Thursday, December 8, 2016

Faded Glory

I started off with an idea for a post. It is a good idea. But then something I read made me say, "Not today."

I am in the midst of reading Bernard Cornwell's "The Saxon Tales," I'm on the fourth volume of that series, Sword Song. The series follows a character named Uhtred, born a Saxon in Northumbria, but captured by the Danes after the death of his father, also named Uhtred. Confused yet?

If you are not familiar with the early history of the British Isles then you might not know what the heck I'm talking about. Aren't the Saxons German, and the Danes, you mean from Denmark, those guys? Well, yes and no. We are talking about Vikings, but not really. Not if you know what "viking" really means.

And there's a reason why the term "Anglo-Saxon" has the meaning it does. (But that's for another time perhaps.)

Early in its history Britain was populated by Britons, Picts, and Celts and no doubt other folk whom I cannot recall at the moment. King Arthur was a Briton, probably from somewhere in what we now call Wales. This bit from Wikipedia might give you some clues of what happened after the time of Arthur and when the Romans were getting ready to leave -
As the Roman occupation of Britain was coming to an end, Constantine III withdrew the remains of the army, in reaction to the barbarian invasion of Europe. The Romano-British leaders were faced with an increasing security problem from seaborne raids, particularly by Picts on the East coast of England. The expedient adopted by the Romano-British leaders was to enlist the help of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries (known as foederati), to whom they ceded territory. In about 442 the Anglo-Saxons mutinied, apparently because they had not been paid. The Romano-British responded by appealing to the Roman commander of the Western empire, Aëtius for help (a document known as the Groans of the Britons), even though Honorius, the Western Roman Emperor, had written to the British civitas in or about 410 telling them to look to their own defence. There then followed several years of fighting between the British and the Anglo-Saxons. The fighting continued until around 500, when, at the Battle of Mount Badon, the Britons inflicted a severe defeat on the Anglo-Saxons. (Source)
Well, rather than go on and on about this, let me get to my point. There is a paragraph on page 53 of Sword Song which is about the time Uhtred is arriving at the "palace" of Sigefrid, a Danish warlord in  Lundene (what we now call London). Part of it, the part which inspired this post, reads:
The great hall was lined with Roman pillars and its walls were of brick, but here and there patches of marble facing had somehow survived. I stared at the high masonry and marveled that men had ever been able to make such walls. We built in wood and thatch, and both rotted away, which meant we would leave nothing behind. The Romans had left marble and stone, brick and glory. Bernard Cornwell, "Sword Song"
That bit really struck me. Right after I read it, I thought of standing here -

Where is that you ask? The city of Rome, right outside the Flavian Amphitheater (what some call, inaccurately our lovely guide told us, the Coliseum). Those flagstones were laid down over 2,000 years ago. When Christ walked the hills of Galilee, Romans walked upon those stones. They are still there. Though what they surround is now in ruins.

What happened to that mighty empire? The empire which stretched from northern Britain (where Hadrian built his wall to keep my ancestors out) to the northern coast of the Persian Gulf. Which bordered the dark forests to the east of the Rhine down to the sands of the Sahara. Where did they go?

You can see the remains of their roads, their aqueducts, and buildings throughout Italy, western Europe, Africa, Spain, and the Middle East. It was a long lasting empire which lasted over 400 years, then, fragmented, it broke into a Western Empire and an Eastern Empire. The western portion lasted almost a hundred years after the collapse of the old empire. The Eastern Empire, what later scholars would call the Byzantine Empire, would last into the 15th Century. It died when the capital, Constantinople (modern Istanbul) fell to the invading Ottoman Empire. The Muslim Ottoman empire would last until after World War I, nearly 500 years after the fall of Constantinople.

But the Roman Empire left much behind. Its history, its traditions, a legacy of conquest, but also a legacy of strong government. The Romans were brilliant, practical engineers. They built things to last.

