A Conversation for The Role of Deforestation in the Fall of Rome

Peace? Prosperity? For Whom?

Post 1


I understand that the main subject of the piece is the effect of deforestation - which I will get to in a minute - but I find it incredulous that anyone who considers himself or herself to be a historian a should think that the period from 27BC to 476AD was a time of peace, prosperity, and the 'best time to be alive', as this Edward Gibbon person is supposed to have claimed.

I suppose if you were an upper-crust Roman it was great, but then that is always the case. Isn't it? It's good to be the king, and next best is wealthy and powerful.

If you were a Roman slave, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druid, Gaul, Celtic, British, etc. I'm certain that you would have a much different take on it.

in fact, the 'absolute control over the lives of as many as 70 million people' alone speaks to the violence and bloodshed that must've taken place during the period to ensure Rome's survival.

Let's see now, ...:

There were the crucifixions, and let's not forget Jesus of Nazareth.

In 38 AD, emperor Caligula dragged a group of Celtic captives through the streets of Rome, after having the hair on some of them dyed red to give them the appearance of animals.

Roman historian Tacitus mentions the demolishment of 'sacred groves dedicated to inhuman superstitions and barbarous rites' in referring to the destruction of Druid camps at Menai Strait; although as late as the 3d century BC the Romans were still sacrificing victims to their god of war.

The Romans didn't pull out of Britain until 367AD, and their forces were quickly replaced by Angles and Saxons.

Yup! A wonderful time to be alive; peace was everywhere and great fun was had by all, all right!

Now to the deforestation.

Just to add another facet to the problem...

There were plenty of things that the Romans used wood for, but not mentioned here are the huge numbers of trees felled for Roman seige towers, offensive battlements, and the mutlitude of defensive battlements necessitated by their expansion.

Each battle required the felling of hundreds, if not thousands, of mature trees. And these were not the types of things you took on the road with you, either. In fact, you were likely to want to burn them down afterward, to prevent their use by your enemies in the future.

In addition, to keep the Romans from easy access to supplies, additional 'deforestation' (or, burning all the trees) took place in their path ahead. (As well as destruction of crops, etcetera.)

smiley - towel

Peace? Prosperity? For Whom?

Post 2


Sorry to sound like a pedant but didn't Islam emerge around the 930s? At least according to my old school lessons, so I wasn't aware Islam and the empire ever directly interacted, however I'd love to find out about this if they did. Feel free to correct me.

smiley - stout

Peace? Prosperity? For Whom?

Post 3


No worries, B&L. I love being corrected (better than suffering in ignorance!).

I did misrepresent the Romans treatment of the Islamic people, in that the religion had not been formed during the period cited.

Muhammad was born (according to someone's calendar) in or about the year 570, into a family belonging to a clan of Quraysh, the ruling tribe of Mecca, a city in the Hijaz region of northwestern Arabia at the time.

Certainly the Romans treated the people of the region no better than the rest, they just had not been Islamic at the time.

Thanks for the chance to clear up my faux pas.

smiley - towel

Peace? Prosperity? For Whom?

Post 4


Nice, so my memory does work. Extremely interesting piece anyway, like everyone else has said a sharp warning on modern global warning.

smiley - stout

Peace? Prosperity? For Whom?

Post 5


It's always encouraging when memory serves. Now mine needed a jolt, obviously. I had better start looking some of this stuff up before I write, no matter how much I detest research! smiley - ok

Meanwhile, the globe gets warmer. smiley - erm

smiley - towel

Peace? Prosperity? For Whom?

Post 6

MotDoc, Temporarily Exiled to Tartu, Estonia

It certainly cannot be said in a blanket way that the entire imperial period was good and prosperous. There were certainly insane emperors, cruel emperors, civil wars, executions, etc. However, the quote refers only to the period know as the 'Five Good Emperors' from Hadrian to Marcus Aurelius (about 50 to 150 if my memory serves). As well, I think the Empire as a whole has been maligned in many ways. If we ignore the inevitable political results that are related to being ruled by a roughly inherited dictatorial regime, many aspect of Roman life were quite civil and peaceful.

The difficulty is mainly that there were occasional periods of rule by mad emperors (such as Caligula, Nero, Sol Invictus, and many many others) in which the normal imperial policies were blatantly ignored. Normal policy, for instance, was complete acceptance of any religious practice except human sacrifice and even the Jews were tolerated quite easily until the revolts that broke out around 30 BC and were as much political as religious. Jesus was executed during this period of revolt because he was considered a dangerous radical and possibly a revolutionary, and not because of his religious teachings.

One of the causes of the Empire's collapse, as mentioned in another thread, may be their social support of the poor. Free food was given away on a massive basis in all major cities, bath facilities were provided free of charge, entertainment was free, and overall there was no need for employment if you were willing to live on simple food. The Roman poor were arguably better off than the poor today in most of the world.

In terms of political rights, conquered territories were never treated as such for more than a few years, and all people who lived anywhere in the Empire were considered Roman citizens equal with those who lived in the city of Rome. There was no military occupation (other than for border wars or putting down revolts) and very little repression of local culture.

Overall, you could do much worse than be a Roman of any sort anywhere in the Empire at any time.

smiley - martiansmile

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