Essential Knowledge: Part V

Rome is such a big topic, it not only deserves a post of its own, but it can be studied in isolation as it encompasses so much of Western history. The most obvious reason for this is the Romans were around for a long time. The traditional dating of the start of the Republic is 509 BC and the end of the Western Empire is 476 AD. That’s roughly one thousand years and it was an action packed and dramatic thousand year run too. Rome features some of the most colorful characters in human history.

There is something else. The Greeks were a culture, but the Romans were a civilization that incorporated the culture of the Greeks. Culture is the spirit of the people, the world view that results from their shared history. The Greek culture was a product of the people and their place in the eastern Mediterranean. It is their literature and philosophy, their understanding of man’s relationship to other men and the world in general. It is the structure of their language, which is a reflection of how they thought about the world.

Civilization, on the other hand, is the end point, the destination of culture. It is the tangible product of cultural yearnings. Culture is the belief in self-governance. Civilization is a constitutional assembly. The Romans adopted Greek culture and built a mighty civilization. Because Rome carried the spirit of the Greeks throughout the known world, planting its seeds throughout Europe, knowing the Romans is to know the essence of Western culture. You cannot know the West, without knowing Rome.

Traditionally, you learned about Rome by reading Gibbon. You can buy the The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from Amazon for $133.00 or if you want to read it from a tablet, you can get it for two dollars, which is one million Canadian dollars.There are many better options than this, which we will get into next, but having some familiarity with Gibbon is a good idea, as you will find that later writers refer to him regularly. Spending a couple of dollars to have him in your digital library is a good idea, even if it is just as a reference work..

Then there is Latin. Learning some Latin is a good idea for anyone who likes knowing stuff. One of the worst things to happen to education in the modern age is the end of Latin instruction in the schools. Knowing even a little bit helps expand your language skills as an English speaker. In the case of Roman history, it is a good idea to have some basic knowledge of Latin, which means buying a primary school grammar used by home schoolers. You are not going to be reading Caesar in the original, but you get enough of the basics.It’s not necessary, but recommended.

The most basic way of thinking about Rome is to break up its history into three periods. The founding through the Republic, the Empire starting with Augustus and then the late Empire, when things got squirrely and the Empire was in decline. A recent book that will take you from the founding through the Empire, but stopping at the Late Empire, is Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. It was a best seller and it a great read. An excellent study on the transition of Rome from a Republic to an Empire is The Breakdown of the Roman Republic: From Oligarchy to Empire.

A particularly important period in Roman history is the third century, when the Empire was staggering from one crisis to the next. This is the period that gave rise to Diocletian and Constantine, two people who have cast a very long shadow over Western history. It used to be a topic of study in the US Army War College for both military tactics and crisis management. It is fair to say that without Constantine, there is no Christian West. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine is the only book I know of that focuses just on this period.

A controversial book on Late Empire Roman military tactics is The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third by Edward Luttwak. It is controversial for two reasons. One is that Luttwak is not a historian or classicist, so he is treading on people’s turf. More important, he offers an alternative to the dominant view of how the Roman army managed to keep the barbarians at bay, despite the numerical advantages of the barbarians. It’s an interesting read on a topic that has implications for the modern era.

Finally, for those who like podcasts, one of the best history podcasts ever is also on the history of Rome. Mike Duncan’s podcast is incredibly well done and it covers the entire history of Rome to the fall of the Western Empire.  For those who like a long, dramatic retelling of history, Dan Carlin’s Death Throws of Rome is fun and informative. You can always get the narrated version of Gibbon from Audible, which is becoming a popular alternative to podcasts. Think of audio books as long play podcasts.

Finally, this brings us back to Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire has two interesting angles to explore. One is why it lasted so long despite the external stresses and the internal conflict. History books do a good job of covering that material. The other angle is why did the Western Empire collapse when the Eastern Empire continued on? That’s a subject that offers some insights into why a thousand years later the West was ready to roar past the rest of humanity.

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71 Comments on "Essential Knowledge: Part V"

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bob sykes
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Roman legend had it that Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC. The Empire finally expired in 1453 AD when the Turks conquered Constantinople. The Empire wasn’t much in the end, by a continuous history of 2,206 years is impressive.

