Posted by: ken98 | December 13, 2009

The Beginning of the 1000 Year Recession, and the First Longest Road

Day 94 – Ken here (M)
(DEF v.2, ch.17, pp.610-620)

Its a cloudy, rainy day, and looks to be a dark and stormy night. But it’s dry and warm inside, and the perfect weather for forcing yourself to get on with Gibbon’s overly-thorough (although inadvertently interesting) introduction to Constantine.

We will spend another 100 pages on Constantine and his sons, spend a l – o – n – g 140 pages on Christianity and Constantine, and Christianity and Heresy (where, Gibbon will get himself, once again, in hot water), and then onto the (apostate) emperor Julian (whom Gibbon idolizes – and rightly so) for the majority of the remaining part of volume 2.

For now, we have an overview of the new, bloated, efficient Roman empire – one built to WIN WIN WIN the arms/war race with the barbarians, but one which achieved its aims by LOSING the very things it sought to protect itself from in the barbarian world (losing – peace, prosperity, freedom, rule of law) – (not unlike the Vietnam-era phrase (here) “it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it”).

In the end, the empire becomes a burnt-out shell, which, unsurprisingly, (since nature abhors a vacuum as we all know) gets filled with something completely different (something that looks like the beginnings of modern Europe – Fuedalism).

Gibbon continues with an outline of the NEW government – the Autocracy or Dominate (Dominus = Latin for Lord), started by Diocletian, and fleshed out under Constantine. We look at the Prefects, governors, law profession, and new military.

The Story
Civil Government

  • Offices – Praetorian Prefects, no longer military bodyguard commanders, or (later) prime ministers, now = civil “vice-presidents” in charge of vast groups of provinces – there are 4 Prefects now: of the East, of Illyricum (Danube), of Italy & Africa, of the Gauls, Spain, Britain (all the 116 provinces grouped under one of the 4)
  • Offices – Prefects of Constantinople, Rome not subject to 4 Preatorian Prefects – in charge or fires, sewers, police, port, aqueducts, markets, etc – kind of super-mayors – originally a kind of martial-law judge with arbitrary powers (Augustan creation), he eventually supplanted the annual elected judges (called praetors), and became the head of the Senate in Rome and chief judge. Constantinople was given a Prefect right from the start in imitation of Rome
  • Offices – Pro-Consuls, Augustal Prefect, Vicar (Vice-Prefect) – all of the provinces (now 116) were grouped also into 11 Dioceses (the Imperial term which gave us the ecclesiastical word)
  • Offices – (Governors) Pro-Consuls (3), Consulars (37), Correctors (5), Presidents (71) – each of the provinces (116) had one type of these governors
  • Gibbon notes 2 kinds of justice evolving (although he doesn’t recognize exactly what is transpiring) – the rich are tried by the Prefects, the poor by the governors. In effect, this makes the governors subsidiary to the the important, rich men of his territory, further alienating the local, large landowner from his local city, and tying him to the larger empire. Creates a more stable empire politically, but weakens it militarily and economically by cutting out small-scale innovation and competition intra-empire
  • Gibbon briefly describes the profession of Imperial Law – began in earnest (ironically) in the middle of the Crisis of the Third Century (200’s) – and rants briefly on the supposed decline of the Law profession due to the influence of non-noble, comman-man lawyers destroying the noble standards/traditions of Roman Law
  • Military broken up into 35 commands – with NO CIVIL authority (unlike old Roman governors, who had supreme civil and military authority in their provinces). Called Dukes, the highest rank, called Counts or companions. Legions were reduced in size
  • Feudalism in full flower in Medieval literature - Roland pledging fealty to Charlemagne from a manuscript of Chanson de Geste

    Feudalism in full flower in Medieval literature - Roland pledging fealty to Charlemagne from a manuscript of Chanson de Geste

    Beginning of the 3 Orders – Nobility, Church, Peasants, the end of Antique Prosperity, and the Beginning of the 1000 year Recession
    Involuntarily, unconsciously, the later empire undid the work of centuries in dismantling the city-state (and loyalty to one’s native land), and promoted the mega-state (empire). In the process, new castes or classes were created, which tied rich, powerful people first to the emperor, second to the empire, and third to their own lands. Barbarian invasions, civil wars, and the inherent drive for empire to become bigger (either externally into neighboring territory, or internally into citizen’s lives) were a part of it. But, the static 3 Orders – church, nobility, peasant, were put in place on a legal footing in Constantine’s day (early 300’s), and stayed in place until the French Revolution (1789) in Europe, and the Russian Revolution (1917) in Eastern Europe/Asia. That’s a span of 1,400-1,600 years – quite the run.

    Seal of the Soviet Union - The (second) longest road from Capitalism to Capitalism (the first being Feudalism, and Constantine's Reforms in the early 300's)

    Seal of the Soviet Union - The (second) longest road from Capitalism to Capitalism (the first being Feudalism, and Constantine's Reforms in the early 300's)

    There are parallels and differences with today – unlike the later Roman empire, we have vast accumulations of human effort/wealth called corporations that control significant portions of our lives. We need something just as big (example: Big Government) to provide the common man with at least a nominal place at the table.

