1.People Who Are In Debt Can Be Controlled
After Rome was sacked by the Gauls, the republic had to funnel a fortune into defense. Taxes went up, the poor went bankrupt, and the people of Rome were soon overwhelmed with so much debt that they couldn’t see any way out of it.It’s something that ought to sound familiar to a lot of us. For example, the average American leaves college with more than $37,000 in debt from student loans alone, and that’s not even the worse case.
In Australia, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark, the average person’s debt is more than twice their annual income. In fact, the average Australian owes $250,000.Like a lot of us today, the plebeians of Rome lobbied their government for debt forgiveness. And the government listened. Now that the lower classes were politically equal, the politicians started pandering to them. Populist leaders promised “bread and circuses”—in other words, entertainment, food, and debt relief.The plebeians were so desperate to feed their families that they didn’t care what a politician did as long as he canceled their debt. So they started voting for populist leaders like Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus. Since the bread and circuses kept coming, the plebeians didn’t get too worried when the elections stopped.
2.Don’t Underestimate The Barbarians Rome managed to stand its ground against massive empires. The Romans fought against Greece and Egypt and won. The greatest and most advanced societies fell at their feet, but Rome still got crushed—by barbarians.Everything started to go wrong when Attila the Hun rampaged through the Western Roman Empire.
To the Romans, this was a primitive culture. One Roman wrote that the Huns were “so little advanced in civilization that they [made] no use of fire, nor any kind of relish, in the preparation of their food.” To the Romans, this was like a battle against cavemen.It was a little like the modern war on terrorism. On one side was the most advanced and powerful country in the world, and on the other was a group of vicious men who didn’t care if they lived or died.The Romans lost. Attila demanded half their empire. When they refused, he rampaged through their country, stealing their siege weapons and advanced technology as he went. By the end, the Romans had to meet all his demands. From then on, they were regularly paying the Huns massive tributes just to beg the Huns not to finish Rome off.
3.Definitely Don’t Train The Barbarians In Advanced Warfare
Attila the Hun didn’t make it to Rome, but the Visigoths did. The Visigoth leader Alaric managed to lead a horde of barbarian warriors all the way to the Roman capital, take everything they had, and call himself merciful for letting them keep their lives. The Roman army was powerless to stop the barbarian hordes because, for the most part, the Roman army was the barbarian hordes.Alaric and the men who sacked Rome were armed and trained by the Romans.
Years ago, Rome started hiring Visigoths and Gauls to fill up their legions. Eventually, there were so many barbarians in the Roman army that the Roman people just called their army “the barbarians” to save time.
During the Soviet-Afghan War, the US Army called Islamic fighters from around the Middle East to come to Afghanistan so the Americans could arm and train these Islamic fighters. Just as Rome trained Alaric and the Visigoths and gave them siege weapons, the US trained Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and gave them Stinger missiles.
4.Big Military Budgets Bankrupt Big Countries
The problem with being the world’s superpower is that it makes you the world’s biggest target. That’s something Rome learned. As they got bigger, their threats got bigger and they had to pour everything they had into the army.It’s something that America has learned, too. Even though military spending has skyrocketed since September 11, 2001, America isn’t safe. Today, Americans funnel $598.5 billion per year into their military. To put that in perspective, more than one-third of the whole world’s military spending is done by the US.The Romans dealt with their ever-growing army by cranking up the taxes. But it didn’t really make things better. With massive taxes weighing down the people, unemployment and poverty ran rampant.The people started rioting in the streets against the government. For a lot of Romans, it became hard to understand what made living in Rome worth giving up everything to defend it?
5.The Fall Of An Empire Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Rome didn’t collapse in a pile of fire and ashes. Just getting sacked by barbarians didn’t spell the end of Rome. It died out peacefully over hundreds of years from dozens of decisions that probably seemed like great ideas at the time.As the different parts of Rome started feuding over religious changes and economic problems, it got split up into parts a few times before it officially became two different empires in AD 364. A little over 100 years later, the Western empire completely fell to the hands of the barbarians and the lines of Europe started looking like crude early versions of a modern map.
Even that, though, wasn’t the real end of Rome. The Eastern empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, lived on for more than 1,000 years after the split. As the Byzantine Empire, Rome survived the Sasanian War, the Muslim conquests, and even the Crusades before they were finally absorbed by the Ottoman Empire.It took 1,000 years, though, for Rome to die. It wasn’t over the second they stopped being the world’s biggest superpower. They lingered on for centuries. Their quality of life slowly changed, and most of their people were probably unaware that they were living through the fall of an empire.Odds are, the same thing will happen to us. We won’t go out in a big explosion. We’ll just slowly start fighting wars we can’t win and struggling with an economy we can’t handle. And slowly, we’ll become nothing more than a chapter in a history book.