Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the tag “Roman Empire”

History repeats itself

I know what you are thinking, what a generic title for a blog post on a history blog. However I believe it is important to take a look at this concept since the outcome of the U.S. election.

So many people were shocked by the win of President Elect Trump, but why is that?

The idea of history repeating itself has been around for thousands of years and yet some people do not believe in its existence.

Therefore I will take you on a journey of how ideas of historic recurrence developed:

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The Ancients 

In the Ancient world several philosophers and thinkers (such as Poseidonius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Zosimus)  foresaw the demise of the Roman Empire due to the fate of their predecessors – Assyrians, Persians, and even the Macedonians.

What these philosophers saw was that all of previous great Empires went through a cycle of immense power, disunity, and then fall. I challenge you to find an Empire that did not do the same.

The fall of the Macedonian Empire is particularly interesting due to their most famous leader – Alexander the Great!

The Renaissance

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Niccolo Machiavelli,  an early writer and thinker on politics, saw the repeating nature of Florentine politics. He believed in a fluctuation of vice and virtue within society. Virtue creates peace, which leads to idleness and vice. A cycle that keep repeating itself.

This theory is, obviously, very indicative of its time. An Italy divided into city states, constantly at war with each other and against encroaching Empires. There was an emphasis on the role of political virtue in society. Not unlike today when we hold politicians accountable for their actions.

For reference, watch the TV show The Borgias. Although its historical validity can be questioned, it gives a good idea of the fighting between city states.

Modern Interpretation

Karl Marx even brought his thoughts to the table in 1852, agreeing with Hegel that all great moments in world history are repeated twice. Marx added, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” What is most interesting about was that he wrote this in the context of the recent coups d’etat of Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III in 1851.

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This case alone shows the repetition of actions within a short time frame. Which brings to mind the  famous quote from George Santayana that is often misattributed:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

If these repetitions happen within living memory, are we doomed either way?

With the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election, it seems that we are doomed to repeat it. As a historian, the striking similarities between the rise of President-Elect Trump and Adolf Hitler are hard to ignore – something that I will not go into detail here because there are many accounts of this. All we can hope is that he will not continue that legacy.

The purpose of this blog post was to inform people about how the notion of history repeating itself has been around for thousands of years and that it is our job to be prepared for the next cycle in the best ways we can.

To end on a high note here is a little video treat about seeing into the future:

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What have the Romans ever done for us?!

Some people may have noticed that the scientific/archaeological/historical community has gone a little crazy recently due to the discovery of a large amount of lead in the ground in an archaeological area of the city of Rome.

What does this mean?

Nothing at all. To be honest, this discovery only serves to confirm what we’ve known for a very long time. Life expectancy was very short in the time of the Roman Empire.

Much like the Second World War and asbestos, lead was used on everything during the time of the Ancient Romans. This was before science could have informed them of the unhealthy effects – like death. That’s why I am so unsurprised by the findings. Lead pipes were an essential building material back then, especially for aqueducts and their elaborate plumbing system.

It really reminds me of this :

The argument seems to be that this is a main reason for the fall of the Roman Empire. Although I’ve seen plenty of  counter arguments, emphasizing that there is no indication of deterioration of mental or physical health as a result of leaded water.

Inbreeding within the senatorial elite took care of that.

Caligula : The poster child against inbreeding

Caligula : The poster child against inbreeding

This topic was of double interest to me because I’m currently reading the book Pompeii by Robert Harris. It’s about a young Aquarius, the engineer in charge of an aqueduct, and his quest to repair an aqueduct, while racing against the clock before Vesuvius erupts. The interesting part is the detailed description of how the plumbing system works.

Now, I know the book is fictional, but the research seems reasonably solid. I was struck by how impressive these structures were, but also how fragile the system was. One breach along an aqueduct and the whole thing goes down with a bang.

Quite a gamble!

The point is that everything back then was dangerous and finding extra lead in the ground is the not the Rosetta Stone to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Bonus

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