The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Time off from the hurly-burly of the markets….

I am reading the abridged version (1250 pages) of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon published in 1776 which is a long, sad commentary on the history of a nation that gave up political liberty to become a superpower.   Gibbon’s work is considered one of the greatest works on history ever written in the English language.

My brief synopsis

  • Under the republican constitution that the Founding Fathers admired and Gibbon describes, Rome enjoyed a balance (30 B.C. – 476 A.D.) between the senate and the people, with a strong executive commander-in-chief.
  • Rome rose from a tiny city-state to become by the 1st century B.C., a diverse empire with tremendous affluence.
  • This affluence corrupted every aspect of the republican political system, elections were openly bought and sold, and political factions were so strong that the Roman senate was gridlocked. (Sound familiar?)
  • Finally, the Roman people lost confidence in their government and in the republican way of life. They wanted peace and order. Rome emerged as a bureaucratic, totalitarian state.
  • The Roman people gave up their political liberty and transferred all real power to a military dictator, their emperor. The first emperor was Julius Caesar, who was followed by the great statesman Augustus. Caesar and  a new order that brought peace and prosperity to Rome.
  • The Roman Empire reached its apex in the 2nd century A.D. It stretched from the North Sea to the Sahara and from Scotland to Iran. The inhabitants were joined in common allegiance to Rome.
  • Gibbon shows us that Rome collapsed because of its involvement in the Middle East and its failure to solve the problems there. The Middle East had come to absorb all the attention of the Romans. Rome had been involved in nation building for three centuries in the Middle East and had poured vast wealth into the region while keeping large numbers of troops there, which alienated the population.
  • While the Romans were distracted in the Middle East, they ignored the growing power of Germanic barbarians along the Danube and the Rhine Rivers. In the 3rd century A.D., these northern barbarians crashed through the Roman frontiers. The Roman Empire was no more. Almost 2,000 years would pass before another republican government would emerge in the world, America.

Plenty of lessons to be learned by America in the 21st century. Giving up your liberties for security brings neither.

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