All Roads Lead to the Fall of the Roman Empire

Prompted by yesterday’s post about Miloš Zeman, our Dutch correspondent H. Numan sends this essay on the parallels between the late Roman Empire and the twilight of the modern European Empire Union.

All Roads Lead to the Fall of the Roman Empire
by H. Numan

You all know how the Roman Empire ended up?

I’m pretty sure of that. It’s still in the curriculum. Entire libraries have been written about why it ended up as it did. However, there is a very direct good cause why the Roman Empire all of a sudden collapsed. And almost nobody knows about it. This is the mismanaged refugee crisis of the fourth century, culminating in the Battle of Adrianople.

Let me start of by giving you the investment banker’s warning: “Results obtained in the past are no guarantee for the future.” Historians know this to be very wrong: “Results obtained in the past are a very good indication for the future!” But with one proviso: history often repeats itself, but never in the same way.

In the year 375 AD nobody had an inkling what lay in the future. The Roman Empire had survived the tumultuous third century, in which emperors were murdered at a rate of one every few years. A series of strong emperors set the empire back on its track again. But… there were a few rumblings outside empire. Nothing to worry about, really, as only barbarians lived outside the empire. Who cares what barbarians do amongst each other? The newcomers were the Huns.

Now, to understand the situation correctly you have to know that the Roman Empire was much more multicultural than we are today. The Romans weren’t racists at all. They had a number of emperors from Spain and North Africa. It didn’t matter to them where you were born. What mattered was how you behaved. Learn Latin or Greek, good manners and dress appropriately, and you were a Roman citizen. A lot of top officers and officials were of barbarian origin.

It seemed the empire was back on track once again. But the empire by now was stretched to the very limits of what was humanly possible. It need so much military power to survive; it had changed from an empire with an army into an army with an empire. The empire was split in two: the Western empire and the Eastern (later Byzantine) empire. The most important reason for that was to shorten the line of command and to reduce (in vain) possible coups by governors.

Let me explain that: it wasn’t necessary to shorten communication lines. The Romans had an excellent mail system that rivaled the Pony Express. A message could be answered within 10-14 days. Marching an army was a different matter. Most barbarian raids occurred on the Rhine and Danube borders of the empire, so it was simply a good idea to set up the imperial HQ as close as possible to the action. The capital was where the emperor decided to live. Which was for example Trier or Aachen for the Western empire and Constantinople for the Eastern empire. By then, Rome was in effect a backwater without much importance. During the early empire the governor of Gaul had three legions. During the later empire, Gaul had five governors, each with a lot less than a legion. That was two for the price of one: five governors means five cushy positions to give away, rather than one very fat plum. And those five governors couldn’t rebel easily as they didn’t have enough troops to do it with.

The northern and northeastern borders of the western empire were the Rhine and Danube rivers. A large standing force to keep the barbarians at bay was necessary. The eastern empire had two weak frontiers: to the north the steppes of Eurasia and to the east the Sassanid empire. It had been at war, first with the Parthian and later with the Sassanid empires, since times immemorial. A large standing force to keep it at bay was necessary as well.

Standing armies cost money to maintain. A lot of money. Back in those days the economy was based on agriculture, not on money. About 95% of the entire population until the industrial revolution were farmers. When we read about history, please realize that. You’re reading or studying about what the other 5% did. The other 5% were the emperor and his court, the administration, the army, the churches, artisans, citizens and merchants. The empire’s biggest expenditure by far was on the army.

In terms of military technology, the Roman Empire (both West and East) had no advantage over Germanic tribes or the Sassanids. Their advantage lay in vastly superior logistics and organization, not in better weapons. When compared to the legions of Julius Caesar, one could say that training, equipment and (to a limited extent) organization had seriously declined. In other words: the barbarians became more Roman while the Romans became more barbarian.

During the fourth century the Roman Empire needed manpower and money badly. It needed to maintain a big (=expensive) border force, and a lot of manpower to work in the fields. Civil wars, barbarian raids and various plague epidemics had depopulated the empire, and consequently money to pay for everything was hard to find. Taxes couldn’t be raised any further. There is a upper level to taxation, and they had reached it.

