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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Importance Of Empire–The Legacy Of Imperial Rule And The Advance Of Civilization

Revisionist historians are quick to criticize empire – exploitive, racist, self-serving, and often brutal – but neglect to mention the spread of civilization for which it was responsible.  The Roman Empire covered most of the known world and under its governance less-developed regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe adopted Roman systems of civil management, laws, language, science, and the arts.

Roman roads opened colonies to commerce and trade.  Aqueducts brought water for irrigation.  The concentration of wealth in urban areas facilitated the construction of public architecture (e.g. amphitheaters) and temples, and cities from the Eastern Mediterranean to England grew in size and importance.

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The Persian Empire was no less impressive and like the later Roman Empire covered a vast territory from India to Greece.

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[Under the Persian Empire] trade was increased throughout the kingdom. Weights were standardized weights, official coinage minted, and universal laws implemented.
The Persian leaders…imposed a 20 percent tax on all agriculture and manufacturing. They also taxed religious institutions, which despite their wealth had previously not been taxed.
The Persian kings — especially Cyrus and, later, Darius I (522-486 B.C.E.) — developed a model for the administration of a large empire… Justice was administered fairly and evenly among all diverse subject peoples….
Cyrus built the foundations of a courier, or mail, system. Darius I built a communication network that connected most of the empire. A 1,600-mile-long royal road was built from Sardis to Susa, one of the administrative capitals. Along this road, were numerous places for lodging, where royal couriers could obtain fresh horses and supplies

The British Empire, while less extensive than either the Roman or Persian Empires, was no less influential.  India alone benefited from the legacy of a British Civil Service, systems of laws, and an extensive physical and communications infrastructure.  The Indian Railways were extensive, well-run, and essential for both the management and growth of the country.   The United States, Canada, and Australia – three of the strongest and most prosperous of Western democracies – were based on English jurisprudence and system of governance and principles of the English Enlightenment.

In India the Maurya, Gupta, and Chola Empires were responsible for bringing or consolidating elements of civilization – social structure, language, religion, philosophy, science, art, and architecture to rural populations.

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The Roman Empire expanded civilization and culture to areas of Europe still ruled by tribal chieftains and customs.  The Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD signaled the end of English pre-history and ushered in a new, modern, civilized culture.  Far earlier in 222 BC Roman armies conquered Gaul and ruled for six centuries. Spain and its Carthaginian rulers were defeated by Rome in 206 BC.  In a relatively short time Roman hegemony had spread throughout Europe.

The Roman Empire is perhaps best remembered for its administration and management of conquered lands.  The Pax Romana, a period of almost 200 years from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius was a tribute to Rome’s unparalleled ability to govern pacified lands in a way which was mutually beneficial to both.  The Empire was both highly structured and hierarchal, but considerable autonomy was given to the Roman governors of conquered provinces.  During this period was a flowering of language, art, architecture, literature, and culture whose influences spread throughout the Empire.

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Christianity began in Roman-administered Palestine; and thanks to St Paul, it expanded quickly to both East and West.  The establishment of the Church, its consolidation, and preeminence was assured by the Roman Emperor Constantine who while himself not yet a Christian knew how politically important it was to accept and encourage this new community.  He was the one who finally put to rest doctrinal warfare at the Council of Nicaea, and after his death Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.

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In short, the ancient Romans were responsible for the spread of Christianity, the development and extension of a highly-sophisticated language, the spread of Greco-Roman art, philosophy, and culture; and the construction of infrastructure without which Europe would have lagged far behind the powerful cultures of India, China, and Persia. As a result of this impetus and the establishment of systems of administration, governance, law, engineering, Europe was able to develop quickly.  By the Middle Ages Florence was a major industrial and financial capital, Venice a center for Eastern trade, and the cities to the north gained in influence and reputation.

Cities outside Rome, like Paris, were slower to advance, but soon they became economic and cultural centers as well.  Economic growth produced the wealth which enabled further development and which financed the efflorescence of art, music, science, and literature.  The age of European royalty was impressive indeed, for without the patronage of kings and queens, the great art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance would not have emerged

Roman influence diminished over the centuries, but was never forgotten.  The Romans brought Greek thought along with them; and the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates among others. Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers to Roman Philosophy, Early Islamic philosophy, Medieval Scholasticism, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world outside a religious context. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

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Jefferson and the Founding Fathers based the principles of the new American Republic on the Enlightenment; and therefore we, like all others of European origin, inheritors of the intellectual and philosophical traditions of the Ancient World.  While modern European cultures have contributed to this intellectual wealth – there was something indeed unique about the Scottish Enlightenment, French Revolutionary populism, and English civil law – all owe a debt to Rome and Greece.

It is surprising, then, that Western Civilization has come under scrutiny if not attack.  Historical revisionism has focused only on the conquered, colonized, exploited, and oppressed.  There is something inherently wrong, say these revisionists, about the accumulation of wealth and power and the non-democratic rule of the landed aristocracy and nobility.  The conquest and colonization of Europe by the Roman, of Africa and Asia by the British, or of the Middle East and Eastern Europe by the Ottomans is somehow inherently immoral.  Genghis Khan and his Mongol and Turkic armies who established perhaps the world’s largest and richest empires are thought only of their barbarity, their methods, and their absolute dominance.

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Yet empires by their very nature are wealthy, powerful, and influential and are the result of deliberate, consequential actions to increase territory, acquire new wealth, and to gain a measure of peace and security in order to develop their civil society and culture.  There can be no moral judgment of history, only a recording of it.  The beneficial consequences of empire, whether Roman, British, Persian, Ottoman or Mauryan far outweigh the negative.

It is the nature of individuals and societies to be aggressive, territorial, self-interested, and self-protective because human nature has not changed since the Pleistocene and the emergence of Homo Sapiens. Such aggressive, self-interested competitiveness has been the moving force behind empire, civilization, and cultural advance.

There is a tendency in this post-modern age of diversity and inclusivity to dismiss the periods and events of history that do not suit current political philosophy.  European civilization and the Greco-Roman empire that enabled it are irrelevant to the new character of society.  Rome has little or nothing to do with the American slave or his descendants, nor of Sub-Saharan Africa.  There is nothing in Tacitus, Aristotle, or Pythagoras of any consequence to the new configurations of sexual identity.
The Sun King, Versailles, Darius, Alexander, or Napoleon have nothing whatsoever to do with economic and racial inequality, the fragile environment, or technology.  To look at the ancient world and to the civilizations of Europe that spread wealth, culture, science, and administration is to pay obeisance to elitism, privilege, opportunism, and inconscient territorialism.  The new reality has nothing to do with the old.

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There are many, despite the progressive juggernaut, who unashamedly value their European heritage.  For them the inclusive free-for-all of today is tantamount to disregard for the principles of the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers and a dismantling of the socio-political-cultural-philosophical system which has been at the heart of successful human civilizations for millennia.

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