Victor Davis Hanson:
By A.D. 200, the Roman Republic was a distant memory. Few citizens of the global Roman Empire even knew of their illustrious ancestors like Scipio or Cicero. Millions no longer spoke Latin. Italian emperors were a rarity. There were no national elections.
Yet Rome endured as a global power for three more centuries. What held it together?
A stubborn common popular culture and the prosperity of Mediterranean-wide standardization kept things going. The Egyptian, the Numidian, the Iberian and the Greek assumed that everything from Roman clay lamps and glass to good roads and plentiful grain were available to millions throughout the Mediterranean.
As long as the sea was free of pirates, thieves cleared from the roads, and merchants allowed to profit, few cared whether the lawless Caracalla or the unhinged Elagabalus was emperor in distant Rome.
Something likewise both depressing and encouraging is happening to the United States. Few Americans seem to worry that our present leaders have lied to or misled the Congress and the American people without consequences.
If Rome quieted the people with public spectacles and cheap grain from the provinces, so too Americans of all classes keep glued to favorite video games and reality-TV shows. Fast food is both cheap and tasty. All that for now is preferable to rioting and revolt.
Like Rome, America apparently can coast for a long time on the fumes of its wonderful political heritage and economic dynamism — even if both are little understood or appreciated by most who still benefit from them.
The Roman Republic lasted over 500 years. The Roman Empire lasted almost as long, but in the end only the Western half fell. The Eastern Roman Empire made it’s home in Constantinople and lasted another 1000 years.
The Romans accomplished some incredible things. I just read the other day about how we recently rediscovered the secret to Roman concrete. Their concrete was more durable than the Portland cement that we have been using for the past 200 years.
A lot of changes took place during Rome’s history. The form of government changed. The leaders changed. The religion changed. But the nation called Rome remained.
I am surprised that VDH missed a few other common factors between us and Rome. For most of its history Rome remained politically and economically stable. It was wealthy enough that its citizens could afford to pay for the decadence and excess of its leaders.
But in the end Rome fell because they could not (or would not) control their borders. They were overwhelmed by the barbarian hordes.
Thus began the Dark Ages.