the sun

there’s nothing new under it, is there?

just reading Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World which picks up at the end of the roman empire, and boy does a lot of this sound awfully familiar! the scenario is not exactly the same as what we’ve got today, but a lot of the elements certainly seem to be — electing a new people, debasing the currency, robbing peter to pay paul (i.e. increasing taxes to pay off one’s pals), a general lack of foresight on behalf of so-called leaders. fascinating, but a bit depressing to see the same sorts of behavioral patterns being repeated over and over again. maybe time really is a flat circle. =/ kindle locations 234-263, 278-289:

“Political power within the Empire had long been a juggling act in which participated the senate, the army, and of course the emperor, but all three institutions up to the death of Commodus in 192 had been largely Italian. Over half of the senators were from Italy, and the remainder were, with few exceptions, drawn from the most strongly Latinized provinces-Spain, Africa, and Gallia Narbonensis. Moreover, since they had to invest a considerable amount of their wealth in Italian land, were required to attend meetings regularly in Rome, needed permission to travel outside of Italy, and tended to intermarry extensively, senatorial families of provincial origin rapidly became Italian, just as at a lower level of society, military families were becoming provincial. This senate owed its importance to constitutional, economic, and social factors. First, the constitutional tradition obliged an emperor to select senators to command all of his legions except the one in Egypt, to govern major frontier provinces, and to command the armies. Second, while the senate possessed a strong hereditary nucleus, it was in every generation open to a certain number of candidates who, along with the old established senatorial families, controlled enormous wealth, principally in land. This was especially true in the West, where even in times of crisis the poverty of the imperial treasury often contrasted with the private wealth of individual senators. Finally, through their networks based on political dependents and landholding throughout the Roman world, the influence of senators reached into every corner of the Empire. When provoked, the senate could be a formidable opponent to even the most ambitious emperor.

“Prior to the third century, the military power on which rested imperial control was still primarily found in the Praetorian Guard, that elite body of approximately 10,000 soldiers who served (and sometimes selected or eliminated) the emperor and his household. They were required to be Roman citizens, and, like the senators, were, until the end of the second century, largely drawn from Italy. Thus they too maintained the centrist Latin character of the Empire.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the emperors had all come from Italian families of senatorial rank. Whatever the differences between emperor, senate, and army-bitter, bloody, and brutal as they often were-these conflicts had been among parties that shared major cultural, social, and political values.

“With the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211) [who was only half roman-h.chick], the commander of the Danube army who was proclaimed emperor by his troops, began an important new phase of Roman history. The defenders of the provinces, and particularly those of the West, now came into their own as control of the Empire passed into the hands of those who had saved it — the frontier armies and their commanders. From the perspective of the old Italian senatorial aristocracy and the inhabitants of more settled and civilized areas, this was a period of disaster and crisis. A succession of provincial military commanders, often openly scornful of the senate, were raised to the purple by their armies, fought each other for hegemony, and were usually assassinated for their efforts when they proved incapable either of bringing victory against internal and external foes or of sufficiently enriching their supporters. The senate’s attempts to control the selection of the emperor was constantly thwarted by the tendency of the provincial armies to view succession as hereditary, particularly when the new emperor had come from the military. However, from the perspective of those in the frontier and particularly from Pannonia, it was a golden age. The Western legions had demonstrated their strength and their vitality, and as the Severans sought to consolidate their position they looked to the personnel and the models of their border armies for support.

“Initially Severus himself was willing to work with the senate of which he had been a member, but senatorial opposition led him to rely on the provincial army, which he and his successors rewarded with considerable pay increases, donatives or special bonuses, and the right to marry. The added expenses of this military largesse were financed through the liquidation of the vast wealth he confiscated from the senatorial opposition. His son, known to posterity by his military nickname Caracalla, expanded his father’s promilitary policy, raising soldiers’ pay by 50 percent. To finance this he resorted to two measures. First, as his father had done earlier, he debased the denarius, the silver coin used to pay the troops; within a few decades, this led to the total collapse of imperial coinage. Second, he doubled the traditional 5 percent inheritance tax paid by all Roman citizens, and, to expand the base of this tax, made all free inhabitants of the Empire Roman citizens. This latter measure acknowledged a largely de facto situation, since the distinction between citizen and foreigner no longer had much real significance. However it did strengthen the relative position of provincials in the Empire who, henceforth, from Britain to Arabia, looked upon themselves as Romans with the same rights and possibilities as Italians. These measures, like the increase of military pay, tended to strengthen the position of those peoples on the periphery of the Empire at the expense of those at the center, and those in a position to benefit most from these changes were soldiers and veterans….

