Saturday, April 18, 2009

“Similarities Between the Rome of Yesteryear and the United States of Today”

Matthew W. Avitabile November 16, 2004

Professor Descartes Western Civilization I

“Similarities Between the Rome of Yesteryear and the United States of Today”

Archaeologists in the Ukraine find silver coins with the portrait of Caesar impressed upon them. In Chinese museums are held gold that once bought Imperial silk from the Forbidden City. Such is the evidence of what was once the greatest civilization of the ancient world: Rome, once extending from Hadrian’s Wall to the Sea of Azov to the Persian Gulf. But Rome is no longer with us, even counting its namesake city: their aqueducts still stand, but their language is either bastardized or destroyed completely. Such is the fate of what was once the world’s strongest nation.

Today we enjoy the fruit dog our own strongest nation; in fact, the strongest nation of all time, even dwarfing Rome. We enjoy both the fruits of a federal republic and a powerful influence on a sometimes chaotic globe. Between any two variable there can be drawn comparisons, but with respect to the United States of America and the Roman Empire of antiquity, there are certain parallels which cannot be ignored and carry a heavy historical significance and prophetic value.

First, I must put this in some context. The city of Rome was founded on April 21, circa 753 B.C. At first, as a city-state, it was ruled by a series of kings before the city became a Republic run by a Senate of elders and started to expand throughout Italy. The Republic spread into Italy and the Mediterranean before the Romans met and defeated its major competitor: Carthage, in three successive wars. In 44 B.C. came the death of its most notable citizen: Julius Caesar, that helped Rome expand through Gaul and Brittania. When his heir Octavian took the reins, Rome became a nation ruled by an emperor, the principes.

The fall of Rome didn’t take one major battle or one war in particular, but rather years upon years of weakening from both within and without. It is from perhaps that record of an empire formerly of greatness that we can glean advice and historical lessons for today, and for our own great nation that today faces trouble ahead, and create a better tomorrow.

The United States has had a different history, also of humble beginnings, but has affected the world not any less than Rome did two millennia ago. Not to write a whole history of our nation, we were borne of England and tore ourselves separate when England became an abusive parent. Never before in the history of the earth had such a deliberate and obvious break happen by a colony with its parent nation. On July 4, 1776, came for the first true republic since the end of Rome’s. America and its people became a totally new people, combining many people from many places for the ideals of liberty. It is the American role-model that nations still follow to freedom, and less than a hundred years after our own revolution came ones in Germany, Russia, France, Greece, and the Balkans. Throughout or history, we’ve exorcized our own demons, like during the Civil War, while standing up to pirates from Tunisia, or impressments by France and Britain, or imperialism by Spain. This was all before the United States became an international power, a small population able and willing to stand up to the greatest powers of the world. Such a scrappy, concerted attitude is truly rare in the annals of history, and even rarer is such an attitude that fights for the side of good and democracy throughout the world.

That is the way that our early history was, before 1898, when America joined the fray as the only world power in the western hemisphere. As an outsider to Europe, America played a decisive role in the First World War, helping its parent nation of Great Britain and the Allies defeat the forces of the Central Powers, particularly Germany. Next came the most obvious and glorious example of how the United States affects the world. After over two decades of relative calm coming from the American continent, the nation was thrown into another world war, this time by a Japanese sneak attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The following four years showed a massive mobilization and combat effort by America, culminating on the invasion of Normandy and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. For the next forty-five years America played the role of one of only two superpowers, battling the Soviet Union in the global Cold War. By 1991, the U.S. had called the Soviets’ bluff and the colossal U.S.S.R. collapsed and disintegrated into many smaller nations. America was then the world’s lone superpower, such as it is today, and such as Rome was in its own heyday. In more than one way, we see the similarities between the two growing ever more apparent.

First, we can start with the more subtle examples. During the last centuries of the empire, Rome experience massive population shifts and changes. The Romans themselves were not reproducing at a rapid rate and were slowly but surely losing preeminence in the empire. It seemed more and more each passing year like Rome was becoming less and less Roman in character and blood. Such changes were the coming of other peoples, as well. As time went on, more foreign barbarians showed up on Rome’s borders. Some forced their way into all of the provinces under the imperial banner. With the new influx of people and new cultures came their native languages, which blended with and gradually, but sharply, degraded the Latin language, softening the glue of a Roman institution.

In our own nation, we are facing similar situations. America was born of immigrants, and over the years we’ve seen millions of immigrants enter the country. Today we face the largest influx of illegal migrants in our history, and foreign populations within our own borders that have not placed a high priority on assimilation. Even in a nation of dozens of ethnicities and nationalities, one major factor has held the citizens of the United States together, rather than patriotism: that is our common language. English is not the native tongue of America, or of many of the immigrants that have moved here; in fact, it is an acquired taste that has become an integral adhesive to keep our nation together over the last two hundred years. In the past, a generation was all that was needed for English to be transplanted as an immigrant family’s first language. Today, we see children of immigrants, primarily illegal, that do not speak solely English, or that are bilingual, but instead speak the language of the old country only. Such a situation cannot help the fabric of the United States, and could help spark separatism movements, such as we see around the world, locally in Canada.

Second, we can look at another not-so-evident problem that plagued Rome and poses a misgiving into eh United States today. In Rome, the society was carried on the backs of slaves, and as time progressed, more and more slaves were brought into the Republic, then into the Empire following it. As more of the work was done by the indentured, the role of the average citizen became less oriented with work, and more with vanity and a monotony of boredom or decadence. As the civilization got more reliant on the enslaved, research that could decrease slavery was hindered and Roman society and technology remained virtually the same for six-hundred years.

Fortunately for the United States, our slave problem was removed within an early period of our history. With the slavery question out of the way, the option of technological stagnation was gone. This almost happened in the early 1800’s, when slave owners opposed the usage of the new invention, the cotton gin. In society today, we have another case of a people that has become lazy and almost decadent. As more work is placed on machines and migrants, daily hours of work decrease, and food and leisure amounts increase. This is similar to Rome’s famed concept of “bread and circuses.” With a sense of earning our own well-being decreasing, our sense of appreciation for what we have could decrease as well. As the populace goes, so goes the nation.

In Rome’s final three-hundred years it faced a multitude of invasions from the exterior, gradually weakening the people and the resolve of the empire. As this happened, Rome deteriorated from the inside, as well. These barbarian invasions, by such groups as the Germans, Huns, Goths, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, and others created a very poor situation for the empire, at least in the west, to long endure. Rome’s legions soon became poorly trained and stretched, more and more dependent on mercenaries, crippled by the lack of strength that had carried it across Europe in centuries past. The grip of control of the center of the Empire over its far-flung provinces started to wane. As recruits, resources, and taxes no longer poured into the capital, slowly but surely the empire started to suffocate. After a period of three centuries, with barbarians, poor generals, and corrupt emperors and senators, Rome’s last legs finally gave out in 476 A.D.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only ... you can see in Ancient Greece The Trial of Socrates (399 BC) and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,, l