As we Americans view with concern the path our country seems to be taking and the resulting fallout on employment, jobs and the homeless, perhaps we might be able to learn from history. While not a perfectly accurate comparison, it is hard to ignore the history of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. An empire which was such a glorious, wealthy and powerful one for many hundreds of years but, which ended with a whimper. How could that have happened?

While it is difficult to state precisely the dates of the Roman Empire, generally speaking the earliest point when the Romans possessed any other territory than their own would be in 201 BC. The date Rometraditionally used for the fall of the Roman Empire is when the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus, was expelled in A.D. 476. Whatever the actual time the Roman Empire existed, it existed for a very long period of time and there has been nothing like it in Western history. Why did it end? Edward Gibbon was an English historian who lived from 1737 to 1794. His most important work was The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. So what were the reasons Gibbon gave for the end of the Roman Empire? They generally were the following:

(1) A decline in morals and values

(2) Public health

(3) Political corruption

(4) Unemployment

(5) Inflation

(6) Urban decay

(7) Inferior technology

(8) Military spending

1. Decline in morals and values Rome went from a society where divorce was unheard of to one in which divorce and remarriage was a scandal. Family units were lost. Crimes of violence made the streets of larger cities unsafe. Thousands of prostitutes openly worked the cities. The rich became very rich and the average citizen poorer and poorer. Emperors like Nero & Caligula wasted thousands of dollars on lavish parties and other frivolous amusements. The gladiatorial combat in the Coliseum was a major source of abuse but all the people, the poor, rich and even the Emperor attended the contests. One contest after another was staged in a single day. Hundreds of people died for the enjoyment of the crowd. The value of human life was less and less significant. in the coliseum, when the ground became too soaked with blood it was covered with a fresh layer of sand and the killing continued. Hard work and good family values were replaced with sports, frivolous enjoyment and wasteful spending. The values of society were lost.

2. Public health The lack of concern about others and the pursuit of pleasure resulted in increased disease. Disease would spread quickly through crowded housing. The general health of the people declined. Gathering crowds at the Coliseum and other public facilities promoted the spread of disease. Lack of maintenance of sewers, water and general santitation promoted the spread of disease. Lack of concern over the environment promoted poor health and early death.

3. Political corruption Corruption, bribery and self-dealing by leaders corrupted the political system. The rich and the wealthy ignored previous rules of society. Eventually the practice began of selling the position of Emperor to the highest bidder. During the last 100 years Rome had 37 different emperors 25 of whom were assassinated in order for another contender to become emperor.There were political conspiracies throughout the political system. People lost faith in their government and no longer trusted the leaders. The previous efficient Roman government gave way to chaos and disintegration with political corruption everywhere.

4. Unemployment During latter years of the Empire, farming had gone from small family farms to large estates that were owned by wealthy men who used slave labor. A small family owned farm had to pay workman and could not produce goods is cheaply. These farmers couldn't compete and lost or sold their farms. This undermined the family value of farming and produced cities with unemployed people. At one point the Emperor was forced to import grain to feed some 100,000 people in Rome alone. These unemployed people, some of whom were homeless, had little to do but cause trouble and contribute to an ever increasing crime rate.

5. Inflation In order to maintain the lavish spending, the public entertainment at the Coliseum, and the wasteful spending of the Emperor and government, higher and higher taxes had to be imposed. Taxes were raised to pay for deficit government spending, to pay for food and care of the unemployed and all of society as well as to pay for the frivolous spending of the Emperor and Roman government. In fact, as times became worse, the government put greater emphasis on on sports and the spectacle at the Coliseum in the hopes of diverting the attention of the public away from the massive trouble within the Empire. Inflation produced higher and higher prices. Rome no longer was receiving gold and other bounty from newly conquered areas. The value of Roman money declined. Merchants raise prices to make up for this. Many people stop using Roman money and begin to barter instead.

6. Urban decay Wealthy Romans lived in elaborate houses with marble floors, colored tiles and even Windows made of small plates of glass. However, most of the Romans were not rich. They had to live in small rooms in apartment houses with six or more stories. At one point there were 44,000 apartment houses within the city walls of Rome. Families had climb wooden stairs to get to the upper level where the rent was cheaper than the apartments on street level. If you couldn't afford the rent you were forced to move out and live in the streets. Cities began to decline. Sewer, sanitation and maintenance of public facilities deteriorated. This contributed to disease.

7. Inferior technology The Romans were marvelous engineers and scientists. They build sophisticated roads, bridges and aqueducts. They established the first system of medicine for the benefit of everyone including the poor. However as the empire grew and the population became larger they failed to continue to develop new ideas, inventions or technology. They became unable to provide enough goods for the growing population and failed to progress in development of new technology.

8. Military spending The Roman Empire was expanded through its military force. As they conquered other areas they acquired their technology gold and scientific ideas. They had to maintain an army to defend their new borders from attacks. This required more and more military spending. That left declining amounts of money available for the public good such as public housing, maintaining quality roads and aqueducts as well as other public benefits. The size of the Empire required Rome to hire the unemployed to serve in the military and finally they allowed even foreigners to serve in their military. The new military lacked loyalty and dedication to Rome as well as becoming increasingly expensive. Government was forced to find new taxes to support the military which in turn increased inflation and lead to a deterioration of the Roman Empire.

Certainly there were other reasons for the Roman Empire to end, but these were primary contributors. One would hope that our political and other leaders would learn from history to avoid repeating it.

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