For several years, astute Patriots have pondered the likenesses between the late Roman Empire and America’s future – or should I say, present. There are striking similarities between the two but to say that our courses are parallel would be far from accurate. More interesting to me than any parallel is what happened immediately after the collapse of the Roman Empire: continental Europe descended into the Dark/Middle Ages; while the Byzantine Empire experienced relative safety, a succession of Christian emperors, and an economic revival up until the Crusades. As the American Empire falls, will the American Redoubt become the New Byzantium?
1. Currency Manipulation and Monetary Crisis.
The year is 211 AD and Caracalla, Co-Emperor of the Roman Empire, has just murdered his brother to assume sole command of Rome. In order to purchase the loyalty of the Roman army, Caracalla doubles their wages. With the Roman treasury already strained, Caracalla further reduces the silver content of the denarius to finance the increased military wages.
For hundreds of years, the Roman Empire operated on a bi-metallic standard, using both gold and silver coins as currency. The denarius, the silver coin used as the standard of trade throughout the Empire, was the day-to-day currency. The Bible even references the denarius as being a day’s wage for laborers. During the preceding 200 years before Caracalla, the denarius had been continuously debased. When introduced, the denarius was a 4.5 gram silver coin, in today’s terms roughly $5.00; and it remained more than 90% silver throughout the first century. By Caracalla’s time, it had been reduced to 56% silver; and by the late third century, the once-pure silver denarius had been replaced altogether with a nearly worthless copper coin in a thin silver coating. For the entire course of the late Roman Empire, its emperors routinely traded short term benefits at the expense of the interests of the Roman people over the long term. They insulated themselves against those consequences, much like American leadership does today.
In 212 AD, Caracallus issued an edict making citizens of all freeborn residents of the Roman Empire. Historians agree that this action was largely to increase the tax base, raising revenues for the state. Being a Roman citizen had privileges of honor and pride in addition to legal protection. Even in the Biblical book of Acts, we see Paul claiming citizenship in regards to punishment under Roman law. The Edict of Caracalla cheapened the pride Romans felt as citizens. Something looked upon as earned had been given away.
For the rest of the Third Century the Roman Empire suffered crisis after crisis: rise of neighboring empires, barbarian invasions, a succession of short-lived emperors, numerous civil wars, and the division of the Roman Empire – not to mention the mass persecution of Roman Christians.
The Fourth Century was no easier. In 376, a massive Visigoth invasion destroyed entire Roman armies, and in 410 the Visigoths sacked Rome for three days. By 476, the Western Roman Empire had collapsed under the burden of barbarian invasion and the formation of their kingdoms. The fall of the Western Empire ushered in a “dark” period we’ve come to know as the Dark Ages.
Meanwhile: Glory in Byzantium
The Eastern Roman Empire, more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, was largely spared the turmoil continental Europe faced during the Dark Ages. The infamous Attila the Hun, who rampaged through the Balkans, reportedly captured over 100 cities in the Byzantine Empire but did not make an attempt to conquer the Byzantine capital of Constantinople as he considered the walls of the city to be virtually impervious. Those walls took nine years to build, hurried by Attila’s threatening presence in the Balkans.
In addition to the Empire surviving the onslaught of the Huns, Emperor Justinian I was able to re-conquer much of what the Roman Empire had lost. In all, the Byzantine Empire thrived for another thousand years after the collapse of the Roman Empire and remained the most significant power in Europe.
Of course, we’ve just glossed over five hundred years of history but I find it extremely interesting that, while the Western Roman Empire plunged into chaos, the Byzantine Empire continued to grow and prosper. My opinion is going to be utterly unscientific and contain absolutely no historical context whatsoever – but could it be that the Byzantine Empire returned to prominence because a) it was heavily defensible, and b) Emperor Constantine and others were devout Christians?
Fiscal collapse, brought on by bad fiscal and monetary policy, is the modern day barbarian threat and it will end up affecting the landscape of America, both culturally and geographically. I can’t help but conclude that, if given the choice, I would have rather lived in Byzantium than in the European Dark Ages. In closing, I would submit to you that the American Redoubt can become the contemporary Byzantine Empire if we prepare the conditions first. I’m staking my future on it and so should you.