By the way, the end date of 476 AD for the Western Empire is not quite correct since the Emperor in the East was able to occupy parts of Italy and Sicily for some time afterwards. The West is only cut off when the Arab conquests began around 700 AD.

Drake
Guest

Those Germanic Tribes that took down Rome in the 5th Century were not trying to destroy the empire so much as take it over.

The Gothic and Vandal Kingdoms in North Africa and Southern Europe continued to function as classical civilizations – until the Arab Muslims showed up a century later and plunged Europe into the Dark Ages.

zimriel
Guest

Ah, Monsieur Pirenne!

Gregory of Tours would disagree at least about hinterland Gaul under the early Merovings; it was already becoming quite Mad Max. Northern Italy, too, was becoming a wasteland en route to Lombardy.

I mean, maybe we COULD have had a “Hyborian Age” in Europe and North Africa where the new Gallo-Germanic nations settled in, and were able to resist the Arabs. But we didn’t. We got bandit-kingdoms, Justinian’s Plague, and the Lombards.

Member
Best book on it: The Fall of the Roman Empire by Michael Grant. Amazingly short. Excellent read. Best read with some foreknowledge of the history, though. Gibbon is actually funny as hell, especially with his treatment of the German tribes viewed through the pretentiousness of the Germans of his day. One thing about reading Roman primary source material as opposed to Greek is that the Romans tend to talk more about concrete issues rather than things in theoretical constructs or in the way they wished things to be, and that even includes Aristotle. Read a Roman and then look up… Read more »
Solomon Honeypickle IV
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle IV

i am guessing that feudalism and serfs arose from the late empire trend of freemen voluntarily becoming slaves of wealthy land holders, to avoid the predations of state appointed tax collectors.

Member
It was a combination of people seeking out strongmen to live under and the Empire reacting to this by passing laws requiring people to stay put and remain in their occupations while doing the same for their offspring. A lot of it had to do with maintaining a level of tax revenue flow. We have a somewhat similar situation with health insurance being the thing that keeps people in their current jobs. They look for big stable companies (benefits big business as they get those people most likely to remain in their jobs and they spend less on retraining) that… Read more »
Solomon Honeypickle IV
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle IV

we are all toiling on the government plantation.

alzaebo
Guest

Excellent and original, Doc.
I see the income tax as another feudal system (like communism is)- we are paid in scrip, issued by the company store.

The strange ecosystem of income tax code results in fractal social effects such as disparate impact or HR Stalinists; women are inducted into non-production jobs to pay income taxes.
(Govt employees recycling taxes are cash flow puffery.)

Non of the social or political economy can be calculated using cost-of-goods-sold accounting. Pension planners beware!

Member
The bit about putting people into unproductive jobs just to put them in a position to pay taxes is a theme I noticed some time back. That’s why the Dems think of an economy as some sort of perpetual motion machine that they can gas up and control the accelerator and brake as needed. I always think about the Farmers General in France. Set up to collect the salt tax. Then they got involved in enforcing the internal tarrifs, etc. Ended up being the largest “private” employer in France. When your largest employer is a Government Sponsored Enterprise you know… Read more »
Member

From Gibbon’s first volume, published in 1776, speaking of Rome, A.D. 117: “The terror of the Roman arms added weight and dignity to the moderation of the emperors. They preserved peace by constant preparation for war; and while justice regulated their conduct, they announced to the nations on their confines that they were as little disposed to endure as to offer an injury.”

To me, the protection of our borders and the the rebuilding of our military are by far the most important things Trump must do. The Rome of the Antonines should be our model.

King George III
Guest
For the last 5 years more foreigner children have been born within the borders of the United States than white children in the land their forefathers conquered. The Baby Boomers are enormous faggots, parasitic leeches, destroyers of the last remnants of Western civilization, but they are really the last truly American generation. In 20 years when they’ve all retired or kicked the bucket America will be one of three groups: 1) a lot of old white people in nursing homes, 2) various species of foreigner—Mexicans, Nigerians, Moslems, Indians, Chinamen—mostly on welfare, and 3) a small sliver of young white men… Read more »
notsothoreau
Guest
I take it that you are aware that the Boomer tag is simply marketing. There is no way that folks born in 1946 think the same way as those born in 1964. Yet that is supposed to be the Boomer Generation. And you are wrong of course. If you look at wages, you’ll see that the 70s (when many Boomers entered the work force) is when wages started the down hill slide. The folks that had the really good deal were the Greatest Generation, after the war. They got the cheapest houses, were more likely to have pensions and had… Read more »
Member

“Chinamen” on welfare? Takes a real nutjob to think that. The Chinese work ethic is astonishing. Puts whites to shame.

