Where is the historical West? Part 4 of 5

Domitius Corbulo


The Hellenistic World

Europe’s connectedness has created much confusion and opened the door for the imposition of a Trotskyite program claiming that Europe’s history was dictated by developments occurring elsewhere. But I wish to argue that Europe, despite its many connections, external influences, internal changes, and colonization of non-White areas, was until recently, before the imposition of open borders and mass immigration, a clearly identifiable area historically, geographically and ethnically. Let me start with the Hellenistic world, a vast area testifying to the vigor of the West yet hardly “Western” beyond small segments of its territorial/demographic potpourri.

Western Civ textbooks always include a full chapter on the Hellenistic era to describe a period of about three centuries, roughly from 323 BC to 30 BC, during which time, Greek culture, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, was brought over a remarkably wide area from its small Hellenic homeland — to Egypt and far into East Asia. The significance of the Hellenistic era, however, does not consist in the vast areas and diverse peoples it covered, but in the high cultural accomplishments this period saw in literature, art, science, medicine, and philosophy led by ethnic Greek individuals, particularly in the cities of Alexandria and Pergamum. The new schools of philosophy, Epicureanism, and Stoicism were actually centered in Athens. Aristarchus of Samos (310-230 BC), Archimedes (287-212 BC), the author of Euclid’s Elements (early in the third century BC), Eratosthenes of Cyrene (275-195), including the characteristics of Hellenistic sculpture and literature, were all Greek.  Although the four Hellenistic kingdoms which emerged as the successors to Alexander (Macedonia, the Seleucid kingdom in Mesopotamia, the Ptolemy dynasty in Egypt, and the kingdom of Pergamum in western Asia Minor) involved a clash and fusion of different cultures and ethnic groups, the political elites and high culture of these kingdoms were thoroughly Greek. The Greek/Macedonian rulers of these kingdoms encouraged the spread of Greek colonists to the Near East; with the result that cities were created replicating the architecture and political institutions of the Hellenic homeland. Many of these new urban centers were completely dominated by Greeks, while natives remained cut off from all civic institutions. A group of Greeks who broke away from the Seleucids carried Hellenistic culture as far to the east as the Indus valley, creating an Indo-Bactrian society.

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Hellenistic cities are best described as islands of Greek culture in a sea of non-Greeks. Their subsequent importance, or legacy, lies in the nurturing and development of Greek culture, to be eventually absorbed by the Romans. By the second century AD, the Indo-Iranian world would go on to revive and develop their traditional cultural forms. The Sassanid Empire (224-651 AD) drew on Hellenistic, Bactrian-Indian, and Roman influences, but they championed above all else Iranian legitimacy, claimed to be the rightful heirs of the Persian rulers before the conquest of Alexander; they institutionalized Zoroastrian ritual and theology as state orthodoxy. Under the age of the Guptas (320-550 AD), Indian culture evolved with little outside influence from the West until Muslim times; her contacts were with Southeast Asia and China, and most of these were from India to the east rather than the other way around.

It was in the Occident that the legacy of Hellenism was felt in a substantial and enduring manner, mightily shaping the culture of the Romans.  Although the Romans conquered much of the Hellenistic world, they became, as the Roman poet Horace said, captives of its culture.  They seriously cultivated the study of the Greek language, literature, philosophy, and the idea of an education in the humanities. By the last century of the Republic, with the Greek legacy copiously assimilated, the Romans were ready to produce their own towering literary figures in the names of Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Livy. While the Hellenistic scientific contribution between the foundation of Alexandria in 331 BC and the first closure of the Museum in 145 BC, was not developed theoretically to its full extent by the practical Romans, the post-Renaissance revolution of the 17th century was due to the conscious recovery of the Hellenistic deductive/experimental method in mathematics, mechanics of solids and fluids, anatomy, medicine, and cognitive sciences.

