the expression “Panem et Circenses” (bread and circus games). That described two of the services that the Roman state ensured: the shipment of  wheat from Africa to the Roman cities and the various kind of games performed in the amphitheaters.

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This Is How It Ends: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

This Is How It Ends: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

While the Federal Reserve and the Billionaire Class push the stock market to new highs to promote a false facade of prosperity, everyday life will fall apart.
How will the status quo collapse? An open conflict–a civil war, an insurrection, a coup–appeals to our affection for drama, but the more likely reality is a decidedly undramatic dissolution in which all the elements of our way of life we reckoned were solid and permanent simply melt into air, to borrow Marx’s trenchant phrase.
In other words, Rome won’t be sacked by Barbarians, or ignite in an insurrectionary conflagration–everything will simply stop working as those burdened with the impossible task of keeping a failed system glued together simply walk away.
If we examine the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Western Roman Empire, we can trace the eventual collapse to the sudden psychological shift from an assumption of permanence that found expression in denial (Rome can’t fall, it’s eternal…) or in the universal belief that life was unchanging and so everything was forever.
This psychological state was replaced by a shocked awareness that what was unimaginable, “impossible”–systemic collapse–was not only entirely possible, it was happening in real time. This change in consciousness arose in individuals in differing ways and velocities, but eventually everyone accepted that some adaptation was now necessary.
Correspondent R.J. and I have been discussing the consequences of the sharp decline in the value of labor which is painfully obvious in the chart below and the many other charts depicting the declining purchasing power of wages and the skimming of the majority of the economic gains by the top 0.1%.
In effect, it no longer pays to work beyond the bare minimum needed to survive as all the value generated by labor above this minimum is either skimmed by the Bezos, Buffetts, Gates, Zuckerbergs et al. or it’s paid in higher taxes to the government.

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Bimillenary of the death of Germanicus: The Defeat of the Roman Deep State

Bimillenary of the death of Germanicus: The Defeat of the Roman Deep State

2,000 years ago, on Oct 10, 19 CE, Germanicus Julius Caesar died in Antioch, Asia Minor, perhaps poisoned by his uncle, Tiberius, then the ruling emperor. If we see Hillary Clinton in the role of Germanicus and Donald Trump in the role of Tiberius, you have an equivalent ongoing conflict. 
Most likely, the concept of “Deep State” existed in Roman times, just as in ours.

Germanicus had not gained his “agnomen” (victory name) because he was a friend of the Germans, but because he had managed to kill many of them in a series of military campaigns from 14 to 16 CE. Tacitus tells us many details of how the Romans engaged in what we would call today a Strafexpedition (“Punitive expedition”) to avenge the defeat they had suffered against the Germans in Teutoburg ten years before. 

The Romans attacked Germany with eight legions and plenty of auxiliary troops in what was probably the largest military expedition in history, up to that time. In military terms, it was a success: the Germans were defeated and forced to retreat, but the cost of the campaign was simply staggering. Reading Tacitus we can get a feeling of the enormous effort in which the Romans had to engage in order to keep their legions supplied of food, equipment (and money for the troops). Eight legions were about a third of the whole military strength of the Empire: imagine fielding them in a region having no roads and no supporting infrastructure! 

By 16 CE, it must have been clear that the effort was bankrupting the Roman state. That led to an undeclared conflict between the ruling emperor of the time, Tiberius, and his nephew, Germanicus. It was good that Germanicus could defeat the Germans (or, at least, claim victory over them).

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The Surrender of Liberty in the Name of Security

The Surrender of Liberty in the Name of Security 

QUESTION: It seems that as we get closer to a change-over of economic systems that as a society we are more willing to give up our rights to the State. Is that part of a pattern during these types of events? Was it seen as Britain, Rome, and other countries lost power after their peaks?
DS

ANSWER: Unfortunately, the trend first materializes when people need the government to protect them usually from an external force. The British used this tactic against both the French and the American colonists. That prompted Ben Franklin to comment on this trend.