So how did the empire got manpower? They granted refugees access to the empire, usually on conditions. Tribal leaders had to convince their adherents, so they were granted Roman citizenship immediately. People with some skills often could continue their work. As for the remainder — tough luck. They were set to work in the fields or in the mines. Medieval servitude was in fact a Roman invention. Sometimes as outright slaves, more often for a limited period. Say ten or twenty years.

This had worked well in the past, but in the year 376 AD something happened with vast consequences: the Huns descended upon the Eurasian steppes. Huns were as alien to the Romans as green men from Mars are to us. They knew nothing at all about them. All they knew — and that wasn’t much — came from the Goths. The Goths were independent warlike tribes living just outside the empire. At first the Goths tried to resist the Hunnic raids, but in vain. They were defeated time and time again by the Huns.

By the year 376 they realized they couldn’t defeat the Huns, and lived in a devastated country. All they could do is gather their belongings and humbly ask admittance in the Roman Empire. On any condition acceptable to the emperor. Vast numbers of Goths showed up on the other side of the Danube river. By “vast” think in numbers over a million.

Messages flashed back and forth to the emperor, who was preparing a campaign against the Sassanids in Antioch. Valens couldn’t believe his luck. Normally he would get either manpower or money, but not both at the same time. So he gave the green light for the Goths to come right in: “Wir schaffen das!” More likely “Non possumus facere!” as Valens didn’t speak a lot of German.

And that was the moment everything went wrong. The whole operation was completely mismanaged from the beginning. Thousands drowned while trying to cross the Danube river. Which at the time was in flood, to make matters worse. People tried to swim, used hollowed tree trunks or anything that could float in order to cross over.

Once they arrived on the Roman side, they had to register. The emperor needed to know how many people came into the empire, what they could do and so on. But there simply weren’t enough clerks to do that work. Not only that, there were not enough troops present to control the situation. There wasn’t any food to speak of. The Roman officials had their own agendas: pick out the best Goths to become slaves for themselves, and sell the remainder inferior food at inflated prices.

As you can understand, the situation got out of hand quickly. Don’t forget that the Goth men were for the most part armed. A Goth was not considered a man if he was unarmed. The choice of selling of their children for dog meat or starving together didn’t really endear the Roman officials to the Goths. Nor did a bunched massacre of their leaders. Count Lupicinus followed common Roman practice by inviting the Gothic leaders for a banquet to settle differences and cut their throats. He had their bodyguards murdered, but for unknown reasons allowed the Gothic leaders out alive.

Of course those survivors raised bloody hell. They took up arms and ransacked the countryside. The whole of the Roman province of Thrace was plundered. Only cities with walls could resist the onslaught. The newly emerged Gothic leader Fritigern made his famous statement that ‘he didn’t make wars on walls’ simply because the Goths lacked the means to do it.

Valens was forced to abandon his campaign plans, to save what he could. He had to gather just about anyone available and capable of carrying arms to quell this rebellion. But he had to leave a serious force behind to keep the Sassanids at bay. On the other side emperor Gratian send a force to support his uncle. He himself was busy on the German borders on the Rhine and couldn’t gather that many troops without endangering the Rhine border. Valens was old, over 50 years. And he was highly jealous of his handsome successful and young nephew Gratian. He could have waited a couple of days, and together they could annihilate the Goths. Or fight alone, and collect all the glory for himself. What did Valens choose? Indeed, he wanted to snub his nephew and award himself Triumphal Decorations (the Roman equivalent of the Victoria Cross).

This culminated in the battle of Adrianople, a battle that the Roman Empire never recovered from. The most experienced troops were slaughtered, and Valens lost his life. It wasn’t the first time an emperor died in battle, but never had the empire lost both the emperor and his entire army.