Byzantium

One also encounters difficulties identifying the West in regards to areas that for a long time were “core” areas of the West, culturally and ethnically, but then fell out (for centuries) to be transformed into other civilizations. I am thinking of the “Eastern” Roman Empire to be later known as Byzantium. The division of Rome into “Eastern” and “Western” parts may be traced to the period from Diocletian (r. 284-305) to Valentinian (r. 364-375), but what is worth noticing is that, despite later efforts to unify Rome again, and despite the continued influence of Greek culture in the Eastern empire, these two halves of Rome would become increasingly separate and different, with the Eastern half becoming another civilization called “Byzantium,” and the Western half becoming the basis of Catholic Europe proper.

Historians do not generally assign a date in which Byzantium was born, but an important point is Emperor Constantine I’s transfer in 324 of the capital of the Eastern Empire from Nicomedia (in Anatolia) to Byzantium on the Bosporus, which became Constantinople (sometimes called the “New Rome.”) In any case, the Eastern Roman Empire is today distinguished from ancient Rome proper and called the “Byzantine Empire,” as it became oriented towards Greek culture and Christianity became the official religion of the empire (in 394 AD)  rather than Roman paganism, and Greek became the official language (around the sixth century) rather than Latin.

So, why would Greek and Christian Byzantium fall out of the orbit of the West? It should be noted that the Roman world was long coming under the influence of “orientalizing” motifs particularly in the eastern areas of the Empire, Syria, Jordan, and northern Iraq. These areas were barely romanized. A distinctly oriental flavor was evident from the very “first” Byzantine ruler, Constantine (306-337), who was addressed as dominus (“lord”) and his right to rule was no longer seen as derived from the Roman people but from God, in whose presence everyone had to prostrate themselves and kiss the hem of his robe. The provinces which lay nearest to the emperors’ concern were not Gaul or Spain, but Egypt and Syria. By the fifth century the state had become a church-state, and the emperor a priest-king, earthly representative of the sovereignty of the Divine Word. The power of the monarch was no longer disguised under the constitutional forms of republicanism, but came to be surrounded with all the ceremonial pomp of oriental despotism; the court of the ruler was seen as the “Sacred Palace,” his property as the “Divine Household,” and his edicts as “celestial commands”.

Yet the cultural elite of Byzantium was Greek; and during the reign of Justinian (527-565 AD) there was a revival of Western influences as some of the former Roman regions in North Africa, Italy and Spain were re-conquered from barbarians. These lands were soon lost, but Justinian’s legal reforms would constitute a lasting contribution to the making of the West. He promoted the completion of the Code of Justinian, which simplified and organized the vast body of civil law accumulated over the centuries, supported lawyers in the creation of a handbook called Institutes for the education of students, as well as a Digest which was an extremely valuable collection and summary of centuries’ of commentary on Roman law by legal experts. This codification of Roman law would serve as a basis for the Papal Revolution of the eleventh century in Europe, leading to the first comprehensive systematization of law, the definition and relationships between different kinds of law.

But after the death of Justinian, during the 7th and 8th centuries, knowledge of classical literature and science gradually disappeared from this civilization, except for a tiny community in Constantinople. Looking at a map of the borders of the Byzantine Empire in 750 we see a small regional power struggling for survival under the pressure of constant Persian attacks in the south, combined with assaults from the north by the Avars and by a dynamic new enemy, the Muslims, who defeated the Persians, captured the Holy Land, North Africa, and Asia Minor, and almost conquered the city of Constantinople itself between 716 and 718. Nevertheless, Byzantium would go on to reassert itself through the 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, and while the Empire remained significantly smaller than it was during the reign of Justinian, it was also more integrated geographically, as well as politically and culturally. The cities expanded, population rose, and production increased. This political revival was accompanied by a “revival” of Hellenistic culture, as ancient Greek texts were preserved and patiently re-copied, and Byzantine art flourished. While this revival was not characterized by originality as much as a return to some of the achievements of the Greco-Roman past, we should not underestimate one bit the role Byzantium played in preserving for us today the great gifts of the classical world, more so than the much talked-about role of Islamic civilization. It has been estimated that of the 55,000 ancient Greek texts in existence today, some 40,000 were transmitted to us by Byzantine scribes. The Greek scholars who moved to Italy during the 15th century in response to Muslim aggression played a very significant role in spreading the Greek heritage to Italy fueling the Renaissance.

