*The Fate of Rome*

That is the new and very important book by Kyle Harper, with the subtitle Climate, Disease, & the End of an Empire.  I am just reading through this now, but it appears to be an significant revision of our views on the decline of Rome.  p.21 offers a capsule summary, which I will summarize in turn:

1. During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a pandemic “interrupted the economic and demographic expansion” of the empire.

2. In the middle of the third century, a mix of drought, pestilence, and political challenge “led to the sudden disintegration of the empire.”  The empire however was willfully rebuilt, with a new emperor, new system of government, and in due time a new religion.

3. The coherence of this new empire was broken in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.  “The entire weight of the Eurasian steppe seemed to lean, in new and unsustainable ways, against the edifice of Roman power…and…the western half of the empire buckled.”

4. In the east there was a resurgent Roman Empire, but this was “violently halted by one of the worst environmental catastrophes in recorded history — the double blow of bubonic plague and a little ice age.”

Here is a key passage from the book:

The centuries of later Roman history might be considered the age of pandemic disease.  Three times the empire was rocked by mortality events with stunning geographical reach.  In AD 165 an event known as the Antonine Plague, probably caused by smallpox, erupted.  In AD 249, an uncertain pathogen swept the territories of Roman rule.  And in AD 541, the first great pandemic of Yersinia pestis, the agent that causes bubonic plague, arrived and lingered for over two hundreds years.  the magnitude of these biological catastrophes is almost incomprehensible.

Here is the book on Amazon.  Here is Kyle Harper on Twitter.  Here is Harper on scholar.google.com; he is also Provost at the University of Oklahoma.

I do not feel I can assess the veracity of this thesis, but it does seem to be intelligently and reasonably argued.


The same thesis in a less direct way is mentioned in Tom Holland's 'In the Shadow of the Sword', not just as a cause of the fall of Rome, but that it led to the expansion of the caliphate.

Nonsense. Why would the caliphate be immune to the plague? In fact, what saved the East Roman Empire (Byzantium) was fortifications at Istanbul (Constantinople) and Greek Fire (sulfur plus various trade secret ingredients that burned underwater, sodium and/or magnesium maybe?) as well as that chain across the Bosphorus.

Similarly, what caused the Huns to beat eastern Rome was a breed of fast pony and the composite bow.

Likewise, what will destroy western civilization today is complacency with nuclear proliferation, specifically, a hydrogen bomb in the wrong hands (Iran, NK, ISIS, etc) like a 100 MT bomb that has a blast radius of 20 miles. Never mind the radioactive fallout, just the blast itself will flatten an entire city.

The point Tom Holland made was that the rise of the caliphate was enabled by the fact that both Persia and the Roman Empire had been massively hollowed out by plague, the empires were a shadow of their former selves. This left both military and political space for a new entrant. I recommend the book pretty highly if you are interested in the founding of Islam.

The plague in Athens was dire and contributed, but not hugely, to the ultimate outcome of the Peloponnesian War. Athenian losses in Sicily were more important.

Roman legionaries were similarly roughly handled by Parthian mounted archers. Major units of Darius' (Marathon) and Xerxes' (Thermopylae/Plataea) Persian armies were mounted archers.

In Italy, Hannibal destroyed (one to a man) several Roman armies and as did Spartacus' gladiator/slave revolt.

Additionally, many tectonic changes (for the worse) contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Three epidemics, famines and/or climate catastrophes spread out over decades and centuries would be hardly more than immaterial contributors.

The Western Empire fell in the first half of the Fifth Century: That would be the early 400's for you college kids.

Muhammad was not active until the early 600's. The Eastern Roman Empire fell in 1453. Before Constantinople fell the Ottoman Turks would have to conquer, organize and unite the Mohammedan World. The Crusades (1094 to 1291); internecine (power centers Egypt vs. Damascus) disunity/warfare; and a brush with the Mongol hordes all slowed the Mohammedan conquest of the Byzantine Empire, which by 1453 was only comprised of the city Constantinople and its environs.

No one is writing about the decline and fall of the United States of America. I don't have any idea for a title. Here is a subtitle: "How America Descended From A Wealthy Democracy To A Dictatorship On The Brink Of Collapse."

Impressive points.

Are you different from "Dick the Butcher" or just evolving towards :"Dick the Burgher"?

