By Don Boys, Ph.D.
Only fools believe the rules of warfare, welfare, and the way we deal with our borders do not apply to America. We are different, but not that different, and we are observing the same decline, decay, and disintegration that the Roman Empire experienced.
In fact, the comparison is eerie.
Rome was founded in 753 B.C. with Romulus as the first king ruling over erratic and violent citizens characterized by Livy as “a rabble of vagrants, mostly runaways and refugees, unrestrained by the power of the throne.” Rome’s early days are shrouded in mystery and myth and mistakes involving the “god” Mars, who fathered Romulus and his twin brother Remus and left them to die after their birth. The twin babies, washed up on a riverbank, were suckled by a she-wolf, and Romulus became king of Rome and killed his brother.
Wow, from miraculous birth to marvelous childhood to a mighty king in one generation!
Interestingly, city guides in Rome propagate that myth as fact to gullible tourists. When I kindly challenged them and finally ridiculed their promotion of a silly legend, they became indignant as if I also asserted the earth is flat, or even worse, that the city of Rome was overrated and overpriced. After casting off the shackles of the Monarchy with the overthrow of the last of Rome’s seven kings who were absolute dictators, the Monarchy was followed by a Republic in 509 B.C.
The new Roman Republic was the period when the city-state of Rome was a republican government (from 509 B.C. to 27 B.C.). The Romans had replaced their last king with elected magistrates, which lasted until 27 B.C. It was one of the world’s first examples of representative democracy.
National Geographic asserts, “The Republic began to engage in wars with its neighboring rivals, slowly eliminating threats to its superiority in the Mediterranean. By the first century B.C., the Roman Republic stood alone as the dominant power in the Mediterranean region.”
During the middle of the first century B.C., Rome was marked by civil wars and the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. Caesar asked the statesman Cicero to work with his dictatorship; however, Cicero refused, being a republican and desiring a return to traditional republican government.
Cicero knew an authoritarian ruler, like Caesar, could bring stability, safety, and success to a nation, but dictatorship always results in loss of personal freedom.
Caesar (who never lost a war) defeated Pompey in a civil war and led the nation out of a Republic into a dictatorship until his assassination in 44 B.C. Thus, he played a significant role in the events that led to the ruin of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. Following Caesar’s death, his adopted son Octavian won some major battles (defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra), and the Senate proclaimed him Emperor Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C., followed by an unprecedented 200 years of peace.
Then, it was downhill to the emperors who were morally corrupt, mentally incompetent, and murder prone—often using assassination as a standard political tool.
Cicero was, for his day, a principled Roman, famous for his oratory. He vigorously criticized Caesar, Mark Antony, and other politicians who thought the Republic was passé and constantly grabbed personal political power. Antony was often criticized by Cicero, and Cicero was finally assassinated while leaving for a sea voyage. Cicero’s hands, which had penned the famous harangues against Antony, were cut off, and he was beheaded. His hands and his head were nailed to the podium in the Roman Forum. Antony’s wife pulled out the dead orator’s tongue and repeatedly thrust a pin through it, letting all know what she thought of his powerful speaking.
Before Cicero was killed in 43 B.C., he declared, “Rome’s swollen population of unemployed immigrates from the country-side was a bonfire waiting to be lit.” Rome was constantly on the march taking new territories of people whose language, religion, personal habits, and general culture differed from Roman citizens. As the conquered territories were farther and farther distant from Rome, it became more difficult to control them.
The Republic was followed by the Roman Empire ruled by numerous incompetent, immoral, even incestuous Emperors and only five good ones under whom there was impressive success and growth from 96 A.D. to 180. A.D. Rome’s control rapidly expanded during this period—from the city’s immediate surroundings to control of the entire Mediterranean world. The period witnessed a considerable expansion of the Empire into northern Britain and east to Mesopotamia.
The great Mediterranean Sea became a Roman lake.
By the end of the third century, Rome was still a powerful empire, but all was not well below the surface. The foundations were cracking and crumbling, and dangerous ideas were invading the Empire. The cities were decreasing, and industry was declining, and agriculture was being destroyed by excessive taxation. Peasants could no longer make a living by farming.
Travel was no longer safe. Under Caesar’s rule, he had produced peace, and “there are neither wars, nor battles, nor great robberies, nor piracies; but we may travel at all hours and sail from east to west,” according to Epictetus. That was no longer true, and the value of Roman citizenship was devalued since no one was safe and justice was only a word.
Outside Rome’s borders, vast numbers of barbarians had become more sophisticated in warfare and surged through the Empire, causing restless sleep in the emperor’s palace. The Huns, in the 370s, invaded along the Danube River, driving the Germanic tribes into the Roman provinces. Rome was willing to accept that, but the desired controlled relocation of barbarians within the Empire’s borders ended as an invasion.
I’ve heard of that happening recently.
Small farmers of central Italy had been the foundation of Roman life but could not compete with imported grains from around the Black Sea. Therefore, they sold their land and moved to the city, and lived on welfare. They joined the mobs who demanded more bread and vicious contests and more exciting games. The government used public taxes and provided the mobs free grain at public events, including chariot races, gladiator contests, and mock naval battles.
