Rise of Rome
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The rise of Rome to dominate the overt politics of Europe, North Africa and the Near East completely from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD, is the subject of a great deal of analysis by historians, military strategists, political scientists, and increasingly also some economists.
- 1 First of seven examples of world government
- 2 Historical perspectives
- 3 Renaissance view
- 4 Current views
- 5 Effects on modern Europe
- 6 See also
- 7 References
First of seven examples of world government
The Roman Empire is one of the seven undisputed[according to whom?] well-documented examples of a sustained military and political domination of one people and world-view over all others they encounter – an active seeking of world government. The other six are the Egyptian Empire, which was the longest lasting empire in human history, the Byzantine Empire, which could be considered to be a more sustainable hybrid of the Greek and Roman civilizations, the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire, the Islamic caliphate which created today's Islamic World, the Spanish Empire which dominated and largely colonized the New World, the British Empire which succeeded it; to these some might add as an eighth example today's global economic monoculture (English-speaking) led by the United States of America[according to whom?] which in turn succeeded that; others may add the Akkadian Empire as being the oldest, and thereby, the most influential empire on the cultures of the world in general. While China, India and Russia were largely independent of the earlier empires, none have now managed to escape alliances with the newer ones. Thus the study of the rise of such empires is of nearly universal interest, not just for historical reasons.
Early Muslim view
Leaving aside the original Roman rationale for the rise of Rome, and the later Christian rationale that dominated until its fall, the first to examine the meaning of the rise of Rome were the Muslims who, in general, viewed it as a failure to adhere to natural law, which in their view was what Islam provided. In The Muqadimmah, for instance, Ibn Khaldun considered the most serious error to be "ignorance of the laws governing the transformations of human society." Partisanship, over-confidence, absolutism, and fawning to please authority were other errors that no doubt Muslim scholars, in their zeal for archaeology and ethnology, noted in Roman records of both a pagan and a Christian character.
Medieval Christian view
It is possible that Celtic scholars had similar views of Rome, but Celtic scholarship was much infused with mysticism and poetics, and was in many ways the dominant influence of monastic culture that arose during the Early Middle Ages, spreading from Ireland where Celtic tradition met Christian mysticism and Greek and Latin writings, back to Europe in the form of the many monasteries founded by the Irish monks. In general their view of Rome was less secular and had more to do with sexual licentiousness, pride, and what came to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins.
Italian Niccolò Machiavelli in The Discourses was the first modern political theorist to review the history and practices of the Romans in any depth. While his other, more forward-looking work, The Prince, is better known, it is difficult to understand the advice it gives without noting the contrasting advice he gives to magistrates via his careful quotations of the Roman patriarchs and chroniclers. During the Renaissance which provided the context for Machiavelli's writing, there was a general belief that European society, being contained at the margins by Islam and the rejection of Roman Catholicism by Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox faiths, and not yet having conquered and colonized the Americas, was inferior and only capable of recovering some of its former glory by reconsidering its past life.
Machiavelli focused on the consistency and clear oratory of the magistrates, and argued that with no clear and consistent rationale for rule, it was inordinately difficult to maintain it. He was the first to note explicitly the necessity for a well-educated bourgeois or middle class that would carry forward the instructional capital of the civilization, independent of the rulers and aristocracy, and hold it to account by criticism and shame, to prevent the worst abuses of power, which in turn would cause rulers to lose support; this in turn causing civil strife and revolutions.
Professional class consent
Such views would be echoed in the late 20th century by Edward S. Herman who emphasized the impossibility of ruling without support of the media and professions who were generally responsible for maintaining ethical codes and drawing attention to transgressions of the codes.
Edward Gibbon noted that the Roman dictatorship was all the more difficult to bear due to the prior understanding and experience of political freedom - even under such late figures as Commodus, for instance, a typical Roman magistrate or professional would be fully educated in all of the civics, ethics and morality that he saw violated all day every day around him, knowing himself to be in grave risk of his life if he raised this as an issue in public.
Modern views of the rise of Rome have tended to be economic, often focused on Roman control of the sea lanes, which was achieved at great cost after many sea-borne encounters with Carthage, the pirates of Macedon, and so on, all of which led ultimately to control of the Mediterranean and its important ports and bottlenecks (such as Gibraltar, later to be critical also to the British Empire). In this view, it was the capacity to land troops in large numbers more or less anywhere there was a sea coast, and to keep them in supply from areas enemy actions could not touch, that defined Roman military and economic advantage. According to Barbara Tuchman in The Proud Tower: Europe 1880-1914, this view was so influential on the British empire and American naval strategists of the turn of the 20th century, that it effectively motivated the rise of the United States Navy and Germany's and Russia's and Japan's attempts to become main naval powers. And, also, Italy's attempts to renew traditional Roman control of Mediterranean and North Africa.
Today ocean-going shipping is so critical to the movement of all goods traded on commodity markets, not least oil, that oil imperialism would not be feasible even as a theory without such control of sea lanes. Oil pipelines, which run through the Islamic World and Russia, are themselves so subject to interruption, sabotage and political manipulations, that they historically have little strategic importance - if the taps are shut off in one place, tankers can simply go somewhere else.