1)Actually, in most encounters with the Romans it was the Persians who where roughly handled. Unless incompetently lead (see Crassus & Julian) the Romans usually won- for instance the Romans sacked the Persian's capital 3 times- the Persians never got anywhere near Italy. Even Julian, who botched his operation won a battle before the walls of the Persian capital. The problem presented by Persia was that it was major power at the far end of the Roman empire (complicating logistics plus no emperor wanted to be far from important areas of the empire campaigning for long)) and was a "2nd front" to deal with-if not a 3rd (Germanic tribes & Balkans being the other "fronts"). Furthermore, most barbarians couldn't effectively assault cities-but the Persians could-and many of the Persian "invasions" were actually raids to get booty & enhance the prestige of the Shah (that is why the Romans sometimes choose to buy them off rather than attempt to destroy Persia-it was a business decision).
2) Regarding the Islamic expansion- it came after the major Byzantine-Persian war of the early 7th century-ie right before the major incursions by Islamic forces. The war was a major factor in the ease of Islamic expansion. Not only were both Byzantium & Persia exhausted after a long war- the areas between the 2 empires had changed hands several times in about 10+ years and were not effectively reintegrated into Byzantine rule when the Islamic invasion occurred-many political/religious disputes had not had the time to be thoroughly addressed & b/c of that the resistance to the Islamic attack was less than would have been if the empire had been thoroughly reintegrated.
3)The plague was much worse in urban areas d/t the concentration of people & vermin. The Roman empire, being predominately an urban political entity, was much more effected than the fringes of the empire. The relative decline in urban population & revenue made the steppe & desert peoples power more of a threat.

Well, not immune to the plague, but far less exposed to it due to the Nomadic lifestyle in the Arabian Peninsula. Less urbanized places tended to fair much better. I won't bother to sing the Farmer in the Dale to you.This advantage disappeared overtime, but so did those most frightening manifestations of the plague.

There are not now and never have been any nuclear weapons with a strength on 100 megatons. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested was the Russian Tsar-Bomba clocking in at about 50 megatons in 1961. The Russians were so freaked out by it by it they never built anything that powerful again.
The trend in nukes for some time has been one of downsizing because there's no need for mega-bombs: a small, well-targeted nuke is superior to a big, badly targeted one. Most nuclear weapons are under 1 megaton today.

It's not about targeting but efficiency. Two 1-MT bombs cover as much area as a 4-MT bomb.

This is basically the conclusion I took away after listening to the excellent History of Rome podcast by Mike Duncan. The barbarians from the east hammered the killing blow but the Empire was already severely weakened militarily, economically, and culturally by severe plague.

The most compelling reason I have heard for the fall of Rome was that people simply stopped believing in it. People will fight and die for America. Its currency has clout, its military fearsome. When a sufficient number of people no longer are willing to fight and die for a country, its currency debased and neglected, and factions within or without able to flout the Law without fear of repercussion, then a civilization falls.

Rome suffered far, far worse during the Punic wars. Hannibal (The Grace of Ba'al, a cunning and ruthless avatar of a devouring god) drove giant tusked monsters through the Alps, turned Rome's neighbors against her, and in the fields of Cannae destroyed almost an entire generation of men. But because Rome believed in herself, she prevailed.

That sounds like the answer provided by the movie Gladiator.

Yes, and the Roman empire had another 300 years or so left to it after the time of that movie.

America is collapsing. According to scientists, it has become a failing state. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/opinion/election-night-2016/the-unknown-country

According to famous American leader Kupelian, America is now a bizarre country: http://www.wnd.com/2015/10/theres-hope-for-america-the-bizarre/

My 2c, which are worth nothing because I’m not a professional historian:

Rome stopped being Rome long before it fell. The reliance on Foederati spelled the death knell for Rome. Carthage’s reliance on mercenaries spelled the death knell for Carthage. A fitting end and an example of history rhyming but not repeating. An ancient and powerful civilization repeats the mistake of its greatest enemy a Millenium later, a poetic end and a lesson: do not so casually dismiss the inherited wisdom of your ancestors. What they held in esteem was held in esteem for a reason. What they regarded as sacred was placed on that pedestal for a larger purpose. Culture is a transmission of values and knowledge, and its discarding should be taken apprehensively.

The most important lesson for us today, which we should NOT listen to, is that culture is important to the survival of a nation. When Rome became a series of Roman urban centers surrounded by rural areas filled with different and violent cultures who had little allegiance to the urban Roman values, it became an unstable nightmare. We have a different but similar issue. The only people who think the country is worth defending and who will risk their lives for it are those who are disgusted by the government. That’s inherently unstable.

