Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Tuesday, January 13, 2004  

A little more Roman history

from this site (but I've quoted most of it):

. . . in the next century the Roman empire crumbled. There were civil wars between 180 and 285 AD. Of twenty-seven emperors or would-be emperors all but two met violent deaths. Meanwhile, the Persians raided to Antioch in the East and in Europe the barbarians broke through the frontiers. Huge tracts of country were devastated. The middle-class was squeezed out of existence. Farmers and laborers were transformed into serfs. When in 285 AD Diocletion pulled the empire together again, there was but little left of the prosperity of the Pax Romana.

But in the second century AD from Hadrian onward, apart from Suetonius' Biographies of the Emperors, the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, and the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, Latin literature is overcome by a sort of indolent apathy. The same apathy began to exhibit itself in municipal life. Financial burdens which were imposed on the local magistrates and senators. By the second century many cities had spent themselves into debt.

There was the cost of repairing and maintaining the temples, public baths, and the like. There were also heavy expenditures for civic sacrifices, religious processions, feasts and for the games necessary to amuse the proletariat. The wealthy citizens of the municipalities who were, in effect, the middle-class, began to grow weary of the load: especially since the constantly rising taxation rates were shearing them closer and closer.

By the middle of the second century, there were cases where compulsion had to be used to fill the local magistracies. There were other cases, beginning with Hadrian, where, when municipalities got into financial difficulties, imperial curators were pat in change and the cities lost their independence. The people did not seem to mind. As often happens today, they were quite willing to resign their control of affairs and to let the government take care of them.

By the time of Antoninus Pius, who ruled from 138 to 161 AD, the Roman bureaucracy was as all-embracing as that of modern times. Naturally, too, as benevolent paternalism and bureaucracy took over, personal freedom tended to disappear. By the third century, to quote the historian Trever, "the relentless system of taxation, requisition, and compulsory labor was administered by an army of military bureaucrats. . . .Everywhere . . .were the ubiquitous personal agents of the emperors to spy out any remotest case of attempted strikes or evasion of taxes." To the cost of the bureaucracy was added the expense of the dole.

Originally, this was passed out once a month. By the time of Marcus Aurelius, there was a daily distribution of pork, oil, and bread to the proletariat. Meanwhile, the expenditure on the public spectacles kept mounting. A hundred million dollars a year is a moderate estimate of what was poured out on the games. There was likewise an attempt to combine subsidy to Italian farmers with charity to needy children. This was called the alimenta and was instituted by Nerva, who reigned from 96 to 98 AD. His system was to lend money at five per cent instead of twelve per cent to farmers with the proviso that the interest should be used to support needy children. Boys received seventy cents a day, girls sixty. And then there was the army. The army was essential to the security of the empire. The cost of it, though, more than doubled between 96 and 180 AD.

All these expenditures had to be recovered from the taxpayer. To compound the difficulties, there was an adverse balance of trade.

To add to his troubles a plague, brought back from the East, was ravaging the empire. By 180 AD at least one-fourth of the population of the whole empire, both civilian and military, had perished. [ed. Over 40 million Americans destroyed by abortions since 1973, add to a low birthrate among the middle class. That's a form of a reduction plague right there.]

Government paternalism, bureaucracy, inflation, an ever-increasing taste for the brutal and brutalizing spectacles of the amphitheater and the circus were symptoms of spiritual malaise which had begun when political freedom was tossed away in the interests of peace, security, and materialism. There was the cancer of slavery and the equally dangerous practice of keeping a segment of the population permanently on the dole. There was free labor subsisting on starvation wages because of the competition of slavery. At the other end of the scale lolled a group of multi-millionaires for whom no luxury was too extravagant.

A sense of futility seemed to permeate society. There were many outstanding administrators and good governors but, on the whole, the Roman spirit which had conquered the world seemed to have dissolved into an indolence which preferred ease and comfort to a facing up to the dangers which threatened civilization.

Later on . . . there was no escape from the relentless regimentation which pervaded all aspects of life. For regimentation was the end-result of the abdication of political freedom and of the pursuit of materialism. The welfare state had become a despotism.

Are we there yet? No, but we're on our way.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 12:24 PM |