Your RDA of Irony

The Decline and Decline and Decline of the Roman Empire

The fall of the Roman Empire was somewhat exaggerated. There was no massive barbarian offensive that overran and annihilated civilization; the fifth century Germans were more subtle than their modern descendants. Indeed, many of the tribes were invited into the enfeebled empire. Rome hoped that the barbarians might be better behaved as guests than invaders.

Given the Italian male’s increasing reluctance to leave an orgy to stand guard on the Rhine, Rome had to employ barbarians as mercenaries. If five centuries of mutinies, assassinations and civil wars give any indication, Roman armies were not conspicuously loyal. Now, however, they were not even Roman. The legions and the tribes became ethnically indistinguishable. Rome merely had the better dressed Germans.

In Western Europe the Empire simply succumbed to reality. Germanic armies had been ruling in the name of Rome, pledging their nominal allegiance to whichever powerless cipher was sitting on the throne that day. But the etiquette grew tiresome; the pretense was simply abandoned. It was not a cataclysmic end. The roads did not disappear or the aqueducts collapse overnight. With the exception of the Angles and Saxons–who destroyed Londinium before they decided that it might be a nice place to live, most barbarians genuinely admired Roman civilization. Looting was just their form of affection. The Germanic kinglets and chieftains actually tried to perserve the civilization they had conquered. The day to day administration of their realms was entrusted to Roman councilors; who else knew how to read and count?

The deterioration was gradual but unavoidable. Without the knowledge and resources to maintain aqueducts, cities dried up into villages. Provinces that had once been integral parts of an thriving empire now were insular and isolated. Furthermore, the Germanic invasions continued, and the semi-civilized Visigoths and Ostrogoths were supplanted by more barbaric tribes. (The Franks were especially notorious for their treachery, but after 1500 years you have to admire their consistency.)

A century after the Roman Empire had collapsed in Europe, so had civilization. A few vestiges would tenuously survive; the local mispronunciations of Latin would become Spanish, Portuguese and French. And there still was a church that identified itself with Rome. (The barbarians showed a superstitious consideration for other peoples’ religions; their religion would not receive the same courtesy.)

However, Europe was only half of the Roman Empire. The Mediterranean Sea was a little harder to ford than the Rhine, and the Germans had yet to invent the U-Boat. The Empire’s richest and most cultured regions–Anatolia, Syria and Egypt–were more threatened by Byzantine bureaucrats than barbarian tribes. The Dark Ages were Europe’s embarrassment. If the Byzantines felt superior, they had every reason to think so.

  1. david traini says:

    the truly said thing is that the Italians of today are the Romans of yesteryear

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