After the 3rd Century Monetary Crisis bottomed in the Roman Empire in 268 AD, there was a surge to build a wall around Rome by Emperor Aurelian following the same pattern. Aurelian saw the corruption that led to the debasement of the currency because those minting the coins were robbing the treasury. Aurelian moved to DRAIN THE SWAMP in Rome. When Aurelian returned to Rome in 271 AD after fighting off barbarians, he had to pacify a terrified city. He immediately halted the rioting and restored order to the capital. The controller of the mint in Rome began a rebellion over the monetary reforms laid out by Aurelian. He ordered that all the debased currency be purchased back and replaced with a new currency of higher content in silver. The rebellion was led by Felicissimus.

It appears that those who had been running the mint were embezzling the intended silver and issuing the debased coinage at least in part on their own authority. Obviously, any reform to the monetary system that called for an increase in silver content would have been unprofitable for those running the mint for personal gain.

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Did climate change cause the fall of the Roman Empire? No, but what may have actually happened is amazing.

Did climate change cause the fall of the Roman Empire? No, but what may have actually happened is amazing. 

“Vanity Fair” may not be the best source for reliable scientific information, but this cover is typical of an idea that’s becoming popular in the memesphere: that the Roman Empire fell because of climate change. Alas, this means stretching the data more than a bit and surprisingly, the opposite may be true: the climate changed because the Empire fell. Read on! (image source)

We have a problem with history: we often try to frame the past as if it were the same as the present. And that means projecting on the ancient our own troubles and fears. Add to this the difficulties we have in dealing with complex systems, the kind of systems that normally behave the way they damn please, and the results are often a complete mess.

The fall of the Roman Empire is a case in point. Maybe you know that in 1984 the German historian Demandt listed 210 (!!) causes proposed for the fall. It is fun to read how people just transferred to the Roman society whatever they were afraid of, from Communism to Culinary Excess.

In more recent times, we started being worried about things that weren’t well known in the 1980s. One is the decline of the energy return on energy invested (EROI), which is a true problem for our fossil-based society. It is much less obvious that it was a problem the ancient Romans and I wasn’t impressed by the attempts of Thomas Homer-Dixon to paint the Roman collapse as the result of an EROI decline. No data, no proof, just vague analogies.

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Following in Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Inequality

Following in Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Inequality

Here is the moral decay of America’s ruling elites boiled down to a single word.

There are many reasons why Imperial Rome declined, but two primary causes that get relatively little attention are moral decay and soaring wealth inequality. The two are of course intimately connected: once the morals of the ruling Elites degrade, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.

I’ve previously covered two other key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline: complacency and intellectual sclerosis, what I have termed a failure of imagination.

Michael Grant described these causes of decline in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire, a short book I have been recommending since 2009:There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation which had now arisen, a situation which needed solutions as radical as itself. (The Status Quo) attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.

This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.

This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.

A lengthier book by Adrian Goldsworthy How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower addresses the same issues from a slightly different perspective.

Glenn Stehle, commenting on a thread in the excellent website peakoilbarrel.com (operated by the estimable Ron Patterson) made a number of excellent points that I am taking the liberty of excerpting: (with thanks to correspondent Paul S.)

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The Lessons of Rome: Our Neofeudal Oligarchy

The Lessons of Rome: Our Neofeudal Oligarchy

Our society has a legal structure of self-rule and ownership of capital, but in reality it is a Neofeudal Oligarchy.

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 is not an easy, breezy read; its length and detail are daunting.

The effort is well worth it, as the book helps us understand how the power structures of societies change over time in ways that may be largely invisible to those living through the changes.

The Inheritance of Rome focuses on the lasting influence of Rome’s centralized social and political structures even as centralized economic power and trade routes dissolved.

