Posted by: ken98 | September 16, 2009

Size matters

Day 4 Ken here…
The Age of the Antonines

Whew! it’s really late and I should be in bed – but I’m still determined to get at least a few words on the page.

The 1st Chapter continues, with a review of roman military structure, and then a rousing tour of the provinces – which is more interesting to us now than Gibbon probably intended as he’s comparing the Augustan provinces to late 18th century Europe: Germany is still shattered into micro states, Eastern Europe is just the Holy Roman Empire, and Bosnia is part of Turkey and is the muslim/christian frontier. Somehow all those Augustan province names still resonate in our minds – but now as ocean liners: Lusitania, Liguria, etc., and as fairy-tale names like Noricum and Pannonia which always sounded like parts of Narnia to me.

I can still remember the 1st time I read this passage as a kid (soon, we’ll pass the number of pages I managed to read each time i tried to re-read Gibbon – somewhere in the 50-60 page range – and these reminiscences will stop.) Lusitania, Baetica, Tarragona, Rhaetia, Illyricum, Maesia, Dacia, and Achaia – I love these names!  It’s also so typically Roman that all of Greece (Athens, Corinth, Sparta, Thebes, Argos, etc) is lumped into one province (Achaia) and not even given the name of any of its famous ancestors – just the name of a political alliance (Achaean League)!  How the mighty have fallen – and it’s only been 300 years or so.  Fast forward 300 years and will the United States, Canada, and Mexico be forgotten and joined together in the Western Hemisphere, Northern Sector?

Relativity or How to Lie with Numbers

I mentioned I was/am a failed Grad student – my field was Economic Medieval History – an oxymoron to both the History department and the Economics department – thus no job opportunities, and little incentive to complete the arduous climb to graduation and beyond.  Little incentive except I love History and love numbers.  My real dream was to do Economic modelling of Ancient History.

Reading tonite I was suddenly reminded of the kinds of things I used to love to write into my summaries and precis on books we had to read each week in Graduate Seminars – a kind of process of hazing which I can go into in more depth when I can keep my eyes open to type.  But the following (based in part on Gibbon, and in part on some very quick research on the web) is just the kind of thing I love to do with History and I guess shows the quirky way my mind works:

Gibbons est of Total Legions around the time Hadrian (approx 120’s AD) 30 legions,with auxiliaries + horse = 550,000 men

Roman Population 47 AD: est 45-50 million, global pop 300 million
Current Population US: 307 million, global pop 6,700 million
United States Armed Forces, Current, Active + Reserve: 2.8 million
(due to the Roman Economy, and the state of seeds and agriproduction),
the productivity of the Roman agricultural sector gave on average a low grain productivity of 8 : 1 (8 grains produced for every one sown) – modern productivity is on the order of 200 : 1

so although the ratio of the armed forces to total population is about the same for Ancient Rome and for the United States (around 1% – US=2.8/307, Rome=.550/50) – Rome’s productive capacity was 27 times smaller than the U.S in very broad terms. What that means for the empire is that even with conservative estimates of comparative productive abilities, they were supporting an military which in modern US terms would have been maybe 50-60 million people. That is the comparative economic LOAD or COST the military had on the Empire – an immense expense. This becomes very important later when economic times are tough, people fewer, and the Empire starts to fall to pieces – eventually, as we’ll see, the military ate up pretty much the entire economy of the Mediterranean basin and by the time of Diocletian (280’s) became the country itself – the Empire existed to support its military – not the other way around.

better get to bed

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