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e. The voices who argue that America should and could be an imperial superpower, but lacks sound practical judgment.
The thesis of this paper is that the history of the Roman Empire can be matched to that of the United States in terms of economy, political power, as well as aspirations. In this sense, present day America is very similar to fourth of even fifth century Rome; this poses one stringent yet logical question: Will America follow in the footsteps of ancient Rome and meet its demise in a similar fashion? Although this paper cannot possibly answer this question, it will examine the current political, economic, social and cultural situation in America and compare it to the circumstances leading to the fall of the Roman Empire. This paper will also include a brief history of the Roman Empire, followed by an analysis of the factors which have brought its decline, and ultimately its fall in the fifth century a.D. The fourth section of the paper will consist of a parallel between Rome and America which strives to illustrate the similarities between the two superpowers. The fifth and final section will provide the conclusions of the paper.
II. The Roman Empire: A Short Overview
Instead of presenting a chronological history of Rome, this section will provide a brief analysis of the Roman contribution to posterity particularly in terms of political, legal and economic culture. Similarly to other ancient nations, the origins of Rome are clouded by legend. Legend has it the first inhabitants of Rome were the refugees from defeated Troy, led by the hero Aeneas. This claim is shared by Roman historians - such as Appian and Livy - and Roman poets alike, such as Rome's greatest poet, Virgil who wrote his epic the Aeneid as an ode to the founding father of his city. The Roman Empire succeeded the Roman Republic whose lifespan covered 500 years, from 510 BC to the first century BC. The Republic had been considerably weakened by the conflicts between Gaius Marius and Sulla, and Caesar and Pompey. The transition from Republic to Empire was marked by several events such as Caesar's appointment as dictator, the victory of his heir at the Battle of Actium, and the Senate granting Octavian the honorific title of Augustus. It was during the time of Augustus that the Roman Empire covered the most extensive territories encompassing England, Wales, most of Europe including the Balkans and the Black Sea, coastal Northern Africa, Egypt, and Asia Minor, i.e. Southwest Asia, and Levant i.e. The area of the Middle East bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, northern Arabian Desert and Upper Mesopotamia to the east i.e. modern day Iraq and western Iran. The inhabitants of the Empire were called Romans and obeyed Roman law.
The Empire was born into the ashes of the old Roman Republic which came to an end in 21 B.C. after a hundred years of civil war and social turmoil which had the Roman armies wage war against each other. Julius Caesar's nephew, Octavian who claimed to save the republic, when in fact he was inaugurating a new form of government, i.e. The principate, and with it, the first totalitarian rule. The forms of republican government were maintained, some even until the end of the Empire in the fifth century a.D. By the second century a.D., the Roman emperor had control over immense territories, stretching from Scotland to the Sahara, from the Atlantic to the Euphrates. Roads were built to link major and minor cities, some of which are still usable today. Naval traffic expanded. In fact, a survey regarding the shipwrecks during the Roman era showed that there were three times more shipwrecks during the first two centuries a.D. than during the period 400-200 B.C (Murphy: 42). Ancient Rome, the capital of the Empire had a population of over a million people, an impressive number which was not matched until London during the time of Shakespeare. Roman culture was largely a reinterpretation of classical Greece culture and civilization (Fears: 2005) in the sense that Rome became "the bearer of Greek culture" (Ibid.). Examples of the influence of Greek culture are the writings of Thucydides that served as model for Tacitus, and Herodotus for the historian Livy. As far as sculpture and architecture, classical Greece was also the model for Roman creations such as the Pantheon which was the embodiment of new Roman spiritual values but also of the great Greek legacy in the area of architecture. The peak of the empire in terms of territorial expansion was reached under Trajan who conquered Dacia i.e. modern Roman and Moldova, as well as parts of neighboring Bulgaria, Hungary and Ukraine, and Mesopotamia encompassing a staggering total of around 2.3 million sq miles of land, and also the Mediterranean Sea which the Romans referred to as "mare nostrum," Latin for "out sea." Although vast and thus heterogeneous, one of the most striking feature of Roman life in the Empire was the fact that Rome was an urban culture which meant that the vitality and prosperity of the Empire largely depended on its cities (the History Guide: A Brief Social History of the Roman Empire). The core of the Roman family was the paterfamilias, Latin for "father of the family." It was an absolute patriarchal society in which the paterfamilias possesses "the power of a father," i.e. complete authority over his children regardless how old they were, and over his wife. This means he could kill or sell them into slavery. He could also murder his wife if she was discovered as adulterous. The era of the Roman Empire was an age of spirituality which focused on the concept of 'soul'. Monotheism began to grow and develop as this was the age which would generate both Christianity and Islam. The Romans believed there was an imperial divinity which had decided the Roman people was to be given an empire. The temple of this divinity they referred to as Jupiter Optimus Maximus was located in the Roman forum of every city in the empire. The notion of citizenship was also highly spiritual in the sense that people became citizens in order to honor the divinity, and their divine empire. The Roman legal tradition is also a very interesting matter. It was during the Roman republic that Roman law established the foundation for the system of jurisprudence that is still active today in half of the world. Of course, during the age of empire Roman law was refined and modified. Roman jurists such as Ulpian set up the legal system of the empire on the ideals of natural law which was interpreted as the law of God, i.e. The dichotomy between right and wrong. The duty of jurists was to translate that dichotomy into the law of mankind - jus gentium - or the law of the individual - jus civile. Both laws sprung from the concept that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Power in the Roman Empire resides in the hands of one man, more precisely the emperor. The emperor is supported by the military and the senate; he is in charge of the economy of the empire. Moreover, both "good and bad emperors controlled the expression of political opinion" (Starr: 8). This severe control of thought originated in the Hellenistic monarchies but also derived from the senatorial distinction between liberty and license which had censored the plebeians for much of the era of the Roman Republic. The Roman army was one of the greatest and most cost-efficient examples of military forces in history with over 350,000 soldiers guarding the frontier of the Empire. As far as infrastructure, the network of Roman roads and bridges was very much ahead of its time. As a matter of fact, one can see a bridge built in the first century B.C. even today. The economic unity of the Mediterranean world during the era of the Roman Empire was not reiterated until contemporary times. It is important to mention a few flourishing centers of commerce and trade throughout the empire: Cologne in Germany, London in Britannia, and Alexandria in Egypt. Wealth was the criterion for advancement in Roman government. Wealth was measured in land and represented a true source of power. Nonetheless, the land created a strong bond between the Senator and the geographical area where the land i.e. The wealth was located. In fact, "Roman Senators were required to own land and maintain residence in Italy, as well as in their native territories" (Miles: 655.). However it becomes quite clear that high officials and Senators used their influence to protect certain areas and thus their own interests. Although this does not mean they were exclusively self-seeking, it was very important that they avoided the involvement of the central Roman government in the…[continue]
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