Past Parallels To Ponder: Rome
History never repeats itself exactly.
It does repeat in certain broad strokes, and while we can never step into the same stream twice, we can recognize certain patterns and, if we’re wise, be ready to deal with them.
#1: The Roman Empire
In 285CE Diocletian effectively split the Roman Empire in two, assumed command of the more vital, more profitable eastern half (a.k.a. the Byzantine Empire), and fobbed the economically stagnate western half off on Maximian.
The eastern half, sitting atop lucrative trade routes with Asia, remained flush with cash; it would be over 1,200 years before trade from the west would become an economic powerhouse.
The western empire’s problem was this:
It took a lot of cash to keep the borders safe and the standard of living high; cash to maintain infrastructure and fund armies for both defense and conquest (enslaved human labor being the primary energy source in ancient times).
And despite being chockablock with wealthy Romans, the western empire had difficulty raising funds to maintain said infrastructure and standards of living.
The wealthy, it seemed, wanted to keep all their wealth and power for themselves rather than spend it on common citizens, slaves, and client states.
The result was an increasing number of petty rebellions, mutinies, civil wars, and raids ranging in size from simple banditry to full scale invasions by northern tribes.
Finally, at some point between 470CE and 480CE (exactly when depends on who’s drawing the line), the western empire decided to call it a day and formally acknowledged it no longer could protect or control anything in the west, including Rome itself.
At that point things began splintering up, with the aforementioned wealthy Romans now finding themselves having to spend that wealth on self-defense in the form of guards and private armies, and when local villages and people asked for protection, began taxing them in order to pay for it.
This led to the rise of city-states, and while in the long run the wealthy profited fabulously off being the new dukes and princes, it also led to a lot of intra-state rivalries, wars, and feuds.
It culminated with the Renaissance, which overlapped with the discovery of the Americas. That shifted power and wealth once again, and the city-states stagnated again until they were all united again under the banner of modern Italy in 1861.
(The Italians and the Romans, by proxy,
will return to this narrative shortly.)
Lessons to learn:
Give rich people a chance not to pay their fair share and they’ll jump at it, bringing ruin on those around them. Once things settle down, life can actually be pretty good for the splintered remnants, but in the long run small independent entities can’t stand up to larger economic forces; they either unify or fade into obscurity.
© Buzz Dixon