In 1071, the Seljuk Turks inflicted a major defeat on the Byzantine army; the Empire’s heartland in Asia Minor was overturned, from which it never fully recovered; and, finally, in the fourteenth century the Ottoman Turks entered Europe and completely destroyed the last remnants of the Empire. Greece, seen as the “birthplace” of Western civilization, became a part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century until its declaration of independence in 1821. Yet, what is striking is the strong consensus regarding the European character of the nations which came into shape after the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and the expulsion of the Turks from this Mediterranean and Indo-Europeanized region. Currently, apart from Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the region’s principal religion is Christianity, and the ethnicity and demographics are Caucasian. The evidence today generally supports Coon’s view that the ancient and contemporary Greeks were (and still are) members of a Mediterranean-Alpine-Dinaric mix with a weak Nordic component.

The Barbarian West

What is most intriguing of all, however, is: why the far less developed “Western” Roman Empire became the core of the West through the entire medieval and modern eras? The answer is that the Western Empire and the areas under Germanic rule were populated by Celtic-Germanic Indo-Europeans. We always hear about the importance of classical culture and the spread of Christianity to the making of medieval Europe, but hardly a word about the more “primordial” role of the barbarians who conquered Rome. Despite the eventual exhaustion of classical Greece, the stagnation and “orientalization” of the Hellenistic Kingdoms, and the aging despotism of Imperial Rome, the dynamic spirit of the West was sustained thanks to the infusion of new sources of aristocratic will to power brought on by fresh waves of barbarians. The first Indo-Europeans who founded the “civilized” West were the Mycenaean warriors who comprised the background to classical Athens. The second were the Macedonians who rejuvenated the martial virtues of Greece after the debilitating Peloponnesian War, and went on to conquer Persia and create the basis for the intellectual harvest of Alexandrian Greece. The third were the early Romans who founded an aristocratic republic, preserved the legacy of Greece, and cultivated their own Latin tradition. And the fourth were the Celtic-Germanic peoples who interacted for some centuries with the Romans, and then continued the Western legacy.

I can barely addressed this here; suffice it to say that without the dynamics of an expansionary barbarian aristocracy the Latin West would have been unable to overcome the degeneration of Rome under the pervading influence of Eastern Despotism. It was the ethnic-make up, the aristocratic vigor and acquisitiveness of Germanic war-bands that kept the West alive. By the mid-8th century, these war-bands had managed to consolidate themselves into four kingdoms in the lands that had once formed the western side of the Roman Empire: the Lombard in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain, the Franks in Gaul, and the Anglo-Saxons in England. The most successful geographically were the Franks who managed to reunify most of the western European territories into the Carolingian Empire.  By the 10th century, the Carolingian unity was gone, and local aristocrats stepped back into power. Then the Vikings arrived, expanding and settling in England, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and Newfoundland; and also Russia, down the Dnieper and the Volga down to the Black Sea and the Caspian.

Some have argued that feudalism emerged out of the chaos that ensued with the collapse of the Carolingian unity and with the onset of the Viking invasions. Feudalism was derived in its essentials from the early Indo-European society of war-bands. The feudal bond between lord and vassal was a contractually based relation entered into between two men who had an intrinsic sense of their noble status. The West of AD 1000 was still an extremely disorderly world. The rise of feudalism brought on numerous conflicts over boundaries and jurisdictional rights, disputes which could not easily be resolved by appeal to the authority of public institutions. Nevertheless, by about this time, all pagans had been Christianized, and thus the violent Christianization of pagans had ceased. It was in this context that the Church sought to promote the ideal of peace in a sincere effort to quell the violence between Christians. The Peace of God and the Truce of God, enacted between 990 and 1048, were ecclesiastical laws designed to counter the atrocities and depredations of quarrelling lords and vassals. The period after 1000, which witnessed the revival of city life and commerce, the proliferation of heterodox religious movements, the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the ideal of the loving mother, saw a new romantic portrayal of the aristocratic hero.  The brave and loyal but rather vindictive and callous pagan hero came to be supplemented by a new ideal knight who was equally courageous in combat but lived up to a more refined standard of behavior: a warrior who had acquired courtly manners, a taste for music and literature, had learned about ceremony and fine clothes.