This legacy of centralized power and loyalty to a central authority manifested 324 years after the end of the Western Roman Empire circa 476 A.D. in Charlemagne, who united much of western Europe as the head of the Holy Roman Empire. (Recall that the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire endured another 1,000 years until 1453 A.D.)

But thereafter, the social and political strands tying far-flung villages and fiefdoms to a central authority frayed and were replaced by a decentralized feudalism in which peasants were largely stripped of the right to own land and became the chattel of independent nobles.

In this disintegrative phase, the central authority invested in the monarchy of kings and queens was weak to non-existent.In the long sweep of history, it took several hundred years beyond 1000 A.D. for central authority to re-assert itself in the form of monarchy, and several hundred additional years for the rights of commoners to be established.

Indeed, it can be argued that it was not until the 1600s and 1700s–and only in the northern European strongholds of commoners’ rights, The Netherlands and England–that the rights of ownership and political influence enjoyed by commoners in the Roman Empire were matched.

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We’re Still Making Diocletian’s Mistakes

We’re Still Making Diocletian’s Mistakes

Some of the most telling moments in history are when we look back and see people in a vastly different world behaving exactly as people do today. From 286 to 305 Diocletian, one of Rome’s most powerful and consequential emperors, tried to fix the political and economic systems which he inherited and were teetering on the brink of collapse. In doing so, he made mistakes remarkably similar to those made by people in government today.

The world Diocletian inherited was staggering out of the Crisis of the Third Century, a 50-year period that saw 26 claimants to the imperial robes, most of whom seemed guided by nothing more than personal greed and ambition. Relatively speaking, Diocletian brought stability and good intentions to the Roman state and helped it persist for another 150 years.

But virtually all of Diocletian’s individual reforms sought a stronger imperial state that exploded in both bureaucracy and godlike pageantry in an attempt to engineer prosperity from the top down. The astonishing part is that after more than 1,700 years, after the development of economics as a field of study, and under the auspices of liberal democracy, governments today proceed with largely the same instincts.

Is Four Greater Than One?

The man who would become known as Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus was born in present-day Croatia in the year 244. He first came to power as many emperors did, with an army under his command proclaiming him as such, and ultimately defeating other military rivals.

Diocletian realized that his vast empire was too large and complex to be ruled by a single man. This insight about the limits of top-down control may have been forward-thinking, but his solution shows how deeply important the elites of his time viewed a strong centralized state. By 293, Diocletian had fully formed the tetrarchy, where two junior and two senior emperors bound by a set of marriages would each rule a quarter of the empire.

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What can we Learn From the Middle Ages About Collapse? The Great Challenge of the Seneca Bottleneck

What can we Learn From the Middle Ages About Collapse? The Great Challenge of the Seneca Bottleneck

The idea that a collapse is awaiting our civilization seems to be gaining ground, although it has not reached the mainstream debate. But no civilization before ours escaped collapse, so it makes sense to think that the entity we call “The West” is going to crash down, badly, in the future. Then, just as it happened to the Romans long ago, we are going to enter a new world. What will it be? Will it look like the Middle Ages? Maybe, but what were exactly the Middle Ages? It may well be that it was far from being the age of barbarism that the name of “dark ages” seems to imply. The Middle Ages were more a period of intelligent adaptation to scarce resources. So, can we learn from our Medieval ancestors how to manage the coming decline? 

Aa some moment during the 2nd century AD, the Roman mines of Northern  Spain ceased to produce gold and silver, depleted after some three centuries of exploitation. The Roman Empire lost its main asset: its currency, the money used to pay for the troops, the bureaucracy, the court, the nobles, and everything else. Without money, there was nothing that could keep the Empire together and, following the great financial crash of the 3rd century AD, the Western Roman Empire faded away into a galaxy of statelets and kingdoms. By the 5th century, Europe was officially in the period we call the Middle Ages and that would last for about a millennium.