From that moment, the empire (both West and East) went into a downward spiral. They needed the revenue of the land to pay for the army. They needed a large army to protect the land. As the Goths controlled Thracia, there was less revenue, therefore the empire could raise fewer troops, and those were of lesser quality. Which resulted in more victories for Goths and other tribal nations; that’s less land for the empire to generate revenue from. Which means budget cuts for the army — I think you get the point here.

At that time, the Roman Empire was the world’s superpower. It had an army of roughly 600,000 men. So how could an army of Goths less than 20,000 strong defeat it? Not all the Goths were warriors; many, or more accurately, most were non-combatants: women, children, elderly, etc. Nor could the Romans deploy those 600,000 troops together. Most of them were border guards (Limitanei). They had to remain in place against other possible invaders.

I think you can see the semblance with the present refugee crisis: hopelessly naive thinking, coupled with bungling incompetence, mismanagement and simple greed. It took the Roman Empire a century to die. It will take the EU less than a year, I expect.

— H. Numan

19 thoughts on “All Roads Lead to the Fall of the Roman Empire

  1. Hopefully the EU shall die within 1 year, but I do pray member nations such as Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Portugal and GB survive intact. The others can be diced into new, less threatening forms as far as I am concerned.

  2. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. William Shakespeare

    The worst of men or women are those who have joined a party and have greatness bestowed upon them by chance or because she is a woman or have a certain preferred type of skin, trendy.

    Donald Trump is talking about real American problems: Border control, insane unlimited immigration that turned USA into a Dumping Ground for the third world perverted invaders, uncontrolled Debt, uncontrolled social collapse, uncontrolled Welfare system, uncontrolled servility to muslim countries, uncontrolled selling of American assets to Arab billionaires, uncontrolled Hussein: he does whatever he wants, riding roughshod over Congress and all the laws of the land. I wonder how he can do that?
    Trump is alert: He mentioned that the Syrian Passport printing Press has been taken possession of by ISIS. The Congress does not want to know that until Hussein sends them a memo, and does not know about Benghazi until Hussein sends them another memo explaining what happened in Benghazi. But for Hussein what happened in Benghazi stays in Benghazi, is not conveyed to Congress.

    Hussein wanted to raise the American debt: he said, “it has been done before, we will do it again.” Take the easy way: Are these leaders or infants?

    Uncontrolled in drugs, in alcoholism, in talk, in helping invaders, in seeking pleasure, which draws on doing uncontrolled damage by their uncontrolled decisions.

    • Truly Marud,

      What American constantly shopping at those supermarkets would think himself anything other than a person tainted by kingly qualities?

      The old description: “…at worst, a temporally embarrassed millionaire.”

  3. Notes on the anti-muslim backlash:

    The first countries to ban Islam: See how the world is acting fast on the threat posed by Islam and its barbaric Sharia Law.

    Japan has always refused Muslims to live permanent in their country and cannot own any real estate or any type of business, and have banned any worship of Islam. Any Muslim tourist caught spreading the word of Islam will be deported immediately, including all family members.

    Cuba rejects plans for first mosque. 

    The African nation of Angola and several other nations have officially banned Islam. 

    Record number of Muslims, (over 2,000) deported from Norway as a way of fighting crime. Since these Muslim criminals have been deported, crime has dropped by a staggering 72%. Prison Officials are reporting that nearly half of their jail cells are now vacant, Courtrooms nearly empty, Police now free to attend to other matters, mainly traffic offences to keep their roads and highways safe and assisting the public in as many ways as they can.

    In Germany alone in the last year there were 81 violent attacks targeting mosques. 

    Austrian police arrested 13 men targeting suspected jihad recruiters. 

    A Chinese court sends 22 Muslim Imams to jail for 16 to 20 years for spreading Islam hatred. and have executed eighteen Jihadists; China campaigns against Separatism (disallowing islamists to have their own separate state). Muslim prayers banned in government buildings and schools in Xinjiang (Western China). Hundreds of Muslim families prepared to leave China for their own safety and return back to their own Middle Eastern countries.

    Muslim refugees beginning to realize that they are not welcome in Christian countries because of their violent ways and the continuing wars in Syria and Iraq whipped up by the hideous ISIS who are murdering young children and using mothers and daughters as sex slaves.