And the idea that all of the people of all the other races and religions you so despise are lazy bloodsuckers is equally absurd. It’s a statistical argument – too many of them do bad things. But as you yourself point out, too many of us whites do too many bad things too these days.

Finally, we offer them free shit then complain when they take it? Who is the incompetent idiot in that scenario?

Leverage
Guest

“Hear! Hear!”

LetsPlay
Member

Quit your whining and put the blame where it belongs … on your fellow white man, William J. Brennan Jr. for his sneaky footnote that changed everything about the 14th Amendment.

SamlAdams
Guest

Thanks for some great suggestions. Having concentrated in US History, have some gaps other than having read Gibbon and specific items related more to how the Founding Fathers derived their approach to government.

JohnTyler
Guest
While it would be great if more folks learned about the Roman Empire ( including me) let’s not forget that many (most?) college students and perhaps many adults under the age of 45 have absolutely no idea who was Adolph Hitler, who fought whom in WWI or II and what were the causes thereof, who was Stalin, believe Castro was a decent chap and Cuba is a nirvana where everything is free, and think Abe Lincoln was a liberal democrat/progressive. Check out youtube and see folks being questioned about very general history or current affairs; it’s hilarious and frightening at… Read more »
Solomon Honeypickle IV
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle IV

the HBO mini series “Rome” is by far the best cinematic treatment of the topic. John Milius produced (and wrote?) it so you know it’s going to raise your T levels!

Backwoods Engineer
Guest

“Wolverines!” Oh, wrong movie. Love Milius, though.

alzaebo
Guest

Dagnab such a good suggestion.
Hapless Pollo and badass Lucius Vorenus!

ganderson
Guest

Sons of Dis! Z- have you read Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome Series? I liked them a lot.

Guest
Guest

Interesting historical side note: Gibbon was a member of the House of Commons and was struggling to complete Volume I during the time period when Parliament was debating what to do with the rebels in the American colonies. He was in some ways living through an echo of the history he was writing.

He came down on the side of complete and total war against the rebels in the Colonies. He seemed to understand that allowing the American Colonies to secede from the Empire would be the beginning of the end. Time proved him correct.

Dutch
Guest

Went to a distant relative’s wedding near Portsmouth, at Gibbon’s estate. Quite the spread. I don’t know if his books paid the freight, but something sure did. The owners are reduced to renting part of it out to pay the bills on the thing, and we were busted and heavily reprimanded after being caught sneaking into the private garden for a photo shoot of the bride.

james wilson
Guest

Burke was the greater man, then. He asked of the Parliament and the King’s men never mind losing, rather, what they thought they were going to do to rule that enormous and likely bitter land if they won. The truth was the British never actually ruled the American colonies, that state having been beneficial to both sides, and only woke up one day to discover that this state of affairs had grown beyond their capacity of influence.

Solomon Honeypickle IV
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle IV

what are you talking about? the British empire did not peak until early in the 20th century. Losing *some* of the North american colony was insignificant at the time.

kokor hekkus
Guest

“The Greeks were a culture, but the Romans were a civilization that incorporated the culture of the Greeks.” Yes, and the Romans readily conceded that the Greeks were much smarter than they were, and turned to them for intellectual matters. Archimedes was a key asset for the Roman legions, having created a distance measuring device for roads and other gadgets. Hate to think what happened to the Roman soldier who murdered him, against orders.

Member
“Traditionally, you learned about Rome by reading Gibbon. You can buy the The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from Amazon for $133.00 or if you want to read it from a tablet, you can get it for two dollars, which is one million Canadian dollars.” the way things are going with trudeau, it might be 2 million, from the country in the upstairs loft apartment, not invited to the party downstairs. LOL Until we pull your shirt over your head and punch you out!! I’m goin to Timmies for coffee. I’m a big fan and you are the… Read more »
CaptDMO
Guest

Latin?
Consider flash cards.
Makes chatting with Spanish speaking illegal aliens that much easier.

