By Bill Federer, September 5, 2021
[Excerpts from 'Change to Chains - How Republics and Democracies Rise and Fall']
Rome was weakened by the devastating pandemics:
- The Antonine Plague (165-180 AD), which killed an estimated 5 million people, including Emperors Lucius Verus;
- The Plague of Cyprian (249-252 AD), which killed up to a third of the population, including Emperors Hostilian and Claudius II Gothicus.
The fearless witness of Christian love in the face of devastating diseases caused many Romans to covert to Christianity. Pagan behavior, on the other hand, spread the disease, as Bishop Dionysius explained: "Pagans pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease."
Great Wall of China
By 220 AD, the Later Eastern Han Dynasty had extended sections of the Great Wall of China along its Mongolian border. This resulted in the Northern Huns attacking west instead of east. It created a domino effect of displaced tribes migrating west across Central Asia, and overrunning the Western Roman Empire.
Illegal immigrants and refugees poured across the Roman borders: Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Anglos, Saxons, Alemanni, Thuringians, Rugians, Jutes, Picts, Burgundians, Lombards, Alans, Vandals, as well as African Berbers and Arab raiders.
Will and Ariel Durant wrote in The Story of Civilization (Vol. 3-Caesar and Christ, Simon & Schuster, 1944, p. 366): "If Rome had not engulfed so many men of alien blood in so brief a time, if she had passed all these newcomers through her schools instead of her slums, if she had treated them as men with a hundred potential excellences, if she had occasionally closed her gates to let assimilation catch up with infiltration, she might have gained new racial and literary vitality from the infusion, and might have remained a Roman Rome, the voice and citadel of the West."
Loss of Common Language
For people to exist as a "nation," they need to have something in common. Historically, one of the most basic features identifying a nation was a common language. At first immigrants who came into the Roman Empire assimilated and learned the Latin language. Many worked as servants and eventually rose to leadership. But as immigrants came faster and faster, they did not learn Latin. They instead kept their own language, or mixed it with Roman Latin to create one of the new "Romance Languages," namely, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and to a lesser degree, Germanic and Anglo tribal tongues. The unity of the Roman Empire began to dissolve into diversity.
Starting in 123 BC, the immensely powerful Roman politician, Gaius Gracchus began appeasing citizens with welfare, a free monthly dole (hand-out) of grain. This is similar in concept to modern proposals of "unemployment benefits" and "universal basic income."
Roman poet Juvenal (circa 100 AD) described how Roman emperors controlled the masses by "Bread and the Circus": "Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who ONCE UPON A TIME handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, NOW restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses." "Bread" meaning being on the dole, and "circus" meaning the violent entertainment provided to the masses in the Circus Maximus and Coliseum. People who were ignorant and obsessed with self-gratification would be so distracted that they would not throw the corrupt political leaders out of office, which they might have otherwise done had they realized the true dire condition of the Empire.
Juvenal continued: "Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce; and everyone would shamelessly cry, 'Long live the King' ... The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them." Roman historian Marcus Cornelius Fronto wrote c. 140 AD: “The Roman people is absorbed by two things above all others, its food supplies and its shows." (Carcopino, Daily Life in Roman Times, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1940, p. 202.)
A statement attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero was included in "Of Bread and Circuses" by U.S. Navy Admiral Ben Moreell, (The Freeman, Foundation for Economic Education, January 1, 1956: "The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease."
Admiral Moreell concluded: "Let us stop this headlong rush toward collectivism ... refrain from passing more socialistic laws ... Let us resolve that never again will we yield to the seduction of the government panderer who comes among us offering 'bread and circuses,' paid for with our own money, in return for our sovereign rights!"
John Stossel, host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network and author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed," wrote in his article "Are We Rome Yet?" (7/11/13, www.johnstossel.com):
"The president the Foundation for Economic Education, Lawrence Reed, warned that Rome, like America, had an expanding welfare state. It started with 'subsidized grain.' The government gave it away at half price.
... But the problem was that they couldn't stop there - a man named Claudius ran for Tribune on a platform of free wheat for the masses. And won. It was downhill from there ...
Soon, to appease angry voters, emperors gave away or subsidized olive oil, salt and pork. People lined up to get free stuff."Will and Ariel Durant wrote in The Lessons of History (1968, p. 92): "The concentration of population and poverty in great cities may compel a government to choose between enfeebling the economy with a dole (government handout of bread) or running the risk of riot and revolution." In The Great Ages of Man-Barbarian Europe (NY: Time-Life Books, 1968, p. 39), one Roman is recorded as stating: "Those who live at the expense of the public funds are more numerous than those who provide them."