I think the country needs a massive decentralization. Aside from the Bill of Rights we should live and let live. Move everything else onto the states. Let the rallying cry be the Constitution. But I think the most likely outcome is Brazil and dysfunction.

1) Brazil is not dysfunctional. It is the longest existing power, it is biggest than 48 Lower America or the Roman Empire at its height.

2) " The only people who think the country is worth defending and who will risk their lives for it are those who are disgusted by the government".

Maybe they should man up and srop being cry babies.
3) "that culture is important to the survival of a nation."
Which culture? Roman gods, Greek gods with thin disguises, mistery religions, Christianity?

Not being a professional historian may be a strength. The academy is a bit of a mess right now. And this line, "The only people who think the country is worth defending and who will risk their lives for it are those who are disgusted by the government" is unsettling. But the country isn't just its military - the Jewish people have been scattered to the four corners but remained a nation even without a state.

GK Chesterton wrote that the best soldiers do not fight because they hate what is in front of them, but because they love what is behind them.

Carthago delenda est. But more importantly, non nobis domine.

"Carthago delenda est. But more importantly, non nobis domine."

And I say, "Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento Hae tibi erunt artes, pacique imponere morem, Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos."
Brazil is the successor state of the Roman Empire.

Not with an average IQ of 87.

Brazilian IQ us much higher. According to recent research, the average Brazilian brain is about 35% bigger, heavier and more powerful than the average American brain. Also, it has nothing to do with IQ, but with historical fact: the Federative Republic of Brazil is the successor state of the Empire of Brazil, which is the successor state of the United Kingdom of Brazil, Portugal and Algarves, which is the successor state of Iberian Union, which is the successor state of the Holy Roman Empire, which is the successor state of the Roman Empire, which means Brazil is the successor state of the Roman Empire. QED

You have early onset Alzheimer's disease.

No, I haven't. Actually, my brain works pretty well. My neighbour frequently remark on that.

I feel like a plague that occurred in 165 AD is a poor explanation for why the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD, and not at some other time. Its easy to point to a problem that some empire faced and say "aha - that's why it collapsed" and much harder to point to a problem that some empire faced and say "aha - that's why it collapsed at this particular point in time, and not 150 years sooner or earlier"

I don't think anyone is making that claim. The claim is that plague led to a long period of rapid decline in the Crisis of the Third Century which basically ended the empire until it was reformed in the Fourth Century, all the while making proto-feudal concessions to outlying tribes and peoples who continued to gnaw away at the increasingly-difficult-to-man borders.

But when we look at the plage in 14th century Europe we hear, rightly or wrongly, that it spurred people to improve their political institutions by giving peasants more bargaining power. The point here is that it is the political institutions that are paramount, and their response to plauges etc are caused by those institutions, just as the instutions are shaped by those responses.

But by the 14th Century, Europe was entirely settled societies and more-or-less equally susceptible to plagues, as were its neighbors; during the 2nd century, plague put Rome at a distinct disadvantage compared to the nomadic peoples to the northeast who were not as ravaged by plague and who were able to assail the Roman world in relatively greater force.

What is missing from this is that Rome experienced a rapid growth in population due to unchecked immigration AND a very expensive government backed effort to provide food and other necessities for these immigrants and increasing numbers of Romans who choose not to work. This spending came at a price, reducing the effort to maintain a sufficient army to protect their country and their borders.

Keep in mind though that you don't really need to explain why something happened in 476.... the "fall" was more of a process than a radical break in some particular year. (I'm paraphrasing Chris Wickham here, but if you were a Roman citizen alive in Europe in 476, you would be puzzled by the idea you were witnessing a collapse -- your family would have kept thinking of itself as Roman, living in similar circumstances under Roman laws and structures, for generations.) It sounds like Harper's book talks about the "collapse" as a process ending sometime in the 7th century. So it's not as much about explaining a date -- it' more about figuring out what really drove the long tidal changes that we call, for convenience, the "Fall of Rome."

Of course, the response to catastrophic events by inept Roman emperors contributed to the downfall. Rome may have excelled in brutality (thus, the empire) but not in the response to natural catastrophes; one can't beat into submission drought, pestilence, plague, and climate change.