“These crises, which led to an even more expanded role for the military, had ironically been caused by it. Because the Severans could never trust the senate to support them, they were forced to find ways to circumvent the role of the senate in commanding the military and to constantly augment the army salary to maintain its good will. This was financed by still more confiscations of senatorial property for real or imagined plots and by drastic devaluation of the silver coinage. This naturally further alienated the senate and brought about enormous problems in the financial stability of the Empire. Exacerbating all this was the fact that the provincial armies, having gotten a taste of their power as emperor-makers, set about it with tremendous vigor, assassinating emperors and raising others at a great rate. Between the death of Severus Alexander (235) and the ascension of Diocletian (284), there were at least twenty more or less legitimate emperors and innumerable pretenders, usurpers, and coregents. The longest reign during this period was that of a pretender, Postumus, who established himself as ruler of Gaul, Britain, Spain, and at times parts of northern Italy for nine years.

“The restoration of order by Diocletian solidified the increasing role of the military. Although credited with having separated civil and military administrations, under him and his successors the civil service was reorganized along military lines, hardly a surprising development given that during the third and fourth centuries the route to high office normally meant military service. Thus many ambitious civil servants either rose primarily through the military or spent some time in it. By the beginning of the fourth century, military organization and structure, along with the soldier’s cultural and political values, had become the primary model along which Roman society was ordered. But these soldiers were no longer the Italian peasants of an earlier age-increasingly they were the very barbarians they were enlisted to oppose.

which reminds me of a passage from another (very politically correct) book — Rome and its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire — that i quoted in a comment a while back [pgs. 205-212]:

“[I]n the later Roman Empire frontiers became softer and immigration control more lax at the same time as citizenship and ethnic distinctions within the Empire were becoming blurred. The universal grant of citizenship by the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212 AD was only a formal recognition by the state of a long process that had diminished the concept of citizenship and eroded the distinction between cives and peregrini in the provinces. By the fourth century status and wealth counted for more socially and legally than citizenship….

“To sum up, far from the homogenization of what the Constitutio Antoniniana called the patria communis, that is, the population of the Roman community, internal, social divisions became stronger. Ironically, however, the refinements of status distinctions and social divisions served as a more effective vehicle than any legal measure to allow immigrants to integrate at all levels. What mattered was not whether you were a citizen but whether you could attain equal social or economic status. In this respect, the Roman Empire of the fourth century was the reverse image of the nation-state in the nineteenth century. The juridical personality of the citizen was almost eliminated as frontier controls relaxed and as immigrants were accomodated in ever greater numbers….

“Immigrants provided substitutes for rural recruits, thus leaving agricultural workers on the land to increase state revenue, since they increased the capitation tax and added extra income through the system of adaeratio, which bought them exemption from the military levy. There clearly were concerns in the imperial chancellery for the tax regime and for the rents from imperial estates, which was reflected in contemporary legislation….

“These fiscal and economic benefits to rural production coincide with the concern expressed by the Gallic panegyricists about agri deserti and high taxes, and hence their praise for ‘so many farmers in the Roman countryside’, both as immigrants and as returning prisoners…. The essential point, however, is that…immigrants were officially perceived as good for the economy by bringing down the price of food and by servicing local markets through increased production.

“Whether the peasants of the Gallic countryside felt the same pleasure at the fall in market prices is another matter, and it may have provoked resentment. If modern experience is any guide, there is a sharp difference between economists, who calculate that immigrants are essential to economic growth, and popular opinion, which always believes that immigrants are undesirable because they depress the labor market. But there is no evidence to show that there was institutional, social discrimination against foreign-born workers, once settled inside the Roman Empire….”

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when in rome?

i left this in the comments here not that long ago, from Rome and its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire [pgs. 205-212 – links and empahses added by me]:

[I]n the later Roman Empire frontiers became softer and immigration control more lax at the same time as citizenship and ethnic distinctions within the Empire were becoming blurred. The universal grant of citizenship by the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212 AD was only a formal recognition by the state of a long process that had diminished the concept of citizenship and eroded the distinction between cives and peregrini in the provinces. By the fourth century status and wealth counted for more socially and legally than citizenship….

“To sum up, far from the homogenization of what the Constitutio Antoniniana called the patria communis, that is, the population of the Roman community, internal, social divisions became stronger. Ironically, however, the refinements of status distinctions and social divisions served as a more effective vehicle than any legal measure to allow immigrants to integrate at all levels. What mattered was not whether you were a citizen but whether you could attain equal social or economic status. In this respect, the Roman Empire of the fourth century was the reverse image of the nation-state in the nineteenth century. The juridical personality of the citizen was almost eliminated as frontier controls relaxed and as immigrants were accomodated in ever greater numbers….

“Immigrants provided substitutes for rural recruits, thus leaving agricultural workers on the land to increase state revenue, since they increased the capitation tax and added extra income through the system of adaeratio, which bought them exemption from the military levy. There clearly were concerns in the imperial chancellery for the tax regime and for the rents from imperial estates, which was reflected in contemporary legislation….