    That said, it is Big Corporations and Big Government that strive against the engines that provide new trades/opportunities for economic growth. If the present lies in the core and the large players in a society, then the future lies in the small players and the edges (the littoral) of a society. The Later Romans systematically dismantled and out-lawed individual, small enterprise, and so became strong, but ceased to grow, and eventually evaporated their initial capital over 15 decades, disappearing entirely by the late 400’s. What was left was the skeleton of an economic system – farmer, soldier, and (the new) church-member (priest, monk, bishop) – ie Feudalism. Feudalism – the longest road between Capitalism and Capitalism – to paraphrase (here) a more modern experience of the same.

    Feudalism - Medieval illumination - Cleric, Knight, Workman - all 3 Orders are beginning in our current time - the time of Constantine

    Feudalism - Medieval illumination - Cleric, Knight, Workman - all 3 Orders are beginning in our current time - the time of Constantine

    The net effect was to destroy the economic and political engines (local fame, local political strength, glorification of one’s own city, drive for trade/money/power at the local level), that had made the Mediterranean a place worth conquering for the Romans, and substituting empire-wide, top-down, soviet-style, gulag trade and industry sites. Trade/Shipping became compulsory and a mandatory inherited (from your father) occupation – small tradesmen in the provinces and farmers became city/country serfs – bound to the land, or ( in the case of small landowners) bound to own the land (unable to sell their property, liable for the horrendous taxes of the late empire).

    This process had been going on for centuries – since the beginning of the empire – but was regularized and made into law by Diocletian and his successors.

    Quotable Gibbon: Once again Gibbon Warns of the Extreme Inadvisability of Letting the Common Man Do Anything of Importance
    Gibbon definitely betrays his upper-class prejudice though-out the Decline and Fall. Over and over again, he apologizes for elites that act badly, and places the blame for civilization’s decline at the inappropriate, shocking, dangerous, and irrational behavior of common people, when allowed to act as professionals. This from Gibbon – on the decline of the Law due to the influx of commoners:

    “The honour of a liberal profession has indeed been vindicated by ancient and modern advocates, who have filled the most important stations with pure integrity and consummate wisdom; but in the decline of Roman jurisprudence the ordinary promotion of lawyers was pregnant with mischief and disgrace. The noble art, which had once been preserved as the sacred inheritance of the patricians, was fallen into the hands of freedmen and plebeians, who, with cunning rather than with skill, exercised a sordid and pernicious trade. Some of them procured admittance into families for the purpose of fomenting differences, of encouraging suits, and of preparing a harvest of gain for themselves or their brethren. Others, recluse in their chambers, maintained the gravity of legal professors, by furnishing a rich client with subtleties to confound the plainest truth, and with arguments to colour the most unjustifiable pretensions. The splendid and popular class was composed of the advocates, who filled the Forum with the sound of their turgid and loquacious rhetoric. Careless of fame and of justice, they are described for the most part as ignorant and rapacious guides, who conducted their clients through a maze of expense, of delay, and of disappointment from whence, after a tedious series of years, they were at length dismissed, when their patience and fortune were almost exhausted.”
    (DEF, v.2, ch.17, p.617).

    after a tedious series of years…when their patience and fortune were almost exhausted – sounds like Gibbon has a personal axe to grind – I can’t help thinking there’s much more of 18th century England in his complaints than 4th century Rome. Kind of puts the (very plebeian) American Revolution in perspective from an upper class British elite view. What were those dangerous, childish Americans thinking – trying to make national decisions for themselves?

    Gibbon Theses
    Separation of Civil and Military a Mistake
    It ensured the reigning monarch a civil war-less reign, but slowed or stopped the military machine that had been holding back the Germans/barbarians for centuries – net result: slower response, terrible coordination of materiel in a war effort.

    This, per Gibbon:

    ” The emulation, and sometimes the discord, which reigned between two professions (the Civil and the Military) of opposite interests and incompatible manners, was productive of beneficial and of pernicious consequences. It was seldom to be expected that the general and the civil governor of a province should either conspire for the disturbance, or should unite for the service, of their country. While the one delayed to offer the assistance which the other disdained to solicit, the troops very frequently remained without orders or without supplies, the public safety was betrayed, and the defenceless subjects were left exposed to the fury of the barbarians. The divided administration, which had been formed by Constantine, relaxed the vigour of the state, while it secured the tranquillity of the monarch.” (DEF, v.2, ch.17, p.619).

    Strange Note: On Quaint Customs of the English
    For some reason (and I remember this from my Graduate History classes) the English like to substitute English-ized names for native foreign names (example: obstinate resolution to call Iran Persia ). They do it even when it doesn’t make much sense, except to give the English historian the satisfaction of being the inventor/creator of a whole new nomenclature (which does NOT have strange un-anglo-saxon words to pronounce). There are a multitude of examples in this chapter alone (in these last 10 pages alone): vicarius (a kind of Roman governor) – Gibbon renames him 1st vicar (which immediately sounds “normal”, but confuses the governor with the Anglican Church official), then calls them vice-prefects – a term found nowhere else in history. The 3 new “castes” or orders created in the later empire – Illustri, Spectabili, Clarissimi, Gibbon renames the Illustrious (OK – that’s not so bad), Respectable, Honorable. It’s hard enough trying to keep track of all these new orders, without having to memorize their new English equivalents.

    I know, whine whine complain complain – I’ll get to make serious objections when I write my 1st 3000 page history.

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