Of course one cannot beat into submission drought etc, but how does that cause loss of political power? Surely plague doesn't make would-be rulers stronger per se. Why would an incumbent that is good at commerce, infrastructure, brutality, etc, be inept at dealing with natural disasters (moreso than contenders)?.

In any case, it sounds like a good read.

Rome was really no different than it's competitors in the Mediterranean basin with respect to violence. It was just more successful. (That was generally demographics -- Rome seemed to draw on an endless supply of soldiers -- and logistics -- Romans were exceptionally thoughtful.)

actually in some respects they were LESS brutal. The Romans typically did not slaughter those they defeated initially & replace them with colonists (like the Greeks often did). They were very unique in extending citizenship to non-latins. The Romans were good at co-opting elites & urban areas into the empire and assimilation-thereby enhancing the empires power. It is notable that few Roman allies defected during Hannibal's romp thru Italy. But if after defeat, you revolted from Roman rule they were very brutal-they were sending a message. In criminal matters they were brutal b/c police work wasn't preventative- it acted to discourage crime/revolt by treating those convicted very harshly.

I need to restate this more clearly because I think it is important, because Rayward's default assumption about Rome's unique brutality is widespread.

Thus. It is the opinion of a number of reputable historians that Rome was no more brutal than any other state-like organization in the "Europe" of the time.

Re: the book, I will certainly read it.

"the magnitude of these biological catastrophes is almost incomprehensible." Does the author give an estimate (even a rough one) of the proportion of the population that died during those three biological catastrophes?

That's my question. It's not like we have reliable census records or reports from the Roman Ministry of Health on which to base any estimate. It's just another speculation based on scant evidence, like the idea lead from Roman water pipes led to brain damage which caused the decline of Rome. Or Gibbon's hypothesis that Christianization caused the fall of Rome.

When I read about this, the estimate was up to 1/3 of the population,

The evidence is mainly indirect but not that scant. Entire cities became ghost towns, and in some cases never recovered. Infrastructure decayed to rubble. Coinage almost disappears from the archaological record for several deacdes. The Roman/Byzantine army was unable to hold conquests in Italy, or maintain the line of the Danube with the result that the Balkans fell to invading Slavs.
With regard to the "ice age" we have evidence from ancient trees (no growth at all in the years 535-36AD) and soot deposits, probably volcanic in origin, in ice cores at the appropriate depth.

Ancient sources tell us that during the 541 plague over ten thousand people died per day at Constantinople. Much of the city fell into ruin in succeeding generations with outlying portions abandoned and turned into farmland. A contemporary Persian chronicle claims that 90% of the people of Persia died. Those may be exaggerations (the Persian one almost certainly is) but it is evidence that the human losses were stupendous. And the first Chinese census under the Tang (c. 620AD) counted fewer people in much the same territory than the Han censuses had counted six centuries earlier.

Graveyards from the period have been excavated in various locations, including an isolated village in Bavaria which yielded human remains from which the identity of the plague pathogen was recently confirmed. In that particular village over half the residents died during the epidemic.

Thank you for two very interesting comments.

And yet Constantinople persisted for a long time, admittedly getting smaller and smaller, while Rome (the other Rome, the one in Italy) fractured.

But good points, thanks.

Rome's primary defense was it's Legions, whereas Constantinople relied upon geography, technology and its walls, in addition to her military.

Most significantly, the toll $ from the Bosporus prime real estate location...

the eastern regions were more heavily urbanized & the Roman empire was mostly an urban phenomenon. The larger tax base in the east allowed the Empire to survive b/c it could afford to maintain the legions. The west suffered a catastrophic downward spiral- less land-less revenue- hence smaller army-more land lost etc. The "barbarian settlements" in the west transferred tax revenue to the federated units "settled" there, so the "regular" army shrank as revenue shrank.

Yes, thank you for all this information, that's quite interesting.

However, this concerns the plague of 541 and this period, that is the time of the reconquest of the western Roman empire by Justinian. It is possible that this plague was the ultimate cause of its failure to achieve this re-conquest. But far from certain. It is important to remember that the Justinian reconquest never gained more than North-Africa, and south Italia. To cover the all domain of the original Western Roman empire, you had to go 2000km further North (to go up to the Rhine in Netherlands) and 2000km further West (to go up to modern Portugal)! In other words, even before the plague, Justinian never regained more than a small part of the western Roman empire. Moreover, the remaining parts were much more organized and would probably had been much fiercer adversaries for the Byzantine troops than the Vandals they had to fight in North-Africa. In Gaul, there was the powerful Frankish kingdom unified by Clovis 50 years earlier. In Spain, an equally powerful Visigoth kingdom.