Still, the acquisitive and aggressive expansionism of the Indo-European aristocracy continued through the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, with German knights moving all the way into Estonia on the Gulf of Finland, into Silesia along the Oder, and throughout Bohemia. This period also saw a few belligerent families of Franks establishing new kingdoms in Castile, Portugal, Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Sicily, as well as predatory missions into the Welsh and Irish frontiers. The expansionist aggression of the West is an inescapable expression of its roots in aristocratic men who are free and therefore headstrong and ambitious, sure of themselves, easily offended, and unwilling to accept quiet subservience. The “civilizing process” of this era brought under restraint the original ferocity of the barbarians. But the goal of the Church was to spiritualize the baser instincts of this class, not to extirpate and emasculate them. The highly-strung and obstinate aristocrat has been a fundamental source of destruction in Western history as well as the source of all that is good and inspiring. This expansionist period also saw the invention of the university, a scholastic commitment to dialogue based on logic and evidence, the rise of autonomous cities, Romanesque and Gothic architecture, a new polyphonic music, and more.

End of Part 4 of 5.

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19 Comments to "Where is the historical West? Part 4 of 5"

  1. December 6, 2012 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    Wish the author had included Scythian contributions to European history and topology as well.

    There was thriving commercial and cultural interchange between Greeks and Scythians well before the Hellenic era.

    In fact Europe included Kazakhstan and much of what is now called central Asia, primarily due to Scythians and sister groups.

  2. Marcus's Gravatar Marcus
    December 6, 2012 - 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wondered how things would have turned out if the Ostrogothic kingdom had survived. In general the Ostrogoths didn’t interfere in civic matters, they provided the youthful vigor and military muscle to protect a still largely Roman Italy. While Justinian united Italy with the Empire politically, the effort decimated the population and opened the door for the Lombards, while exhausting Constantinople’s resources in the process.

  3. Bear's Gravatar Bear
    December 6, 2012 - 2:43 pm | Permalink

    The conventional statement that the Roman Empire degenerated and more particularly that it degenerated due to Germanic barbarians has been strongly contested since 1922 when a Belgian historian Henri Pirenne concluded that the collapse happened in the 7th century due to Islamic wars that turned to Mediterranean into an impassable piratical battlefield, destroying trade, cutting of essentials such as papyrus and denuding the North Mediterranean coast of inhabitants who fled slaving raids. The book “Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited” by Emmet Scott reviews this and introduces striking new archaeological evidence that the dark ages covered not only Europe but all of the lands effected by the Jihaads such as Egypt, Syria and Byzantium. The stories of multiple universities, hospitals and mosques in Cordoba are not supported by archaeology and the mere exaggerated embellishments of Islamic writers.

    Scott like Pirrene before him shows that the Germanic barbarians that took over rule of Rome extended trade, expanded the economy, learning and were themselves literate and wanted to maintain the Roman empire.

    The Arab and Muslim Jihads collapsed the economy, caused the dark ages furthermore rather than preserving classical literature the Muslims lost most of it while European moastries did a fine job of preserving it.

    The dark ages as well as the stories of Muslim learning enlightening Europe turn out to be nothing more than a politically correct myth. In some occasions exaggerated praise of Islamic civilization was used as a way of deprecating western civilization which is White. Jewish orientalists seem to have been in the vanguard of this at times but it clearly has become multicultural nonsense.