Cicero wrote: “The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease.” One Roman is recorded as saying: “Those who live at the expense of the public funds are more numerous than those who provide them.” That could not continue.
Rome was no longer Rome.
The civilization of a thousand years could see the handwriting on the wall: the brutal barbarians were at the gates of Rome, and collapse was imminent. In 410, Rome, the city of the Caesars, fell to the uncivilized, uneducated, uncouth Barbarians. With the collapse of Rome, a chill was felt through the civilized world.
If it could happen to mighty Rome, it could happen to any nation.
The Germanic clans 600 miles north of Rome did not want to destroy the Empire, but they were attracted to the “good life,” a consequence of civilization. Moreover, they liked the prestige and protection of Roman citizenship. Roman historian Tacitus in 98 B.C. was the first historian to mention Germanic tribes who were moving into southwestern Germany about the same time the Romans were conquering present-day Gaul—France, Switzerland, Belgium, and northern Italy.
Caesar defeated a barbarian clan in 70 B.C., making the Rhine River the boundary between Roman and German territory.
Some Germanic tribes lived outside Rome’s boundary and over the first few hundred years of the Christian era had been Romanized through trade and travel. As tribes prospered in their trade and made adjustments to their rugged lifestyle, they drew attention to the Huns who rode in from the Asian steppes. Roman citizenship looked very profitable to the German tribes since they would be protected by the greatest power on earth and the weather was much warmer, an advantage to farmers.
Rome was not opposed to taking the tribes into their Empire, and many Germans adapted well to the Roman Army. However, all immigrants had to assimilate. They were forbidden to live in cliques, perpetuating their old culture. They were dispersed throughout the Empire and had to become Romans, the price of citizenship.
Great, grand, and grandiose plan, but it didn’t work.
Bill Ferereder wrote, “Illegal immigrants poured across the Roman borders: Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Anglos, Saxons, Alemanni, Thuringians, Rugians, Jutes, Picts, Burgundians, Lombards, Alans, Vandals, as well as African Berbers and Arab raiders.”
After a slow deterioration process, the Romans lost control of the immigration procedure during the Fifth Century. Defeated Persia (Iran) felt frisky and lively again and made sounds like a powerful nation. Rome sent its troops to put the Persians back in their place as a failed empire. The Germanic tribes were permitted into the Empire, but they continued their political and cultural identities. They did not assimilate, even uniting with other tribes to form armies within the Roman Empire!
Will and Ariel Durant wrote, “If Rome had not engulfed so many men of alien blood in so brief a time, if she had passed all these newcomers through her schools instead of her slums, if she had treated them as men with a hundred potential excellences, if she had occasionally closed her gates to let assimilation catch up with infiltration, she might have gained new racial and literary vitality from the infusion, and might have remained a Roman Rome, the voice and citadel of the West.”
America has not learned from Rome’s many mistakes, and it is insane to expect a favorable result. Last week, the U.S. has absorbed over 15,000 Haitians of a different language, religion, personal habits, and race. This mass was added to the hundreds of thousands of others from Central American nations, plus an unknown number of Muslims whose religion demands they do not assimilate or cooperate with their new surroundings.
America’s politicians still do not understand that true Muslims can not and will not assimilate—they always dominate.
Many churches, like those today, had only a temporary influence on the dying Empire.
Richard A. Todd wrote in The Fall of the Roman Empire, “The church, while preaching against abuses, contributed to the decline by discouraging good Christians from holding public office.” And while we have some of that today, it seems the problem is not lack of Christians in office but lack of Christians in office with backbone.
The Fifth Century historian Salvian shockingly wrote, “For all the lurid Roman tales of their atrocities … the barbarians displayed … a good deal more fidelity to their wives.” He declared, “O Roman people be ashamed; be ashamed of your lives. Almost no cities are free of evil dens, are altogether free of impurities, except the cities in which the barbarians have begun to live. … Let nobody think otherwise, the vices of our bad lives have alone conquered us. … The Goths lie, but are chaste, the Franks lie, but are generous, the Saxons are savage in cruelty … but are admirable in chastity. … What hope can there be for the Romans when the barbarians are more pure than they?”
At that time, the “Christians” were quibbling over who was to be the supreme leader, what language would be used, the use of indulgences, Purgatory and Limbo, whether Jesus was human and divine; etc. While the various religious groups continued to win adherents, they made little impact on the direction of the Empire. It is agreed that the religious authority of the now developing Roman Catholic Church held the barbarians at bay for a while, which was only temporary.
I wish I had the talent of Gibbon to graphically write The Decline and Fall of the American Empire as a warning. I see no hope, and history gives no example of a nation, once on the slippery slope, ever recovering its greatness on its own.
Rome was an empire of legions and law devolving into luxury and license and became a hodgepodge of conquest and cruelty.
Personal virtue determines national values, and Rome permitted itself to become worse than Barbarians whose presence they welcomed.
America, are you listening?
(Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives who ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years. Boys authored 20 books, the most recent, Reflections of a Lifetime Fundamentalist: No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets! The eBook is available at Amazon.com for $4.99. Other titles at www.cstnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at Don Boys, Ph.D., and visit his blog. Send a request to [email protected] for a free subscription to his articles and click here to support his work with a donation.)