    British Home Secretary prepares to introduce ‘Anti-social Behavior Order’ for extremists and strip dual nationals of their Citizenship.

    Deportation laws also being prepared. 

    The Czech Republic blatantly refuses Islam in their country, regarding it as evil. 

    Alabama – A new controversial amendment that will ban the recognition of “foreign laws which would include sharia law”. 

    The Polish Defence League issues a warning to Muslims. 16 States Have All Introduced Legislation to Ban Shariah Law. 

    Many Muslims in Northern Ireland have announced plans to leave the Country to avoid anti-Islamic violence by Irish locals. The announcement comes after an attack on groups of Muslims in the city of Belfast, Groups of Irish locals went berserk and bashed teenage Muslim gangs who were referring to young Irish girls as sluts and should be all gang raped, according to Islam and ”Sharia Law”. Even hospital staff were reluctant to treat the battered Muslim patients, the majority were given the Band-Aid treatment and sent home with staff muttering ”Good Riddance”. 

    North Carolina bans Islamic “Sharia Law” in the State, regarding it now as a criminal offence. 

    Dutch MP’s call for removal of all mosques in the Netherlands. One Member of the Dutch Parliament said: “We want to clean Netherlands of Islam”. Dutch MP Machiel De Graaf spoke on behalf of the Party for Freedom when he said, “All mosques in the Netherlands should be shut down. Without Islam, the Netherlands would be a wonderful safe country to live in, as it was before the arrival of Muslim refugees”.

    And two more things just the other day:

    Geert Wilders has openly voiced his support for Trump.

    Nigel Farage has told Briton to cool their jets re Trump. Says he is “just part of the democratic process.

    Some are waking up…

    • Good on the Northern Irish for standing up for their young women. Compare and contrast the conduct against the ongoing disgrace in Rotherham and other English cities.

      This episode also shows the effectiveness of raw force, which is the only language the invaders truly understand. Madonna signing “Give Peace a Chance” on the streets of Paris is cute, but she may as well be serenading the deaf.

  4. We’re in the demise of the EU already. It will live at most one or two more years in its present form. After that, nobody knows. But I doubt very much if member nations will survive intact. That’s wishful thinking.

    • I doubt very much if member nations will survive intact.

      H. Numan: are you referring to the break-up of Belgium back into its constituent parts? …e.g., the secession of Flanders? Will parts of the Netherlands also fracture?

      Perhaps “Great” Britain will sunder into the ancient boundaries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland? Those ‘territories’ tend to have some internally felt natural boundary that all the might-makes-right “unity” cannot change.

      In America, we have a briefer history but nonetheless the same deeply-felt grievous divides.

      The South is looked down upon by the North, even as the latter is burdened with crippling social welfare debts – including among the “welfare” recipients union pensioners who retire with such large pay-outs that bankruptcy is only a matter of ‘when’. More people are leaving the North than are moving there. Illinois is so corrupt and so broke that four of the last seven governors have gone to jail and it has to give lottery winners with large payouts IOUs instead of their winnings.

      If our states are in disarray, our cities are even worse. Most are shrinking, inhabited only by the extremes – the very rich and the very poor.

      There is one exception: New York City. We take for grated its prominence without ever examining how or why that place became our Mecca. In my years of reading City Journal I came to understand the importance of the original Dutch substrate on which New York City’s “commerce uber alles” was founded…and continues, despite minor distractions like its current Communist mayor.

      Just because we don’t remember history doesn’t mean history doesn’t drive us.

      • We don’t know what will happen. Currently a lot of EU regions want more Independence: Catalonia, the Basques, Corcica and many others. When the EU falls, their respective nations have something else to worry about. Not unlikely, those regions might grab the chance. This often happens when a big empire collapses. The USSR is a good example. Some nations might want to correct borders. The map of Europe is quite different from US state borders. That again is something that often happens in collapsing empires. Some nations might merge with their neigbours: the Benelux coudl become an independent nation, or The Netherlands join the Bundesrepublik for example.