  4. Alice Teller's Gravatar Alice Teller
    December 6, 2012 - 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I have been enjoying this series, thanks. The one message that comes through across time and space is that the west is in us. Our greatest strengths are also the source of our weaknesses. We are bold and innovative. Willing to take huge risks and welcome new ideas. it is precisely our success in many different arenas which has given rise to the hubris which led us to believe that we could ignore the realities and overcome nature.

  5. Marcus's Gravatar Marcus
    December 6, 2012 - 3:12 pm | Permalink

    @Bear, I agree, the Germanic migrations (not invasions really) were not very violent, and they were absorbed into the local populations except in England. We also have to account for Justinian’s plague, maybe the worst ever.

  6. Sanjay's Gravatar Sanjay
    December 6, 2012 - 3:56 pm | Permalink

    @Bear:
    Here is a passage from KMac’s SAID:

    “it seems likely that many Romans came to take a more individualistic view of life, giving correspondingly less effort to ensuring the success of family and lineage.”
    In individualistic societies, sexual pleasure tends to become a goal in itself, removed from its reproductive consequences, while Judaism remained committed to fertility and high-investment parenting as religious commandments.

    My view is that once we rectify our own pleasure seeking individualism, and rebuilt a cohesive White hierarchic harmony” we will be able to stop the Jewish tide of destruction.

    I personally feel that KMac should publish the trilogy as a single volume work with Part I, II, and III.

    It is the single greatest work in social science today.

    Sun Tzu said that if you know your enemy and you know yourself, you become invincible. We now know our enemy, but do we know who we are?

  7. Andrew's Gravatar Andrew
    December 6, 2012 - 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I would like to inject some genetic determinism into the discussion, where the quality of genes determine the quality of human accomplishments.

    “The evidence today generally supports Coon’s view that the ancient and contemporary Greeks were (and still are) members of a Mediterranean-Alpine-Dinaric mix with a weak Nordic component.”

    Although there is some shared ancestry, the current inhabitants are a world apart genetically from the Greek geniuses of old that produced such a massive avalanche of learning. Sir Francis Galton pointed out a long time ago that the tiny ancient Greek populations produced per capita intellectual achievements at least one hundred times that which was ever produced by the contemporary genepool over a similar period. An equivalent scenario would be if Isaac Newton had gathered the geniuses of England and settled on some island to create a new society, which over time would result in a highly gifted population. However, if later that society was invaded by low-IQ non-Whites, who interbred with the population, several centuries later that genepool would share significant genetic similarity of the brilliant founders, be Caucasian and look mostly White, but the genetic endowment of brilliance would be greatly diluted.

    “Despite the eventual exhaustion of classical Greece, the stagnation and “orientalization” of the Hellenistic Kingdoms, and the aging despotism of Imperial Rome, the dynamic spirit of the West was sustained thanks to the infusion of new sources of aristocratic will to power brought on by fresh waves of barbarians.”

    This “exhaustion” was primarily due to the dilution/eradication of the genes of great bloodlines such as that of Pericles as a consequence of the devastaging Pellopenesian War, as well as subsequent warfare and interbreeding through the centuries. The “Hellenistic” kingdoms, which existed mainly amid Eastern, non-White peoples, naturally reverted to type once their small White population contingents disappeared through miscegenation. The fall of Rome follows a similar pattern, with the Roman genepool (another exceptional one) disappearing through interbreeding with immigrants, many of whom were Easterners as well.

    “suffice it to say that without the dynamics of an expansionary barbarian aristocracy the Latin West would have been unable to overcome the degeneration of Rome under the pervading influence of Eastern Despotism.”

    Just to clarify, it was not culture or “Eastern Despotism” that was responsible for the degeneration of Rome, and its loss of strength as an Empire. It was the loss of the Romans themselves, who were the glue keeping the empire together, a high-IQ population with a shared culture, that led to the Empire’s fall. Without them, it was nothing but a multicultural conglomeration of squabbling groups seeking to gain maximum benefit without allegiance to the Empire or willingness to sacrifice for it. The invading Germans had an estimated 5% of the population of the Empire, but were easily able to conquer it.