Violent Entertainment, Slavery, Child Sex-Trafficking
The Circus Maximus and Coliseum were packed with crowds of Romans engrossed with violent entertainment, games, chariot races, and until 404 AD, gladiators fighting to the death. John Stossel wrote:
"Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages. Tiberius established an 'office of imperial pleasures,' which gathered 'beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world' so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor 'could defile them.' Emperor Commodus held a show in the Coliseum at which he personally killed five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros and a giraffe."The value of human life was low. Slavery and sex-trafficking abounded, especially of captured peoples from Eastern Europe. "Slavs," which meant "glorious" came to have the inglorious meaning of a permanent servant or "slave." (Great Ages, p. 18). Gerald Simons wrote in Great Ages of Man-Barbarian Europe (NY: Time-Life Books, 1968, p. 20): "In the causal brutality of its public spectacles, in a rampant immorality that even Christianity could not check."
Immorality, Infidelity, Loss of Virtue
In addition to court favoritism, the patronage system, and injustice in the legal system, there was gluttony, infidelity, sexual immorality, bathhouses rampant with homosexuality, and gymnasiums ("gym" being the Greek word for naked).
5th-Century historian Salvian wrote: "For all the lurid Roman tales of their atrocities ... the barbarians displayed ... a good deal more fidelity to their wives." (Great Ages, p. 13.) Salvian continued: "O Roman people be ashamed; be ashamed of your lives. Almost no cities are free of evil dens, are altogether free of impurities, except the cities in which the barbarians have begun to live ... Let nobody think otherwise, the vices of our bad lives have alone conquered us ... The Goths lie, but are chaste, the Franks lie, but are generous, the Saxons are savage in cruelty ... but are admirable in chastity ... What hope can there be for the Romans when the barbarians are more pure than they?"
Samuel Adams wrote to John Scollay of Boston, April 30, 1776: "The diminution (diminishing) of public virtue is usually attended with that of public happiness, and the public liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals. ... 'The Roman Empire,' says the historian, 'must have sunk, though the Goths had not invaded it. Why? Because the Roman virtue was sunk.'"
In his 1934 book Sex and Culture, Oxford anthropologist J.D. Unwin explained, that after studying 86 civilizations over 5,000 years, including Sumerians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Teutons, and Anglo–Saxons, that sexual promiscuity always precedes the decline of a civilization.
Church Withdrawal From Involvement
A pietism movement swept the church, teaching that the way to truly follow Christ was to withdraw from public involvement, give away all one's money and live as a poor beggar or join a monastery. It was an early version of separation of church and state.
Richard A. Todd wrote in "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 1977, p. 184): "The church, while preaching against abuses, contributed to the decline by discouraging good Christians from holding public office."
Birth Control, Planned Parenthood and Fewer Children
Roman families had fewer children. Up until 374 AD, when a Roman mother bore a child, she would lay the infant at the father's feet. If he picked it up, they would keep it. If he did not pick it up, feeling it was a financial burden or looked unhealthy, the mother would have to put the baby in a box and leave it outside, exposed to the weather to die. Early Christians condemned this inhumane practice with the same pro-life arguments used today against the abortion industry. Some Romans sold unwanted children into slavery.
The Durants wrote in The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3-Caesar and Christ (Simon & Schuster, 1944, p. 134): "Children were now luxuries which only the poor could afford." The Durants observed that as Roman culture advanced, women waited longer to have children and had fewer of them, yet in less advanced cultures women began having children sooner and had more of them. Thus, the less advanced cultures would inevitably overrun the more advanced ones. Julius Caesar noticed this trend and attempted to counter it, as the Durants wrote:
"Family limitation played some part in the history of Greece and Rome. It is amusing to find Julius Caesar offering (59 B.C.) rewards to Romans who had many children, and forbidding childless women to ride in litters (chairs on poles carried by porters) or wear jewelry. Augustus renewed this campaign some forty years later, with like futility. ... Birth control continued to spread in the upper classes while immigrant stocks from the Germanic North and the Greek or Semitic East replenished and altered the population of Italy."One of the lessons the Durants observed was biological:
"The ... biological lesson of history is that life must breed. Nature has no use for organisms ... that cannot reproduce ... She does not care that a high birth rate has usually accompanied a culturally low civilization, and a low birth rate a civilization culturally high; and she (here meaning Nature) sees to it that a nation with a low birth rate shall be periodically chastened by some more virile and fertile group."Class Warfare
City centers were abandoned by the upper class, who bought up farms from rural landowners and transformed them into palatial estates.
