The cause of the fall of the Roman empire remains a hotly-contested debate between various competing theories; we will never know the whole truth of what happened. But one thing we do know is that it didn’t happen overnight. It’s not like there was Monday Night Gladiator Games and by Friday everyone had packed up and moved on; it took hundreds of years. For the people living through it, it was a slow, glacially-paced erosion: a few less perks here, a few declining niceties there, punctuated by the occasional dramatic episode, followed by desperate attempts to return things to “normal.”
Normal, however, was constantly being redefined to describe lower and lower standards of living; the people were learning to do with less and less. And as the ominous specter of inevitability loomed, as they felt increasingly less capable of doing anything about it, they worried about increasingly irrelevant minutia. “The empire’s being invaded, the reforms are destroying things, the politicians are more corrupt than ever, the government is dysfunctional and the army is ready to take over any second… but you know what’s really horrible? Claudius the Butcher stopped serving lamb on Thursday so 50 of us are going to go down there and boycott. Around 5pm-ish. Wear a pink wreath to show your support.” ‘Cause what were they going to do? They had no idea; pine for the not-so-recently-departed good-ol’-days, and hope maybe to avoid the coming inevitable; maybe by dying; maybe by finding 1000 gold pieces in the trash. In the meantime, you just know they worried about the latest trends in sandals fashion, while watching their favorite Forum shops go out of business. They reminisced about things their kids would never get to see, and privately seethed about the non-citizens being allowed into the army, who would sooner serve ambitious generals than protect the Republic. Such people were probably ridiculed as doomsday-ers; grumpy old men who just think everything was better “in their day.” But they were right.
Today you can buy tickets to see some of the ruins of Rome – a city in one of the greatest, most powerful, most innovative, most expansive empires in history, and all that’s left of it.
Just curious, does anybody know how long a copper statue lasts?