Posted by: ken98 | September 19, 2009

How to throw a Revolution

Day 8 – Ken here

Gibbon ends Chapter 2 and begins Chapter 3 by detailing Agriculture and Trade.

And Now For Something Completely Different

and dear to my heart – economics…

Actually the Trade part, and the flow of gold out of the Empire is fascinating. The first 2 centuries A.D. were a free-for-all for trade between India and Rome, mainly metal (Gold and Silver – a lot of gold) pouring out of the West (together with come poorer quality trade goods: linens, etc) and very high cost spices, jewels, etc pouring in from the East. As long as the Empire kept the Middle East open (till the mid 600s basically) the trade routes were pumping.

What’s fascinating to me are the very long term cycles you can find in History – all that gold and silver puddled in India for centuries – causing wide-spread inflation in the West (Gibbon can’t account for it when he notes how the gold and silver exchange ration kept on climbing and climbing – and rejects the rise (DF Ch2 p.82) – but prices actually went up by 600-700% between 0 A.D. and 600 A.D. – by 300% by 300 A.D. alone – which (when we get to Diocletian) we will see actually caused a revolution and a dictatorship (vaguely reminiscent of the Nazi rise to power in Germany with the German hyperinflation of the post-World War I Wiemar Republic).
(see links – Roman Prices).

The fascinating part is that it was STILL SITTING THERE when the British got to the Indian subcontinent in the 1700’s and marveled at the comparative abundance of precious metals in India (gold and silver were much more common in India than Europe) – but they were marveling in part at European silver imported a 100o years before and still in circulation.

Interesting note: the account in Gibbon of the annual sailing of the Indian fleet appears almost word for word in a scholarly blog on Facebook on Indian (ancient) Trade.

The Beginning of the Empire – or How to subvert a Republic

Octavian (Augustus) 1st Emperor

Octavian (Augustus) 1st Emperor

Chapter 3 starts out with the forms Augustus used to make a total dictatorship palatable to the Roman Senate. The bottom line: Get people to focus on the form rather than the substance. It also helps to have the majority of the military under your command. And it helps to be a winner in a very very competitive society that adores winners and buries losers. And it helps to be immensely rich. And it helps to be very clear about your objectives and ruthless in carrying them out.

Octavian (Augustus) happened to be born into the tail-end of a society spiraling out of control: the society was immensely wealthy, immensely powerful militarily, had a unshakeable tradition of hard work, and a mania for fame and power. Fame within the narrow confines of the elite of Rome alone was driving Rome to split apart. Divisions which in a small city state resulted in intra-city fighting among small groups now involved entire continents, armies, and millions of people. The dice game covered almost the entire known Western world – and each Roman throw of the dice (to get even more fame and fortune within the small elite of Roman society) was resulting in wilder and wilder gyrations of war, pillaging, rapine, etc and peace – it was only a matter of time before the republic collapsed in a final paroxysm of civil war. We’ll come back to this idea of fame-driven societies later on.

That is unless someone won. In steps Octavian.

I’ve got to get going – going to try and go camping for one night this weekend – and have to pack – I’m running late as usual – I’ll be sleeping on the cold hard ground with nothing to eat if I don’t get my behind in gear and get organized.

until tomorrow

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