Today, we tend to regard the Middle Ages as a period of Barbarism and superstition, truly a dark age of witch hunts and religious wars. But are we sure that it was so? Actually, the Middle Ages were a period of intelligent adaptation to the lack of resources, a society that may anticipate our future.

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What’s Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

What’s Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

Donald Trump seems to be doing what Roman Emperors like Diocletian, Constantine, and Theodosius did long ago: splitting the empire into two halves. Trump may not have consciously decided to do that, but an Empire can only be as large as it can afford to be, and the American Empire can’t afford anymore to dominate the whole world. 

Flavius Theodosius Augustus “The Great” (347- 395 CE) was the last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire. His success was probably due in large part to his habit of plundering Pagan temples for the gold he needed to pay his troops. But Pagan temples were a limited resource and Theodosius himself seemed to understand that when, shortly before his death, he partitioned the Empire between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. Afterward, the empire would never be whole again.

The Roman Empire had been a strong centralized power during its heydays, but it never was very interested in creating an ethnical and linguistic unity among its subjects. The Roman authorities understood very well that it was less expensive to tolerate diversity than to force uniformity — a typical policy of most empires. So, the Empire remained split into two main linguistic halves: the Latin-speaking Pars Occidentis and the Greek-speaking Pars Orientis. Theoretically, Latin was the official language of the Empire but, in practice, it remained a bilingual entity and, during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Roman elite would rather speak Greek — considered more refined and classy.

The split of the two sides of the Empire was not just linguistic, it was economic as well. The Pars Occidentis remained based on mineral wealth which, in turn, fueled the Empire’s military power.

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Italy, the EU, and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Italy, the EU, and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Italy, the EU, and the Fall of the Roman Empire

The EU leadership is trying to contain a crisis that is emerging at increasing speed: this challenge comprises the rise of contumacious states (i.e. the UK, Poland, Hungary and Italy), or of defiant, historic ‘cultural blocs’ (i.e. Catalonia) – all of whom are explicitly disenchanted with the notion of some coerced convergence towards a uniform EU-administered ‘order’, with its austere monetary ‘disciplines’. They even dismiss the EU’s claim to be, somehow, a part of a greater civilizational order of moral values.

If, in the post-war era, the EU represented an attempt to escape the Anglo-American hegemony, these new defiant blocks of ‘cultural resurgence’ which seek to situate themselves as interdependent, sovereign ‘spaces’ are, in their turn, an attempt to escape another type of hegemony: that of an EU administrative ‘uniformity’.

To exit this particular European order (which it originally was hoped, would differ from the Anglo-Americanimperii), the EU nevertheless was forced to lean on the latter’s archetypal construct of ‘liberty’ as empire’s justification (now metamorphosed into the EU’s ‘four freedoms’) on which the EU strict ‘uniformities’ (the ‘level-playing-field’, regulation in all aspects of life, tax and economic harmonization) have been hung. The European ‘project’ has become seen, as it were, as something that hollows out distinct and ancient ‘ways-of-being’.

Indeed, the very fact of their being attempted, at different levels, and in distinct geographical cultural regions, these assays indicate that that EU hegemony has already weakened to the point that it may not be able fully to hinder the emergence of this new wave. What is at stake precisely for the EU, is whether it can succeed to slow down, and curb in every way, the emergence of this process of cultural re-sovereigntisation, which of course, threatens to fragment the EU’s vaunted ‘solidarity’, and to fragment its matrix of a perfectly regulated customs union and common trade area.

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The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

Lisbon: the monument to the European sailors of the age of explorations, starting with the 15th century. What made Europeans so successful in this in this task? My interpretation is that it was the result of periodic “Seneca Collapses” of the European population which made it possible to accumulate resources that would then be available to propel the European expansion. It is an effect that can be called the “Seneca Rebound” that makes growth faster after a collapse.

