Is This the Late Roman Empire?

Internal weakness, decadence, ignorance, and greed characterized the Late Roman Empire. The barbarians capitalized on these weakness so that as more barbarians settled in Roman land, and more barbarians had to be used in the Roman army, barbarian invasions increased and became more disastrous for the Empire. The United States faces a similar problem. Just as the Romans had initial success in trying to “Romanize” the barbarians when it tried crossing into Germania, the United States easily toppled the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq only to suffer blow-back from these expeditions intended to “democratize” the Islamic world. The same internal weakness, social laxity, and ignorance found in the Late Roman Empire stricken the United States.

The United States would do well to remember its Roman heritage. The Founding Fathers envisioned the United States as a “New Rome,” and laid the foundation for the U.S. to actually become the embodiment of a modern Rome. Indeed, the U.S. became the first Republic to become a super-power since the Roman Republic. Like the Latin overthrow of the Etruscans, the United States separated itself from the British Empire.

After that, the expansion beyond the Appalachians began. In the early eighteenth century, the U.S. acquired the Louisiana Territory (reminiscent of the Roman Republic’s acquisition of Pergamon). Around that time, the U.S. adopted the mindset of the Roman Republic as a state with several protectorates with the creation of the Monroe Doctrine. It fought with Britain again in 1812, destroyed Indian populations, and took large swathes from Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century reminiscent of Rome’s wars with the Carthaginians, Dacians, and Gauls.

The United States had its first taste of fully-fledged imperial war when it invaded Mexico in 1846. The next imperial interventions were fought in Latin America and culminated with the Spanish-American War. Arguably, the U.S. entered WWI in its last year for expansionist purposes. The same argument has been considered in WWII with some historians saying FDR allowed Pearl Harbor to be bombed so that the U.S. could enter the war “legally,” and not as an aggressor state. The Korean and Vietnam wars ended without much success, just like the Roman conflicts of the first and second century. These two conflicts could be described as the American version of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 CE), in which Rome crushingly lost three legions, halted further expansion into Germania, and established the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire.

With the start of the “Global War on Terror,” the U.S. hastily invaded Afghanistan (with NATO) and Iraq, easily disposing of their governments with the help of local informants and recruits. In effect, the U.S. has made client states within its global sphere of influence, and is now suffering the consequences of its military and diplomatic hubris.

The Roman Empire also set up artificial client states during its reign by settling barbarian tribes inside its borders. These settled barbarians were used to defend borders from other barbarians, and as auxiliary forces in the legions. The problem with the Late Roman Empire was that the barbarians came to be seen as allies. They needed to be settled in Empire, or be used in the legions to prevent them from attacking the Empire itself, so they basically acted as buffers. These functions made the barbarians hard to destroy. The increasing barbarian holdings in the Empire reduced the Empire’s tax base, which put a strain on the Empire’s ability to defend itself. For example, the Empire gave Iberia to the Visigoths and parts of Gaul to the Franks. Also, the Empire increasing lost control of its armies, which then lost control of its soldiers. (In one case, A Roman army of thousands of Visigoths laid siege to the Roman town of Clermont.)

If barbarian entanglement did not compromise the Empire’s defenses enough, civil war and financial crisis did. In the face of these three over-arching problems, some emperors even decided to balloon the size of the military instead of putting money into, say, infrastructure. When Constantine and Diocletian doubled the size of the army to 600,000 men, and divided it into stationary frontier and mobile reserve legions, more the Empire’s expenditures had to be devoted to “guns” instead of “butter.” In effect, the military budget crowded out the civilian budget.

The problems with the Roman government were exacerbated by the social decadence and ignorance of Roman citizens, who were perhaps more responsible for the collapse of the Roman Empire than the barbarians and the legions because they allowed their government to fall into such a state of decay. The citizens of the United States are facing similar problems, and must remember that painful lesson from their Roman heritage if they are to endure the daunting challenges ahead in dealing with: the blow-back of the Global War on Terror, over-expansion of the military-industrial complex, the off-shoring of jobs, the global financial crisis, failed economic policies, entrenched partisanship, and the pervasive shroud of Unreason over both the populace and the politicians. There is much to be done to prevent the United States from paralleling the decline of the Late Roman Empire.

~ by jsacc001 on December 6, 2008.

One Response to “Is This the Late Roman Empire?”

  1. Interview Request

    Hello Dear and Respected,
    I hope you are fine and carrying on the great work you have been doing for the Internet surfers. I am Ghazala Khan from The Pakistani Spectator (TPS), We at TPS throw a candid look on everything happening in and for Pakistan in the world. We are trying to contribute our humble share in the webosphere. Our aim is to foster peace, progress and harmony with passion.

    We at TPS are carrying out a new series of interviews with the notable passionate bloggers, writers, and webmasters. In that regard, we would like to interview you, if you don’t mind. Please send us your approval for your interview at my email address “ghazala.khi at”, so that I could send you the Interview questions. We would be extremely grateful.


    Ghazala Khan
    The Pakistani Spectator

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