~~ Edward Everett ~~
In the early winter of 368/9,Symmachus left Rome and headed north at the head of a large delegation of Roman senators, to the city of Trier in the Moselle valley. They used the cursus publicus, the officially maintained system of stopping off points where changes of horses and lodgings for the night were available. Symmachus and his friends were bringing aurum coronarium (crown gold) to the current ruler of the Roman Imperium, Valentinian; crown gold was a cash payment of thanks given over to emperors on their accession, and on every fifth anniversary, after a general whip-round amongst the cities of the Empire.
By the late fourth century, the Roman Army still maintained it`s centuries old iron grip upon it`s dominions: it remained a highly efficient, ruthless, disciplined and murderous killing machine of extraordinary power; yet, within thirty years, it would be unable to put adequately sized armies into the field without the use of a considerable number of barbarian mercenaries. The almost total destruction of the eastern Roman Army of the emperor Valens on the killing fields of Adrianople in 378 by a vast Gothic confederation of tribes, led to a crisis of confidence – and just as importantly – a massive loss of highly trained military manpower. The British prime minister, Lloyd George, once said that the British soldiers during the First World War were, “Lions led by donkeys”, well, at Adrianople, Rome`s military lions had been led to destruction by their over confident donkey commanders and emperor.
Bryan Ward-Perkins book, The Fall Of Rome And The End Of Civilization shows us in a very combative style, that modern historical revisionism regarding the fall of Rome being more a gradual transition than a sudden collapse, has gone too far.
Yes, the barbarians didn`t want to destroy the empire, but simply live safely and protected within it`s borders from the westward migration of the Huns, and share in the good life and benefits of Roman civilization. Assimilation into Roman society was the name of the game, and not military conquest and the ultimate destruction of everything they saw as desirable.
“But.”……..There is a massive “but” at work here: because barbarian migrations into, and across the empire caused an untold amount of upheaval, the empire`s cultural, social, military and economic structure disintegrated because of their highly integrated, inter-dependence upon each other. The vast economic machine which had produced a limitless supply of goods from, and for each corner of the empire, collapsed and ceased to function. Tax revenues not only no longer found their way to central government to oil the cogs of an efficient fiscal machine, but the largest calamity was that the army ceased to be paid for it`s services.
All of the key building blocks of civilization were removed one by one, as the barbarian incursions spread chaos throughout Europe. All of the huge range of goods which were once taken for granted, by every living soul in the empire were removed and not replaced. Pompeii is famous for it`s wealth of splendid graffiti scrawled all over it`s buildings by rich and poor alike; now there is no need for literacy if you have suddenly been plunged into a moneyless, barter economy where it`s more important to just survive, rather than waste time learning to read and write. Buildings ceased to be repaired and built, because the basic skills of construction were no longer available, so people went back to living in wattle and daub instead of stone and brick. By the end of the empire in 476, the Roman Army didn`t exist; the Roman state had been reduced to a number of squabbling barbarian principalities more intent on defending their piece of land from each other, than buying into the perks of a civilization which they had been inadvertently instrumental in destroying.
Order, structure, money, trade, basic services, literacy, mass produced manufactured goods, all were mostly gone, or reduced down to the most basic, and basest level. Simplicity was the order of the day. Where once there was gold, there now stood rusted iron, as people peaked out between the arthritic legs of the giant that once dominated their lives. All they could do now was to bask in the warm after glow of an empire that had once burned twice as bright as the sun.