Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Europe’s Great Mistake: The Roman Empire

The Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC. It took the Romans about 300 years (by 218 BC) to consolidate their rule over just the Italian peninsula, and it took them another 350 years to reach the highest extent of their empire (under Emperor Trajan in 117 AD). Contrast the slow progress of Rome with the rapid expansion of other empires. The Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan and his descendants had amassed six times more territory than the Roman Empire in just 50 years. The Maurya Empire of India had become as large as the Roman Empire in just 5 years. The Spanish Empire became twice as large as the Roman Empire in just 30 years.

There is one important reason for the slow expansion of the Roman Empire. The Romans were obnoxious people and they were the masters in the art of making enemies. Every tribe which lacked Greek and Roman traditions was labelled by the Romans as barbarians. The Gauls, the Visigoths, the Goths, the Ostrogoths, the Avars, the Celts, the Saxons, the Burgundians, the Suebi, the Franks, the Alans, the Britons—all of them were barbarians, according to the Romans. It didn’t matter to the Romans that these tribals were not invaders from Asia, Africa, or South America—they were the original inhabitants of Europe. They were natives. 

Would you like to be part of an empire that disrespects your community, cares nothing for their life, and labels them as barbarians? Most non-Roman tribes in Europe did not want to be part of the Roman world because they never got any respect from the Romans. They fought the Romans for every inch of soil. With much of Europe pitted against them, the progress of the Roman Empire had to be slow. In the time of Emperor Augustus, the Romans tried to develop a policy of assimilating the barbarians by getting them to serve in the Roman military, but by then it was too late since most of Europe had already developed an anti-Roman ideology. 

The Colosseum, built by Emperors Vespasian and Titus in the first century AD, is a tourist attraction in Rome. Most of the gladiators who died in the Colosseum and other such arenas were the European barbarians who were unlucky enough to be captured by the Romans. Some were political prisoners and Christian martyrs. In a single sporting season at the time of Emperor Trajan 10,000 gladiators were killed in just 123 days. No other culture in the world has turned the killing of humans into a spectator sport on the scale that the Romans did. Entire city, including the intellectuals and the political elite, used to sit in the Colosseum (and other such stadiums) and watch humans being tortured and killed.

Try to imagine what the Western reaction would be if an edifice like the Colosseum had been built in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China—anywhere outside Europe. They would have held this edifice as the ultimate proof of the vileness and the bloodthirstiness of the culture which had built it. They would have passed 100 United Nations resolutions condemning the structure and demanding that it be pulled down or branded as a land of evil. They would have written hundreds of books and articles condemning it. But the Colosseum is today regarded as one of the great examples of Western art, architecture, and culture. The gladiators are mythologized as the symbols of Roman valor, fighting skills, and courage.

In my article, “The Myth of Western Military Superiority,” I wrote: “[The West] is a civilization of marketers, advertisers, propagandists, publicists, fiction writers, and fake historians. Their forte is in bragging, self-promotion, and selling propaganda.” If they can sell the Colosseum as an example of sophisticated culture, and the gladiators as an example of bravery and valor, then they can sell any nonsense to their own people and to the people in other cultures. The Western version  of history is an abortion in the womb of the past. The Western historians do not present a fair picture of the past—their account is completely one-sided and false. They always try to abort the non-Western perspectives of the past. 

The irony is that if the Roman Empire had not fallen in 476 AD, and the Kingdom of Goths had not arisen in its place, Christianity might not have conquered Western Europe. Even in the Eastern Roman Empire, Christianity could not make any progress, despite the efforts of Constantine the Great, till the Romans were in control in Western Europe. I am not interested in romanticizing the Visigoths, but compared to the Romans, the Visigoths were a paragon of good governance. The Visigoth Kings did not brand other tribes as barbarians. They did not force other tribes to fight as gladiators. Many European tribes, which were the implacable enemies of the Romans, voluntarily joined the Kingdom of the Goths, and they accepted the Visigoth religion, which was Christianity. 

The great teacher of Christianity, St. Augustine, did his work in Carthage. In his time, Carthage was a center of Christian learning. But the Roman rule in Carthage (and Egypt) was so bad (corrupt, extortionist, violent, and unstable) that when Islam arrived in North Africa in the middle of the seventh century AD, people willingly converted. They were eager to get rid of their Roman past which had brought them nothing except misery, violence, and the social status of barbarians.

Just read the account of the corruption, chaos, and violence that the Western Crusades (which were conceived in Rome) perpetrated in the Levant during the 200 years of rampage (the eleventh to thirteenth centuries). They destroyed the Byzantine Empire which they were supposed to protect. They defiled the culture of the Holy Land (Jerusalem) which they wanted to liberate. They spawned decline, destruction, and decay wherever they went. The 200 years of Crusades became the phase of highest growth for Islam. This was the period when people in the Levant, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Transoxiana, and other regions rejected West European culture and en masse converted to Islam.

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