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Corruption and the decline of Rome
#1
Ave Civitas,

I just finished reading "Corruption and the Decline of Rome" my R. Macmullen.

Mr. Macmullen has a view that it was corruption within the empire and especially the army and its supply system that was the end of the empire.

From the Dust Jacket:
    The decline and fall of the Roman Empire is a histroical puzzle that has intrigued scholars for centuries.
    Now the prominent historian, Ramsay MacMullen argues that a key factor in the decline of Rome was the steady loss of focus and control over government as it aims were thwarted for private gain my high-ranking bureaucrats and military leaders.
    MacMullen begins by arguing that the matter of the empire's decline is much more complex than it seems.  
    Making a survey of the entire empire, he shows that some regions prospered while others declined, and he proves that deterioration of Roman civilization was far from monolithic.
    However,decline in the north and west was an undeniable fact, and according to MacMullen it was due to the growing ineffectiveness of Roman government, adn both obeyed a single ethic that tolerated favors and favoritism, but not hte selling of favors and favoritsm.
    As time went by, however, extortion and bribe-taking became routine, encouraged by the ambiguity of law, the greater number and intrusiveness both of laws and of government servants, and the isolation of the emperor.
    More and more people in public positions turned their authority to private profit.  This led to a decline in power, in honor, in obligation, and ultimately, in military security, as the army became corrupt and the central government ineffective in directing military campaigns.

Has anyone else read this text, and if you did, what are your thoughts.

Tom
AKA Tom Chelmowski

Historiae Eruditere (if that is proper Latin)
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#2
Hi.
Sorry, no, I have not read this text. But on a general note, explanations of "the Fall of Rome" usually say as much about the views of the person making them, as of the actual "fall".
Halstein.
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#3
(12-27-2018, 09:30 PM)Lothia Wrote: "Corruption and the Decline of Rome"... Has anyone else read this text

I haven't read it either, although it looks very interesting, and I have enjoyed some of Macmullen's other books (particularly this one).

As usual with any 'decline and fall' theory, we'd have to ask why this supposed corruption caused the west to collapse and not the east - there seems to have been plenty of corruption in the east (Procopius mentions a fair bit of it, as does Ammianus in an earlier age). Does Macmullen have any suggestions?

And is he able to give evidence for there being more corruption in the later era? I suspect you could find plenty of evidence of fairly rampaging corruption, bribery and nepotism in any period of the empire - if we can believe Juvenal and Petronius, the Principiate largely ran on it!

I find the idea (picked up from brief reading of online excerpts) that systems of imperial patronage broke down in the later empire quite intriguing though. If the emperor was no longer the ultimate giver-of-largesse then his authority would inevitably suffer. But, again, I'm not sure this didn't happen in the earlier empire too: the great aristocratic families, and the 'native' nobility of provinces in both east and west, were surely tremendously powerful nexuses for patronage in the 1st-2nd centuries, and their power seems to have been somewhat neutralised by the expanded powers of the later state. What more does Macmullen have to say about this?
Nathan Ross
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#4
It has been a while since I read the book but from memory two of his points with lots of notes and appendices were the massive rise in the bureaucracy from the time of Caracalla about 300 including freedmen and slaves,in comparison to 3rd century onwards where he puts the figure conservatively at between 30,000 to 35,000, probably starting the increase around the time of Diocletian. He also mentioned that in the later empire many soldiers had moved and were billeted into cities and suburbs (when not fighting wars) and may have lost some of their military efficiancy and he mentions a lot of different little laws from Codex Theodosius Book 7 covering billetting of soldiers, officers extorting citizens to pay for the wood for their baths and punishment and demotions of soldiers who have been absent from duty for more than a year has a whole Appendix at end of book on sources to reinforce his point. Unfortunately I can't find book at moment as we are doing some renovating. Of course these are only from memory but his book is pretty thorough with lots of evidence. Smile
Regards
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
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#5
Nathan,

I don't recall anything that MacMullen writes that explains why the West collapsed and not the East.
AKA Tom Chelmowski

Historiae Eruditere (if that is proper Latin)
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#6
(01-08-2019, 11:06 AM)Lothia Wrote: Nathan,

I don't recall anything that MacMullen writes that explains why the West collapsed and not the East.

That would seem to be a fatal flaw in any 'decline and fall' argument, I would think! If both east and west experienced the same problems, but the east endured them, then the cause of the west's collapse might lie in additional factors...

However, this looks to be a valuable book anyway, more for its analysis of late Roman (mis)government, perhaps.
Nathan Ross
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#7
(12-28-2018, 06:15 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: As usual with any 'decline and fall' theory, we'd have to ask why this supposed corruption caused the west to collapse and not the east

A question that goes unasked far too often.

That said, MacMullen sounds like an interesting read.
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