Al from da Nort
Guest

For those with an interest in the Eastern Empire and how it survived, Edward L Luttwak also wrote The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. It is clearly written and full of interesting and relevant details (if you have an interest in grand strategy or ancient military practices). It surpasses his Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire by far IOMHO.

Solomon Honeypickle IV
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle IV

can you summarize it for us?

alzaebo
Guest

Eastern Empire- “Belisaurius”, the great and loyal general, called back time and time again to save the empire, only to betrayed time and time again by Emperor Justinian

Al from da Nort
Guest
It’s ~500 pages of dense but clearly written prose covering over 1000 years of comparatively neglected history starting in the early 400″s AD. You should feel free to read it yourself if you have interest in the period. So, ANY summary cannot avoid discarding a lot of potentially relevant information. IMHO Luttwak does a better job than most of discerning the pattern-demonstrating information within the high noise level of historical detail.. Arguably the Romans, as the Byzantines actually called themselves (though they spoke Greek as the official language by ~500 AD), helped save a divided and disorganized Europe from the… Read more »
Chuckie
Guest

Thank you for that illuminating distillation, Al. This comment section is chock full of excellent comments, with yours being exceptional example, and I look forward to checking out Luttwak’s work. Much appreciation to Z Man for his mentally satisfying posts and all the great commenters!

Solomon Honeypickle, proud octaroon
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle, proud octaroon

yes, thanks!

Member

Essential Knowledge VI: Comments thread needs a more effective sorting and reply mechanism. It’s more fun when you can mix it up with people a bit.

Soylent_Green
Guest
If I may suggest ‘The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization’ by Bryan Ward-Perkins. It’s available on kindle now, as well as paperback. Frankly, the author encourages his readers to think again by reclaiming the drama and violence of the last days of the Roman world, and reminding us of the very real horrors of barbarian occupation (with using some modern references). He makes use of a range of contemporary archaeological evidence, he looks at both the wider explanations for the disintegration of the Roman world and also the consequences for the lives of everyday Romans, in a… Read more »
Member
I recommend this book, too. While Ward-Perkins does not venture past the scholarship on the Fall of the Western Empire, there seems to be this overall trend in academia of denying that any civilization fell with great suffering and violence. The archeological evidence of great fires is ignored; the accounts of cities being sacked are poo-pooed; the disappearance of pottery, coins, and other goods of complex manufacture are ascribed to “transitions” or “new economies.” I think that David Goldman is right (I only disagree with you over your globalist economics, Herr Spengler). Modern Western man cannot handle horror. Post-Modernism is… Read more »
Tony Petracelli
Guest

what are you reading?! the mongols? tamerlane? muslims? no one is poo pooing the depredations of these groups. are we no longer referring to the dark ages?

Member
You may want to read some of the recent “scholarship” on the Bronze Age collapse and the end of the Indus Valley Civilization. Ward-Perkins does great work cataloging and refuting the post-modern rot infecting recent scholarship about the fall of Rome. A simple Internet search will find several articles denying the violent nature of the end of the Indus Valley Civilization. Here is a podcast with a group of scholars discussing what appears to be the non-violent consensus about the Bronze Age Collapse:: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07fl5bh Here is another in which the academicians seem to be tripping over themselves in their haste… Read more »
Solomon Honeypickle, proud octaroon
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle, proud octaroon

c’mon, even the BBC doesn’t listen to the BBC 🙂

The bronze age collapse *is* a mystery, a nice juicy mystery. it fascinates me to no end. as far as i know, the only written accounts of it are in egypt (one of the only, if not the only, civilation to survive that period). the speed of the collapse makes me think it was a combination of natural and man made events.

also, i note that you put the word scholarship in quotes 🙂

alzaebo
Guest
It may be that Israel’s wealth came from their role as “labor contractors” for Roman construction, that is, slave traders undermining the wage economy. This led to expanding foreign wars for resources to keep the economy alive, and an increasing trend of citizens consigning themselves into slavery (workfare) over rising taxes. It became a vicious economic cycle, leading to the 5th century, where the Empire could no longer pay guards to keep the roads and trade open. Near half of the known world’s population died In starvation and war in the next generation; thin soils couldn’t sustain the large trading… Read more »
alzaebo
Guest

Simply put, increased percentages of psychopathy may be baked well into the cake that has written our histories.

alzaebo
Guest

Worse yet when other populations adopt such successful strategies, breeding their own psychopaths.