So my point is: as interesting as the Justinian period may be, the western Roman empire was already long dead at this time and new, smaller, and well-entranched "empires" had already taken his place.

To understand the fall of Roman empire along the thesis of the book, remain the two other plagues discussed: the one of 145 and the one of 269. But the problem with them is that they came too early, as already mentioned in several comments, to explain a fall which took place essentially between 400 and 500.

So file me as unconvinced by the author's thesis. The plagues are not the culprits: they have an alibi.

ellsworth huntington -- overrated or underrated.

The plagues not only reduced the raw population, but they also sickened many if not most of the survivors. Many of the survivors were probably permanently weakened. Ensuring that economic output dropped for decades. In addition, the physical prowness of the average Roman soldier would have been reduced. Which would have effected their ability to rapidly traverse the empire (marching) and would have reduced their effectiveness in maintaining unit cohesion and holding a shield wall.

Assuming plague was roughly evenly distributed throughout the empire, wouldn't it have weakened enemies of the empire (at least enemies from within) equally? And if not evenly distributed, wouldn't they have drawn soldiers from fitter populations?

I'm fairly ignorant of the history of the Empire beyond Nero, so these may be obviously silly questions to anyone familiar.

"wouldn’t it have weakened enemies of the empire (at least enemies from within) equally? "

Most of the prominent enemies were migratory barbarian tribes coming from outside of Roman territory.

I believe plague disproportionately affected highly urban areas due to poor sanitation and close living quarters. Assuming Rome's foreign enemies were less urbanized (particularly the Germanic border tribes), perhaps they were less affected by plague.

Were epidemics really more common when the Roman Empire was descendant than when it was ascendant?

If so, why? Bad luck? Urbanization? Decline of water/sewer maintenance? Globalization (e.g., the Chinese Han empire pushing Siberian steppe barbarians westward, bringing novel germs with them to Europe?)

No, this is a red herring. Roman culture steadily lost its salience over a period of generations. Things rot over time. The empire slowly became a rent seeking disaster. The army became a confederation of alien peoples in the form of Foederati who could literally have given less of a shit about Rome.

I hate to agree with SS given his blatant racism, but the truth is Rome decided to outsource its security to Foederati. When the tribes rebelled, the Foederati did too. It was never based on culture and values, so when the winds changed so did the loyalty.

We’re going to see that now.

That 'little ice age' was the result of two massive volcanic eruptions in short succession, one in the northern and one in the southern hemispheres. A single major eruption cools the earth for several years, so the combination did actually 'dim the sun', cause crops to fail etc. In a sense, the Dark Ages started off, well, literally kinda dark.
It may have triggered the plague outbreak too, as abrupt climate changes can. (Admitting that plagues also 'just happen'). At the same time the Justinian was mounting his great re-invasion of the western empire to reclaim Rome, and had taken almost all of Italy. The plague destroyed the army... if there had been no plague would the empire have been restored? Alt-history novelists, start your engines.
*The influence of major eruptions on the collapse of dynasties, etc, is just starting to be studied because the precise geologic data is relatively new.

And yet one can't help but be drawn back to Gibbon's assertion, that the question is not why it fell but why it lasted as long as it did.

Yes, plagues. But plagues did not cause "the crisis of the third century." Nor did it cause military reverses. Or the growing power of the Germanic tribes (as expressed in their ability to field ever-larger invasion forces, leading inevitably to a defense-in-depth that decimated the outer provinces of the Empire). Or the lack of a succession principle and resources spent on luxuries and on the wars of succession instead of on defense, plus the necessity for emperors to prioritize guarding their own backs before guarding the Empire's borders.

So many reasons. And more interesting by far to discuss why Byzantium fell, and how the world might have been different if it hadn't.

There has been a general pattern over recorded history in the western half of Eurasia of centers of power moving north as the agricultural innovations of the Fertile Crescent slowly got adapted for shorter growing seasons, allowing northern lands to become more heavily populated. From this perspective, it's not surprising that Southern Europe was eventually overrun by Northern Europeans, simply because the ratio of Northerners to Southerners was likely climbing as the Agricultural Revolution became better adapted to higher latitudes.

more like the padded horse collar and heavy plow caused the center of gravity to move North-aided by the multiple field rotation system being advanced

There are several reasons why the signal to noise ratio is low in the comments on MR, but you're about 25% of the reason. Ban you, and the level of discourse immediately improves.