The Durants wrote in The Story of Civilization (Vol. 3-Caesar and Christ, Simon & Schuster, 1944, p.90): "The Roman landowner disappeared now that ownership was concentrated in a few families, and a proletariat (working class) without stake in the country filled the slums of Rome." Inner cities were destabilized, being also plagued with lead poisoning, as the plumbing that brought water into the city was made out of lead pipes. ("plumb" is the Latin word for "lead.")
Welfare and government jobs exploded, especially with emperors wanting to honor themselves by leaving legacies of massive public building projects, such as bath houses, coliseums, parade grounds, etc. Taxes became unbearable, as "collectors became greedy functionaries in a bureaucracy so huge and corrupt." Cornelius Tacitus wrote: "The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." Tax collectors were described by the historian Salvian as "more terrible than the enemy." (Great Ages, p. 20).
Arther Ferrill wrote in The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation (New York: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1986): "The chief cause of the agricultural decline was high taxation on the marginal land, driving it out of cultivation." Wealth began to flee the Empire, and with it, the spirit of liberty and patriotism. President William Henry Harrison warned in his Inaugural Address, 1841: "It was the beautiful remark of a distinguished English writer that 'in the Roman senate Octavius had a party and Antony a party, but the Commonwealth had none' .... The spirit of liberty had fled, and, avoiding the abodes of civilized man, had sought protection in the wilds of Scythia or Scandinavia; and so under the operation of the same causes and influences it will fly from our Capitol and our forums." More recently, John F. Kennedy observed, January 6, 1961: "Present tax laws may be stimulating in undue amounts the flow of American capital to industrial countries abroad."
Rome's economy stagnated from a large trade deficit, as grain production was outsourced to North Africa. One of the tribes that overran the Roman borders were the Vandals, from which the word "vandalize" came from. The Vandals crossed through Spain into North Africa.
Gerald Simons wrote in Great Ages of Man-Barbarian Europe (NY: Time-Life Books, 1968, p. 39): "As conquerors of North Africa, the Vandals cut off the Empire's grain supply at will. This created critical food shortages, which in turn curtailed Roman counterattacks."
Exploding Debt and Coinage Debasement
As the Roman economy declined, those unable to pay their mortgages abandoned their properties, renounce their Roman citizenship, and went off to live with the barbarians. As a result, Emperor Diocletian decreed that people could never run away from their debts, thus permanently tying them and their children to the land. This was the origin of the feudal system.
Rome was crippled by huge government bureaucracies and enormous public debt. Rather than curb out-of-control government spending, Roman emperors decided to debase coins by mixing them with cheaper base metals. This devalued their monetary system and caused exponential inflation. The Durants wrote in The Lessons of History (p. 92): "Huge bureaucratic machinery was unable to govern the empire effectively with the enormous, out-of-control debt." John Stossel wrote:
"To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. Nero reduced the silver content of coins to 95 percent. Then Trajan reduced it to 85 percent and so on. By the year 300, wheat that once cost eight Roman dollars cost 120,000 Roman dollars."In Great Ages of Man-Barbarian Europe (NY: Time-Life Books, 1968, p. 20), Gerald Simons wrote: "The Western Roman economy, already undermined by falling production of the great Roman estates and an unfavorable balance of trade that siphoned off gold to the East, had now run out of money." Rolf Nef of Global Research, wrote in "Falling Empires and their Currencies" (1/5/07, GlobalResearch.ca):
"When empires fall, their currencies fall first. Even clearer is the rising debt of empires in decline, because in most cases their physical expansion is financed with debt ... The common thing is that the currencies of each and every one of these falling empires lost dramatically in value . ... The Roman Empire existed from 400 B.C. to 400 A.D. Its history is the history of physical expansion, like the history of almost all empires. Its expansion was driven by a citizen soldier army, paid in silver coins, land and slaves from occupied territories. If there was not enough silver in the treasury to conduct a war, base metals were added to coin more money. ... That is to say, the authorities debased their currency which presaged the fall of the Empire. There was a limit to the expansion. The empire became over-stretched, running out of silver money, and eventually went under, overrun by barbarian hordes."The noted astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus observed: "Nations are not ruined by one act of violence, but gradually and in an almost imperceptible manner by the depreciation of their circulating currency, through its excessive quantity."
