Saturday, November 26, 2022

 556. Decline of civilisations

 Generally, the decline of civilisations is faster than their laborious rise. This is called the ‘Seneca effect’, after the Roman philosopher, who said something in that vein. (Bardi, 2020).But every decline is unique, gradual or short and calamitous. The decline of the Roman empire lasted two hundred of the thousand years of the empire, but it was gradual. There were several causes. One was the loss of martial spirit and the sense of civic responsibility that was strong in the Roman republic, since people were later more inclined to savour the fruits of prosperity. This created a problem in defending the long border of the empire. At first, the Romans tried to compensate the paucity of troops by concentrating them in fortifications, ready to rush to where fighting was needed. This was not adequate due to the slowness of communication and travel, and there were invasions of Germanic tribes.

 The account in this piece borrows heavily from Cantor (1993).

Among the invaders, the Visigoths were on the run for the Huns that threatened to overrun their original territory. They had no hostile intent, and first simply sought refuge in the Roman empire, but when that was not readily granted, they resorted to violence. Later, they fled to Spain, where they instituted a not very effective kingship. Not very effective, because they could not halt the Islamic invasion from the south. After the Visigoths came the Ostrogoths, who had been occupied by the Huns. They, invaded the Roman empire, where they sought to install their own kingship.

 The Roman empire had a Western and an Eastern part, the former centred in Rome and the latter in Constantinople. The Eastern empire held on longer, defended by the fortress Constantinople. Its emperor Justinian sought to restore the whole Roman empire, but failed. Germanic tribes from the north were partly conscripted in the Roman army, but this kindled their ambition for independence.

 The Romans left a Gallo-Roman enclave in south-west France, and it took until around 700 until that was fully integrated with the northern rule of the Franks, with their Merovingian kingdom.

 Roman law was codified under Justinian, and came to be the legal framework for the whole of continental Europe. It is different from original Germanic law in that it codifies the will of the emperor, while the old German law was a ‘folk law, ‘determined by the people. which is still present in the ‘case law’. in the UK and USA. That law is still in force in the Entire European continent. Some old Roman roads in France are still in use.

 In contrast with the long decline of the Roman empire, the Frankish kingdom of the Merovingians met with a sudden and calamitous collapse. It had a bad name for bringing mentally backward and deficient family members to power. They considered their kingdom as private property, and had no social or educational program for their society. They were succeeded by the Carolingian kingdom, which, under Charlemagne, who usurped power with papal aid, who did have a social and educational programme, but that rise also collapsed after Charlemagne, in the eighth century. The Frankish kingdoms were vulnerable to decline. Their system was a king with a tiny elite, and if the king died, the country receded into a primitive society of uneducated, illiterate peasantry. That applied also to the Carolingians.

 The Russian Tsarist empire fell to the communist revolution, but held its coherence under that radically different ideology of Communism. Later. under Putin, it rekindled the old Tsarist authoritarian suppressive ideology of a holy mother Russia that was now deemed superior to the degenerate western cultures.

 Other societies across the world were usurped by western colonial powers. I cannot begin to describe the rise and decline of powers in China and Japan.

 What I wanted to show in this item of the blog, is that indeed there has been a widespread pattern of the rise and decline of civilisations, but with a wide variety of the patterns of speed, and depth of decline and loss.

 Bardi, U. 2020, Before the collapse: a guide to the other side of growth, Springer.

 Cantor, N.F. 1993, Civilisation of the Middle Ages, New York: Harper Collins.


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