The spiral of lunacy- because ‘paths will do anything to get to the top of the tree.
We on the lower branches think they are talking to us, and hoot back with our willingness to climb into those upper branches. As long as I can rain sh*t on you, down there! Monkey see, monkey do.

Tony Petracelli
Guest

what an incoherent crock of shit. let me condense this into a simple JOOOOOSSSS!!!

alzaebo
Guest

When a race of lying psychopaths writes your history, you get frauds like the increasingly ludicrous Holocaust story, intersectional Feminism, historical reparations, gender fluidity, political officers and domestic spies listening for offensive words, Donmeh Saudis and Bolshevik Communists, Quantum Fund’s Open Society network, Trotskyite neocons and pussyhat marches, Hollywood and the NY Times, Muslim refugees and Islamophobia, and 70% bloc voting for the Democrat Party.

Why? Because it works.
Nature is above morality.

alzaebo
Guest

Excusee- “Islamophobia”, (or, more fake news)

Solomon Honeypickle, proud octaroon
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle, proud octaroon

can you show me where morality is in the periodic table?

want to know the one single law in god’s universe? watch a lion chase down a gazelle.

alzaebo
Guest
Thanks, oh proud octaroon, allow me to beg our host’s gracious indulgence for going off on a tangent. The reason we study history is to find out what happened, and why- that we might keep it from happening to us. What we’re seeing today isn’t ordinary-grade stupid- this is weaponized stupid. Everyone believes their own bullshit. Especially when some of their own feed it to them- so they think they are fighting on the side of righteousness. Try convincing a BLM or Muslim that they are a danger- or a government employee, or a wolverine. Or a Nazi-hunting Red Diaper… Read more »
Thud
Guest

There is a Roman road running across the fields back of mine, it passes a place called Thingwall a Viking meeting place…gotta love history. Oh and Mary Beard is doing a good job populising roman history here without getting all touchy feely.

Timbotoo
Guest

I was sorry to see the end of the mass celebrated in Latin.s

Member
There is a lot to be said for seeing Roman stuff “on the ground”. We see photos and videos of what they built and it does not give us much idea of the gigantic scale of their work. My dad turned me into a bit of a Roman History nut and I have been to ruins and museums all over Europe. Israel and the middle east next year. There is Rome itself, much of Italy and lots still left in the Provinces. Merida, Spain is amazing. A small town with two an astonishing number of things to see, all within… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
Thanks Zman and others for the great references. I will make good use of them in learning about this interesting part of history. One of the things that I wonder about from an anthropological standpoint, and this goes to previous discussion of the loss of manhood in post WW2 Germany, is what happened to Italy, France, etc. since those people’s once dominated huge swaths of the world at one time and did it via military might. I say this from the minimal perspective of the performance of the Italians in WW2 under Mussolini and the French in WW1&2 and the… Read more »
Member

Oh, when I saw you get to Greece, I was curious what you’d have to say about Rome. Good choices! 😉

Captain Tripps
Guest
Thanks Z-Man. I read you regularly, but don’t comment enough. Appreciate your discussion and recommendations on Roman history. I’ve listened to both the full Mike Duncan series and Dan Carlin’s Death throes of the Republic (with his massive 6-hour finale). I’ve read a few books as well. Striking the many parallels of the late Republic and our current Republic; your observation about the displacement of the common Roman yeoman farmer with zero-cost foreign slave labor by the wealthy elites is spot on. Is Trump Tiberius Gracchus or Marius (he’s not Old Money like Gracchus, more New Money like Marius)? Hopefully… Read more »
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http://www.autokarosszeria-javitas.hu/
Guest

That’s why the Dems think of an economy as some sort of perpetual motion machine that they can gas up and control the accelerator and brake as needed. I always think about the Farmers General in France.

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