Richard W. Fisher, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, remarked before the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, California, May 28, 2008: "We know from centuries of evidence in countless economies, from ancient Rome to today's Zimbabwe, that running the printing press to pay off today's bills leads to much worse problems later on. The inflation that results from the flood of money into the economy turns out to be far worse than the fiscal pain those countries hoped to avoid." John Stossel added:
"Rome's government, much like ours, wasn't good at making sure subsidies flowed only to the poor, said Reed: 'Anybody could line up to get these goods, which contributed to the ultimate bankruptcy of the Roman state.' ... As inflation increased, Rome ... imposed wage and price controls. When people objected, Emperor Diocletian denounced their 'greed,' saying, 'Shared humanity urges us to set a limit.' Doesn't that sound like today's anti-capitalist politicians? . ... Rome enforced controls with the death penalty - and forbid people to change professions. Emperor Constantine decreed that those who broke such rules 'be bound with chains and reduced to servile condition."Deep-State Establishment Politicians
The Roman emperor usurped so much power, that the Roman Senate, instead of ruling Rome and defending the rights of the people, existed only to maintain their own positions. Common people were discourage from getting involved in politics.
The Durants wrote in The Lessons of History (p. 92): "The educated and skilled pursued business and financial success to the neglect of their involvement in politics." Stossel wrote in his article "Are We Rome Yet?": "Historian Carl Richard said that today's America resembles Rome.
The Roman Republic had a constitution, but Roman leaders often ignored it. 'Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year.'
Ben Franklin addressed the Constitutional Convention, June 2, 1787: "There are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men ... ambition and avarice -- the love of power and the love of money ... Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it ..." Franklin added: "What kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government and be your rulers."
Harry S Truman stated April 3, 1951: "Without a firm moral foundation, freedom degenerates quickly ... into anarchy. Then there will be freedom only for ... those who are stronger and more unscrupulous than the rank and file of the people."
Smithsonian Magazine's Jason Daley explained in "Lessons in the Decline of Democracy From the Ruined Roman Republic" (11/2/18) that when former leaders are prosecuted and when political rhetoric becomes violent, a republic's demise is imminent: "Edward Watts, (Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny, 2018), wrote: 'The Republic was free of political violence for the better part of 300 years. People who are politically engaged are not killing each other and they’re not threatening to kill each other. When they disagree with each other they use political means that were created by the republic for dealing with political conflict ... If you lose one of those conflicts, you don’t die and you don’t lose your property and you aren’t sent away. You just lose face and move on. In that sense, this is a remarkably successful system for encouraging compromise and encouraging consensus building and creating mechanisms whereby political conflicts will be decided peacefully ..." Daley added: "Watts argues that it was Tiberius Gracchus who let the genie out of the bottle. 'What he has to bear responsibility for is he starts using this really aggressive and threatening language and threatening postures ... That was never done before. What he introduces is this political tool of intimidation and threats of violence. Later thinkers say once it’s there, even if others choose not to use it, it’s there forever.” Daley continued: "When Tiberius Gracchus stood for a second term as tribune (133 BC) ... a group of Senators and their supporters beat Gracchus and 300 of his followers to death. It was just the beginning ... Tiberius’s brother Gaius Gracchus would come into conflict with the Senate after a similar populist confrontation (121 BC). The commander Sulla would march legions loyal to him on Rome itself (83 BC) and battle his political rival Marius, the first time Roman troops fought one another. He would then execute and punish his political enemies. ... In the following generation (48 BC), Pompey and Caesar would settle their political scores using Roman legions ... Octavian and Marc Antony would field an army against the Senate before finally battling one another (36-31 BC) bringing almost 500 years of the Republic to a bloody (and confusing) conclusion."
Defense Cuts and Over-Extended Military
Emperors realized that if they kept citizens preoccupied with endless external wars, the citizens would be distracted from complaining about internal problems and political strife.
Greek philosopher Plato wrote: "The tyrant must be always getting up a war ... He is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader." James
Madison warned at the Constitutional Convention, June 29, 1787 (Max Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. I (1911, p. 465): "In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people."
Though the Roman military was superior and marched with speed on a system of highly advanced Roman roads, the Roman Legions were over-extended and strained fighting continual conflicts from the Rhine River to the Sassanid Persian Empire. Roman borders were over-extended and border patrol troop strength was cut back to dangerously low ranks.
