Term Paper: Compare and Contrast the End of the Roman Empire to Today

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¶ … Roman empire to today

The issue of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is a source of fascination for both the broad public and the scholarly world. From a European perspective, the fall of the Empire can be regarded as the end of the Classical world as it brought about a decline in literacy, urbanism, and generally all the indicators of civilization. Roman civilization is seen as the golden age of art, literature and law, a period of flourishing culture and development. In fact, both European and non-European societies have adopted Roman architectural, sculptural and legal traditions. The founding fathers hoped that America would revive the virtues of ancient Rome, and would reinvent the Roman Empire under a new formula whose basis was the constitution. By speaking of a rising empire of America, they brought back the image of the Roman republic as an enduring model, an absolute superpower whose military, political, economic and cultural dominance is incontestable. Although the decline of the Roman Empire has been a topic of discussion and writing, no scholar has ever been able to provide a definitive explanation primarily because the demise of a state is a complex matter which results from a myriad of factors. Hence one cannot say that there is one single event or causative factor, but the cumulating power of several such historical and political circumstances. More so, there are no valid predictions as to the future of America, and whether or not its fate will match that of Rome. Nonetheless, there are voices who claim America has already turned into the decadent Roman state. Their main arguments are the percentage of illiterate citizens, increasing corruption, and a high rate of illegal immigrants. Moreover, they argue that the Congress is no longer an instrument of the people but a tool in the hands of the privileged and self-interested.

Rome was founded as a farming village in the eighth century B.C. more precisely in 753, and enjoyed 12 centuries of oscillations until its fall in the fifth century a.D. During its lifespan, the Roman Empire shifted from being a prosperous and even virtuous republic to its status of corrupt empire which eventually led to its dissolution. The first major historical account of the fate of the Roman Empire was written by the English historian Edward Gibbon, and published in 1776 under the title of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Another historical account that this paper will bring into discussion is that of historian Peter Heather, more precisely of his book, the fall of the Roman Empire (2005). As far as the parallel between modern America and Rome, this paper will employ some of the conclusions and assumptions put forth by Cullen Murphy in his recent book, Are we Rome?

The date for the fall of Rome is widely accepted as 476 as that was when the Germanic Odoacer forced the last emperor of the Western Empire to abandon his position and functions. This is also the date embraced by the present paper as the date of the fall of the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, there are many other crucial moments to the decline and ultimately the fall of the Roman Empire. As far as the factors behind the fall of Rome, historians tend to argue that it was a combination of factors which contributed to the demise of the empire. Monetary trouble, moral and social decadence and Christianity are only a few such factors.

The fall of Rome did not bring about the disappearance of the classical elements of civilization which persisted into later centuries. The notion of "classic" was defined by the Roman Empire, a dictatorship supported by military force which joined together peoples from three continents. Nonetheless, its attempt to forge a "classic" culture was unsuccessful, and the demise of the Empire also brought about the shaping of new cultures shaped from the "amalgam of classics with the reformed style of Judaism that became Christianity" (Potter: 4). Nonetheless, Rome itself had changed dramatically in the period of time between the year 400 and the time of Augustus. These changes did not occur in the fifth century with the fall of Rome, but date back to the first two centuries of the history of the empire, when the civilization of ancient Mediterranean slowly disintegrated as a result of the growing absolutism of the Roman state. In fact, by the year 305 a.D., the process of disintegration could no longer be reversed. It was under Emperor Diocletian that ancient civilization was truly destroyed under the weight of development. Poverty and degradation were deeply affecting the population which was forced to renounce its freedom in exchange for survival. This way, those who were not killed by famine were forced to become branded laborers in regimented state factories. The curtain of the Dark Ages was falling across the societies of Antiquity. This period of time between the fall of the Roman Empire and roughly the year 1000 was characterized by the lack of progress in general. It was during the Dark Ages, a transitional period between Classical Roman Antiquity and the High Middle Ages, that literature, written history, but also, building activities and demographic statistics were disastrous. This period of time in the history of the world largely accounts for the view that historians have expressed with regards to the Middle Ages as a time of backwardness. As far as the Empire was concerned, when the curtain of the Dark Ages fell, it covered a paralyzed civilization in the East, and a shattered one in the West where poverty and ignorance had managed to destroy the once triumphant Western society. Their currency was worthless, trade was virtually blocked, education had been forgotten, and agriculture devastated. Moreover, the military capacity of Rome was dramatically diminished and the population scarce, with a deserted countryside and empty urban areas. Waves of barbarian invasions followed, with the Arab and Viking conquests, the Crusades and the devastations of the Turks and the Mongols which eventually generated a severe fragmentation of the territory of the former empire. In turn, this fragmentation eventually saw the re-emergence of an urban middle class in all the decentralized states that was able to resume cultural, intellectual and economic evolution in the shape of the Renaissance of the West.

In 1963 during one of President John F. Kennedy's addresses which took place at the American University in Washington D.C., he referred to America's peace process and reinforced the idea that the United States was in fact, seeking "not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war." (McChesney; Foster: 2004). His remarks came as a response to criticism of America from Soviet texts on military strategy which claimed the U.S. was preparing "to unleash different kinds of war" including "preventative war" (Ibid.) Despite Kennedy's rejection of such claims, the notion of "Pax Americana" would become a justification of war used by those who portrayed the United States as a "benevolent Empire" (Ibid.) Kennedy envisioned a global military response to the Soviet Union's, and consequently, the Communist expansion. Nonetheless, today the Cold War is over, and the Soviet Union has long disbanded, yet the United States is regarded as an imperialist power which uses the power of arms unilaterally to its benefit. More and more people throughout the world are talking about a parallel between Imperial Rome and Imperial United States. In the past, these comparisons were particularly made by leftists or right-wing isolationists, but today they have spread and have gained more momentous than ever (Lind: 2002). Also, in the past these claims of American Imperialism seen as the second embodiment of Imperial Rome reflected a belief that U.S. politics had corrupted both America and the world. However, today these claims are made on the basis of America's response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. These claims were fueled by the American Administration's speeches which culminated with President Bush's speech at West Point on June 2, 2002 when he exposed his vision regarding the military future of the United States: "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge -- thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless -- and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." (President G.W. Bush in Lind: 2002). However, this paper does not examine the discourse of one particular administration, be it Democrat or Republican. Instead, it strives to illustrate how a certain image of American Imperialism was created throughout the world, but also in America irrespective of the Administrations that have been in office since the American Revolution. A global Pax Americana has given rise to serious controversy. Firstly, there are those who support it led by "the triumphalist-in-chief" George W. Bush (Murphy: 127). Secondly, there are those who strongly oppose it and denounce America's military interventions claiming that "its imperial need for secrecy, surveillance and social control, all in the name of national security, is corroding our republican institutions" (Ibid.) Nonetheless, there is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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