Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Roman Twilight, Part 1

It's been a while since my last post, but I have hardly been standing still!

As I indicated in my last post, I would be reading the Heather book on the Fall of the Roman Empire. Let me say this is a weighty book, but a good one. With that in mind, I have decided to split up my treatment of the book into sections. This also helps with my occasional book ADD I sometimes suffer from...

Naturally, here is section one.

Heather divides his book into sections, with the first being a general broad overview on the political institutions, general picture, and state of the Empire in the 4th C. More importantly, he analysis the meaning -- what it meant to the 4th C inhabitants of the Empire -- of being Roman. It was no longer an aspect of being a citizen of the city of Rome, or a descendant thereof. During Rome's slow but inexorable advance across Southern Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa, it brought Roman culture with it. And with it, it brought its best means of integrating the disparate and diverse ethnic groups inhabiting the Mediterranean Basin into a cohesive whole. These subject people, Heather maintains, "bought into" the Roman culture, and while they may have still maintained aspects of local culture, over time they were transformed into Romans, and looked at the Empire as part of their birthright. This, in the end, would be part of the problem behind the collapse of the Empire: essentially the Empire was no longer able to contract its borders and defend areas important to its maintenance. It would be like the United States abandoning California, or New Jersey.

Furthermore, the popular image of the hairy, uncivilized barbarians may also be incorrect. Heather maintains that the Germanic peoples had begun to adapt their civilization thanks to close contact with Roman (and Mediterranean) civilization. Where previously Germanic tribes were an almost ad-hoc political organization centered around a strongman and his warband, the later Germanic tribes began to organize themselves more centrally, with aspects of Kingship and hereditary leadership developing. Furthermore, the material and political culture of the German people began to transform through trade and cultural contact, enriching them immensely.

Finally, and while the greatest threat of this time was the Sassanid Persian Empire to the East, the Romans had adapted their political and economic organization in order to deal with this upstart -- and increasingly powerful -- rival empire. The disasters of the 3rd century were painfully dealt with, and at the dawn of the 4th, Rome had regained a semblance of stability again.

How long would it last, and what was the stake in the Roman heart? More on that later...

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