A Quiz for Eric Blair

On Roman History.

While you're there, read this article on the Fall of Rome.
Roman historians recognized what they considered to be a decay in the traditional Roman character from the late Republic onwards. Symptoms included a falling birth-rate, a growing gap between rich and poor, and declining attachment to ancient traditions. Modern historians have tended to focus on economic and political changes, but this new theory suggests that the root cause was, in fact, a mass change in temperament driven by prosperity.
Sounds familiar.


Eric Blair said...

8/8! "Are you from Ancient Rome?" snort.

And prosperity destroying the Roman Empire? Ummmm....no.

"..growing gap between rich and poor..."


Look; go read Nathan Rosenstein's "Rome at War: Farms, Families and Death in the Middle Republic" and Adrian Goldsworthy's "How Rome Fell"
Hugh Elton's "Warfare in Roman Europe AD350-425" and Peter Heather's "The Fall of the Roman Empire; a New History of Rome and the Barbarians".

Biohistory my hairy butt.

Grim said...

Solid recommendations I don't doubt, but at the moment I'm working on a significant research project that occupies my reading hours. Would you give a summary of your understanding of what these histories teach us?

Gringo said...

Quiz on Roman History: 6 of 8. My reading on Rome in 5th grade, all on of my own initiative,finally paid off. Like the website said, 6 of 8 isn't bad given that background.

I had a horribly taught AP course in World History my senior year in high school where the teacher spent all of a week on Rome. My all-time unfavorite teacher.

Texan99 said...

"Prosperity saps discipline"--or you might just as easily say, "Prosperity excites envy." There's always someone around to complain that you haven't earned your success, and if you don't put equal effort into defense, they'll probably find some way to take it away. Then follows the dark age, when the sackers discover that taking it isn't the same as knowing how to make it.

It's not possible to address this problem by either worrying about the omnipresent "gap between rich and poor" or redistributing wealth to eliminate it. The gap between rich and poor has poor explanatory and predictive qualities, in my book, though the response of people to envy has a great deal. Do you loot, or do you figure out what those other guys are doing right and emulate it?

Grim said...

Well, maybe. I'd still like to hear where Eric thinks the argument goes wrong. It's two data points -- Rome and us -- which is a dodgy way to draw a trend line even if the points are accurate. If the first point isn't accurate, the argument may be less reliable than it sounds at first blush. It may simply be familiar.

Eric Blair said...

In a nutshell: They did it to themselves, because they could not solve permanently a political problem of how to transfer power.

Starting with Augustus (because the passage from Republic to Empire isn't what the guy was talking about--he was trying to pin the demise of the empire on his theory) If there wasn't a decent emperor with a decent successor, there was a fight over who got to be emperor. (Not to mention the assassination of emperors). So

AD41 Caligula assassinated:
AD69 Nero kills himself after the army revolts.
AD69 "Year of the four emperors" Nasty fight won by Vespasian. He has two able sons, Titus and Domitian, however Domitian didn't play well with others and was assassinated in AD98.
The "Five Good Emperors" Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius" Although despite his writings, Marcus had a blind spot for his son, Commodus, who appears to have been bat-guano crazy and is assassinated in AD193.
Marcus also had to deal with the first major incursion by of the volkwandrung, the Marcommani, and spent a good chunk of his reign fighting beyond the Danube. Also, an unprecedented plague struck the empire. So, Another round of civil wars, eventually won by Septimus Severus in AD197. ("Pay the Army, forget everybody else") His kids are brats, the older Caracalla, eventually murdering the younger Geta. Caracalla becomes sole emperor in AD212 or so. Caracalla is assassinated in AD217, and each succeeding Emperor is murdered by his own troops from Macrinius through Philip the Arab in AD249. Trajan Decius is killed in battle against the Goths in AD251, Oh yeah, from the early 230's Barbarian incursions on the frontier become more and more frequent, Plus fights with Persia, culminating in the near breakup of the Emprire in the 260's. Again, every single emperor is assassinated except Claudius II Gothicus, who, you guessed it, died of plague. The elevation of Diocletian in AD284 finally stopped the civil wars (briefly) and Diocletian reorganized the empire, increased the size of the army, instituted wage and price controls to deal with a half century of economic disasters, and tried to make all professions hereditary. Didn't quite work out that way. His successors (Diocletian actually retired) couldn't make his system work, and And Constantine the Great makes himself sole Emperor again in AD312. (as well as coopting Christianity which then emulated the organization of the empire. (which is why the Catholic church still has dioceses) Constantine also intervenes personally in Christian doctrinal fights, which is why all good Catholics still recite the Emperor's words when they say the Nicene creed. That's probably beside the point.

Eric Blair said...

The rest of the 4th century sees fairly constant barbarian activity on the frontiers, and by the end of the century the Romans are hiring entire tribes to hold the chunks of the frontier. The tribes get the land and revenue in the west anyway, and the army gets starved of both recruits and funds, and eventually by the middle of the 5th century, the barbarians figure out that they don't have to listen to the emperor(s) anymore. The church is siphoning off both wealth and talent, and basically it's now the middle ages. (if one takes Michael Grant's thesis in his book "The Climax of Rome" at face value, it was basically the middle ages by the death of Constantine the Great in AD337).

income equality got nothing to do with it.