Ban Thiago, and he will return more powerful than you could possibly comprehend.

Exactly. As Mr. Obi-Wan Kenobi did in Star Wars.

The fun to boring ratio would go way down if Thiago wasn't here. He needs to stay.

The truth-to-lie would plummet, too.

In other words, since people die of natural causes we shouldn't worry about murder.

Not an historically unusual situation:

"Until the 1960s, scholars lacked an appreciation for the massive loss of life from what Alfred Crosby termed “virgin soil epidemics,” and so they drastically understated the size of the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere population. A standard estimate was 8 million for the entire hemisphere and 1 million north of the Rio Grande. In the 1960s, however, the anthropologist Henry Dobyns took account of disease to provide much higher estimates of 75 million for the hemisphere and 10–12 million north of Mexico. Although Dobyns’s estimates have been hotly debated, even advocates of much lower figures acknowledge the impact of devastating epidemics."

""also known as the Last Empire, that will be, at some point, be led by the Hidden One and unite all mankind."

So, the Devil will rule Brazil and conquer all of the rest of the world? Is this a common belief among Brazilians?

Not the Devil! The Devil doesn't actually exist: https://www.thisisyourbible.com/index.php?page=questions&task=show&mediaid=3472

The Hidden One is the messianic figure forerold by Daniel who will unite mankind under Brazil and fulfill Isaiah's prophecies. "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD." "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain"
Most real Brazilians believe in and pray restlessly for the Fifth Empire and believe it will be like the watchfires of a hundred circling camps .

You need a whole team of psychiatrists.

No, I don't. I am of remarkable mental stability.

The discontinuity between the Principate and the Dominate is understated and underappreciated. Any book that draws attention to the radical changes that took place during that time and labels them "the first fall" is a plus for understanding the "Fall" (writ large) of Rome, let alone the climatic and pathogenic analysis. Gonna have to pick this up soon.

Tyler, have you spoken to either of the Professors Grier recently? I'm curious what they think of Harper as a scholar or if they are aware at all.

More than a few in this and prior Republican (and Democratic) administrations have compared America to Rome as promoting trade and prosperity by imposing through force the peace (Pax Romana vs. Pax Americana). If an accurate comparison, then why not compare America's response to natural disasters to Rome's response to natural disasters. I suppose one would be called Pox Romana and the other Pox Americana.

Long way to go for that weak pun

Historically and conceptually inaccurate too, but that wouldn't stop Rayward.

For one thing, name a state actor in the Mediterranean basin that did anything via peace? Name one that didn't use force. (Actually Rome, even if by trying to buy off enemies by introducing them to luxury items, did more for trade than just about anyone back then.)

It's although interesting that in history when climate change causes a problem its always on the cooling side, not on the warming side. Similar thesis in "The great transition". about the climate cooling and the advent of the plague in the middle Ages

"The fact that his book states that the climate has been changing dramatically for thousands of years will be lost on the left, I am certain."

Also now you acknowledge the Roman warm period which needs to be ignored for climate models to work.

According to the sources I have read, the population of Rome maxed out about 300 CE at somewhat over a million. This suggests those first two "pandemics" were not all that dramatic.

The third one was indeed very serious. This is what led to the replacement of basically Greek and Albanian (Illyrian) speaking populations in the Balkans with Slavic (and a few others) populations, a very big deal.

You may want to consult "Catastrophe" by David Keys.

The argument is a massive volcanic eruption in A.D. 535 upended the weather all over the earth. Crop failure and famine and cold killed people massively, followed by plague epidemics. That led to the dark ages. It finished off the western Roman Empire. Massive population movements such as the Slavs, Huns, and Turks followed, and the explosion of the Arabs. The Eastern Roman Empire was fatally weakened by the disaster.

That led to the dark ages. It finished off the western Roman Empire.