  5. From Classicist Victor Davis Hanson.

    “There was no reason why Rome in the latter part of the 5th century AD had to fall, it had 70 million people, they hadn’t done anything different than the last two centuries where when faced with a crisis they always had a renaissance and made the necessary adjustments. In the east the Byzantines survived for a thousand years, and so there were these two bit vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths that came across the border and if you read contemporary accounts there was this same naiveté, that we could Christianize them, that they are not really pernicious, they came in small numbers well integrate them.

    But what they didn’t realize is that the Roman Imperial class had forgotten what it was to be Roman. They didn’t believe it was better than the alternative and so they didn’t define their culture, and so they allowed the people from the Danube and Rhine to cross and really destroy… There was no intrinsic reason for Rome to collapse in the 5th century AD. It wasn’t that the external threat was so great; they had done much better against much greater enemies like Hannibal 600yrs earlier. But at this point in history they didn’t know what it was to be Roman, they didn’t think it was better than the alternative, so when they had these small pretty manageable threats like the vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Huns they came across the Rhine, the Danube and they just panicked.

    They thought that they could integrate them; they thought that they could teach them the values of Christianity; they thought that if they were Christian they would be Italian-Roman Christian and that didn’t turn out to be the case and so when societies like ours or any post modern western society don’t know what was the ingredients to the original success or they don’t appreciate that some of these values have to be renewed or strengthened on that they don’t have any link in the chain of Americanism or exceptionalism, they don’t feel an affinity for people of Iwo Jima, Okinawa or Gettysburg. There is no law in history that says you have an inherit right to exist forever, history is pretty mean.”

  6. In his well researched book Mohammed & Charlemagne Revisited, Emmet Scott explains. Christianity was adopted in the Eastern Empire to stop the birth decline due to infanticide by pagan Romans who had an affluent lifestyle. The Empire in the West was no longer centered on war and conquest and there too Christianity took hold. It became “too civilized” and no longer controlled an army large enough to defend it as a whole. Although Visigoths took over the Western Empire, they did not destroy it but ran it locally. Islam was the force that destroyed the Empire (and ancient civilization). Muslims succeeded in converting Persia to Islam which invaded the Eastern Empire. Their Arab practice of grazing animals especially goats over cultivated lands, held by “infidels” created an environmental catastrophe. Lands from the Middle East and across north Africa became deserts. Top soil was eroded by wind and water. It silted up harbors and eventually buried cities. Million died directly at the hands of Muslim invaders and through starvation. Muslims destroyed about 98% of the books and knowledge of the ancient world. The few that survive, were saved by monks, which in the West were not slaughtered by the Visigoths, unlike the less fortunate in the East which were flayed alive and then crusified by Muslims. Muslim piracy made the Middle East and Mediterranean a no-go zone for the West. Trade was terminated and the Western Empire suffered economic collapse. Incessant Pirate raids on the European coast, by Muslims, killed men, and took boys and women as sex slaves or to be castrated and serve as slave soldiers. The West took to the hills where they eventually built castles – The Dark Ages began.

    The book discusses the conflict between Spain and Elizabethan England. Spain had ejected the Muslims after hundreds of years but in their wake they left, not “knowledge as usually described in the West, but the concept of “holy war” and superstitions like witchcraft, the evil eye, alchemy and sorcery. Holy war was adopted by the Spanish with effect, but the adoption of the Muslim superstitions brought us the Spanish Inquisition. This created a divide between the religious and superstitious Spanish (Catholics) and Protestant Europe which responded in favoring Muslims. This explains the misplaced fondness Northern Europe has for Muslims and the propaganda: that Muslims lived in peace with Jews and Christians; that the Muslims were enlightened beacons that preserved ancient knowledge; that the crusades were an unjustified rather than a defense from Muslims hellbent on the destruction of every monument to civilization including the holy land.

    • I’m sorry, but this is entirely wrong:

      Christianity wasn’t adopted to change the birth rate. It was one of the (many) mystery religions that superseded polytheism. Infanticide amongst the Romans wasn’t higher or lower than anywhere else. SOME Romans had an affluent lifestyle, but in truth, the late republic and early empire had much looser morals than the late empire.