But the citizens of Rome became lazy and bored. They wanted free food, free entertainment, the well known "bread and circuses." They were too "civilized" to defend their empire, soon proper Romans couldn't even be convinced to join the Legions. Yes, in the Legion was hard service, battle, and the possibility of a brutal death on the borders of the Empire. But if one survived there was land to be had. Increasingly though, that land was on the borders.

Across those borders were hard-eyed men, they wanted what the Romans had. Land, prosperity. For many of those people outside of the Empire, other hard-eyed men were driving them from their ancestral lands. It was flee or die. One tribe would displace another, like dominoes those tribes pressed against Rome.

The Legions were weakening. Governors in the boundary areas began to take in some of those "barbarian" tribes. If they would serve in the Legions, if they would help protect Rome, they too could have land and perhaps even prosperity. So it happened.

But the Empire  was no longer governed by the Senate and the people of Rome. Now there were emperors, some good, some not so good, and some very bad indeed. But as things got worse and worse, things began to fall apart, the center could no longer hold.

And Rome fell.

Byzantium lasted longer. But she too was pressed from the south by the armies of militant Islam. Byzantium fell, the East was lost. The West had fragmented into petty kingdoms and warring overlords long before that.

I make no analogies to what is going on in these modern times. But I wonder some days.

Rome, so marvelously governed for so long. A prosperous and industrious people. What happened to them? Why did they lose all that they had?

Rome, in the ancient world, after the fall of the Greek democracies, the fall of the empire of Alexander, was civilization. Even more so than ancient Greece, even more so than Egypt with its god-kings and soaring architecture and science. Rome was a glimpse of the modern world to come, long centuries later.

Rome became Christian, allowing Christianity to spread and survive. Where would we be without that? I don't know.

But I often ponder, what became of the glory that was Rome?

I pray that the West is not fading as Rome faded...

Sic transit gloria mundi...


  1. I think a lot of it is in he process of happening again, for much the same reasons. You have conservative people, who look to the fortunes and future of US, while the Left looks to the fortune and Future of ME. ME always leads to destruction through factionalism. We are a group entity, and can only survive as such.

    Alas, ME is a very, very seductive way of life. Who doesn't want all his desires fulfilled? Many think that if the needs and wants of others not being met is the price, so what? Look at what the Left has inflicted on the Inner Cities, in order to maintain their grip on power. All those lives destroyed in the furtherance of ME. Just as the Roman Elites squandered their society on their own pleasures. No healthy society would ever allow itself to become like that, as it is a death sentence.

    I am hoping that the turn to the Right that has been going on, with the election of Republicans to Congress, state legislatures, and Governorships is a sign that we are turning back to US. But we still have to lance the boil of creatures like Mitch McConnell's presence in Congress, as he will work mightily to re-enforce ME. We have a chance now, to salvage the Civil Society, I hope we don't blow it.

    1. Hard to make those changes without Leaders- we may have lucked out and chosen a true Leader. The biggest bullet we dodged was Hillary, just not having her may have been enough to move to a neutral zone for four years and hope that the States got their acts together. But, every pick that Trump has made so far is clearly that of a man on a mission picking the best, smartest most capable people he can find. Yesterday's choice of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA is huge and will be a godsend to all of us, perhaps most importantly to Small Businesses and those Entrepreneurs that are the lifeblood of American Business. (That Al Gore is now feeling butt-hurt is just a bonus). Keep The Faith Shipmates!

    2. We may be on the right path now. Fingers crossed and all that.

  2. I was stationed in Italy for five years. Loved it, and so true about the Romans. Where I lived (Pozzouli--the birthplace of Sophia Loren)the streets still had the ruts from chariot wheels in then, and they were stone streets.We were surrounded by Roman built things, and as a history buff, I loved it. The local Italians used the old Roman tombs as a garbage dump. Sic transit and all that.
    I understand that Mussolini would lamentably inquire when the Romans turned into Italians!