The Western Empire began to implode demographically in the 3d century, something Diocletian attempted to address by the cack-handed measure of legally binding peasants to the land. A working and literate political society was pretty much destroyed in the Britannia at the beginning of the 5th century and certainly damaged in Gaul by the closing decades of the 5th century. Justinian exacerbated matters during the 6th century by expending a great deal in resources to reconquer north Africa to no net gain for civilization (the Vandal kingdom being adequate) and then liquidating the satisfactory Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy and doing wretched damage to life and property alike in his botched attempt to reconquer Italy.

The Africa provinces were necessary for the grain to support the large cities of Rome and Constantinople. Indeed, the population of Constantinople was dependent on the "free" African grain given out by the Emperor.

Like the American masses deprived of their good jobs by malefactors of great wealth and the Chinese they are in cahoots with.

No, not like that at all. In fact, you really couldn't be more wrong. But I don't think being incorrect will stop you from your faithful task.

You have a brain tumor.

1) Yes, it is. The American masses need welfare the same way Roman masses brutalized by their masters needed. Famous American blogger Alexander Scott notoriously pointed it out: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/31/the-poor-you-will-always-have-with-you/

2) I have no brain tumor. My brain workings are well inside the normal parameters.

Byzantium managed to shamble along for 80 years without the African provinces, so, no, they weren't 'necessary'.

They were a necessary pre-condition for a re-conquest of Rome and the Western Empire.

Byzantium still controlled Egypt, the major grainery after the West fell. And by the time Egypt was lost to the Arabs populatoion had crashed and could be fed without foreign food sources.

Byzantium depended more on Egyptian grain- Rome the Carthaginian

that is why the loss of Carthage to the Vandals was such a seminal event for the Western Roman empire- out was a massive revenue loss to the WEST.

"But how does The Fate of Rome relate to China?"

- overheard at a political science conference on China's growth last week

I wonder if these hypotheses need a corresponding theory of stability or change in the absence of environmental effects to really work. "Wilfully rebuilt" might do that work here, but in general I think we see too little of the implicit theories of stability underlying the thinking behind drivers of change.

I disagree. The renewed interest in the collapse of Rome goes back about 20 years, to Heather and Ward-Perkins, and others. It's just fascinating. (Incidentally, I'm glad the spate of ridiculous Vox-quality and Slate-quality comments -- and a few books -- about America being the new Rome has been debunked by Vaclav Smil and others.)

Also of interest, Luttwak's book on Byzantine "Grand Strategy." I.e., what military and non-military things did the Byzantines engage in that allowed them to survive longer than Rome proper?

Another extended book post. This is a great week to be alive.

William H. McNeill made the case in "Plagues and People" that epidemic disease brought down Rome. Classical medical writers don't describe much that sounds like smallpox or measles; McNeill suggests that the two great epidemics of 165-180 and 251-266 CE mark the arrival of these diseases in the Mediterranean world. He also notes the advent of bubonic plague under Justinian. McNeill's larger theory is that the opening of transportation links between civilizations commonly leads to a confluence of disease pools. In the Roman case, it was the opening of trade across Central Asia (the Silk Road) and the Indian Ocean that did the job. The effects may have reached further than Rome. The Han dynasty in China fell in 220, and again epidemics seem to have played an important role. Epidemics may also have furthered the spread of otherworldly religions in West (Christianity) and East (Buddhism). Later on the unification of much of Eurasia under the Mongols would be followed by another spread of bubonic plague.

Both major plague pandemics were preceded by serious cold periods. Something about cold weather makes Yersinia pestis, normally content to live as a free bacterium in certain flea guts, to mutate into a colony organism which creates conditions for it to be spread directly into the blood and lymphatic systems of flea host animals (including humans). And cold also kills crops and weakens populations to disease.

Easily one of the best commentariat on a post.

When the administrative state, welfare state, and national debt finally bring Washington DC to its knees, I wonder if people will blame the disintegration of the United States on hurricanes, global warming, and the opioid epidemic.

See also "Global Crisis" by Geoffrey Parker, about how climate (a "Little Ice Age" within the larger Little Ice Age that lasted from about 1300 to 1900) contributed to the wars and disruptions of the 17th Century.

It is interesting that the historical examples of climate change having bad consequences involve cooling, not warming, and how it is cooling that is more typically associated with more violent weather, floods, droughts, storms. The review of Global Crisis at Amazon is a case in point--it tells us how cold, storms, cold and wet summers and especially harsh winters, crop failures, etc. were a bad thing, then end by cautioning us of the lesson for current global climate change concerns. As if tehn current concerns involved a change toward cold rather than warmth.

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