There is however no comparable commodity which can be said to have been totally controlled by the Romans. Salt, wheat (grown in vast quantity in North Africa in area literally desertified by the effort), and even water (carried by the massive aqueducts which stand to this day in many parts of Europe) were however controlled by the central government in Rome, along with many other functions of a military dictatorship - such as the making of denarius (Roman coins), which took place in massive state factories.
Marxian economics suggests that control of such means of production is always and necessarily part of the rise to hegemony of a state on any scale - and notes that the British Admiralty did, and U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. State Department, does, especially via allies and allied agencies, provide vast and guaranteed markets for military and humanitarian production. In this view, Rome was successful because it took a relatively socialized strategy during its rise, and so to some degree did the British and Americans at their height - for instance World War II where rationing and war production literally re-organized the economy.
Via the welfare state, both have also mimicked the Roman strategy of grain reserves and central control of enough production facilities and media to provide for basic needs and desires of the populace, including the infamous bread and circuses strategy by which mobs of Romans were effectively distracted and bribed out of political life after the fall of the Roman Republic. This seems to have been important in giving a free hand in foreign affairs to rulers, beginning with Augustus, and most obviously with Tiberius and Claudius (who conquered Britain). And so it is important to maintaining the control of equally imperialistic leaders today, according to those who prescribe to the theory of strategic American imperialism. Extreme advocates of this strategy have tended to be former Democrats, the so-called neo-conservatives, who often hold quite socially liberal views regarding social assistance.
Yet another approach, very ancient in origins, but most commonly heard in the 1990s, was that Romans dominated as long as they had dominance of strategic technologies - weapons, warships, siege engines, and the like. By the time these technologies had spread to rival peoples such as the Visigoths, the Romans were doomed, goes this argument.
In today's America, the Project for the New American Century laid out also in the 1990s a comprehensive plan for world domination based on technological mastery, including such deadly means of using biological warfare, new and smaller nuclear weapons, robots and molecular engineering-based materials science, that no one would dare attack America. This view is strongly opposed by those who point to the potential for proliferation of such powerful weaponry to potential aggressors (as happened to Rome) and the potential for runaways or accidents causing large-scale disaster.
So while some find this argument coherent as an explanation for the rise of Rome it is, for many, not nearly as effective as a rationale for modern policy or strategy.
Tension between economic, military, political and ethical views of the rise of Rome has never completely been resolved. Most historians agree that all of these factors played a role in both the rise, and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as Gibbon called it.
Too, most of the factors that played a role in its rise, played into its fall. For instance, it is possible that the very effectiveness of the lead pipes of Rome at taking water to citizens, caused some to have a degree of lead poisoning, although this theory is strongly disputed. This view from environmental health is more modern than any of the above and also, perhaps, more topical as a warning to modern imitators of Roman strategy.
Effects on modern Europe
The actual impact of the rise of Rome on the infrastructural capital of modern Europe was profound. Roads were built, which lie today in the same places as they were surveyed by Roman engineers. Rights-of-way, water rights, and many standard weights and measures survived until they were replaced by the metric system in the late 18th century. Railroads, today, still use the same wheelbase as ancient Roman carts.
Via the Vulgate Bible in Latin, a millennium of Roman Catholic thought (from the early 5th century to the early 15th century) had a literal monopoly on what Europeans thought of as "the truth", and a very powerful hierarchy of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and succession of Popes to tell them when they were deviating from it. Thus the entire institution of Roman Catholicism and Canon law carried forth the hegemony of Rome as a system of thought, albeit with Christian overtones, to modern times.
Many evangelical Protestants for instance, continue to portray God as a Roman-style judge, Jesus as an advocate or public defender, and the dead as charged as if in a court with their sins. If they do not employ Jesus as their interlocutor, the story goes, they are cast into a lake of fire, which is a torturer's prison that lasts forever. While this is possibly a fair reading of the Book of Revelation, that Book also was written by someone (St. John) persecuted by Rome.
In many ways, social relations set between peoples by the rise of Rome, have continued as dominating influences on their cultural relations to this day. For instance, the historical tension between Russia and Europe is sometimes thought to be in part because the former was never subordinated to Rome, and adapted Christian thought directly from non-Roman channels. This may also be said to be true of Ireland and of Scotland, although not of England, which is a whole field of historical study of its own - one issue in which is whether a Roman-defined society required the experience of knitting together Roman-defined and non-Roman-defined societies before creating the British Empire. In this view, Spain may have waxed for having been part of the rise of Islam, and failed due to inability to apply lessons from it to the New World.
A final and interesting observation regarding the rise of Rome was the idea that Europe could and should have a single currency. A cause that monetarism likes to ascribe to the fall of Rome is the degradation of its formerly reliable currency – minted of silver but frequently degraded by Emperors to pay their bills during especially the 2nd century, when silver content fell drastically.
The desertification of North Africa is largely ascribed to over-farming of wheat by the Romans. Worked by slaves, they fed the legions, guards, patrols, builders, judges, and such, that formed the sometimes unwanted service economy that was overlaid on a population almost entirely composed of farmers.
This view is frequently cited in energy economics and green economics which note that the complexity of society requires more energy subsidy, in both food and fuel form, that leads directly to such effects as deforestation (wood being the dominant fuel of the Roman Empire).
- Crisis of the Roman Republic
- Roman Republic
- Roman Empire
- Roman Catholicism
- sea power