      It is a misconception the Romans became more peace loving once they became Christian. Far from it. One could make a much saver and far more comfortable career in the church than in the army. Why risk life and limbs if you can get a much better job with far less hardship?

      The Visigoths didn’t destroy the empire, neither did the Vandals, Huns, Alans, Burgundians, Franks, etc. They each cut of a slice of it and ran it themselves. That actually _is_ the destruction of the empire.

      Muslims didn’t convert the Persian empire; and that empire didn’t exist anymore for millennia. The subjugated and destroyed the Sassanid empire. And did that by force of arms.

      Arab grazing methods didn’t cause a global catastrophe. Normal climate changes gradually changed the Saharan climate to what is is today.

      Muslims didn’t eradicate 98% of all books. Wisdom was kept alive in Constantinople, until its fall in 1453. It is no coincidence the Renaissance start soon afterwards and in southern Italy. That’s where most of the learned Byzantines fled to.

      Trade was limited amongst others by lack of enough currency and precious metals. The blockade of the silkroad only happened much later.

      Serious muslim pirate raids began much later, when they had established themselves firmly in North Africa and Spain.

      Early protestants – the Dutch amongst others – used the phrase “Liever Turks dan Paaps” (Rather Turkish than Popish) as the lesser of two evils. It is absolute (and very much contemporary) [bovine ordure] to even suggest that protestants saw muhammadanism as anything else than at least as perfidious as Popism.

      Less than 50 (!!) years ago it was UNTHINKABLE for a Christian to see muhammadanism as a religion, it was seen by everyone as a competing cult.

      • Take a look at

        Muslims eat sheep and goats but not pigs which are kept in pens and are more compatible with agriculture. Arabs were not farmers.

        By “The Visigoths didn’t destroy the empire” I mean that they did destroy cities, the economy and civilization, Scott writes that civilization continued. He also notes that the Visigoths looked to Constantinople for leadership and stamped coinage with the head of the Emperor. He contrasts with cities abandoned in North Africa and left to the winds.

        I did not say that Islam caused a global climate catastrophe just a local one in Middle East, North Africa and across the Mediterranean into Italy.

        Read Scott’s book. Papyrus was an import into Europe. Muslim piracy ended trade and stopped the supply of papyrus. This caused the loss of much of written knowledge and caused illiteracy in Europe. Parchment was much too expensive. Monks retained and copied books on parchment.

        Much has been said regarding Muslims transliterating books into Arabic, but Scott notes this was done by Jews living under Muslims. In any case transliterating is not the same as copying, Whilst in Europe Monasteries were spared by Visigoths, this was not the case in the East.

        You say that after the fall of Constantinople to Islam, knowledge was transferred to the West. This is wrong. A few people did make it to the West and brought very few books. The pivotal moment was Spain’s expulsion of the Muslims. This is what most likely started the Renaissance. The monks then were able to wander as teachers to a receptive people. Cultivation was relearned and new plant species brought from the New World.

        Common sense indicates that if the “Arabs” were advanced and had copied and learned all of ancient knowledge then their culture would have advanced faster that that of the West or East. The problem is that it did not. Furthermore, what used to best the bread basket of the Roman Empire became a third world wasteland.

        I see the legacy of Islamic rule in Sicily, once prosperous, it lagged a hundred years behind the central Italy. There honor killings of women, the evil eye and witchcraft remain as shadows of a previous unenlightened era.

        I cannot summarise a whole period from 400 AD to 1600. I only point to Scott’s book and observe that many unanswered questions on why the Roman Empire (an ancient civilisation) fell and most knowledge lost, may be explained by the rise of Islam.

        The creation the myth of a golden age of Islam where none existed suited the northern powers.

        I really would like to see evidence of Islam being the progressive force of knowledge which people claim it is, or has been. What I see is Imams still proclaiming that the earth is flat and that all knowledge outside Islam is unworthy.

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