The Middle Ages are sometimes referred to as the “Dark Ages” — this is mostly untrue, but it is not wrong to apply this term to the early Middle Ages. According to some estimates, in 650 AD the European population had shrunk to a historical minimum of some 18 million people, about half of what it had been during the high times of the Roman Empire. If you think that today the European population is estimated to be as more than 700 million people, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the Europe of the early Middle Ages: it was a minor appendage of the Eurasian continent, a poverty-stricken place, nearly empty of people, where nothing happened except for the squabbles of local warlords fighting each other.

Yet, a few centuries later, the descendants of the inhabitants of this backward peninsula of Eurasia embarked in the attempt of conquering the world and were successful at that. By the 19th century, practically all the world was under the direct or indirect control of European countries or of their American offspring, the United States. How could it happen?

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Europe & Risk of Revolution

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr Armstrong, for your lifetime work. mindblowing as always.
I picture Europe now as Greece during the Roman Republic (before its conquest). isolated, corrupted to the core. And the US as the new Roman Republic. Will it become an empire after 2032?
Marius was the man of the people and in the end, he was defeated by Sylla (Senate if I m correct). But Marius’ idea was carried on by Cesar. Was he a socialist before the hour?
as a European, which side is the safest to pick when we will be dragged in the conflict???
thanks again!

best regards from France

ANSWER: Ironically, people may think history is just the past. The next time you watch Star Wars, look closer. It is about this very struggle of the people versus the Empire. Instead of swords, they fight with laser swords. If you look at the royal guard, they had cloaks and helmets much as the Romans were dressed. This is actually a saga that is repeated time and again throughout history. Pericles in Athens was charged and put on trial as they are trying to do with Trump. Today, we call it the Deep States. In Roman times, Caesar fought against the corrupt Senate who was the political party known as the Optimates.

You are correct, Marius lost. His coins refected the anti-establishment. You can see the female head of Italia, for which he was fighting. Caesar’s reputation has been distorted by the corrupt Optimates such as Cato and Cicero. Caesar was a man of the people, not a socialist, just an anti-establishment from the perspective of corruption. He too had to flee Rome under the dictatorship of Sulla who would have killed him much as Stalin killed anyone who might oppose him.

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Does Society Turn More Violent During its End Times?

QUESTION: Is MMA the new Roman Colosseum? I’m a layman in history but didn’t blood sports rise in popularity during Rome’s decline? Now everyone and their mother is talking about MMA, and random celebrities e.g. Logan Paul or now Trump Jr. are jumping in the octagon or being challenged.

JR
ANSWER: Yes. For some reason, society begins to turn more violent toward its end times. Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from other combat sports and martial arts. It is an interesting pattern. The Christian Persecutions really came into full swing only as the Empire was collapsing during the 3rd century.

As the fracking protesters show, a people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown

It is hard to believe today, but the prevailing ethos among the educated elite was once public service. As the historian Tony Judt documented in Ill Fares the Land, the foremost ambition among graduates in the 1950s and 60s was, through government or the liberal professions, to serve their country. Their approach might have been patrician and often blinkered, but their intentions were mostly public and civic, not private and pecuniary.

Today, the notion of public service seems as quaint as a local post office. We expect those who govern us to grab what they can, permitting predatory banks and corporations to fleece the public realm, then collect their reward in the form of lucrative directorships. As the Edelman Corporation’s Trust Barometer survey reveals, trust worldwide has collapsed in all major institutions, and government is less trusted than any other.

As for the economic elite, as the consequences of their own greed and self-interest emerge, they seek, like the Roman oligarchs fleeing the collapse of the western empire, only to secure their survival against the indignant mob. An essay by the visionary author Douglas Rushkoff this summer, documenting his discussion with some of the world’s richest people, reveals that their most pressing concern is to find a refuge from climate breakdown, and economic and societal collapse. Should they move to New Zealand or Alaska? How will they pay their security guards once money is worthless? Could they upload their minds on to supercomputers? Survival Condo, the company turning former missile silos in Kansas into fortified bunkers, has so far sold every completed unit.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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