  3. At the ripe old age of 62-ish, I found myself facing a hoard of high school sophomores, student teaching world history. My cooperating teachers were both basketball coaches, and so by the time we made it to ancient Rome, they were both gone. I pretty much had free reign, and so I did it my way: Railroad tracks. They are parallel, and if one looks at the Roman *republic*, and the USA, we see in uncanny number of parallels too. And so. We analyzed Rome through the lens of American history, to discover those parallels, and to see if there was some way to avoid what happened to Rome in 27BC--when the Senate appointed the Consul Octavian as Caesar Augustus, Dominus et Soter. Caesar August, Lord and Savior. (And a whole bunch of other adjectives to go along with that impressive title.)

    The question is, can we? I don't know. O'Reilly's analysis of NYC last night was telling. 80% of the Big Apple went to Clinton; and those on some sort of assistance far outnumber those who assist. Is NYC *our* "Rome"? I dunno...

    1. Personally I think California (well the coastal portions anyway) are our Rome. I've been seeing some interesting discussions on the 'Net regarding the "blue" states and how far out of step they are with the rest of the country.

      Bread and circuses in those states. Think free stuff. Little Rhody is guilty as well. Too many wanting something for nothing and not wanting to work for it.


  4. Your thoughts and doubts are echoed by many and I think SCOTTtheBADGER nailed it!!

    1. ME versus US, I think Scott is on point there.

  5. Me vs. Us, but remove the "party" tags. Remove the religious affiliation, and now what is the divider?
    Agreed with the article, disagree with the "religion" of the Arabs at the time, Rome was in freefall in the 400's. Turkey fell in the 600's and Spain in the 700's, shucks the muslim horde almost took Paris then and we're spreading on the shores to northern Italy. That's why my people's left the Pyrenees for safer waters. Knobby knees and all. But, I'm still on the lookout as to why, the northern Germanic tribes went from family units to city states, went from paganism, to catholic and saved the empire. There are not even Icelandic tales, of the why. Unusual.

  6. After living in Greece (Athens area) for 18 months, courtesy of Uncle Sam's Haze-Grey Yacht Club, it was obvious that the crumbling Greek ruins were the focus for most Greeks. Not in the case of "Look what can be achieved" but "Look how great we used to be." I told my parents that the Greeks seemed to be a nation looking backward. It was a distinct contrast to the U.S. - at the time.

    1. I did not know that. Should be a lesson to us all, remember and honor the past, but look to the future.

  7. "Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves! Britons never never never will be slaves!" You might be murdered in the street by a Muslim immigrant whose lifestyle you are subsidizing with your taxes, but slave? Not so much!

    I used to think about what it must have been like for your average Briton, back in the day, contemplating the fact that his nation was no longer the world's preeminent superpower. The older I get, the easier it is to imagine. What was inconceivable in my youth now appears to be just over the horizon.

  8. Another excellent post. It sounds almost as if you are channeling Lex, what with the wisdom in it.
    I join in the rejoicing that we escaped the wicked witch, am content with what we got and getting happier with each of his nominees.
    A great Democrat (there were some)once admonished "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Today he would be excoriated as a heartless SOB by the Democrats.
    Our survival is not assured, but at least as of last month our fate is not sealed either.

    1. Thank you much. Lex inspired me to do this blogging thing. I try not to let down the side, as it were.

      Copy all your last. Assured? No. Sealed? No, not yet anyway.

  9. We spent a month in Italy thanks to Halliburton. I was constantly awed by the buildings, the roads, the aqueducts, etc. that had stood the test of time. Yet, standing in the ruins of Rome, I wondered how it could have been destroyed - so ravaged. I felt the same way in Cusco, Peru and Machu Picchu. The Incas built in stone cut like no other civilization - amazing work. They had all that gold - and then they were gone. I think it was the wrath of God. We should all beware.

  10. That's funny, Jeanie and I just finished watching an eight part video drama about Uhtred and all of his adventures. I think it was on Netflix. It was most enjoyable - so much so we had to binge watch the last four episodes. 42 minutes, each one.

    1. Yup, I've watched it twice. "The Last Kingdom" is on Netflix and takes its name from the first book in the series.

      Good stuff.


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