The Big Picture part 1
Many of my readers who know me quite well, would not be surprised to find that I don’t believe in the Black and white argument. Some of them have even seen me successfully argue a “PRO” position in an argument for which I hold a “CON” position. It’s really quite easy to do without being dishonest or disingenuous, and I’ll tell you why.
Many things happen, the way people think that they are going to happen, but not for the reasons that people think.
In our society today it is very popular to blame politicians, corporations, evil money grabbing CEOs, ect….for the state of our society and even our own personal woes.
While in part these accusations may be true, they are only a small part of the story.The vast majority of the time there are things going on behind the scenes that none of us see. In fact sometimes the participants themselves don’t know of all the things and people involved. History is full of examples for those who are willing to look for them and make the connections.
If I were to ask the question “What caused the fall of the Roman Empire?” the answers that I would get would be more numerous than the number of people that I asked. Over expansion, corruption, greed, the northern barbarian hoards, the emperors, poor leadership, Christianity, Infighting, broken promises, Little boys and Puppy dogs *no kidding*, Over expansion, space aliens…. and you know what, they would all, with the exception of “space aliens” be true, and yet, even combining them all together we are still seeing only part of the picture. We all know the saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Well neither was it destroyed in a day, it’s decline and eventual fall took place over several centuries, and it took numerous causes to do it.
History is our best examples of connections, and though we instinctively know this, it is often overlooked at the time it is happening. Most of us have heard the old science fiction time travel axiom that the smallest change to the past could have far reaching results in the future. Well the same hold true with the present.
All of us have been in some small way a player in the great scheme of history. Let me give you an example from my own life.
In 1999 I was in Orlando Florida making a delivery of a semi truck load of signs to a construction site. In Orlando also at the time was Vice President Al Gore campaining (or complaining depending on your views). Now anytime the President or VP go anywhere they use multiple convoys of vehicles to disguise their true routes of travel. I was driving through Orlando when one of these convoys passed me. Now whether or not the VP was in that particular convoy, I have no idea, but it is certainly possible. As it happens this convoy passed me in a construction zone. In order to keep from hitting the limousine (which was sucking up about two feet of MY traffic lane , as well as it’s own, Which if you might guess is for a vehicle such the size of mine and in a curve in a construction zone, with K rails to my right, is dammed near impossible to do.I was forced to drive far to the right and into a concrete curbing placed there to prevent cars from driving off the roadway and down an aproximate three foot drop. Now Al Gore is not my favorite person, and I certainly didn’t want to see him sitting in the oval office, and I don’t care how armoured your vehicle is, when 80,000lbs of steel moving at 55mph decides it doesn’t want to let you over, that is an argument that you will NOT win, most assuredly with diasterous consequences.
However, I believe in the office of the President and the American public (despite many of their idiotic choices). I believe in our Democratic Republic and system of government.
I believe in it so strongly that I risked getting fired by driving my truck into the barricade and damaging my employers truck, rather than staying my lawful course down MY LANE of traffic. Alternately I could have allowed them to begin to pass me and then simply CRUSHED the limousiene against the opposite barracade,turning the occupants into a fine but gooey paste, again, in some cases size DOES MATTER! So, in some small way, I have effected history, though exactly how, and what the other outcome would have been, we cannot ever know.
Now most people, when I say “The Roman Empire” do not realize that I am speaking of a specific time period within the greater history of Rome itself. Prior to the Empire was the Roman Republic, which it’s self lasted for over 500 years. Rome’s expansion began in the period of it’s republic, when it’s senate ruled instead of an emperor. Several milestones are used to mark exactly when it became an empire, but the most notable, and probably the final arbiter is when the senate appointed Julius Ceaser as perpetual dictator in 44BC, in effect making him Emperor for life with the ability to choose his own successor.
By 117AD the Roman Empire had reached it’s maximum expansion, the most land that it would ever achieve, and stretched from the borders of Persia in the East to Briton in the West. From Northern Africa in the south to Germania in the North.
Rome did one thing that few other civilizations had ever done before. They enriched their conquests with Roman culture and in turn brought home to Rome the technology and cultures of the the civilizations that they conquered. They also gave their conquests a possibility of eventually becoming Roman Citizens. They built colloseums and forums, bath houses (and vomitoriums), they brought back animals from across the known world to perform in contests, fight in the Arena, and just because they found them unusual. They brought medicine to conquered peoples, and built roads.
By 100Ad Rome itself was truly an international city. It was also very much a corrupt and hedonist city.Bribery and assasinations were fairly common and though illegal were often accepted as part of the price of doing business. Rome was always full of some sort of political intrigue. Pacts were made and broken. Incidentaly the english word Pact, has it’s roots in the latin word Pax meaning “peace”. Latin became an international language, it was the language of government and trade. No matter what your birth language was, if you spoke latin, you could get along pretty well almost anywhere in the known world.This is why so many of our words today have latin roots.
Rome viewed the outer edges of it’s empire as “buffer zones” against rival nations and barbarians. Because of that, Rome didn’t want to expend large numbers of resources in the buffer zones, prefering to spend it in the inner regions on infrastructure and comforts. The nomadic tribes living in the buffer zones were considered as “speed bumps” made to slow down any invading army, and were often employed in doing so, so that fewer legions were needed to police the wilderness. One of the problems came when the tribes began to realize that they were being used as a nearly free military, while the protective legions and trappings of Roman civilization were kept much closer to Rome itself.
Meanwhile, the empire was stretched to both it’s financial and military limit. Then the weather changed. Droughts and cold winters decimated crops and famine followed, throughout the empire.
The hordes of “barbarians” began to move south, often warring amongst themselves as they did so. They had one goal in mind, FOOD!
As the saying goes, an army travels on it’s stomach, and even more so when that army also has entire families traveling with it. It becomes a situation of “my family and tribe are more important to me than your empire is”.Rome was not pleased, but with their legions spread so thin and having relieed upon the barbarians and nomadic tribes for so long, was not prepared to defend itself from all sides. The situation was not handled well. With Alarick’s Army camped on the northern border of Italy demanding food, the Roman generals attempted to placate the barbarians and wound up insulting them at the same time, by offering to trade the tribe’s children for dog meat.
After the death of Theodosius I in 395, the Visigoths renounced their treaty with the Empire and invaded northern Italy under their new king Alaric, but were repeatedly repulsed by the Western commander-in-chief Stilicho. Stilicho became a victim of court intrigues in Ravenna (where the imperial court resided since 402) and was executed for high treason in 408. After his death, the government became increasingly ineffective in dealing with the barbarians, and in 410 Rome was sacked by the Visigoths.
Now from this short,very, ~VERY~ abbreviated, history we can see that numerous individual choices, decisions and causes came into play when it came to the downfall of the Roman Empire. An Army stretched to it’s limits, corruption, political intrigue, a failure to fully integrate conquered peoples, allowing kings and tribal chiefs to retain at least figurehead control, allowing conquered Kings to not only keep their throne, but to keep passing it down hereditarily; a lack of speedy communication (even though it was the best in the known western world), and nature in the form of weather and famines, the impotence of the senate in favor of an emperor, While singly not one of these things would have brought down the empire, combined they each led to another situation, and another, and another until the fall was easily foreseeable.
History is truly like a huge machine. Remove one nut or bolt and it may continue without pause, but once enough are removed, enough dirt has clogged the gears, it has gone long enough without proper lubrication…..ect, stuff begins to happen.