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'The Dark and Profound Abyss'
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: Summation 2
© 2022 James LaFond
Chapter 2
“The sovereign of the Russian deserts [Czar] commands a greater portion of the globe,” and a comparison of the extent of Alexander's and the Mongols' conquests is contrasted in their emptiness and fleeting state with the long rule and stability of Rome, which ruled the Middle Sea—that perennial object of prosperity—from 100 B.C. through A.D. 500, which blows away the combined reigns of the Mongols, Macedonians and Russian Czars, and “might almost induce us to forgive the vanity or ignorance of the ancients.”
That Roman Empire extended at length as wide as the American nation, with enemies on either side, and was as deep from north to south as America, with enemies, rather than cheap labor to north and south. Rome was indeed a unique achievement of administration.
“The superb edifice of Roman power...the obedient provinces of Trajan, were united by law,” begins Gibbon, and then descends into a comedy of clear juxtaposition that just might have once inspired the Monty Pythons Flying Circus troop:
“They enjoyed the religion of their ancestors...the policies of religion by the senate were happily seconded by the habits of the enlightened and the prejudices of the superstitious...the various modes of worship that prevailed were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful...”
The general tone of Roman governance as beneficent should be taken from Gibbon's perspective, as a member of the elite who were the objects of governance in his own time, who lived upon the backs of the tools and subjects of governance, atop the suffering of a barely free to unfree multitude who equaled in their silence the slaves of Rome, who outnumbered their masters by at least ten-to-one. [1] As honest and as critical as gibbon is, the reader should recall that he was of the top 1% and when eh speaks of freedom, liberty, beneficence and prosperity, he is speaking of the top 1% with no regard for the human chaff beaten from the grain of governance.
That said, the man has style, and if a hundred of my class analogues of Gibbon's time had to suffer and die so that he could send this book down to me, eh, I'll count it as a brutal blessing. Perhaps if we imagine Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol curled up under Edward's desk, warming the author's feet on his quivering belly as the great man of letters dips his quill in the ink well, we might gain a more rounded perspective.
“And thus toleration induced not only a mutual tolerance but concord... the devote polytheist” [as cited, Herodotus is the model Polytheist] are presented as pre-ideological civilians not forever contending with each other over what exclusive truth was true, is presented as “a mild spirit of antiquity as they met before their respective altars” persuaded themselves that they agreed fundamentally and only differed in semantics. It is of some interest that we have utterly lost this ability to share perception and are ever bent on denying the perception of others.
“The moderating hand of a supreme magistrate, an eternal parent and omnipotent monarch,” required of such metaphysics is noted as a state that this reader sees as leading to a wider monotheism. Greek morals were based on man not God. Their “profound inquiry,” demonstrated the strength and weakness of the human understanding.”
Four Great Schools of Philosophy discussed by Gibbon
Platonic ideals, “an idea rather than a substance”
Stoics, he saw as lost in their work and unable to comprehend Creation.
Academics, “the modest science of the former induced them to doubt” stand for Gibbon's ridicule. It is so interesting that this is he ancient school of philosophy that is currently the framework for our entire worldwide system of learning.
Epicurians, “the positive ignorance of the latter induced them to a strident denial” are excoriated along with the academics.
Gods are objects of contempt for the elite is a well-stated point made by the author which seems perennial.
“The fashionable irreligion” of the elite in a world in which most people are religious, places Rome in a different position than the current American empire, as most Americans are not religious and have joined the fashionable elite in the worship of science and experts. In this way, perhaps due to the presence of electronic media, the population of Modern America seems more like the largely silent slaves of ancient Rome. Would this make America more or less robust than Rome?
“Viewing with a smile of booth pity and indulgence” concealing an atheistic sentiment beneath a religious sacrament the elite maintained the structural of the cults that they had ceased to believe in for the benefit of manipulation. “They concealed the sentiments of the atheist under the sacardotal robes” conducting cults of “indifference for them” as a means to steer the people in “the folly of the multitude...”
Gibbon is brilliant in his assessment of the metaphysical lays of Imperial Rome.
The ancient wisdom that the “the form of superstition that had received the benefits of time and circumstance” were best suited to rule in the locale where they were born was a syncretic view that will be under constant attack through the progress of Gibbon's work until “the final destruction of paganism.” This reader sees this as a question of civic scale brought on by Rome itself and in our time by our notion of fundamental sameness.
“Every city in the empire was justified in maintaining its ancient ceremonies.”
The author then points out that the strident acts of racial and social distinction engaged in by Athens and Sparta had doomed them to demographic decline.
“The zeal of fanaticism” “over the cold policy” of rule.
Athenian citizen numbers reduced by a third during their hegemony.
Romans multiplied by inclusion.
The Spartans had a ruinous exclusivity.
Gibbon again considers the Roman system of expanded social scale and that thus would ultimately clash with their constitution, in that the more people who are included in a republic or democracy the more all freedoms are lost to “an unwieldy multitude.”
1 3rd to 1 4th senatorial property must be in Italy, meaning that slavery was centralized. This seems to echo our current American plight where citizens have less rights than “persons” without citizenship, indicating that the plight of the American Citizen under the American person is further advanced here and now than the rule of the Roman under German invaders was in the 170s, that our plight is more akin to the Rome of 400.
Ancient authors were often Italian but not Roman.
Despite Gibbon;s love of the Roman system, he notes that roman administration constituted “the fashioning of the yoke.”
That the conquest of Pompey in Asia was triggered by King Mithridates massacring, 80,000 Roman aliens, almost all merchants, and saw most savage reprisals, suggests that America might see something less violent but no less economically impactful concerning the sale of public lands to private and international entities.
-1. 10-1 were the salve to free ratios of Athens and Sparta, polities that practiced less intensive agriculture than Rome, operated at much smaller scale [with scale of operation encouraging multiplication of labor to managerial units]. Figuring the Roman empire of the Antonines at 120 million, half being slaves, is an absurd ratio. With elite Romans sometimes owning tens of thousands of slaves, and typical elites owning hundreds at the minimum, this reader is inclined to place the minimum slave-to-free ratio in Rome at 3-to-1, meaning that if the figure of a sixty million free Romans would require at least 180 million slaves. Noting the Roman engineering as surpassing modern engineering up until the late 1800s, I am inclined to place the total population of slaves serving the 60 million people who enjoyed the benefits of Roman law, at between 180 to 240 million.
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