    “It was the ethnic-make up, the aristocratic vigor and acquisitiveness of Germanic war-bands that kept the West alive.”

    These traits were important, but most important of all was the genetic makeup of the invaders. This was a high-IQ population (not of the average quality of the ancient Greeks or original Romans, but still high quality).

    “The brave and loyal but rather vindictive and callous pagan hero came to be supplemented by a new ideal knight who was equally courageous in combat but lived up to a more refined standard of behavior: a warrior who had acquired courtly manners, a taste for music and literature, had learned about ceremony and fine clothes.”

    I regard this “refined standard of behavior” as mostly decadence. The courtly manners and fine clothes led to the aristocracy – the natural leaders and forming a reservoir of the best European genes – living in degeneracy, such as that seen in the court of Versailles, rife with effeminate gamblers, gossipers and whoremongers. A strong European society must have a leadership that is strong, moral, ethical, principled and responsible. It wasn’t long before the well-dressed aristocrats, in their corruption, began inviting back Semites to exploit their people.

  8. Lombard's Gravatar Lombard
    December 6, 2012 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    For most of history, economic/intellectual exploitation could be countered by martial vitality. Today, a warrior is nothing next to the technological superiority of the Empire. Ethics, Principles, physical-strength count for little up against a militarized drone and until this balance is redressed, little will change for the better.

  9. Bobby's Gravatar Bobby
    December 6, 2012 - 4:46 pm | Permalink

    @Sanjay: That’s a great point Sanjay. I believe that millions of Westerners, don’t know who they are. Hollywood culture and corrosive ideas expounded by the likes of the Frankfurt School, and the universities they infiltrated, have been the model white Americans believe that they should be or even are as a people. One only has to look at the enormous influence of the Hollywood movies, that have been cranking out models of “how people live”, or should live, for some ninety plus years now. One can see the results of the Hollywood movies even in how young people and even older people behave and even act. I wonder if this area of inquiry had ever been fully studied. Millions of people in the U.S., seem to have a behavior that can only be described as unauthentic. I think a lot of people feel it, but can’t get verbalize what they are feeling.

  10. Sanjay's Gravatar Sanjay
    December 6, 2012 - 5:10 pm | Permalink

    @Bobby:
    We have become peeled lychees. White on the outside, brown on the inside.

    The inner Whiteness is lost. We are not true to ourselves anymore.

  11. Achaean's Gravatar Achaean
    December 6, 2012 - 6:04 pm | Permalink

    @Bear:

    I recall a lecture as an undergraduate in an economic history course in which the professor, who was Jewish, and is now located at the U of Saskatchewan, (http://artsandscience.usask.ca/profile/MAltman)
    said that Pirenne’s thesis was racist in suggesting that Islamic/Arabic control of the Mediterranean led to the self-contained, non-commercial character of Carolingian Europe. It was racist in assuming that Islamic people were not interested in having trade with Europeans but were merely militaristic, backward people, who locked up the European world away from the fertile Near East. At the same time, while I agree with Emmet Scott’s effort to rectify Pirenne’s thesis, we should not underestimate the devastating effects of the Germanic invasions on the Roman Empire. Ward-Perkins makes a good argument showing that the standard of living of Romans suffered greatly as a result of the Germanic invasions. As I understand this article by Corbulo, the point about the importance of the Germanic peoples is not that they were civilized but that they brought new aristocratic energies into the West. In the language of Spengler, they were a young culture, without which the West would not have survived the long gestating decline of Rome.

  12. Achaean's Gravatar Achaean
    December 6, 2012 - 6:31 pm | Permalink

    @Andrew:

    I agree with you that this article does not take consideration possible dilution of genes and IQ capacity through miscegenation. At the same time, we don’t know much about degrees of miscegenation, say, among the Roman ruling elite. Rome was still producing men of genius in the first centuries AD well after bringing masses of non-Roman slaves — AND we should remember that many of these slaves, for sure after Caesar’s wars, were Celtic peoples, and before that, if I may say here without checking sources, the slaves were not mostly non-whites; and if they were, we don’t know how much they were mixing with the elites.