Stossel wrote: "Eventually, Rome's empire was so large - and people so resentful of centralized control - that generals in outlying regions began declaring independence from Rome."
Loss of Courage and Patriotism
Will and Ariel Durant noted in The Lessons of History, that Rome's rapid demographic change threatened the patriotic impulse to defend it: "Very probably this ethnic change reduced the ability or willingness of the inhabitants to resist governmental incompetence and external attack." Alexander Solzhenitsyn explained at Harvard, June 8, 1978, that to the same degree citizens indulge in selfish pursuits they abandon the self-sacrificing will to defend their society:
"Political functionaries exhibit ... self-serving rationales ... and the decline in courage ... a lack of manhood ... They get ... paralyzed when they deal with ... threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists. Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?"Non-Roman citizens were enlisted into the Roman military, being offered citizenship in exchange for their military service. This carried a risk, for how could they be expected to defend Roman borders from invading Germanic tribes, when, in many cases, the invading tribes were their relatives. Non-Roman soldiers who defected carried their military training with them to the enemy.
The Durants wrote in The Story of Civilization (Vol. 3-Caesar and Christ, Simon & Schuster, 1944, p.90): "The new generation, having inherited world mastery, had no time or inclination to defend it; that readiness for war which had characterized the Roman landowner disappeared." With the increase of invading hordes, Roman legions had to be recalled from the frontiers to protect the city of Rome itself. It was at this time that the Roman military withdrew from Britain, and young Saint Patrick was kidnapped and sold as a slave in Druid Ireland, which he later evangelized. Leaders who remained in Britain banded together for protection, giving birth to the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable.
Weakness Invites Terrorist Attacks
The law of nature demonstrates that weakness invites attack. As Rome exhibited weakness, it experienced terrorist attacks. Attila the Hun, "The Scourge of God," attacked with an unstoppable army of a half-million warriors. Christian writers at that time thought Attila the Hun was the anti-christ as he killed, by some estimates, 20 million people.
After attacking cities in Persia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, Attila took his army with battering rams and siege towers and sacked the European cities of: Strasbourg, Worms, Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Metz, Reims, Tournai, Cambrai, Amiens, and Beauvais. When Attila headed toward Paris in 451 AD, young Saint Genevieve convinced the inhabitants not to flee but instead to pray. She began a "prayer marathon," after which Attila inexplicably chose to bypass Paris and instead attacked Orleans. Aquileia was the 9th largest city in the world, with over 100,000, located on the east coast of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. Attila so completely decimated Aquileia that the inhabitants fled into marshy lagoons, hammered logs into the sand, and built platforms to live on. This grew into the city of Venice. When Attila headed toward Italy in 452 AD, Pope Leo rode out to persuade him to spare Rome. The Pope's mission was successful, but it only delayed the fall of Rome by a few decades. A little over 20 years later, barbarian Chieftain Odoacer attacked. This is considered the date of the fall of Rome, Sept. 4, 476.
Lessons From the Fall of Rome
Future generations can learn from the factors that led to the fall of Rome:
- open borders;
- loss of common language;
- welfare state;
- violent entertainment, slavery & child sex-trafficking;
- immorality, infidelity, & loss of virtue;
- church withdrawal from involvement;
- birth control, planned parenthood, & fewer children;
- class warfare;
- high taxes;
- exploding debt & coinage debasement;
- deep-state, establishment politicians;
- defense cuts & over-extended military;
- loss of courage & patriotism;
- weakness invites terrorist attacks.
Abbott Lawrence Lowell, President of Harvard University, stated: “No society is ever murdered—it commits suicide.”
John Stossel referred to the administration in office in 2013: "At FreedomFest, Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, also argued that America could soon collapse like Rome did. 'The parallels are quite ominous - the debt, the expansionist foreign policy, the arrogance of executive power taking over our country,' says Kibbe. 'But I do think we have a chance to stop it ...'" Stossel added: "The triumph of liberty in not inevitable ... Empires do crumble. Rome's lasted the longest. The Ottoman Empire lasted 623 years. China's Song, Qing and Ming dynasties each lasted about 300 years. We've lasted just 237 years so far ..." Concluding, Stossel commented on America: "We've accomplished amazing things, but we shouldn't take our continued success for granted. Freedom and prosperity are not natural. In human history, they're rare."