Last Days of the Empire

Posted on August 23, 2013


She asked, “What do you know about the final years of the Roman Empire?” and I explained,

“I wasn’t in Rome—contemporary Italy—at the time, I was in Northumberland carving runic poems on pieces of granite. Connection with the city of Rome was quite difficult. Marauder bands from the north—Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Franks—had taken over cities and what had been fertile farmland, exacting tribute, waylaying emigrants, stealing women and fighting and killing each other. Rome and other major cities were overflowing with ambulantes, poorly paid laborers and unemployed and criminalized youth; the wealthy had moved into secluded walled fortresses or well-guarded country estates. They entertained with gory spectacles involving competing teams of combatants, or with courtesans imported from near and far.

“Although they’d constructed walls to keep immigrants out, the disenfranchised poor from surrounding regions, lured by the Empire’s apparent wealth, surged across the borders. Corruption was rife; the wealth gained from conquests disappeared; as protests increased, the emperors conscripted mercenaries to repress them. The prisons—schools for crime—overflowed. People fell away from worshipping the traditional gods, schools and universities sidled into decay, great monuments became orgy sites. Civilization no longer was civilized. The emperors and their satraps painted false pictures of prosperity and glory but their machinations were revealed by dissenters within the system. Even from far away in Northumberland predictions of dark times ahead were being universally accepted.

“So very different from the way things are now.”