    Additionally, the ancient Greeks were not great merely on the basis of high IQs; countless Western countries today have massive populations where one is likely to find high IQ groups successfully occupying intelligent positions, but what these individuals lack is the *spirited* nature of the Greeks. To explain the achievements of the ancient Greeks in terms of high IQs is extremely simple, one sided. Numerically there are likely today more Greeks with high IQs than there were in the far less populated times of classical Greece, but Athens alone produced far more greater thinkers than the entire Greek modern era. Why? As Heidegger says, “the crux of the matter is not spirit as intelligence”, it is spirit in the sense of a people’s sense of purpose, confidence, and will to power. He writes: “For all true power and beauty, all sureness and boldness in combat, all authenticity and inventiveness of the understanding, are grounded in the spirit and rise or fall only through the power or impotence of the spirit”.

  13. Trenchant's Gravatar Trenchant
    December 7, 2012 - 5:00 am | Permalink

    @Bear: I think you can make a good case for the debasement of the money being one of the causes of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, debasement largely resisted by Byzantium until very much later.

  14. Jason Speaks's Gravatar Jason Speaks
    December 7, 2012 - 5:39 am | Permalink

    @Trenchant:

    But how would currency debasement lead to a multi-century collapse? It seems that countries do survive the total destruction of their currencies. They are painful, but they seldom lead to the end of their civilization.

    The currency debasement was bad, but there must have been larger factors at work. It sure looks like there must have been some genetic deterioration going on to get such a complete collapse.

  15. December 7, 2012 - 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Not everyone sees the German tribes as barbarians. In most of the Roman Empire, local populations were enslaved and/or harshly treated. A visit to the ruins at Bath will easily confirm that. The Germanic tribes just wanted to be left alone. Nevertheless, the Romans valued conquered Germanic tribes, such as the Belgae for their fine weaponry and armour.
    http://barnesreview.org/pdf/TBR2009-no5-4-9.pdf

    There have been archaeological finds in Germany that showed thriving Celtic civilizations in pre-Roman times.
    http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Archaeologists-find-2600-year-old-Celtic-Princess-buried–in-Germany-121434514.html
    and
    http://www.maasberg.ch/eKelten.html

    When the “barbarians” finished off Rome, they did so with superior weaponry, including seamless steel rimmed chariots.

    Some civilizations chose to build in material other than stone, that does not make their contributions less significant.

  16. Jason Speaks's Gravatar Jason Speaks
    December 7, 2012 - 7:27 pm | Permalink

    @Curmudgeon:

    The Fall of Rome may be overdone, but I believe there is lot of evidence that standards of living went way down for generations after the fall. Cows and humans were smaller. There are less domestic goods.

  17. Trenchant's Gravatar Trenchant
    December 7, 2012 - 7:58 pm | Permalink

    @Jason Speaks: Transfer of resources from the productive to the unproductive (ruling elite) via monetary debasement, onerous price-fixing laws that forbid the productive from raising prices to protect margins (Diocletian’s Edict). High direct taxes, and limits to personal movement and freedom added to the woes. Expensive wars funded in part by milking the coin.

    Poverty and repression can undo civilization.

  18. Trenchant's Gravatar Trenchant
    December 7, 2012 - 8:03 pm | Permalink

    @Jason Speaks: Currency debasement is institutionalized theft. Where theft at the highest levels of society becomes endemic, ruination can’t be far behind. This is the story of empire, re-written countless times in history.

  19. Jason Speaks's Gravatar Jason Speaks
    December 8, 2012 - 4:43 pm | Permalink

    @Trenchant:

    It’s just that with Rome, we don’t just see the collapse of an empire or a political configuration, such as the USSR or Ottaman. We see a collapse leading to a multicentury dark age. We see the loss of some skills and knowledge for almost 1,000 year. There is no reason that I can find to think economics alone could do this.

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