“These fiscal and economic benefits to rural production coincide with the concern expressed by the Gallic panegyricists about agri deserti and high taxes, and hence their praise for ‘so many farmers in the Roman countryside’, both as immigrants and as returning prisoners… The essential point, however, is that … immigrants were officially perceived as good for the economy by bringing down the price of food and by servicing local markets through increased production.

“Whether the peasants of the Gallic countryside felt the same pleasure at the fall in market prices is another matter, and it may have provoked resentment. If modern experience is any guide, there is a sharp difference between economists, who calculate that immigrants are essential to economic growth, and popular opinion, which always believes that immigrants are undesirable because they depress the labor market. But there is no evidence to show that there was institutional, social discrimination against foreign-born workers, once settled inside the Roman Empire….

the author also refers to [pg. 212]:

“The long history, since Augustus [r. 27b.c.-19a.d.], of frontiers open to foreign migrants, and the even longer history of liberal access to citizenship and Romanization…”

gee. all sounds awfully familiar (presumably the roman senators even claimed they were worried about crops rotting in the fields…).

now last night i came across this in Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages [pg. 30]:

“[I]mpelled from their homes by cataclysms still shrouded in mystery, they [the germans] began pressing westward and southward in a series of waves climaxing in the fifth and sixth centuries. In addition to feeling pressures from behind — famine, drought, Huns — they were drawn into the Roman Empire by the magnet of an economically and technically advanced region, with its cities and villas, granaries and warehouses, shops, tools, coins, and ornaments, in a species of ‘gold rush’ (in the phrase of a modern historian). Columns of thousands or tens of thousands of Goths, Gepids, Alemanni, and other peoples from the north and east, men, women, children, and animals, filtered or flooded through the Roman frontier defenses, sometimes peacefully and by permission, sometimes violently or by taking advantage of the moments when the legions were absent contesting the Imprerial succession on behalf of their generals….

“In the later stage of the Migrations, large numbers of several major groupings — Burgundians, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Franks — entered Gaul and Italy as foederati, or allies, by a negotiated arrangement that settled barbarian families on arable land in much the same fashion that Roman veterans had been settled in the earlier period. This episode in the Great Migrations apparently took place with little friction between newcomers and old inhabitants.**

“**Walter Goffart (Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accomodation) postulates that instead of being given lands expropriated from Roman and Gallo-Roman proprietors, many of the Germans were assigned revenues from normal taxation in the provinces in which they were settled, in return for which they garrisoned the frontiers against later arrivals.”

little friction? why? how?

i’m sure that a big part of the reason why westerners today don’t seem to be very concerned about mass immigration to their countries is ’cause times are good (or they were up until very recently). maybe something like that was also the case for roman empire days? i dunno.

but here’s something interesting that might’ve possibly affected roman attitudes (might’ve) [pg. 22]:

Even stronger than the bar to interclass marriage was the proscription against incest or marrying ‘in.’ Early Rome forbade marriage between second cousins, but over time the rule was relaxed, and even first cousins were allowed to marry. When the Emperor Claudius (reigned A.D. 41-54) chose for his fourth wife his niece Agrippina, the public was shocked, but the Senate obligingly revised the legal definition of incest, and (according to Suetonius) at least two other uncle-niece marriages were recorded. This was an exceptional case, but in revealing the flexible nature of exogamy rules it foreshadowed much medieval controversy.”

so in early rome — in the days of the republic — you couldn’t marry anyone closer than second cousins. hmmm…. i’ll have to check the dates on when the changes started to happen, and also how strong enforcement was and all that. but, interesting. very interesting!

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cheap labor…

…on roman latifundia undercut the native roman farmers. nihil novi sub sole, eh?:

“The first latifundia were accumulated from the spoils of war, confiscated from conquered peoples beginning in the early 2nd century BC. The prototypical latifundia were the Roman estates in Magna Graecia (the south of Italy) and in Sicily, which distressed Pliny the Elder (died AD 79) as he travelled, seeing only slaves working the land, not the sturdy Roman farmers who had been the backbone of the Republic’s army….

“The latifundia quickly started economic consolidation as larger estates achieved greater economies of scale and senators did not pay land taxes. Owners re-invested their profits by purchasing smaller neighbouring farms, since smaller farms had a lower productivity and could not compete, in an ancient precursor of agribusiness. By the 2nd century AD, latifundia had in fact displaced small farms as the agricultural foundation of the Roman Empire. This effect contributed to the destabilizing of Roman society as well. As the small farms of the Roman peasantry were bought up by the wealthy and their vast supply of slaves, the landless peasantry were forced to idle and squat around the city of Rome, relying greatly on handouts….

Pliny the Elder argued that the latifundia had ruined Italy and would ruin the Roman provinces as well. He reported that at one point just six owners possessed half of the province of Africa….” [wiki-p]

see also pliny’s natural history.

previously: the farming problem

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